On February 3, 2014 at 8 a.m., it was ten below zero as I started to walk down my building’s driveway with my dog, Pixxie, securely tucked in my left arm. It’s funny how we remember the date so clearly — similar to the way we remember our birthday or wedding anniversary.
I stepped on a patch of black ice, causing my feet to go out from under me. Because of the incline, I landed head first on the driveway. I can still hear the awful thud of my skull making impact with the concrete before briefly losing consciousness.
When I sat up, I immediately knew something was terribly wrong. The pain in my head was excruciating, and my vision was off-kilter and fuzzy. It took every ounce of energy I could muster to grab Pixxie’s leash and lead us back into my apartment before calling my neighbor for assistance.
She asked me who was President, to which I answered “Bill Clinton” (the answer should have been Obama … I was off by several administrations). She asked what I ate for dinner the night before, and I couldn’t think of anything — my mind was blank. She gave me an ice pack to put on my head and told me she’d check on me later.
The fact that I wasn’t able to read anything, and I was seeing spots in my vision, left me feeling scared and concerned. I called another friend who instructed me to go see her doctor/husband immediately.
Against my better judgment (I mean, let’s be real, I was concussed), I chose to drive myself the five miles to his office. He gave me a thorough exam and told me I had a pretty severe concussion, cervical spine C4 and C5 damage, a dislocated sternum, and torn muscles in my neck, chest, throat, and abdomen. I was instructed to take the next two weeks off and rest with no stimulation — including TV, computer, music, and reading.
I struggled along for a solid ten months of aphasia, dizziness, balance and coordination problems, short-term memory deficits, and a plethora of cognitive challenges. The Neurologist I also visited had told me to just “give it more time,” and I became more and more frustrated at my inability to do simple tasks without being exhausted.
At the fifteen-month mark, I went back to the Neurologist begging for help. I asked for therapies that might help my memory and multi-tasking, to which she was skeptical that I would ever get better since it was now over a year since my injury. She did concede to send me for CranioSacral Therapy and a NeuroPsychological test.
The NeuroPscyhologist basically told me that I scored worse than a dementia patient, and that I clearly must not have tried hard enough –– and it was likely psychosomatic (meaning I was faking it). She then went on to tell me I should start taking Ritalin, anti-depressants, and sleeping pills. I politely declined her offer and ran out of her office as quickly as I could.
Feeling defeated, I plugged along at life for another year before a doctor read one of my Huffington Post articles and reached out to me. Dr. Jeremy Schmoe stated that he was certain he could help me, and we both happened to live in Minnesota.
I blew him off for several months, feeling skeptical as no one in the medical field had ever really bothered to take the time to listen to me, let alone believe me. He was persistent and told me to come in for a complimentary exam, so I figured I had nothing to lose.
His exam was two hours long, and included testing my eyes — and he immediately told me my eyes weren’t working together properly and that, combined with my cervical spine issues, this is why I was feeling so dizzy and off balance.
Within just one week of intensive treatments with Dr. Schmoe, I started to feel less dizzy and foggy. Slowly my other symptoms started to drift away, and I was feeling better than I had in over two and a half years. I still have flare-ups, but I feel good more days than not, which has given me back a quality of life that I was missing.
My passion for helping other survivors, caregivers, and healthcare providers has taken me across the country keynote speaking at conferences, writing for the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, BrainLine, Goodmen Project, and many other publications, moderating a large “Amy’s TBI Tribe” Facebook group, and also publishing my first three books.
I believe that this invisible injury is incredibly misunderstood, but it doesn’t have to define us. There is always hope — no matter how many years you may have been struggling. I have chosen to make the best of my situation and turned advocacy into my full-time passion.
How has the BIAC changed my life?
In March 2015, just one year after my injury, I was invited by one of my fellow Tribe members to attend Brain Injury Awareness Day in Washington, D.C. This is where I was first introduced to the Brain Injury Association of America, which I had no idea existed up until this point. I was introduced to Paul Bosworth, who took me under his wing and helped me learn the ropes of BIA Day. It was shortly afterwards that I was asked to join the Council where I have made the most incredible friendships. The BIAC has taught me that despite our deficits, we all have amazing strengths, and when we work together we can make an even bigger impact on the brain injury community.
Photo credit: FacesOfTBI.com