Interview with Emily Moore
Can you please tell me a bit about yourself, you can start wherever you would like to.
I am a radiographer, I take x-rays. I'm also currently a PhD student; my main focus of my PhD is on mild traumatic brain injury. I’m a very, very active person, I love my sport, and have always played lots and lots of sports, especially throughout high schoo.l About two and a half years ago, I suffered a concussion or mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and it completely changed my life. Even though I worked in healthcare, and I was x-raying and imaging patients with concussions or brain injury, and never really understood what was going on. It opened up a whole new world of brain injury afterwards. So I’m trying to use my bad experience to make it better for others in the future!
Do you mind sharing a bit about the nature of your concussion?
Yes, I was playing soccer and I was a goalkeeper. I was diving forward to get the ball and the striker’s shin hit me in the front of my head. It didn't look very dramatic; there was no blood, my face didn't get bruised or anything. So I thought I was fine. But I tried to stand up and immediately knew something was wrong.
What were the symptoms like afterwards?
I was really dizzy. I felt nauseous or sick. I remember I could not tolerate it. Despite it being a winter sport, it was still quite a warm day here. And I was not tolerating the heat or the light. And I just remember, I had to get to work. I knew I needed to contact my boss, but my emotions just went crazy. And I couldn't articulate what was going on. I was very confused, andI couldn't understand what was going on. So those were my symptoms of injury.
And what about afterwards, did your symptoms persist?
Yeah, so I am still struggling with a lot of my symptoms. I developed photosensitivity. So struggling with bright light, and struggling with sensitivity to noise. I used to play the bagpipes. That’s a fun fact about me! I've really struggled to get back to that just because of the noise that they make. It's a goal of mine to get back to that. And we're working on it. But yeah, I’m pretty sad that I’ve had to give that up for the moment.
That must be very disappointing.
Yeah, devastating. I went from Australia to Scotland to play the year before my injury. And I was due to go back again, in 2020. But luckily COVID cancelled it. But sadly haven’t been able to return to bagpipes or Scotland yet. Going back to symptoms, I started developing migraines; I'd never had a migraine before. And I had them almost every day for about eight months, I think. It wasn't very pleasant. My Doctor and I tried a lot of different medications to see if we could manage it. And none of them were working for me unfortunately. Luckily, I don’t get them as often and we're on a good stretch now.
So you tried different medications, but were there any other routines that you adopted that allowed you to cope with your symptoms or anything you could suggest to people facing similar problems?
Yes. So I was lucky enough that I got to see a neurophysio, an occupational therapist, and a speech therapist as part of my rehab in Adelaide. And so the main routine that we worked on was sleep. I did not understand how important sleep really was; I was like your classic university or college student, I never slept. I slept like three hours a night and just kept going. Whereas now I’ve learned that I need at least 9 to 10 hours of sleep or I just cannot function.
And it took a long time for me to find something that works. Especially when I have a lot of ruminating thoughts, which didn't help. I'd sit in bed and be like, “why can't I sleep? I need to sleep.” But we got there eventually. I did some research into techniques. I used essential oils to try and calm me down. I did some meditation, when I could tolerate listening to it.
Another thing that I prioritized was drinking lots of water. I used to live off coffee; I’d have five or six coffees a day, because I've got to study or go to work and just get through the day. And yeah, so just getting enough fluid and hydration; hydration is really important for the brain, it really needs it.
If you’re in a similar situation, I'd recommend trying to see someone, like a neurophysio or an occupational therapist, someone in that kind of rehab space if it's possible; it sometimes helps to have someone who knows a lot about brain injury and can normalise some of the experiences. The general public generally doesn't understand the triggers. I found, for me, a trigger was just having the radio on in my car, like it just was too noisy for me. And I couldn't understand why my one outing a week was really bad. I was just super tired as soon as I got there. And one of my therapists asked me if I play music in the car. I said yes, I always played music. They suggested trying to turn that off or put earplugs in until you get there and save your energy until you're actually socially interacting. So just little bits and pieces like that can make a huge difference!
Things you'd never really think of before.
Absolutely, and everybody's totally different. It is normal to experience quite strange symptoms that you're not used to. And important to try and take it back to basics, as best you can.
Do you still keep up with those routines for the most part?
Yeah, absolutely. They helped me get through the last few years. So I went back to university and did a year of what we call honours research. It's an undergraduate pathway to PhD. Which was full-time university. And then on top of that, I was working one day a week. So I made sure to keep using all those tactics. And I definitely wouldn't have gotten there without all those little sneaky tricks in my bag.
Did you find that it was difficult to study afterwards? How was your school life impacted?
It was really hard. When you get into the routine of university, you’re kind of used to sitting down for hours and reading. But after my injury, I couldn’t do that anymore. I had to start printing things out because I couldn't look at the screen. I just could not take anything in, especially when I had to start reading quite heavy journal articles. I'd have to read it four or five times to get it to stick. But I found a couple of tricks; my speech path recommended printing things out and having hard copies and just going through and highlighting the main point like you normally would. And to take small breaks. I’m not sure if you've heard of it, it's like a common kind of study technique called the Pomodoro method. So I use that now. And I do it every day. And it's worked very well.
That’s great that you’ve found what works for you! What did you do your undergrad in?
I did it in medical imaging. So it's radiography, and then went back and did a research undergrad as well. Kind of an Australian thing. I don't really know how to equate it to college.
That's super cool. And now you're doing your PhD?
Yes. So I'm lucky enough to do my PhD in concussion. I have a really, really great team around me. And what we're doing is super exciting. And I get to work with concussion patients almost daily now. So we get people who've had concussions come in, and we get to research their brain.
Nice. What's the final goal of the project or your research?
We're looking at the brain waves. And we're trying to find what we call a biomarker of injury. So a way of diagnosing concussions; there's no definitive way of diagnosing a concussion. And the only way that we can diagnose it at the moment, is asking a bunch of questions on symptoms. And that's it! We can X-ray, CT, MRI, everything in the brain, and quite often than not, we see nothing has changed. So that's the goal, to try and find a way to diagnose it, and maybe a way to treat it in the future.
Wow, that's really interesting to me, because I'm in second year university right now studying neuroscience. That sounds super cool that you're actually taking steps towards that. Do you know what your plans are after your PhD?
That's a great question. I don't really know to be honest. I'd love to work in the concussion or brain injury space; like obviously, my focus is on concussion, but there's a huge spectrum of brain injury. And yeah, I'm not sure, I'll see where the pathway takes me. But for me, it's a passion and a really important thing to talk about.
That’s great! You seem very passionate and motivated about it. So just going back to your injury, did you receive lots of support from other people? You said you received support from healthcare workers, but what about members or friends? How did you find that they fit into the picture
The first six months of my injury were really isolating. Sort of smack bang in the middle of Australian COVID peak. We were all locked down. I didn’t have many outings. I kept on thinking it might get better next week. My friends were very helpful, very supportive. Although they didn't understand a lot of what was going on. But yeah, they were super supportive and did everything they could to help me. And my work friends would always touch base and say,, don't stress about not being here, make sure you get yourself better. My mum's a nurse, and even she didn't really understand what was going on. And my dad was actually locked down in another state in Australia, so I could only speak to him on the phone. COVID made it very difficult as you can imagine. My friends and family were supportive where they could be, but a lot of them just didn't understand what was happening. Like, I'm a super high achiever, I do everything and keep a busy schedule, and the fact that I wasn't working and everything kind of took them by surprise.
That must have been really challenging, especially with COVID. We started up just before COVID. So, we interviewed lots of survivors, and they all said it's super isolating to begin with, but COVID added an additional level of isolation, because you can't visit support groups, or families and friends. What was that transition back to work like?
It was pretty rough. I was really lucky that my doctor and my workplace were supportive of a gradual return to work. Meaning I could do four hour shifts in the hospital. And it was like four hours of pure concentration. And then I would drive home afterwards and go straight to bed. So just super tiring. Plus I found that going back to the hospital and dealing with fluorescent lights or all the noise were just extra triggers. So I was like, okay, I've got to adopt new techniques. So I always kept a pair of earplugs in my pocket in case there was too much noise, like if we had to work with Children. My colleagues were so helpful. I found that sometimes I'd get halfway through something and my brain would just blank and I couldn’t remember what the next step was.
I’m glad to hear that all your colleagues were super supportive. And I think just even being in a healthcare environment, they'd be very understanding of what. So that's fortunate at least but that seems very challenging and also overstimulating at times, like what you said about the lights and all the noises and children all over the place.
Yeah. And it's interesting that you say in the healthcare environment. I have such lovely colleagues that no matter what my injury, they would have been there. But I was off work for about eight and a half months. And during that time there were still so many questions about what was going on, as people who worked in health and CT-ed brains almost every day. They hadn’t heard of post concussion syndrome, I hadn't heard of it! It's yeah, it's an interesting aspect of TBI, a hidden little condition, that we don't really talk about in health much.