Right. Where were we?
Ah yes. March. Four months after I smashed my head on a shelf and thus began my self-imposed prison. As much as I joke about blaming the cat, the accident was caused my own inattention and the fault lay solely with me.
So you’d think, after such an ‘impactful’ (lol, I can’t help but joke because the whole thing is so idiotic) reminder to pay attention, I would have learned a few things. And I did. I was tentative about nearly everything I did, partly because of the ongoing symptoms of my head injury, and partly because so many people had warned me to take extreme care.
It seems it’s not until you have a concussion story of your own, that suddenly everyone else has one. My friend’s husband fell down the stairs and had staples in his scalp. Another had a sports injury. Another told me his wife couldn’t remember almost the entirety of 2016.
I listened to a New Zealand podcast by a woman who had, if I remember correctly (which is 50/50 at best), been hit by a car while cycling. She was definitely on a bike, anyhow, and then the next minute she was laying on the road. When she was transported to hospital, no one told her how bad the injury was. She texted her family and said not to worry, she’d let them know when they could pick her up, assuming it’d be an hour or so. A doctor finally advised her to stop looking at her phone – and to encourage her family to come now, because they didn’t know when she’d be going home.
Months later she decided to record the podcast. Unfortunately, I don’t know the end of her story. I had to stop listening, because she kept using examples of sounds that had hurt her which hadn’t previously – and they were sounds that hurt me, too. I couldn’t bear to listen.
Meanwhile, the word “coronavirus” was being used for the first time. Like most people, I never thought it’d become a global pandemic that shut down our entire country almost overnight.
Of course, lockdown meant any access I had to medical professionals and my rehab team was severely limited. And physiotherapy doesn’t exactly work so well over the phone. I resigned myself to the painkillers required to participate in zoom meetings with my team, and did what little work I could under the circumstances. The sensitivity I’d suffered with my eyesight and hearing was recovering enough that I could go for a walk every day.
I was, of course, also acutely aware of being in the ‘immuno-compromised’ category. So while I could walk, I couldn’t go anywhere, not even in Level Three. I think I went to the supermarket twice with headphones, sunglasses, and gloves on and a scarf wrapped around my face because there was no access to masks.
Towards the end of April I was itching to go back to work. I missed the environment, the clients, and especially my team. I was approaching six months of staring at the walls of my own house and wasn’t far off climbing them. But I still had daily headaches and neck pain, reduced ability to use screens, fatigue, impenetrable brain fog, and eroded memory. Even now, I’m writing this and pausing, pausing, pausing to search for words, or ask myself ‘When did that bit happen?’ or just because my brain will go totally blank like a computer pulled out at the wall.
The Sound of a Door in the Nighttime
I’m not going to lie, the next bit is hard to write about because you’ll all now know how catastrophically idiotic I am. I’d hoped to maintain the illusion of intelligence, even with managing to concuss myself while feeding the cat. But the second injury was really completely indefensible.
It was the middle of the night. I needed to pee. I was half asleep and under the influence of the various medications I’m on consistently for my Ankylosing Spondylitis, as well as the couple that’d been added after the first accident. I didn’t want to wake Nik (which was a ridiculous concern given the situation), and I was too tired and confused to figure out the torch setting on my phone.
So I decided to navigate in the dark. (Yes, regrettably, I truly am that stupid).
The bathroom is straight across the hall from our bedroom. I’ve walked that course dozens of times at night and never had a problem. I usually barely needed my hands to keep track, but this time, I had them held out in front of me.
Unfortunately, the bedroom door was open. And it was open at such an angle that my hands went either side of it.
Which meant my face went right into it.
I do have one very clear memory of that moment, and it’s the voice inside my head saying “You have to be fucking kidding me, you absolute moron.”
The edge of the door hit the left side of my forehead. Since I was also stepping forward with my left leg, I smashed my knee at the same time, and clenched my teeth as I felt the reverberation go up my thigh into my vulnerable arthritic sacroiliac joints.
Nik woke up at the sound of the impact and me making some sort of horrible noise. “Are you OK?” he mumbled, still mostly asleep.
“Yep, I’m fine,” I lied (don’t ask me why, the list is long and makes no sense. Let’s all just accept that the last thing that was functioning in that moment was my common sense).
I went to the bathroom. I got into bed. Against all standard medical advice, I went back to sleep.
Confessions of transgression
I did not want to wake up the next morning. Not only because my head hurt like a bitch, but because the moment I opened my eyes, I was going to have to face up to what I’d done.
The first confession was to Nik, who was of course horrified that I didn’t wake him up properly and ask for help.
Then I had to go to the doctor, which thankfully was possible by that stage, but a surgery was the last place I wanted to be during COVID. Then again, it was probably one that you can absolutely rely on to be rigorously cleaned.
Dr Munro was suited up in full PPE and only came close enough to examine the lump on the side of my forehead. Saying “I hit my head again” was like a confession of transgression against someone who’d already worked so hard to help me get well. I showed her my knee, which was turning an really sickly dark purple. I bruise easily, but even for me this was excessive. I felt sore all over, ridiculous, and I still had my whole rehab team to tell.
It didn’t really get easier to say. Hit your head once? Most people react with sympathy. Twice, and I felt like I could see a thought bubble above their head either questioning my sanity (valid), or questioning how much impact the second accident had had (invalid, as I would soon learn).
We were now into May, and the move to Alert Level Two. As you can imagine, I was scratching at the walls. I’d been at home for six months. I was genuinely excited about work zoom calls. I was managing some basic writing and slowly trying to increase my tolerance for screens, and energy levels.
Level Two meant I could move my stuff back into the office. It also, crucially, meant I could restart my rehab: my first call after the L2 announcement was to my specialist physio. He could see me the following week. I almost wept with relief.
When I turned up, he took one look at me and said ‘Oh dear.’ He’s a very kind, droll, straight-talking British man and he told me in no uncertain terms that the state of my neck and head were worse than when he was treating me pre-lockdown.
The second injury had locked my neck back up, I had dizzy spells and saw floating black spots regularly. Many noises were still far too loud and felt physically painful. I resorted to using half of a morphine tablet on two occasions, when nothing else would work.
By the start of June I was back in the office on very controlled hours. My boss was and is extremely supportive, and willing to work with me and my doctor on increasing my hours slowly. The worst things for my head and neck are too much screen time, and too much time looking down – which I am uber-conscious of, but I can’t touch type. I’ve set up a bunch of ergonomic work-a rounds that aren’t exactly great. At one point I had a keyboard perched on a piece of slanted plastic, until the crashing of it falling down every five minutes forced me to review my approach.
Which I guess brings us to now. I am by no means back to ‘normal,’ (not that I ever was, obv). I had fairly good management in place for my arthritis. I never counted on adding head injuries to the mix.
The plan from here? Physio, physio, work too much, more physio, enforced rest, more work, physio shakes his head in disappointment – ad inifinitum. And a lot of time searching my brain for memories or words or names that just aren’t there.
So please, if I start telling you the same story for the third time, stop me. And if I haven’t told you something you were expecting? Remind me, because honestly, it’s lost to the sands of time.