August 11, 2017. I was getting ready for our second varsity football practice of the day; strapping on my cleats and tightening my shoulder pads, I was ready to compete for ta spot on this team.
The next thing I recall from that day was waking up to my sister’s voice in a hospital bed. Everything else I know about August 11, 2017 is from the recollection of others.
Apparently, the entire squad was on the goal line, one player across from another, ready to throw themselves into each other. Once all eyes were on me I got into my stance, put in my mouth guard, and waited for the whistle to blow. On the whistle, other players saw me go head first into my teammate. Once the whistle blew to end the skirmish, teammates close to me noticed something was off.
“You looked confused, almost as if you didn’t know where you were. But you still got right back to the line ready for coach to come back to you,” Jr. Eric Paauwe said.
Apparently that’s exactly what I did. As soon as the whistle and eyes were back on me I was ready for more contact.
“The second hit was much louder than your first hit. As soon as coach moved on you got up and stumbled over to a coach and said you didn’t feel so good. Then we saw you trip over yourself trying to get to the trainers’ room,” Paauwe said. After finding the trainers Jenna Maki and Frank Lerchen, they ran a few quick concussion protocol tests and got me in an ambulance and on my way to Holland Hospital.
Only days after leaving Holland Hospital I found myself in the Bone and Joint Center prepared for my appointment to see how long I would have to sit out of the season. Once the doctor gave me the fateful news that I would be missing my entire varsity football season I couldn’t help but burst into tears.
After hours of regret and sorrow, I realized I had a long, rough, and rigorous journey back to my full health.
First came my impact test. The impact test is a memory based computer test a person takes after a recent head injury. I know I’ve always had ease with memory style testing, scoring high in each category; however, after my diagnosis, I failed each category by a significant amount. Embarrassed and ashamed of my score I knew I’d have to score much higher on my retake months down the road.
Next came my medication. Not only did I have to deal with the fact that I was missing out on my junior season, I had the endless headaches and dizziness. I had never had problems with my balance or head pains; however, after August 11 I found it hard to sleep and walk straight. I was prescribed pills that would help with my dizziness and took Tylenol for my headaches. The downside, besides the inconvenience of taking multiple pills every day, was the sleepiness that followed. While it was nice being able to walk in a semi-straight line, I found it increasingly difficult to stay awake and alert throughout the day.
Finally came the physical therapy. Therapy consisted of rigorous endurance workouts along with balance exercises to see how my symptoms would react to working out. Twice a week I found myself in the Physical Therapy unit of the Bone and Joint Center performing numerous exercises hoping my headaches and dizziness would stay at a minimum. After months of therapy and feeling better and better every day, I thought I was finally ready to come back to the sport I love.
After my final therapy session, my final challenge was to complete my RTP or return to play with Maki. Return to play was a two-day physical test. With endless jumping jacks, planks, and mountain climbers I felt just as healthy as I ever have.
Finally, months after August 11, 2017, I was back in the weight room, lifting on my own. After finishing my final set on bench press and being able to get up with no dizziness or headaches, I was feeling better and healthier than I had ever before.