Field Notes with Sara Jewell: A discussion about a concussion


Published on May 17, 2017

Field Notes from Cumberland County with Sara Jewell

Every time Sidney Crosby, the Nova Scotia born-and-bred captain of the Pittsburgh Penguins, gets a blow to the head, hockey fans hold their collective breath, waiting to hear if he’s suffered another, possibly career-ending concussion.  

If a concussion can bring down an athlete of his calibre, what about the average person, say a 21-year-old woman playing recreational soccer in Halifax?

Just as she was heading into her third year at Dalhousie University, Paige Black of Oxford sustained two concussions in two weeks as the goalie for her recreational soccer team.

Three years after the injuries, Paige explained that concussions are an “invisible injury” that are not readily seen like a broken arm.

“Give yourself 24 hours because it’s not always noticeable right away,” she said. “It tends to take a little more time to see if your head hurts.”

Her main symptom was wanting to sleep all the time. “I’d get up and three hours later, be so exhausted. I couldn’t stay awake.”

The concussion also left her with a sensitivity to light and sound. Wearing sunglasses in a classroom because of the fluorescent lighting or leaving a party because of the noise makes her seem anti-social but it’s the result of her symptoms.

“After the second concussion, I was in my apartment for three months with the blinds closed,” she said.

Now 24 and living with these symptoms, Paige described her head as feeling like she has elastic bands wrapped around it. “It always feels like my skull is shrinking inward. It’s hard to stay positive,” she added. “Not to mention you’re more irritable with a brain injury.”

Active, outgoing and hardworking, this brain injury has forced Paige to slow down. After taking a year off school to learn how to live and work within the limits imposed by her symptoms, Paige anticipates graduating this coming December with an arts degree in international development.

“It’s required me to be mindful of what I’m able to do and not take on too much,” she said. “I started this past semester with ‘Health first, study second.’ And the semester started out really well; I got the best marks I’ve gotten in university so far, and I really enjoyed what I was doing.”

The university provides accommodations for any student, whether for a broken arm, a hearing impairment, or a brain injury. Unable to both move her eyes up and down to take notes during class as well as pay attention, Paige receives a classmate’s notes.

Fortuitously, she was already working part-time for the university’s Accessibility Department when she was injured. When she realized she was helping other students find accommodations for their concussion symptoms, she sought help herself.

“It’s been neat to discover that my personal experience is very helpful. When someone tells me they have a concussion, I know what to do,” she said. “It makes my job more rewarding because I appreciate being able to use those services so I really want to make sure other students get what they need.”

All too often, a disability can be a barrier to employment but in Paige’s case, it’s made her a more valuable employee. Her future’s so bright, she’s gotta wear shades.

Sara Jewell is a freelance writer who lives near Port Howe. Visit her website at www.sarajewell.ca