Moses’ story – Hard Yakka, Concussion - The Lived Experience
Before my concussion, I was entering my first year of my bachelor’s degree at the University of Canterbury and playing representative ice hockey. Being the driven and passionate person that I am, I worked hard towards my education and health, which led to my university acceptance and selections to play for New Zealand. I received excellent marks in my assessments and examinations, which reassured me in my endeavours towards my desired career in sport. In my ice hockey, I was selected on multiple occasions from under 16 right up to under 20 level to compete on the world stage against other countries. My life, although not smooth sailing the entire way, consisted of relatively positive success for most of the way. This was until October 2018 when my life was completely changed and shaken upside down.
In October 2018, I was selected as a captain for the Canterbury under 20 representative ice hockey team, which competed in Dunedin at a national selection tournament. Having been selected for the team the year before and being one of the senior players in the selection, my reselection was confirmed and the potential for captaincy and success at the international level was somewhat predetermined. After competing in three of the four games at the tournament, I was the front runner in scoring and efficiency in my position. At the end of the third game, I was blindsided by one of my teammates accidentally where he collided directly into my face after trying to step around the referee and initiate contact with the opposition I was engaged with. I was knocked to the ground and was slow to get up as the game continued. As I staggered towards my bench to get off the ice, my vision was blurry and all I could see were colours. As headaches started to unfold instantly, when I got off the ice, I received qualified medical attention, only to be told that no signs of injury had occurred. After sitting out for the rest of the tournament, I refocused my efforts towards recovering to compete at the world stage in January 2019, only to find that this concussion was severe.
Aside from the acute symptoms that were described earlier, as days started to pass by, more and more symptoms came into fruition. I had extreme sensitivity to light and noise, which worsened the consistent migraine I would have from wake-up to bedtime. I had constant ear ringing that would be worsened when my heart rate would elevate or noise/light exposure were to increase. I had extremely poor short-term memory, which would cause me to forget sentences I was saying midway through communicating. I also had major fatigue, which required me to sleep excessively throughout the day as well as at night. The worst symptoms included the high levels of depression and anxiety I had, which was very out of character for me – this especially worsened because I couldn’t exercise or be involved in sport. As a result of my sensitivity to light, I was also unable to look at a screen, even on low brightness, for more than a few seconds without my eyes hurting and my headaches worsening. What was most painful about all of this was my rate of recovery, which was extremely low to non-existent up until around April when trivial changes started to unfold. This was largely thanks to the Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust. Before that though, I was in an incredibly dark place having been stripped of my entire lifestyle and even the most basic things in life you take for granted like reading, listening to music, exercising, etc. It got to the point where I considered ending my life because of how I felt living a monotonous day of emotional torture and lack of progress.
When I was referred to Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust, this was a few weeks prior to entering my second year of my bachelor’s degree, which I didn’t think was going to happen due to my heavily impaired cognitive state. Ultimately, the goal with them was to get me back to fully participating in university as well as getting my exercise tolerance back to normal with return to ice hockey not being realistic or a priority. The rehabilitation programme was multifaceted where I received physiotherapy, cognitive testing, counselling and general management strategies. This started off with neck strengthening exercise for preventative relief, advanced testing, which were specifically targeted at different lobes of the brain for a well-rounded approach, emotional wellbeing monitoring and reassurance and modified university tasks. Eventually, this turned into running and low-contact sports, continued counselling and monitoring and normal university work. Although I still had persisting symptoms throughout such as short-term memory loss, headaches and fatigue, which still somewhat persist to this day, the severity lessened to a significant extent, and I got back to enjoying life again.
What helped me the most in my recovery was having the support around me to always reassure me on my worst days that things were going to get better, even if it was going to be slow and hard. Having my family, friends and of course the Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust meant that I was able to stay focused on my rehabilitation and stay as close to a positive belief mindset as I could.
The advice I have for others is to be incredibly patient and hold on to the beautiful things in life. It’s so easy to see everything that is wrong and everything that is bad, especially when it seems like nothing’s working or getting better. I had my limitations, but I also still had some things – a loving and supportive family, a roof over my head, I even found love in writing and podcasts, which contributed to my eventual bounce back to university where my grades exceeded what I had achieved previously exponentially. I never thought that I would ever stop playing ice hockey either. If it wasn’t for that concussion, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am now studying for a master’s degree in sport science and am currently working with basketball players across the Canterbury region from high school right up to professional level. The adversity I faced helped me learn and grow as a person, and I am forever grateful for the support I received from my family, my friends and the Laura Fergusson Brain Injury Trust in getting here. Never ever give up; everything happens for a reason, you’ve just got to wait sometimes.
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