November 9, 2018
It’s about one month post-concussion. I had recently attempted to go back to work despite my physician saying he did not think I would be able to tolerate it and would not be successful. I desperately wanted to prove him wrong and also desperately wanted some semblance of my abnormally normal life before the injury.
Who was I kidding? After just 15 minutes of being there, my eyes felt seared by the fluorescent lights. Everything on the computer screen was blurry. The ringing in my ears intensified and I began to feel like I was going to pass out. This seems to be the norm in environments with a lot of stimulation, so the emergency department environment was way over the top.
The concussion specialist decided that I should start a round of steroids to help with inflammation of the nerves of the brain. This was supposed to help with pain but also the ringing in my ears. It didn’t help with the pain nor the ringing but it did provide worsened insomnia, a common side effect of steroids. Just what I needed, less sleep than the broken three hours I am getting.
My hockey team has a tournament this weekend. I am having a hard time deciding if I will be able to tolerate watching the games – physically and emotionally. This would be the first dose of hockey since the concussion. The games are at the same rink where I sustained my injury. Just thinking about it makes my heart flutter and I feel nauseated and develop a knot in my stomach.
At this point, it’s still new – the feeling of not really being a part of the team. This injury feels different than any I have experienced in my whole career of playing which makes me wonder if subconsciously I know this is it for me. If I start to feel down about it, I hold on to the glimmer of hope that I will be out there with them again in the near future. We are supposed to travel to California for the National Tournament this season – something I’ve been ecstatic about.
I took the reins of the pre-game locker room music. It’s something I have been in charge of on many of the hockey teams I’ve played on. There’s nothing like 10-year-old me getting pumped to “Who Let The Dogs Out.” I made sure that every time I scored a goal in college, “You Make My Dreams (Come True),” by Hall and Oates would start blasting in the rink. My friends know this about me – I am constantly making new music playlists. Naturally, I’ve been so looking forward to making a playlist for the National tournament. Well, and eating…I could not wait to compile a list of all the restaurants we would eat at on the trip.
I decide to go watch a game at my team’s tournament. I give myself just enough time to make it for the puck drop – I don’t have it in me to enter the locker room. I take some big breaths and give myself a little pep talk before going inside. I enter the arena and walk in to the rink. As I walk by the boards where my injury occurred, it comes flashing back – the stick to my chest, the sound of my head slamming the ice, the darkness, the ringing. I keep moving as fast as I can. I pass by my team’s bench and my teammates wave and smile and seem happy to see me. It’s a nice welcome but I feel strange.
I stand in the corner to watch the game alone. I’m watching for about three minutes and already feel dizzy. I suddenly can’t track the puck. “What is happening to me?” I wipe my eyes in some desperate attempt that it’ll allow me to see better. This is the first time I am truly realizing the inability of my eyes to track moving objects. I feel sick to my stomach and it feels like I’m being stabbed in the eyes. It’s better If I just close my eyes.
I close my eyes and listen to the skates cutting into the ice, the sound of the puck against the sticks. I take a big breath and the cold air of the rink fills my lungs. It’s a feeling of home, a feeling of comfort. The feeling is short-lived and is replaced with one of despair and heartache.
Something about being there pushes me further into this deep feeling of isolation, aloneness. Even though my teammates were welcoming and seemed happy to see me, I was left feeling this way. And it was also hard because I don’t look injured so it was invalidating as to why I wasn’t out on the ice with them. It’s a strange feeling that I somehow feel like a failure even though I didn’t choose this for myself. There’s even a sense of embarrassment.
I’m still in denial at this point that this will last much longer. So, I missed one tournament; I’ll play in the next one and those following. Soon enough it will be time to travel to California for Nationals and everything will be back to normal. I talk to some teammates after the game and I downplay my injury because again I feel shame and I’m not willing to accept the seriousness of it yet.
Admitting to the injury feels like admitting defeat and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that.