To Hell and Back: Traumatic Brain Injury – My Experience by Landin Murphy

By Tuesday, March 15, 2016 0 No tags Permalink 3

Please welcome Landin Murphy. Landin is from Buffalo, NY and sustained a concussion while playing basketball in 2008. He writes about his experience below. Thank you Landin!

The Beginning

On December 2nd, 2008 I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) classified as mild. It was the first basketball game of the season for my high school, and it was a complete fluke. As an incoming freshman it’d been a tremendous adjustment moving up to high school ball. No longer could I, or any of the kids my age, physically dominate. We were competing with older more mature athletes, and as a team we’d worked hard in offseason practices to develop our bodies.

The injury was a freak accident. Sprinting for a loose ball down court, a teammate inadvertently swung his elbow into my left cheekbone as he was running. The force of the blow caused him to lose balance and he tumbled to the floor. Only a half-step behind, there was no time to react. My legs were cut out from under me, and I went flying through the air. Cascading to the ground, I landed directly on my head. I remember was getting tripped up, but exactly how I fell is a bit of a grey area.

Next I was pushing myself up. My face ached in a spasm of pain. The wooden floor was hard and smooth, and in an instant the crippling sting dissipated. Everything went completely numb. Coach was already yelling at me to get into position. Apparently, the ball had skipped out of bounds, so we were inbounding it back in.

I played until the half, still dazed and confused. It was as if a moment in time had been erased. The fall was hazy, as I struggled to recall what had happened. It was odd that no one helped me up if I’d been laying on the ground unconscious. Whether I was knocked out or not, I couldn’t tell at the time.
During the half-time break something strange happened with my sight. Parts of my visual spectrum became blurred and other areas of my vision disappeared completely. Eventually, a weird sort of ‘Aura” appeared. As if a bright white crack had formed, in the left side of my sight, wherever I looked, there it was.

Immediately, I told coach that I thought I had a concussion. After a questioning look and some mild resistance, he conceded in letting me call my mother.

We drove to the hospital after leaving the game, and mysteriously the “Aura” disappeared. Just like that it was gone – and then the pain started. It was like someone was driving an axe deep into my skull. Waves of head splitting agony rippled through my skull.

When we finally arrived, the wait for a doctor was long. For about five hours we waited in the hospital’s uncomfortable chairs. Eventually, when we finally saw a doctor, it was pretty much pointless. He seemed more concerned with the bruising of my knee than by the head trauma. It was difficult to understand his thick accent, and his terse responses made discussion impossible. Maybe he was just overwhelmed. I don’t know, but the emergency room was packed. In the waiting room were more crying babies than I’d ever seen in my life.

We got home after 2am. There wasn’t anything left to do, so Mom and I went straight to bed.

The Decline

Over the course of the next few months not much changed. Our family doctor recommended staying home from school, “lay low,” but other than that, nothing. The symptoms were expected to dispel in about a week or perhaps two.

My vision stayed foggy for months, longer than expected. Rather than improving everything seemed to slowly decline. Unfortunately, no one had specified what not to do after sustaining a TBI. One needs to avoid stimulus as much as possible, meaning – no television, computer or cellphone, certainly no school work, and definitely no exercise.

Despite seeing a number of doctors these concepts were never suggested. Therefore, in order to bide my time I did exactly what you might do if you were sick. I watched tv, communicated with some of my friends and tried to keep up with the school work. If I had a cold or the flu, I would have done exactly the same. TBI was not something I was familiar with at all.

Gradually, my symptoms worsened. My eyes became more sensitive, and my body weakened. I lost about 20lbs. in the month or two after the accident. Likewise, I was falling further behind in school. Not only was I responsible for completing homework assignments, but class notes, class assignments and tests as well. It was as if I had three times the normal work load. I had no contact with my teachers, as this was not allowed, and at the time wasn’t used to teaching myself all the school materials.

Despite protocol, my high school made an interesting choice. Rather than setting up a home instruction program, or anything of that nature, they opted to let me fend for myself. Obviously, it’s not normal for a student to be left to figure everything out, by himself. There are in fact numerous laws in place to make sure this doesn’t happen, but that didn’t seem to matter.

Soon it seemed there was only one choice left. My doctors said I should push myself, and with schoolwork mounting, I needed to get back as soon as possible. The idea was to try half-days and then build from there.

It didn’t work, and my health deteriorated further as a direct result. At this time, my eyes became so sensitive I had to wear sunglasses all the time. Regardless of whether I was inside or out, the light was simply too much stimulation for my brain to handle. I had trouble with mundane tasks like walking or eating. Anything I ate had to be in liquid form.

The next three years were much of the same. In order to keep up with the demands of school, I pushed myself harder and harder. I successfully maintained my 98 grade point average, but at a high cost. Quite literally all I cared about was getting better and graduating at the top of my class. Clearly, attaining both simultaneously was impossible.

I visited innumerable specialists and experts, but most either had no clue how to treat post-concussion syndrome or refused to believe my symptoms could ever exist. Some called me a liar, while others suggested psychiatric evaluation. Obviously, none of what was going on was psychological. And that was always upheld by the test results. Why would I choose to be miserable?

Essentially, all I was capable of were some remedial physical therapy exercises and listening to books on tape or classical music. I would spend most of my day laying on the floor in the darkest room of my house. That was what worked. I taught myself most of the school subjects, like Calculus, US Government and English, and then dictated assignments to my mother.

Some days I would wake up with massive headaches. Others I could barely get out of bed. It was reaching a breaking point, and something had to change.

— Do not push yourself past where your body is comfortable after a TBI. If you’re body isn’t going past a certain point it means you need to try a different approach! –

A Gradual Assent

In late January, 2012 things changed dramatically. I was introduced for the first time to a physical therapist named Peter. He specialized in neck and spinal rehabilitation. The neck was the one area which seemed to be somewhat of a mystery. It felt heavily involved with what was going on, but was never fully addressed. I’d been to chiropractors but that did not have much of an effect, if any at all.

Peter was the first person to have a real grasp of what was going on. He was able to identify exactly what was perpetuating the problems I was having. At the University at Buffalo the Concussion Clinic had been able to help with the post-concussion syndrome, but the neck was the last missing piece. It also happened to be the most important.

Peter found that the top of my cervical spine was severely rotated. This was crushing the right vertebral artery to my brain and hampering blood flow through the right carotid artery as well. Furthermore, my first cervical vertebra was displacing my jaw, which was what caused eating to be such a problem. Now it all made sense, why so many issues were interrelated. Without proper blood flow to the brain, of course things aren’t going to heal or function properly.

Together Peter and I worked to stabilize my neck. He manually manipulated my spine and together we worked to create an exercise plan to reengage the rest of my body. Because my neck was improving it became possible for me to increase the intensity of my exercise regimen gradually.

We started out very light, with only a handful of exercises. Things progressed quickly though. For the first time I was seeing consistent, marked improvement.

Looking back really puts into perspective just how weak I was. I remember some older men at the gym using more weight than I was – And when I say that I mean 80-85 years old. In 6 months though things were very different. Soon I was maxing out a number of the machines. I was using the entire weight stack available.

One of the most essential aspects of my recovery was walking. Simply walking around the neighborhood or visiting a local park made a HUGE difference. It was difficult for a time to ride in a car, but as my body adjusted, the trips I was able to take progressively became more intense. We visited more parks over time, ones that were further away, and others that were more difficult to traverse.

It was a very slow process but each day was a little bit different than the last.

The Present and Beyond

I am continuing to improve. Everything is extremely incremental, but I’ll be 100% at some point again. I very much look forward to the day I have no physical or concentration limitations.

Currently, my exercise routine is very intense. I perform multiple workouts each day and make sure to walk as long as possible in between. Naturally, cardiovascular exercise is very important. To restore a healthy blood flow to my brain I must do at least 30 minutes of cardio each morning. This is accompanied by some light weight lifting which focuses mostly on maintaining proper tone in my muscles. Tone is, after all, controlled by the brain and has been a major issue for me at times.

Later in the day I do my strength training. My routine requires I work each body part twice a week so I have a set schedule. I shoulder shrug 200 lbs. (in each arm) regularly and finally hit my goal of 400 lb. rows (for sets of 10) this month. Since back and spine are the largest areas of concern, I focus the most there. In the future, I’d like to compete in a bodybuilding competition or two. We’ll see where that goes. I’m aiming for a professional card, within the ranks of the natural elite. My bodyweight hovers around 220lbs. – up from the emaciated 138 lbs. a few years back. At 6’1.5” I was pretty darn skinny.

I have plenty of goals to keep me busy nowadays. I’m still building my cognitive endurance and plan on going to college for degrees in English and Biology. I will pursue a PhD specializing in brain and spine trauma, and feel I can make a tremendous difference in the advancement of brain trauma research. Moreover, I’ve been writing a series of books in what little extra time I have. Hopefully, a book about my experiences can change lives. When listening to books on tape became the only thing I was able to enjoy, I learned to appreciate just how powerful a story can be. Thus, I’m also working on a fictional adventure series, which is pretty entertaining.

With the help of my friends and family, we successfully hosted the first Brain Injury Conference in Western New York. National and International specialists gathered to speak about the latest cutting-edge research and methods of rehabilitation. It was a fantastic experience. My own recovery, together with those of the people I’ve met along the way, has made me conscious of areas in which the brain and spine are severely misunderstood. It likely took me three times longer than it should have to see the progress

I’ve made. I consider myself very lucky to be expecting a full recovery, but there are many people in very similar circumstances who do not expect the same. Awareness and understanding are key.

Make sure to take the proper precautions if you, or someone you know, suffers a concussion. Educate yourselves on the risks involved in sports. Even everyday activities, such as driving a car, carry risk. At the very least be sure to understand what a concussion is. A concussion is a brain injury. Not a ding or a “bell ring,” a trauma.

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