Daniel Levitin was on his way home from work one evening in November when something very ordinary happened: a minor car accident. Mr. Levitin received a pretty ordinary injury from the jolt: a mild concussion.
However, what’s not ordinary about this story is that Mr. Levitin is a neuroscientist, which means he was in the unique position of being able to understand, both scientifically and physiologically, exactly what was happening to him as it happened, and he wrote it down.
“I could feel a dull ache in the cerebellum, where my head had hit the headrest. If the impact had been any higher up, I thought, in the occipital lobe, I might have lost my sight or experienced hallucinations. The squishy sensation, I suspected, was likely my prefrontal cortex pushing against the viscous fluid that keeps it from the bone of my skull.”
Levitin catalogues the concussion symptoms as they appear and marks each day: “On day three, I experienced the first sign of trouble. I’d begin a sentence as always, expecting the words I needed to magically appear—and then they wouldn’t…Shortly after my concussion, I was scheduled to do an interview on BBC Radio. I called my publicist to explain that I had been in an accident and wasn’t feeling up to it. “I have a . . . a . . . percussion,” I said…We cancelled all my interviews for the next few weeks.”
After noticing his trouble with words, Levitin recorded more symptoms. On day five, the insomnia begins, and he finds himself waking up every half hour or so.
About three weeks in, he notes that he’s having difficulty concentrating, and even breaks down into tears at one point, realizing that he has felt more emotional in the past week as well.
One month following his car accident, fine motor control returns to normal. Three months out, he’s still battling concentration trouble and fatigue. Six months out he’s still experiencing fatigue and continues to have trouble finding the right words when he’s speaking.
It’s one thing to read a long list of symptoms or have a doctor tell you what to expect following a traumatic head injury. It’s quite another to see through someone else’s eyes how these symptoms play out in and affect a person’s everyday life.
It’s a great although scary reminder of just how much rest and space the brain needs to truly heal.
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