Concussions something to think about
Concussions not restricted to sport-related injuries
Concussions certainly aren’t limited to athletes. They can happen to everyday people. Walsh County State’s Attorney Barb Whelan is just one example.
In August, Whelan suffered a concussion which turned her life upside down for a couple of months.
While fishing on Devils Lake with her husband Doug and daughter Grace in August, the Whelans experienced some motor trouble out on the lake which forced them to dock.
Without the use of a motor, docking the boat was a little more of a challenge. While reaching out for the dock, Whelan fell backward.
“I slipped and fell backward into the boat and struck my head on the frame of one of the seats,” she said.
According to Whelan the impact was near the base of her skull and the top of her spine. It was very painful and she said she saw stars, but she and her family went ahead with the docking of the boat.
“I was mortally embarrassed, but I didn’t pass out. I jumped right up like everything was fine, but I didn’t feel fine,” she said. “Later one of the doctors said the impact probably was the equivalent of being struck in the back of the head with a baseball bat.”
Her initial symptoms included feeling sick to her stomach and dazed as well as pain and stiffness where she hit her head. However, she never thought she might have a concussion.
Whelan said she didn’t feel quite “right” that evening but she had a busy day at the office the next day. She went to work on Monday, yet she continued to feel out of sorts.
She said she encountered a surreal experience the next day while trying to perform her duties in Northeast District Court.
“By the middle of the afternoon I was really starting to feel pretty tough,” she said. “It’s kind of hard to explain. It felt like nothing was real and everything seemed far away.”
Later that evening Whelan told her husband she wasn’t feeling well and they decided it was best to go to the emergency room at Unity Medical Center in Grafton.
After some tests, she was informed by the doctor on call that she indeed had a concussion. He told her to rest for a minimum of 48 hours and if her symptoms got worse, she should come back.
At first she said she thought she was improving, but by Wednesday evening of that week she was nauseated and had a searing headache.
“It felt like my head was on fire,” she said.
Whelan returned to the emergency room and had a CT scan done. She was told there was no sign of bleeding on the brain and that it would just take time until she felt better.
It was then that she slowly began to realize that recovering from the trauma wasn’t exactly a cut-and-dried process.
Whelan said she followed up with her regular physician, without much relief. Her symptoms included light sensitivity, dizziness, loss of balance and ringing in her ears. Looking back, the month of September was a “black hole” Whelan recalled.
Whelan said she couldn’t take just lying around and explored several non-traditional options to find relief.
Those options included cranial sacral therapy, a type of massage meant to release compression in her neck and alleviate the pain. She also tried acupuncture and chiropractic treatments.
Although she found temporary relief, it generally only lasted a matter of hours.
Whelan eventually decided to have a consultation with a neurologist in early October and was told much the same.
“I was told it was a soft-tissue injury to the brain and the only thing that is going to help that is time,” she said.
She said treatment with medication was an option, but she didn’t want to deal with the side effects.
“I decided I was going to explore every other option before I started taking that medication,” she said.
Earlier Whelan had been told about some headache sufferers who had found relief through a procedure where staples were inserted in the outer ear.
She did some research and found a practitioner in Grand Forks who did the procedure.
“I figured I had nothing to lose,” she said. “As quirky as it sounded, I decided I was going to do it.”
Called “Acu-staple”, a surgical stainless steel staple is placed in the cartilage of the ear between specific pressure points that among other symptoms, targets headaches and migraines. She had the procedure done at Waind Chiropractic and Acupuncture in Grand Forks.
She said the procedure took less than five minutes and felt similar to having her ears pierced. Immediately the ringing in her ears stopped.
Early on in her treatment, Whelan was given a prescription for a muscle relaxant. She said she was apprehensive about stopping the medication, but knew she couldn’t return to work while taking it.
Finally she stopped taking the medication and returned to work, relying on the staples.
“And I’ve been at work ever since,” Whelan said.
According to Whelan she continues to feel some soreness and stiffness at the injury site, but has found complete relief from the headaches she previously was dealing with. She said she is continuing her massage therapy and visits the chiropractor.
Whelan said in her case, time has been the best healer, along with her treatments. She encourages other concussion sufferers like her to be patient.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. “It just takes time.”