The Concussion that Changed My Life

As some of you know, I had a severe brain injury over 5-½ years ago – June 2010 – when I got rearended by a loaded cargo van doing 65 mph on I-5 just before lunch. Crushed the front and back of my minivan and I walked away with severe whiplash, as well spine and hip injuries. What I didn't know until 7 months later – January 2011 – was that I'd also sustained a serious brain injury. For me, the symptoms didn't really manifest completely until early the next year. I'd find myself walking into another room and then wondering what I was doing there. I've since learned so much from other people in the many brain injury support groups that I continue to stumble across everywhere; social networks, local support meetings and national organizations. For those of us not looking for brain injury support, you'd never know any of this was out there. I certainly had no idea.

Robert whiplash x-rayBut after months and months of chiropractic care, massage and physical therapy, the insurance companies were already preparing to cut me off from further treatment. So you can imagine their response when I tried to tell them I needed to go in for neurological testing: "Well, a neurologist visit will probably run around $3,000. If you decide to go to one, you can send us the bill. We might pay it, we might not."

I still remember sitting down to a Saturday evening dinner in Vegas with some of our guests and speakers at the end of one of our annual Football Veterans Conferences I organized. We'd just had two days of speakers discussing a range of topics (including the ongoing lawsuits and concussions) with the retired football players attending the conference. I was describing my collision as part of the dinner conversation when Dr. Barry Sears leaned over and asked me, "Robert, do you have any idea how fast you need to be going in order to sustain a serious brain injury?"

I made what I thought was an educated guess:"Maybe around 25 – 30 miles-an-hour?"

Barry smiled at me and replied, "They've known for years that even with 9 miles-an-hour impact, you can get a severe concussion!"

This one fact alone gets my blood boiling enough to wonder why a class action "What-did-you-know-and-when-did-you-know-it?" lawsuit hasn't ever been filed against the insurance companies? Not a day after my own collision, an appraiser looked at my vehicle and immediately told me to take it in to a professional auto body shop for a full appraisal on how much damage had been done and they got me into a rental car. Because they knew that my vehicle had been rearended by a loaded cargo van on the freeway doing over 60 mph. But the customer? The person who actually pays the insurance policy? Unless you complain of physical injuries, they're never going to suggest sending you in to a doctor and certainly not a neurologist. (BTW – I discovered that in many European countries, a neurologist is often sent out to the scene of an accident when it's likely people may have sustained brain injuries.)

I was fortunate that we had been exploring hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) at some of earlier conferences for retired football players. Some of those people mentioned that there was a small national trial that was still recruting football players and other brain injury victims as part of a trial to validate the use of hyperbarics in healing some of the effects of concussions. As luck would have it, there was a clinic here in Issaquah that was part of this trial so I managed to get in for testing to see if I qualified. Which is how Xavier and I first met. He was the Research Director and managed the testing for the clinic. I got in to them later that spring in 2011 and made my way through over 2 hours of testing on a computer terminal (ANAM tests). Once I completed the testing, I waited for my scores to be tallied and reviewed. Xavier walked in and said, "Congratulations! You qualify for the treatment!"

To which I responded, "Does that mean I failed the test?"

"Sorry, I can't tell you that right now, Robert," was Xavier's response. I had a good idea…

My sessions didn't even start until after Labor Day that Fall in 2011, 15 months after my accident. 8 weeks of 1-hour sessions in a chamber 5 days a week for a total of 40 hours under 1-½ atmospheres pressure breathing pure oxygen.

Midway through my hyperbaric treatment, I was tested again and my scores were already improving. At the end of the 8-week treatement, my new cognitive scores were once again normal to above-normal like they probably were before my accident. And they held that way when I was tested again 6 months and 12 months after the sessions. But I hadn't been tested since until I went through a similar round of tests at the Amen Clinic prior to my SPECT scan (you can take a guess at what my cognitive scores looked like by then…).

So after years of working with retired NFL football players and sending them to the Amen Clinic for Dr. Amen's groundbreaking study of 100+ players brains over 5 years ago, it was finally time to get myself in there to find out what was going on in my own head. I even recall envying these players for finally having access to such a great resource – albeit really late for many of these men that the NFL chose to completely ignore.

Here's the link to my ealrier post in late November last year right after I went in for my first scan at the Amen Clinic – click HERE.

It's been a strange journey, making my way through some subtle and more often not-so-subtle changes both in my mind and in the life around me. What surprises me in this day-and-age is how awareness of brain injuries is still so scattered and often confusing. You have the NFL still trying to do their spin on downplaying the long-term effects of multiple hits over the years of playing football all while trying to show that they care. You have insurance actuaries with decades of statistics and information that they continue to withhold while putting more concern in the condition of your vehicle than worrying about their customers who were riding in that vehicle – and pay for insurance. You have doctors who look at all your physical symptoms while mostly ignoring any potential for brain injuries. As I keep telling everyone I talk to about brain injuries, it seems the more we learn, the less we know.

It's very difficult to open up and write about something that's so personal. I can only imagine how hard it must be for others who have had more severe brain injuries (especially so many of my football friends). It's why it took me so long to finally sit down and finish this followup post on my latest concussion. But I'm hoping to keep sharing what I learn through my journey as well as the stories that others have so openly shared with me. And to encourage everyone to share their personal experiences and stories so we can all learn about something that has now reached epidemic proportions in our society.

3 comments for “The Concussion that Changed My Life

  1. January 21, 2016 at 8:11 pm

    Don Brady

    Robert,

    Sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience.

    I, too, am a brain injury survivor as a result of my stationary auto being rear ended by another distracted driver traveling at an estimated speed of 55+mph on Father's Day of 1990. My auto was spun across the road and deemed 'totaled.'

    When the police arrived at the scene the 1st individual expressed…'I don't believe you are alive!"

    Many of my symptoms took 5 to 7 days to reveal themselves… including, but not limited to, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, sleep difficulties and severe headaches. Some symptoms to look longer to either reveal themselves and/or become more pronounced. I also suffered severe cervical spine injuries that required three years of 3 times a week physical therapy. Headaches would intensify if I did not allow for significant cognitive, physical and emotional rest each day. Some days were better than others as functional recovery was certainly not a linear progression.

    I was very fortunate to have a concussion/brain injury-knowledgeable family doctor and a clinical psychologist colleague who provided me with both support and accurate information. Furthermore, I had a kind and knowledgeable attorney who successfully assisted me in the interesting insurance maze. And a supportive employment situation thru this sometimes very difficult journey.

    Plus during the 1980's I had the opportunity to be supervised by the same licensed psychologist on a hospital floor that focused on serving persons who experienced various types of brain injuries and surgeries. Thru these personal and professional experiences that I was intensely introduced to the applied side of neuropsychology…and the colleague who supervised me is presently considered an Expert in the area of assessing various types of brain injuries.

    Since I was employed as a School Psychologist at the time of the auto accident, I fortunately also soon had 10 weeks of summer vacation before school resumed. Subsequently, I began experiencing more pronounced cognitive difficulties that upcoming Fall. When school began, the cognitive demands of my position intensified my initial presenting symptoms and another difficulty emerged. My expressive language response time to any individual who posed a question to me was delayed. I would have to inform people, "I hear what you are saying to me but it takes me awhile to verbalize a response to your query. So please be patient with me."

    My work week was cut in half, and I would frequently isolate myself when I come home from work as being around persons often became over stimulating… and correspondingly, my headaches and fatigue would intensify.

    During this whole process, I also realized how little many people and professionals comprehended about concussions/brain injuries. This whole process served as an impetus for me to return to grad school in the late 1990's and pursue a PhD in the area of Clinical Psychology with an emphasis on neuropsychology and sport-related concussions. While completing my doctoral studies I was again blessed to learn more about these areas under the tutelage of other Experts in the field.

    As the years have passed, it has become obvious that I am experiencing Mental Fatigue due to the initial brain injury and thus must pace myself accordingly or severe migraines return along with fatigue and double vision.

    I also know for some reason that I call the Grace of God, my brain was protected from experiencing much more severe brain damage than I had witnessed as a clinician on the hospital floor.

    Thanks for listening.

    Don Brady, PhD, PsyD, NCSP, CAS

    Licensed Clinical Psychologist

    Nationally & NY State Certified School Psychologist

  2. January 21, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    John Hogan

    Robert,

    Just like the injuries to football players, the damage to the brain and resulting problems often take time to manifest or be properly diagnosed.

    The first football player I represented was trying to get disability due to multiple orthopedic problems but it became clear to me that he was experiencing serious cognitive problems. I was only aware of what to look for after years of representing people who had brain injuries from various accidents – including car accidents – where they hit their head. But often the problems did not manifest until years later with the problems coming on subtly.

    Be well, my friend!

    John Hogan
    Disability Attorney
    Retired Player Advocate

    • robert
      January 21, 2016 at 4:43 pm

      Robert

      Thank you, John. Means a lot to me coming from you!

      I hope to be posting more on my recovery here and on the Football Vets blog as well. I'm happy that you've stayed my friend because I know that of all people in my circles, you've also seen it all. Unfortunately – as I've discovered the hard way – when you go through something like this, all too many of your so-called friends (and even some family) are so quick to rush to judgment and abandon you in your real time of need. Often those who should know better.

      I think you know what I mean.

      Robert

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