The road to recovery: A BIST member’s story

Deborah Daniel was skiing at Big White in Kelowna, B.C. on Christmas Day last year when she lost control and skied off the side of the mountain. This is her Q&A about her experiences and challenges as she continues to recover from her accident.

Deborah Daniel on the slopes the day before her accident.
BIST: How did you sustain your brain injury?

On my last run of the day on a baby/intermediate hill (I was not a great skier) I lost control and skied off the side of the mountain. I landed six to 10 feet below but was not knocked unconscious. My right leg hit a tree and I started calling for help. Luckily help came quickly. I was not wearing a helmet, because no one ever told me to; I thought that was for real beginners and those who snowboard. It makes me feel silly to think about it in hindsight as I am a health-care professional.

I was lucky that my head only hit the ground and not a tree. The people who rescued me said that had I landed a couple of feet to the left or right, I would probably have been dead.

I went to the infirmary and hospital later that night. I had no symptoms of a concussion, my memory was intact and no scans or tests were performed.

I left with some painkillers and a wrapped knee because I had sprained my MCL (which I found out later). Throughout the next couple of days I had some minor headaches, but they said that was normal.

It wasn’t until  weeks after the injury that the symptoms started. It started with nausea — consistent nausea. At first I thought that perhaps I had the flu, or an inner-ear infection. But it then progressed to severe dizziness and exhaustion. I was sitting in a business meeting about four weeks after the accident and the room started spinning and I had to hold on to the walls to not fall over.

This time I went to the hospital and they did a CT scan – normal, thank goodness. Four weeks post-accident they finally did diagnose me with post-concussion symptoms and referred me to a concussion clinic with some regular meds – gravol and advil for the symptoms. There was nothing else they could do.

BIST: Can you describe your rehabilitation process?

Sleep. Sleep. And sleep. That was the first two-to-four weeks after the accident – sleeping. The health-care professionals I was speaking to then told me light exercise was important to my rehabilitation and that I needed to walk every day. I did that, and then tried to not take naps during the day unless I absolutely had to, to prepare to make it through a work day when I went back.

The other part of my rehabilitation was to try to do my previous activities slowly (such as trying beginner yoga again) and if symptoms came on, then I had to stop. And this is what I have continued to do for three months.

I try to walk a longer distance to and from the subway for my daily exercise, I try not to take naps unless needed, I try to sleep the same amount and pattern daily (this is the hardest) and try to do light exercise and get back into my old routine. This has also helped with the depression I felt after the accident – I felt useless, sick and that I was going to be like this forever.

However, even after three months, there is still a long way to go, especially with the motion sickness, but I am hoping I will be back to normal in another couple of months.

BIST: What were some of the challenges you faced right after your injury?

Nausea, dizziness and exhaustion – every day. I found it quite strange when things were moving that really shouldn’t have been moving. When going for a walk, I knew that the trees weren’t moving, but visually they were!

I also lost quite a bit of weight. The nausea diet did help me lose 10 pounds, but I felt so sick that it wasn’t worth it.
I couldn’t read either – the words would move and make me dizzy! That was awful, because I love to read.
The absolute worst was the motion sickness with any type of moving vehicles. It made going to work a horrible experience.

BIST: How did your injury affect your relationships with family members and friends?

My relationships were not overly affected – my family and friends just didn’t understand how to deal with my symptoms. They felt helpless.  It was hard for them to understand my exhaustion and nausea, and they would sometimes get upset if I tried to push myself too hard, but overall they were understanding and just tried to support me the best they could.

BIST: How did you learn to cope?

I had to re-integrate myself back into a normal schedule. After taking two weeks off from work, I started going back for half-days two days a week, working from home the others as much as possible. The only way I could get to work was to take half a Gravol in the morning,because my motion sickness on the train was so overwhelming. Worst o all, I had to convince myself on those work days that I was not going to pass out or throw up on the other passengers – I would say “You are ok, you are ok” in my head over and over to get me to and from work.

I started adding back activities slowly. I tried to go for walks and forced myself to eat normal meals. I started increasing the amount of time I spent at work and days very slowly – but if I had a bad day, I stayed home the next to try to “stabilize”.

After three months I am able to go to work daily, but not without facing sheer exhaustion and nausea on many of those days. I pushed myself to try to get back to normal activities, feeling like that would help me slowly get back into a rhythm – however, I still had to be careful. Yoga has been a challenge as well as normal exercise, but little by little I am trying to re-learn what I used to do and love.

BIST: What are some of the main challenges you find with living with a brain injury?

Dealing with the nausea and exhaustion from normal day-to-day activities and the motion sickness that I never had before. I am still trying to avoid going for long drives — as a passengers — because of it.
It is also challenging to tell family and friends that you can’t participate in activities or that you really are too tired. They want to understand, but it is hard for them.

BIST: What are some of your hobbies now?

I am trying to get back into the activities I liked before, such as yoga and reading.

BIST: Any words or suggestions for individuals who have recently had an ABI?

Talk to people who deal with concussions regularly. They are the only people who can give you the tips you need to try to get better.
And try to get back into your normal routine. Even if you can’t do all the activities, building a normal pattern again is really important to getting back to normal.
Go to work..….people appreciate when you try and can understand your challenges by seeing it first-hand. Brain injuries are not visible, so sometimes people need to see you have waves of nausea, etc. for them to truly understand and believe what you go through.
Tell your story! It is the only way people will see and understand what brain injuries are – in real everyday people!

Deborah Daniel is a BIST member and volunteer.

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