By Ann Onymous
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. This advice is purely my own opinion based solely on my own experience. You should consult a trained medical professional (preferably not your vet) for advice, diagnosis and treatment of any ailment or “not quite right” feeling you experience.
We hear a lot about concussions. Study after study and just about every sport organization has regular commentary about them. I’m not here to tell you anything new. This is more of a PSA (Public Service Announcement). Had I read this article earlier, my outcome may not have been different, but it would have been a WHOLE lot easier for my family and me.
Right out of the start box, a series of misfortunes kept THE COMPETITION tantalizingly out of my reach for the last 3 years. In mid October, I finally made it to those elusive showgrounds. And I fell off!! It was a simple fall; just a “ho-hum-look-she’s-no-longer-on-her-horse kinda fall. My helmet cushioned the impact to my head, and my head cushioned my body. While I didn’t lose consciousness, I did see stars and later realized I also had some memory loss. I was devastated at the thought that all my hard work, months of conditioning and making sure Horsey and I stayed sound and fit had just gone down the crapper. But I was a good soldier and followed the request of the ground jury to check out the local ER (although I wasn’t in town for sightseeing, it was indeed beautiful countryside and the local medics are really up on their customer service.). I did take my fall seriously and waited patiently to see the very handsome ER doctor who gave me a thorough examination. Being extra diligent, he suggested, and I complied, to having a CT Scan as well. It was clean and showed no abnormalities (well, none that were medically alarming, anyway) and cleared me to return to competition. He even sent me to a concussion specialist who was in the same medical compound for an evaluation. After a series of never ending neurological tests, I was declared fit and able to get behind the reins and return to competition with the usual disclaimer of, “if you have dizziness, nausea, a worse headache, diarrhea, constipation, dry mouth, please don’t ride and go to the ER right away.” Up to this point I was symptom free except for a very minor headache that I probably wouldn’t have noticed except that everyone kept asking me about it.
I returned to the show grounds with a gigantic grin and my “you can ride” paperwork in hand. It took all the strength I had not to burst into tears when the ground jury and organizer (who were beyond fantastic, compassionate, kind, professional, and understanding) said, “that’s all well and good, but USEA EV113 & USEF G1316 ground you for 7 days after a fall where there are any signs of head trauma – remember the things you can’t remember? But the good news is that day 1 starts today.” Like a good eventer, I made the best of my circumstance, lending my body to anyone who needed a body, or an extra body, or part of a body – like a hand or something. It was a good diversion for my broken heart and crushed dream – this was my Rolex, which had just slipped through my reins. I kept reminding myself that this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen – my horse was healthy, safe, and sound. I was okay, just disappointed and there’s still a next year. It’s really not THAT bad when you consider what really matters.
So I arrived back home and settled into that end of the year lull. I stayed off my horse a little extra long and just took it easy to be on the safe side and let some of the emotions settle. I followed up with my doctor who declared, “Yes Virginia, there was a concussion” but I was fine and still symptom free and got a clean bill of health and the necessary paperwork to get off the Medical Suspension List. Doctor reminded me that if I developed any post concussive symptoms – dizziness, blurred vision, nausea, diarrhea, blah, blah, blah to go to the ER right away. I got a new helmet (Thank you Charles Owen for the replacement program), got back in the saddle and started planning winter training and the path to THE COMPETITION next year.
About 2 months later, I flew out to Arizona for a business trip. These business trips always include daily cocktail hour, dinner with drinks, and a night on the town afterwards. My particular crowd are sales folks who are notorious for not having grown up and the 3 days I was with them was like a never-ending frat party. I had a headache the whole time, but considering the volume of adult libation, I would have been concerned had I NOT had a headache. During that week and a little before, I noticed that I was tripping up stairs often – just catching my toe on the edge of the tread. I’m not known for being particularly graceful – Rest easy world, I won’t be challenging the ballerina corps for the star role in the Nutcracker anytime soon. I didn’t give it much thought and had plenty of excuses – I was tired, jet lagged, lazy. Had a million reasons why. Offhandedly dismissed it and moved on. Then I noticed that my left arm felt funny – kinda heavy and my hand didn’t work exactly right. Nothing too obvious, just a feeling of “off”. What really alarmed later on me was noticing that I was riding really crooked! That did it. Within 2 weeks of my symptom onset, I finally made an appointment and saw the doctor on a Monday to see if I should be concerned by this feeling of not quite right. She suggested an MRI to rule out MS. Wait… What????.... MS? (I know, you thought this was about concussions right? Stay with me, we’re almost there). Had my MRI the next day. Good news is I don’t have MS. Bad news is that I had a very large subdural hematoma. I was told to go to the ER right away and that a neurosurgeon was expecting me. Wait… What? Neurosurgeon? Why do I need a surgeon?? Had the MRI at 12, got to the ER at 2 and was on the operating table at 6 having brain surgery. Yes. Brain. Surgery.
The moral of my story and the PSA I promised is that the hematoma was likely a slow bleed from my fall 2 months prior. If you suspect a concussion (and be honest, if you see stars, you have a concussion), go to the hospital and get yourself checked out! Follow doctor’s orders just like they came from your vet. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Symptoms can show up months after an incident. You know that little nag you have about Horsey’s health and soundness? Turns out it works on you too. Don’t delay after any fall if something doesn’t feel right and don’t make excuses for it. Had I not so quickly dismissed those feelings of something’s not right and thought about my concussion earlier on, I would have gone to see a doctor right away, and while I probably still would have had power tools drilling through my skull and pieces of it sitting next to me, I may have been standing a little further away from that fine line between this world and the next.
When you come to the edge of all that you know,
You must believe in one of two things;
There will be Earth upon which to stand,
Or you will be given wings.