Well it has been quite a while since I last posted. I will be getting back to my normal schedule soon enough, but you might be wondering what happened. Well the long and short of it is I got a concussion from umpiring baseball which I made worse by working and training while my symptoms were getting worse. If that’s enough for you feel free to stop reading now. I’m going to dive in a bit more about what happened and how I learned a lot through this.
Getting hit in the face
So it all started off with me umpiring a baseball game. It was only a high school level game and I was doing this in evening for a little bit of extra cash (I’m hopped up on the Dave Ramsey debt stuff right now). I was behind the plate (wearing a mask) and the pitchers throws a fastball a little up in the zone and the batter foul tips it directly in to my mask pretty much right between the eyes. It did stagger me a bit for a second and the people there asked if I was ok, and honestly I thought that I was, so I finished up the game. After that I went home and thought nothing of it and went to bed.
In the morning I felt nauseous and my GI was working weird. I had a bit of headache, but thought at this point that I just had food poisoning. I got in to work and suddenly felt like my throat was closing and had a hard time breathing. At that point I went down to the athletic training room and had them check me out since I thought I was having an allergic reaction (can you tell yet that I’m a doctor, but definitely not an MD?). At that point I just felt weird for the rest of the day and since my body was being soft I decided to go for a deadlift PR and hit 585×8 standing on a 2” block with no belt on (can you tell I’m a powerlifter?).
Side note: The lifting while I had a concussion was the single most stupid and damaging thing I could have probably done aside from getting hit in the head again. The massive increase in blood pressure while training was forcing blood around my brain in structures that were already mildly damaged and I just made the damage more severe.
So I get through my day feeling worse and worse and convinced that I have some type of flu or otherwise. Go to bed and get up the next day and drive to work and when my students were giving their final presentations, I’m focusing on taking slow deep breaths since I feel like I’m going to pass out again and I’m having panic attacks, and the real pain of this is I wasn’t even giving the presentations I just got to sit back, relax, and judge the heck out of my students. I train hard again, do a bunch of work, and finally get home at about 9pm and then relax with the wife still feel weird and like crap. We go to bed and I’m lying there and about every five minutes or less I feel my body going in to full on fight or flight response and my heart rate ramps through the roof. I ride that awful roller coaster for about two or three hours and finally get up and the wife and I go to the hospital. We sit there in the waiting room for a while and then I go back and get checked. They run my blood to check for anything and my resting heart rate and blood pressure is decent (in fact when I fell asleep hooked up to an EKG later on my heart rate set of an alarm since it dropped below 50 which was the alarm’s threshold).
The docs come back later on and my blood panel looks good, no issues with my thyroid (since it did seem like hyper thyroid). So here is where I left something out. When I was filling out my paperwork I couldn’t read the paper very well and when I tried to write everything was turning out as gibberish. My wife had to fill out my admittance since my focus and ability to write had been reduced to my levels when I was probably two years old.
So I got diagnosed with a concussion and was told to relax on Friday and through the weekend. We took it easy on Friday but I was still having panic attacks and weird stress responses while lying in bed. It was bad enough that we went back to the hospital on Saturday and got a CT scan which thankfully showed no brain bleeds or other issues. They also gave me a powerful anti-anxiety which finally stopped the weird overwhelming emotional rollercoaster ride.
After this for the next 6 days with the help of my wife, little sister, and parents I pretty much did nothing. All I did was lay around being bored (I was never really tired through any of this which was very much so annoying). I would try and work on puzzles or putting together Legos for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time and then I would start to feel this weird type of what I would either call feedback or static in my head.
Also one of my other symptoms was that the pupil of my right eye stayed more dilated than my left and I was having a hard time tracking motion or being able to keep my gaze fixed upon anything. I was happy to see the crazy eye go with time, but I would have liked to have kept it to freak out my students a bit.
On Thursday we went and saw the EKU team physician to have her check me out and see how I was progressing. I was a bit better than the previous week, but not really that good. She told us that the anti-anxiety meds (which I had been biting in half to space them out a bit more over a day) were actually slowing down my recovery. This was very unhappy news, but from then on I no longer used those sweet anti-anxiety meds. That night I got to ride the anxiety roller coaster again, but at least I had the mental picture that I wouldn’t have to do it for too long and my body would be getting better. The good news is I was released to watch a bit of simple TV such as a comedy or drama. This was a massive improvement and since I have watched all of the IT crowd, which the link above is from, and the Big Bang Theory. This also made me want to start learning more math and physics again.
Still during this time I was disoriented and could only walk about quarter mile at a time without getting dizzy. Obviously all real weight training or otherwise was off the table. Nothing like slowly watching your hard work fade away. Good news is I could feel the clouds slightly parting each day.
I can’t say enough about how boring it was. Each day I would spend most of it in bed or on the couch trying to literally not think at all. Time flies when you are having fun and moves brutally slowly when you have a concussion. At times I would literally just count my breaths. Then I realized that was literally too stressful on my head at certain points so I would then switch to simply counting to ten and starting over. I don’t know how many hours I spent doing this, but it was too damn many.
Another major mistake that I made during this (and I made it very often) was pushing myself too hard. I’ve been injured many a time due to sports or hard training. It is part of life, and when that happens I could always train around it. Screw up your wrist, looks like it is time to focus on squatting for a while. Mess up your back, looks like it is time to focus on your bench press. Mess up your knee, and time to become an upper body bro. With the brain injury I had to shut down EVERYTHING. Which is something I’ve never had to do. I often would try and push myself too hard and then that night pay the price again with lots of anxiety and malaise. One of my good friends who is a psychiatrist used a great analogy that your brain is like a horse. In that you can try to command it to do what you want, but sometimes it is going to act differently. At a number of points it felt like mine was a wild horse and all that I could hope to do was hold on for dear life.
One of the other strange things that occurred to me through this is when I would be napping on the couch or in bed I would wake up and feel like I was reliving certain things in my life. I would be standing on the little bridge over the ponds next to the parking garage at SLU. I would be in the first house I ever lived in as a child watching Sesame Street. I would be working in the lab in Kansas. It was a strange occurrence and I can’t even fully convey what it was like, other than I thought about a lot of people and places that I hadn’t thought about in years.
I really just did a lot of staring at walls and ceilings for two weeks. After that I only mostly did that for one week and finally could do a bit of real work after that. The athletic trainers at EKU were kind enough to give me the SCAT2 forms (for concussion monitoring) so that I could keep track of my symptoms and how my body was recovering. This was useful as a way to slowly track my own progress and see that things were getting better since my paranoia kept telling me that I was dying of brain cancer and would never be 100% again. I was then released to do a bit of exercise.
This initially was just walking for up to half an hour and then doing some light dumbbell and otherwise circuits (used Javorek long cycle circuit and his shoulder rehab routine). This then progressed to doing a simple total body circuit with barbell movements and pull ups on the other day. So far I have gotten back to squatting up to 135 for a set of 10 reps. The week of my injury I squatted 455×5 and then did 275×15,15. It was initially hard on the ego, but at this point I just want to feel better.
What I learned
I like to tell my students that; “the greatest limitation put upon their body currently rests behind their eyes and between their ears”. Little did I know how true that is when mine wasn’t working. Even though I never fully lost conscious or immediately had symptoms I found out that concussions can have delayed onset of symptoms, and how severe the initial impact was doesn’t related to how severe the concussion is. When meeting with specialists and talking to my peers that do research in this area I learned a lot about how everyone is different. Some athletes who are knocked out cold for a few minutes can be 100% recovered the next day and others who barely take a hit will be out for months. I also learned that headaches aren’t the only symptoms of concussion, and anxiety and depression can come on from them. One of the most brutal facts I learned about is the delayed onset of concussion symptoms (which can take up to 48 hours to fully manifest). This is how I managed to take what would have been a mild to moderate concussion and made it severe, by trying to work through the symptoms. The damage I did caused the actual blood flow (capillaries) in my brain to shift which caused certain areas to become hypoxic (not enough oxygen) which in turn caused my brain to spaz out on me in a variety of unpleasant ways. This is also important if you get in a car accident or otherwise that you be careful about making statements about how you are perfectly fine, since your whiplash could give you trouble later and you are currently just running off of the stress hormone response from the event.
Early on I figured out that when I didn’t eat enough that day I felt mentally way worse the next one. This was rough since I was honestly not hungry for most of this. I supplemented with Theanine which really did seem to help keep me relaxed and drank Chamomile tea at night which also seemed to help me sleep. Fish oil was supplemented also, but it wasn’t like the above when within half an hour I could feel the effects (and let’s be honest, it could always be the placebo effect anyways). Finally, that you really do need to rest and progress according to what your body needs (not what you want) when this happens.
Concussions suck, come in a wide variety of forms, and take different amounts of time to recover from. I’m incredibly thankful for my wife, family, and friends that have helped me through this and forward. I learned a lot, and I think I’m done with umpiring for a while. Thanks for taking the time to read this, and I will be slowly getting back up to my once a week writing schedule when I can. I also might edit this post as I feel a bit better.