by Ehimetalor Unuabona on Unsplash

Cracking the Coconut: Living with Post Concussion Syndrome

The woman wrote that she was terrified she was in early stages Alzheimer’s. The symptoms she described were brain fog, memory loss (especially short term), repeating herself, depression. Suicidal thoughts. The occasional emotional outbursts.

Hm. Sounds like my life.

Over the course of the last ten years I’ve managed to collect some twenty concussions. That’s more than most NFL players. Shy of equestrians, (my hand is up) who tend to get the most serious and lethal head injuries, most folks relate Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) to professional athletes.

Hardly.

Let’s be clear here. There are many of us who are foolish enough to ride horses, which are fine until someone lets loose the Dreaded White Plastic Bag, or a bee bites his butt. Most others who get head injuries aren’t professional athletes. We collect them during life. A brutal, abusive parent. A bad boyfriend. A car accident. A slip and fall in the bathroom which breaks a hip, but Mom also whacks her forehead on the sink on the way down.

Soon after that, she’s on her way down, too. It’s not the hip. It’s the head.

Here are some stunning facts about that delicate noggin of yours:

  • An estimated 2.8 million people sustain a TBI annually. Of them:
  • 50,000 die,
  • 282,000 are hospitalized, and
  • 2.5 million, nearly 90%, are treated and released from an emergency department.
  • TBI is a contributing factor to a third (30%) of all injury-related deaths in the United States.
  • Every day, 153 people in the United States die from injuries that include TBI.
  • Most TBIs that occur each year are mild, commonly called concussions.
  • Direct medical costs and indirect costs of TBI, such as lost productivity, totaled an estimated $60 billion in the United States in 2000.

Source: https://www.brainline.org/article/get-stats-traumatic-brain-injury-united-states

Photo by Ben Hershey on Unsplash

Every year babies are injured and killed, kids get hurt in sports. But the other tragedy is that old people- who often fall- are not treated for TBI. If anything they are so medicated that they sustain a TBI because of the dizziness caused by the meds. Talk about stupid. It’s bad enough that over the course of our lives we inevitably bang our heads. It’s horrific that meds that we take, including common over-the-counter products, can cost us far more than the minor ailment we’re trying to treat( https://www.consumerreports.org/drug-safety/drugs-that-might-be-the-cause-of-your-dizziness/).

For some, like the woman noted above, those symptoms often have nothing whatsoever to do with Alzheimer’s. They may well be that over the course of time she sustained enough head bumps so that now she has post-concussion syndrome. It’s worth asking the question, because the protocols are very different.

by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Living with post concussion syndrome can be down right nasty. Anyone who has seen the movie Concussion starring Will Smith will know what the symptoms look like. They’re terrifying. I know. I dealt with them all the time. Doctors prescribed more and more drugs, which exacerbated all the symptoms, especially the 24-hour a day suicidal thoughts. You don’t know what that’s like until you live with it. I know precisely what Junior Seau was dealing with (http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jan/10/sports/la-sp-sn-junior-seau-brain-2013011)0. I deal with it today. I have at times come very close to offing myself, and the meds made it vastly worse. They always do. You can count on it.

The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the medical community’s standard response to just about anything is to medicate. When I went to a specialist to get tested for brain damage, she told me to increase my meds. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. And it is WRONG. Just plain WRONG. Increasing my meds increased my suicidal thoughts by a factor of ten. That is part of what led me to dump my entire regime of meds- most especially anything in the anti-depressant category, the very pills my docs insisted I gobble down like candy. That’s insane. They were driving me insane.

Photo by Diego Duarte Cereceda on Unsplash

The Truth About Head Protection

Let’s also be clear. HELMETS DON’T PREVENT CONCUSSIONS. The best they can do is keep your cranium in one piece. If you’re skiing at warp speed down a mountainside and wrap yourself around a tree head-first, your brain will continue forward at that same speed and bang around inside like a pinball machine, getting bruised and damaged in the process. Your helmet’s job is to make sure your skull doesn’t explode like an egg dropped on the kitchen floor. It can’t do anything about the speed with which the brain itself careers around inside your brain pan, and that’s where the damage occurs. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/why-dont-helmets-prevent-concussions/

I wear very good helmets for all my sports. Still got twenty concussions. Now mind you there were times I wasn’t doing sports and I knocked myself silly. I used to make jokes about it. Still do, but not without knowing full well the price I may have to eventually pay for repeated concussions.

by Alec Moore on Unsplash

Finding a Protocol That Works

Two years ago I had suffered my sixteenth concussion. Apparently that was just one too many. I’d taken a header down 32 stairs in Iceland, landed on my noggin, and cracked it open along with smashing my pelvis, arm and wrist. While I admit that was pretty funny (along with brutally painful), apparently that’s when my brain yelled ENOUGH. Not long afterwards I began to exhibit the symptoms.

They got so severe that I thought I was going nuts. In fact that is indeed what costs most of us our lives when we cannot bear the symptoms any more. The constant drip-drip-drip of all the ways you can kill yourself off becomes too much to bear, the depression, and your complete awareness of how you’re treating people without being able to stop it becomes too much. In some ways it’s like having Tourette’s. You’re rude and angry and vicious without wanting to be, feeling horrible about it, and wholly unable to get it under control.

by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Aging Is Part of the Problem

According to the Mayo Clinic, age is an additional factor- I’m 65- and being female, even more so, although we’re more likely to seek medical care. They admit that there is a great deal we don’t know. Exacerbating factors can be PTSD (my hand is up again), depression, and a garden variety of other stuff that tells me that the medical community is downright clueless. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-concussion-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20353352

After #16, that’s the year that my sports chiropractor, who had just installed several different protocols for the head injuries he was seeing (and as a former football player, he himself has suffered) put me on LiveO2 (https://liveo2.com)/. That’s little more than sitting on a bike or treadmill with a mask on your face, and breathing in oxygen.

This made all the difference.

The LiveO2 system allows me to ride a bike, set the machine to high altitude, sprint for 30 seconds or more, then go back to full medical-grade oxygen. After two days of doing this for barely twelve minutes at a pop, I got my brain back. Not only did the suicidal thoughts stop, but I was able to far better manage the Whack-a-Mole emotional outbursts. They’re still there. The difference is that I now have- as I did prior to the concussions- a better measure of control over them. Feeling more in control of my emotional outbursts has put me back in the mainstream without fear of offending people.

On top of that I got my sense of humor back which is what I needed to be able to ride the inevitable waves- not just caused by life, but also by the brain damage.

Deposit photos

Here’s why oxygen is so important to the brain: http://www.nacd.org/my-brain-needs-oxygen-what-can-i-do/. While I’m no scientist, my guess is that multiple injuries along with the fact that I live at nearly 6000' in Colorado have combined to impede oxygen to the brain. When I blast my body’s cells with rich O2, they respond in kind. I have far more energy, my endurance goes up, and I heal faster.

Older people are often put on oxygen tanks, as was my mother, in part due to the combination of reduced lung capacity which happens naturally with age (but which is badly exacerbated by lack of exercise) and a reduced heart capacity (also badly exacerbated by lack of exercise). The body desperately needs oxygen. The circulatory system delivers it through the workings of our hearts and lungs. The brain HAS to be fed oxygen, so if we stop exercising, inevitably the brain as well as our bodies will suffer.

Add to this the dangerous cocktails of all those meds people gorm which interfere with the brain and our bodies’ natural functions and truly, is it any wonder that we fall, fail, and flail as we age?

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

In my case, the oxygenation worked wonders. Not only did I get back on my mental feet, the LiveO2 system seems to have opened a brand new door to capacities I didn’t know I had. After about three or four sessions, I was suddenly writing four times as much material, it was better, funnier, and better-written than I’d ever produced before.

Thank you, I’ll take that side effect any day. I’ve no clue if other people experience that. All I know was that I threw my heart into using the LiveO2 as if my life depended on it.

It may well.

Eventually I installed a system in my downstairs gym. Good thing, because the day after rotator cuff surgery, I fell over face first and slammed my badly abused noggin into the hard wood of my bookcase. Concussion number twenty. All the symptoms came roaring back. I had to wait until I could sit my bike with confidence before I began the protocol again, but as soon as I could, I threw myself into it. And it helps. Enormously.

The simple truth is that each of us responds differently to different protocols. In the rich varied universe that is our bodies, we respond to drugs (and oxygen at this level is indeed a drug, albeit a natural one) or treatments in sometimes vastly different ways. Still, if oxygen as a therapy didn’t work, a host of old folks wouldn’t be walking around attached to a system. Clearly there’s a benefit, and we know that as we age our oxygen intake drops due to sedentary lifestyles.

I still exercise like a banshee. However the addition of the LiveO2 to my overall program, which takes no more than twelve minutes at a pop, has vastly improved my brain functions, reduced my symptoms, and in a variety of surprising ways, increased my performance. Athletes use LiveO2 to increase their capacity and endurance. I find that too. On top of that, the system is being considered for injured military to get them back to full capacity in just a few days. You can be clear that if the military is considering this, it must be highly effective. Healing our soldiers is a very high priority (at least in some circles).

Photo by Clique Images on Unsplash

Let’s be clear. I don’t sell LiveO2. I’m just another customer. My interest, as both an athlete and as a person of a Certain Age, is to make sure that we all have alternative options to a predatory medical system that is not invested in our wellness. There’s no money in our getting better. In fact the more infirm you are, the more money the shareholders make. To me, that’s criminal. This system is part of my arsenal of weapons to keep me the hell out of a hospital. Besides, the medical community has no clue what to do with post-concussion symptoms other than to say fasten your seat belt, wear a helmet-that-doesn’t-really-help and don’t hurt your head.

Wow. Gee. That’s helpful, you morons. Then if you do show up with symptoms, here, take these pills. LOTS of them. All of which have vicious side effects, including suicidal thoughts, dizziness and brain fog, as if you weren’t dealing with those enough already.

Wow. Gee. That’s helpful, you morons.

The second a health care provider pushes pills at me, I know damned good and well they have no clue what to do about my condition. The best ones, who tend to be holistically inclined (an area of expertise that scares the holy shit out of the medical profession, which is precisely why the medical community is trying to outlaw it), and they have already begun to research alternative options. As in: better nutrition, exercise, non-pill options. No profit in those.

Here’s how I see it. No matter what age you are, if you’ve banged your noggin even once, you may be a candidate for far more serious problems down the line. It’s not just exercise and good food that will help. Once you’ve damaged your brain, you absolutely, positively have to take different and far more serious steps to heal it, and keep it operating at optimum capacity. For me that’s LiveO2. You may find something different. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is to take those head injuries and symptoms seriously.

Here’s to breathing deeply- and living life to the full.

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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