Cindy McNaughton

Cindy-survivorMy name is Cindy McNaughton, and I have lived with the effects of concussion since September 2015. This is my experience and it isn’t to scare you: it’s so you feel normal if this has happened to you.

I was leaving work for the day. I worked as a letter carrier with Canada Post. The loading dock door was left 3/4 of the way open. I was looking in my bag for my keys and when I lifted my head, I walked into the steel bar on the bottom of the dock door.

I remember excruciating pain, blacking out and coming to in a crouched position. I split the bridge of my nose and had a very large goose egg on the left side of my forehead. I also somehow managed to jar my jaw in such a way that I loosened my two front teeth.

I was fortunate one of my supervisors was familiar with concussions, but I had a different supervisor go to the hospital with me. They left to pick up their child before I was seen. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone there who will wait with you and be your advocate to make sure everything gets checked over thoroughly, make sure they ask questions about what to expect, resources to help and what to watch for after the person with the concussion leaves the hospital. The ER doctor suspected I had a concussion and I just remember him telling me I shouldn’t drive. For how long? I don’t remember that part.

It is still very emotional for me to remember that day because moving forward, my life changed so much. Honestly, I really only remember the very beginning of my injury. The next few months is just gone.

I had a very hard time with any noise, lights, and being around crowds and people. I was tired all the time and I was beyond irritable with the smallest things. My short-term memory was fairly nonexistent. I hated talking on the phone and it was so frustrating being asked all the time how I was because there was so many things happening with me, I couldn’t pinpoint what I was feeling.

My cousin, who I am so grateful for, came to help me for a week with my daughter. I can’t even recall what she did, other than let me sleep. At some point months later, I thought I would be okay quickly. But that wasn’t the case and it scared me to think that I actually had a concussion for this long. I started Googling signs and symptoms and there were so many I had. I felt a sense of relief that what I was feeling was part and parcel of a concussion.

I saw a physiotherapist who helped me with tracking things, as my eyes and brain just wouldn’t line up and it made me so nauseous. The exercises I was given tired out my brain so much I would nap for hours after. One of the hardest symptoms for me was my memory loss. Everyone noticed that I would say something and two minutes later forget. I used so many sticky notes, but they were what helped me remember. Another very frustrating symptom – that I still have four years later – is having a word on the tip of my tongue and for the life of me I can’t think of it. I can remember the longer or different version of the word and I use a thesaurus to figure out the right word. I just hope it will still get better over time.

I did eventually return to work. I have been a registered massage therapist since 2002 and dropped down to part time while I worked at the Post. I was a casual there for 7 years. I took a three month leave of absence after my concussion, but if I took any longer I would lose my seniority. I wasn’t 100% functioning at optimum and didn’t have it in me to negotiate more time, so I went back and ended up spraining my ankle badly. I knew I needed more time to heal and being at the Post was not going to facilitate that, so I decided to open a massage clinic and handed in my resignation in October 2016. I should’ve fought harder but didn’t have anyone to help. So, I did return to work, but it’s a huge blank. I don’t remember any of the small details, but it was for less than a year.

I use a lot of coping strategies like the sticky notes and the thesaurus. Another coping strategy is letting everyone I know well that I’ve had a concussion, so things don’t run as smoothly in my brain as they once did. I also saw a physiotherapist who dealt with concussions and worked on my tracking with my brain and eyes, balance, hand eye coordination and really let me know I was “normal” with the symptoms I was experiencing. The biggest strategy is I’m patient with myself, which was not always the case. I’m not who I was. My brain doesn’t work the same although it’s getting better, but if I forget something or can’t do roller coasters anymore with my daughter, it is my way of life and I accept that.

Time is what heals. Be patient with yourself and be open with everyone on the struggles you have so they can help you. Always take the help.