Last Saturday, Andrew found me lying on the floor by my computer. It was pretty clear when I regained consciousness that things weren’t right (I mean, more not right than usual). We’ve learned to separate “normal” postictal symptoms from those of a head injury, and many of the latter were there: a huge goose egg was already starting to form, my head was killing me, and I was confused, drowsy, and nauseated. We went to the doctor, who confirmed our WebMD-style home diagnosis and sent us off with instructions: I was to stay awake for the rest of the day and “try not to think for a week or so,” and Andrew was to wake me up every two hours that night to “make sure I could be roused.” (Comforting thought.)
The list of banned activities for the recently concussed includes, essentially, everything I ever spend more than five minutes doing: working, reading, watching TV, exercising, and using electronics. Saturday was difficult—Andrew had to keep forcing me to close Word. Sunday was hard—I sneakily opened thesis-related documents every time Andrew left the room and bullied him into going on an hour-and-a-half-long walk with me.
Monday, on the other hand, was an out-and-out disaster.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, I didn’t listen to the doctor’s orders. Like, really didn’t listen to them. I had told my committee members that by Sunday I would distribute a draft of the final chapter of my thesis for them to look over before a progress meeting scheduled for next week. Realizing that it wasn’t going to be possible to finish editing with my loving, concerned husband monitoring my every keystroke, I halfheartedly e-mailed my supervisor to tell him that I was going to need a little more time. He was super-supportive and said that he would e-mail the other members, but he also suggested that I send it off as is and worry about revisions later. “This is, after all, a progress meeting,” he reassured me. “Why not get if off your plate so that you can focus on your recovery? Everybody knows that you’re making good progress.” Telling someone with an out-of-control anxiety disorder and a recent concussion to “just get it off your plate” and send materials for evaluation before finishing revisions is like telling an OCD long-distance runner to grind to a halt five metres from the finish line then smile and meet the press. Ain’t gonna happen.
So the next morning, I went to campus, determined to look over the chapter “one more time” before e-mailing it to my committee members and bringing copies to the department for them. Four hours later, I was still at it, obsessively changing tiny, insignificant things and, inarguably, not improving its quality in any concrete sense. It’s unreasonable, I suppose, to think that revising a 50-page piece of writing with a pounding headache and severe nausea is effective or appropriate, but I couldn’t stop myself. Six or so hours in, my head got worse and I couldn’t stop vomiting. My (rightfully angry) husband brought me to the ER to make sure there wasn’t a bleed. After five hours, some blood tests, and a CT scan, I was cleared to go. The ER doctor’s horrifying parting words echoed, and continue to echo, through my brain-injured mind: “Try staring at a wall. Seriously. Stare at a wall.”
Clearly, I’m not taking his advice at face value. I am, however, taking it a hell of a lot more seriously than I did the last time.