Photo credits Jenna Lindqvist
Remember how it felt to learn how to walk? Well, that is something no one probably remembers. But it sure feels damn weird the way you walk after the hit. Especially, the entire right side of your body. It doesn’t really obey the commands you’ve subconsciously been assigning your body a billion times a day in the past. How does this show outwards?
Your sister explained it really well, having been abroad for a long time, she hadn’t been exposed to the reality of the aftermath and depth of your injury. She did very important work at a refugee camp in Greece and you admire her hugely for that. After returning to Finland, she was strolling around with friends while walking their dog. Down the street, what looked like to be an old man caught her eye, inching slowly towards her at his own pace. The look on her face was indescribable when you said hello to your sister and your friends.
You constantly keep stubbing your toes on the curb when crossing the street, or on the previous step when walking up stairs. The small elevation differences in the pavement, you know those were you scuff the sole of your shoe on, suddenly multiply in numbers on your way to the corner grocery store. They’ve always been there. You just haven’t noticed them. Your coordination has taken care of them before. You’ve been on autopilot. Not anymore.
At this point, it hits you how much pride you’ve taken in your walk prior to the hit. You moved swiftly from A to B, often by foot in a determined manner and in pace faster than average. Now, the pace you walk at has slowed down dramatically. Everything spins when you move too fast. It feels like it’s just going to hit you. What is going to hit you? Everything. You see, you aren’t sure which cars are parked or which are in motion if you walk to fast. It will take you 6 months, half a year, to regain the ability to walk at full speed. Not to mention walking and talking. Remedy; walk with your hand against the wall of a building.
Six months later, you’ve pretty much nailed that whole walking thing. According to your very biased self assessment method. Like, how hard can it be? One foot in front of the other. It takes you about the same time to walk the distances you did before the hit. At its worst, a 5 min walk could take you 25min. The overwhelming need to stop and regain your balance, along with the super duper slow walking speed would result in the time delay.
So you ask your osteopaths when you can go for a run. The answer you are expecting is in the lines of: “Dude, you’re rocking right now so, next week should be cool. Just don’t exceed this and this heart rate. Call me afterwards, just to make sure that you don’t have any symptoms that could go into over drive.”
What do they call that sound when they do that turntable scratch sound in all the movies. Whatever, you know what I mean, that sound played as the answer was given: “Dude, you gotta learn how to walk first!”
Freight train to face. Again.
Your only thought was “Fuck you! I’m 30 years old. I know how to walk! Who the hell are you to tell me that this is something that needs to be learned again?!”
The reason was delivered in a very calm manner, as Pasi Paksunen one of your osteopaths, always does. You see, what you hadn’t noticed was that your style of walking had changed over the past six months. Completely. I guess it’s like those e-cigarettes you see people with. Like you had found a way to walk, but you hadn’t really dealt with the real issue. The fact is that you couldn’t walk like adults are supposed to walk. Reflecting on it, you had gradually started to wear shoes inside, slippers at bare minimum. Avoiding to walk on your entire foot sole a.k.a walking properly, planting your heel and following through making sure the callus, hits the surface in its entire width. Finishing off with a strong 5 toe effort kicking off, smoothly transferring you into the next step. Ever thought of walking in this way? Hells no. Running, yes. Walking, no. That has been a given. So why the coping mechanism?
Because, when you did walk this way (Aerosmith/RUN DMC reference too obvious), you avoided the symptoms it triggered. The nausea, dizziness, instability. What essentially had happened, was that your balance and the balance receptors in the soles of your feet had shut down. You always like to use the term, the plugs had been pulled out from brain to limb and slowly but safely all the plugs need to be put back into their sockets. This is why it is essential all of the symptoms were documented in order for the medical team to know what to address. If there is something you’ve learnt during this entires process, it is that there are no two cases of TBI alike.
ALL! Cases of TBI are individual.
So, you are asked how to demonstrate how you walk. Finally, you get to do something. Sitting around, just listening to how crap you are is getting a bit old. So, with a small bounce you get up demonstrate how you walk. Plant heel, entire sole on the floor, width of callus, strong kick off. Mental self high five!
Aaaaand back to earth you fall!
Pasi demonstrates how you walk. You plant the outer side of your heel, like just a bare minimum in order to stay standing. The soles of your feet barely touch the floor, only the most outer part (pinky width at most) of your sole touches the floor. Your big toe barely hits the floor and barely pushes off. You kind of roll over the outside of your foot. Your shoes have fixed the problem, given the right support in the wrong way.
You are asked to replicate the proper walk, the adult walk. So you do. You do what you have done so many times, close your eyes and try to remember what has been said to you. Your short term memory, well more about that later. After two steps, you feel that you have to sit down. By the third step, you feel drunk as hell. Obliterated. Your balance is nowhere to be seen. Your brain is on information overload. You’ve plugged to many plugs into their sockets at once. Your brain cannot handle the amount of info being sent at a turbo charge rate. Three steps.
Instructions, one step at a time. Right technique. Rest when dizzy. Repeat when dizziness disappears.
On the 15th of October, Tuukka Häkkinen osteopath in training, suggests you use kinesiology tape to correct your stride. A total of 8 months from the hit and countless of walking practices later, you get up from the massage table with taped feet. And for the first time, since the hit, without a hell of a lot of thought, you walk normally.
After the hit, you were unconscious for three minutes. When you woke up, you couldn’t remember what had happened during last two months. That came back. What never will come back, is what happened on the Thursday you got hit. The memories start again on Monday morning, four days of post traumatic amnesia (PTA). Bits and pieces you do remember.
Essentially your memory was affected in a few ways. The funniest one is probably that during the following months you sent text messages that didn’t finish or begun in the middle. Coherence level: none, what so ever. Naturally, you are under the impression that you have written a beautiful piece of literature in the form of a text message. Quite the contrary.
Above, in the speech part, one can read how it affected your speech. And in your own opinion this is also something that falls under the memory category. Six days after the hit, you stood at an exhibition in London for business. Approached by a potential customer you were asked what your product in practice does. Your answer was simple: we sell software. I was kindly informed, that so does everyone else at the show.
Freight train to face. Again.
This was only one of many things you had forgotten. You went to the hotel room and learned the sales pitch again. Only to notice you had only a vague memory of it the next day. You had forgotten what you’ve been selling the past 18 months.
You have stopped drinking green tea. You don’t drink coffee, but you read on ironman.com that green tea is healthy. So you started, it tasted like mud for a month or two, but it became a ritual. Like coffee for some people. Something you’ve now chosen to give up. The reason is simple, you keep forgetting the saucepan of water on the stove. Only to realise that you’re seconds away from a fire because all the water is gone. You don’t have a water boiler and you don’t want one either. Now, reading this someone might scuff and think: that happens all the time to me. And sure, it probably does. But a healthy person remembers putting that saucepan on the stove. You don’t. You just fucking can’t remember. In your world, it hasn’t happened.
If you meet someone new, a person you haven’t met before the hit, the chances of you remembering that person the next time you meet them are slim. Slim to none. Piecing together longer sentences can be close to impossible. Especially if you’re tired. Just remembering what you were talking about or even what you generally are discussing can become a mystery. It just hits you. It hits you, that you have no clue of what you’re talking about. So you’ve developed defence mechanisms that save face. These mechanisms were especially important in the beginning.
Nowadays, you put on a big smile and say: “Okay, I don’t have a damn clue where I’m going with this or what we are talking about. I have brain damage!” Followed by the widest smile and loudest laugh you have. You have to be able to laugh at yourself.
It’s not that serious. So lighten the fuck up! Haha!
You’ve always been very good at sleeping and falling asleep. If you were tired, there was nothing you could do. You fell asleep, anywhere. Personal record: falling asleep in the tram. Standing up. Your journey was a colossal two stops (technically one but it became two). In minutes, that’s around four, including possible stops for traffic lights.
For the first month, you could sleep up to 20 hours a day. The four hours you were awake, felt like hell. Imagine standing in the middle of the loudest, most hectic and chaotic round about you’ve ever been in, that’s around half of what it felt like to be awake. And that was the good part.
The part that sucked, was when the sleeping problems started. Your personal record is trying to fall asleep for nine hours. Dead tired, but not able to fall asleep. You close your eyes and feel like one of those cartoon characters. Tom & Jerry fight and Tom can’t get any sleep because of Jerry. Tom’s eyes go all blood shot, he has matches or tape keeping his eyelids open. Well, that’s how you feel. You feel like you have the strongest matches or tape holding your eyelids open. But your eyes are closed. You are dead tired. Your mind is racing a million miles an hour.
Apparently, it’s the central nervous system on overdrive, busy as a bee fixing things. A bit like that neighbour remodelling his home, keeping you awake. All you ever wish for, is that he would be done. Or at least, have the courtesy to put down that darn drill. Even for a minute. And after 9 hours, he finally does. And you get 4 hours of sleep. That really light sleep, that type of sleep where you would wake up if someone dropped a pin.
So, there you are. Wide awake, but dead tired. That feeling where you haven’t really woken up yet is familiar to everyone. Those early mornings where you just need that cup of coffee, shower, alone time or whatever makes that dust clear out from your penthouse.
The doc says it’s normal. He gives you some pills. Main function: quiet down the central nervous system. The first night you take them, you haven’t had a good nights sleep in 14 days. 3-4 hours max. You barely recognise yourself in the mirror and your brain is working overtime to fix the damage. That dude in your penthouse, hasn’t put down his drill for 30 days. You’re on the brink of insanity. Yet again. You get the pills on Friday, fall asleep 30 minutes after you’ve taken the pill. Sleep until 10am Saturday, get up make breakfast. Go to bed. Get up around 2pm, eat lunch. Go back to bed. Wake up at 7pm, call mom and inform her you’re coming over. Sit at the dinner table with mom, fall asleep during dinner. Go to bed at 9pm. Wake up at 7am (Formula 1 season opener). Home at 11am. Straight to bed. Wake up at 6pm, eat and back to bed.
You got the pills exactly a month after the hit. What you will learn is, that you need more sleep than average now. 7-8 hours used to be enough. The following months, 12 hours is a minimum. Today, around 18 months later, 8-9 hours. Maybe. If even that is enough. Naps during the day are essential! It all depends on the amount of stuff you’ve done during the day. Do too much and you don’t get the quality of sleep needed. What is too much? A year ago, too much could have been walk downstairs to basement or write (ONE SINGLE) email.
You’ve made progress. It’s slow, but it’s still progress. Progress is key.
“A little progress every day, adds up to big results” -Satya