Last year was tough. One afternoon, I got a call from the secretary at my son’s elementary school. She told me that my then ten-year-old had been playing on the monkey bars at recess and fell, hitting his head on the way down. She said he was complaining of stomach pain and a headache.
I thought, “Oh geesh. There goes my relaxing afternoon of lunch I’d just picked up from Panera, doing laundry, and watching the television shows I had saved on my DVR the night before.”
I drove to the school to get my son. Little did I know, that day would start what was one of the worst seven months of our lives, and all from a little fall off a piece of playground equipment. Who knew?
My son was waiting in the school office when I arrived. He had an ice pack on his head and both of the school secretaries were tending to him. He did seem a little “out of it” but I thought that taking him home and allowing him to just relax would be fine. Once he started talking “gibberish” and leaning to his left while walking, I knew something wasn’t right.
I called our pediatrician and took him to her office. She evaluated him, did some sort of neurology test, and told me that he failed and needed a head CT scan as soon as possible, “to make sure he wasn’t having a brain bleed.”
I thought, “From falling off the monkey bars? Are you kidding me?”
We were sent to the local hospital where they immediately ushered my son into the room for the scan. They didn’t waste any time, which was great, but was making me nervous. Thankfully, the scan was negative, no brain bleed. Our pediatrician called me with the news and told me to keep my son home for the next five days or so, little or no television, no reading or writing; he was to do nothing that involved any sort of thinking.
Much easier said than done, let me tell you.
I kept him home and quiet and as technology free as I possibly could for the next several days. On the day he went back to school, he did tell me he had a headache, but he was going to try to make it through the day. Things just got worse from there.
To make a long story short, my little boy had migraine-type headaches just about every single day for seven months straight. Any bright light hurt his eyes. He couldn’t look at a computer screen. If he tried to read a book, the letters would become jumbled, and on two separate occasions, his vision went completely black. He was unable to see anything for a few minutes each time that occurred.
We saw our pediatrician again, and she referred us to a child neurologist who told me that my son would have to stop trying to go to school if he was having any sort of headache at all. She said pushing it would just make it worse. He was diagnosed with “Post Concussion Syndrome” and put on a pain medication that didn’t really help a whole lot, but at least, sometimes, the medication would take the edge off his horrible headaches. The doctor gave us a note for school, and sent us on our way telling us that there was nothing they could do, and it would “just take time.”
The school principal and my son’s two teachers at the time were wonderful, and so were the two school secretaries who originally helped my boy when he fell that day at recess. Classroom lights were covered with paper and blinds were closed on the days that my son was able to go to school. He was allowed to wear a baseball cap and sunglasses to help shield his eyes further from the light. The lights were a huge problem, as was the bright white of the snow on the ground that winter whenever he would go outside.
Riding in the car was an issue. My son had to keep his head down and not look out the window while the car was moving because the motion would cause a headache. If the sun would shine, he would have to stay inside the house or use the hat and sunglasses, and sometimes even that didn’t help him.
Once a headache would start, the only solution was to try to get him to go to sleep because nothing else would take the pain away. One night before bedtime, I was lying with my son in his bed and he said, “Some days I pray to God that I will have one day, just one day without a headache.” I sat there, holding my boy while he was in pain and crying, and cried along with him.
I prayed to God, too, asking Him to give me the pain instead, and let my boy get back to the normal, happy, healthy, talkative, loud, fun, sweet boy he used to be. This new boy was sad, in pain, gaining weight, quiet, and extremely depressed. He told me once, “Mom, some days I think about killing myself because I feel like I don’t want to have this pain all the time every day. I don’t want to kill myself, but I think about it.”
My heart sank. I knew my boy was in trouble physically and mentally.
I found a counselor for him to so my son to talk with someone other than me about what he was going through. I figured I was so close to the situation, maybe I wasn’t doing or saying the right things. At the same time, the neurologist suggested my son start physical therapy, because, she said, that not only did he hurt his head and brain when he fell, she was pretty sure he had also injured his neck.
The physical therapist was wonderful with my son, and he loved going to therapy. He hadn’t been able to do any physical activity for weeks after the fall, so being able to do the therapy was great for him. He was having such a hard time just lying in bed all the time in pain. Prior to his fall, he had been an extremely active kid playing baseball, flag football, loving his PE class at school, and doing martial arts. Having to give it all up was devastating for him and added to him being depressed.
He completed the six weeks of physical therapy, but the headaches continued. My baby was still missing a lot of school, and on the days he could go, he was getting teased by some of the children in his class. Because he didn’t look sick on the outside, the kids at school thought my son was “faking it”, and some of them were very cruel. I was never one of those moms who rush into school and “tattle” to the principal each time another kid said something mean to mine. I’m a pretty big believer in letting kids handle their own struggles with other children, in most cases, but this time, it was different.
As soon as I heard that children were teasing my kid, I lost it. I spoke with the principal and told her that if the teasing didn’t end, I’d just stop sending my son to school and we’d hire a tutor to teach him at home. I let her know that my son was miserable already having to put up with constant migraines, so I wasn’t about to let him come to school and have to fight off bullies. I also told her that under normal circumstances, I felt that my son would be able to handle the teasing on his own, but while he was in pain and suffering, there was no way I was going to let him have to deal with more. He’d had enough.
The principal and my son’s teachers stopped the bullying in an instant. I don’t know what they did or said to those kids, but the children in my son’s class never again teased him about his concussion symptoms, instead, they began to be more helpful and sympathetic toward him. I was so thankful, and I could breathe a little bit easier on those days when he was able to go to school.
We took a vacation over our winter break at school, and it went well for my son. He only had a few headaches while we were soaking up the sun in Florida. As long as he wore sunglasses and a hat, the sunlight didn’t bother him quite as much, and he was able to go swimming and get some exercise that didn’t involve anything that might hurt his head.
When we got back from our vacation, I decided to take my son to a chiropractor. I’d never really thought much about chiropractors, I had no real opinion of them one way or the other, but I was willing to try anything to help my son get better. After about a month of going to our chiropractor, Dr. Gordon, my son’s headaches stopped. They stopped. I couldn’t believe it.
My baby started laughing again. He started playing again. He ran. He jumped. He was able to do homework and go to school every day, and he stayed at school for the entire day instead of having to come home early. It was amazing, and such a relief.
I no longer had to refrain from scheduling a lunch date with a friend for fear that my son would need me to pick him up early from school. I didn’t have to sit in my house just waiting for that call from my son’s school secretary telling me that he was “having a bad one”, and that I would need to come get him. I could leave the house to go to the grocery store without having to check my phone every three minutes. My son was feeling better.
I don’t know if it was time, the medication, the relaxing vacation, the physical therapy, the chiropractor, or the combination of all of it that helped my son, but I was truly grateful and so thankful he was on the road to recovery. I wasn’t sure how our family would handle several more months of my poor boy having more headaches. My son’s illness took a toll on all of us. We were all sad, stressed, annoyed, tired, and angry, so when he started feeling better, we were all joyful.
While my son was sick, I often sat and reminded myself that although it was horrible right then and there while he was having the excruciatingly painful headaches, he would get better. I knew, at some point, my son would survive this, he would be “normal” again, and he’d be able to go on and live a happy and healthy life. I reminded myself that not all parents were as lucky as I was. When I would cry and feel sorry for myself and for my son, I would remember those parents who had lost a child, or who had a child with a horrible disease who might never recover. I told myself that if those strong, faithful, loving parents could go on, then so could I. I had and still have such respect for those parents and their children fighting diseases and sicknesses that my child has been lucky enough to never have.
Today my boy is one hundred percent healthy. He is back to his old self- funny, lively, active, and happy. The only day he has missed at school this year was the day I took him out to fly to Florida for our annual winter break vacation. He never wants to miss school again, because he remembers how awful it was to miss all those days because of his terrible headaches. He does get those headaches every now and then, but they are very few and far between, and they aren’t as painful as they were before. We’re able to handle them now with a little rest and some ibuprofen.
Before my son got sick, I thought kids got concussions and were fine three or four days afterward, and with most children, that is the case. But with some people, not just kids, a concussion can be extremely serious and change a life. My son has to be very careful now when he plays sports. The helmet is our best friend. He will never play football, as the neurologist says that if he gets another concussion, the result could be catastrophic.
Yes, there are times when I think that maybe I’m a crazy person to let my son play baseball and do martial arts, but at the same time, I know that my son couldn’t be fulfilled and happy if he didn’t have sports in his life. He needs to play, he loves martial arts, and so I let him go. He wears his safety gear, and he is careful. I know there’s a risk, even with the padding and the helmet, and that’s very scary, but I think it would be worse to have to watch him sit on the sidelines while everyone else is living a life.
So now, as I sit and watch my crazy kid play, jump, hit, run, and kick, all I can do is hope, pray, keep my fingers crossed, and let my son live the best life he can. That is, until someone invents a type of “kid bubble wrap” I can use to surround my boy to protect him from all the danger he faces every day.