1. Tell me about yourself, you can start wherever you would like to.
“Me as a person. Well, I’m now 50, that's funny(...). I was born and raised in Toronto and moved [to Grand Falls, Newfoundland] 12 and a half years ago with my husband. I have the honor of being a wife and a parent of three now. Three because we had two boys (...) and we later became foster parents. Part of the backstory with us is we were foster parents for a year, but then I had all of my concussions at work (..) and we had to give up two foster kids that we knew were going to stay with us permanently because of their situation. That’s one of those things that is still hard for me to get through, but we had to give them up because I wasn't getting better and they weren't getting what they needed (...). Later on, once I had had a bit of respite, we ended up fostering and adopting our daughter, who just recently gave birth to her first child. I also enjoy the outdoors, playing sports, swimming, canoeing, and off road driving. As for my career, I was an early childhood educator and did a lot of supply teaching in Ontario (...). When my injuries happened I was [working as] a student assistant (...).”
2. Please share as much information as you feel comfortable regarding the nature of your injury and how it was caused.
“The [injuries] that have done the damage occurred while I was working as a student assistant for children with challenging needs. I sustained 3 concussions over a 5 week period after receiving 20 plus blows to the head. (...) On the day that it started, I guess the middle of April of 2013, (...) I was hit and punched in the head three times by two students that I worked with. Neither was their fault. During the first incident, the poor student’s hormones were going insane and he got into a fist fight with me as he was putting his stuff away. [That day] there were two of us that were working. [The other teacher] had been putting a student’s bike away, and by the time she came back, I had already been punched in the face by a couple of times. He had also bit me and got a hold of the muscle on my forearm in an effort to rip it off of me. Later that day, within about 20 minutes, [the same student] didn't like the way I looked at him or something (…) and smacked me on the top of my head a couple more times. Not too long after that, [I was working with] another child and I happened to bend down at the same time that he had an uncontrollable reflex and I ended up with an uppercut to the jaw (…). I went to the doctors and they told me that there was a really good chance that I had a mild concussion. Skip ahead four weeks, I was with the student who had initially assaulted me, and he had a really bad episode. He grabbed a plastic bin (…) and he clocked me across the face with it. He got me across my upper teeth, my cheekbone, and across my nose (...). That had happened on a Thursday or a Friday. I went to the doctor, and I think I may have taken the next day off, but I felt fine [and returned to work] on Monday, which would have been June 3rd. This Monday was the day that the major [attack] happened (...). I had gone down [to the gym] to look after some kids, and another student who was 6 feet tall and 200 pounds came up [to me] and he smacked the top of my head over and over again (...). He was like a jackhammer trying to knock me down. It was so brutal. He cracked me on top of the head a few more times, and I remember the [other] kids crying because they were watching this other kid beat me. There were four teachers that witnessed him hit me repeatedly on the head, but instead of helping, they made me take him to the office. In the office, the secretary said the principal and vice principal were too busy to deal with him and that I’d just have to deal with it since school was almost over. The teacher that finally helped me watched the student hit me on the head and immediately stepped in. It was only then that the VP and principal were paged. By the end of the ordeal, 8 teachers and 1 secretary had watched a student a foot taller and 60 pounds heavier than me beat me in the head 20 plus times, and only 1 teacher stepped into help. The entire event took place between 15 to 20 minutes. When I finally got help, the VP took me to the hospital where I was confirmed to have sustained a third concussion. My life has been forever changed. I'll tell you, I would not wish what's going on with me on my worst enemy. Oh, no. What you see with me today has taken eight years to get to. It was probably two years before I could have a shower without sobbing in pain from anything touching my head. I could feel [the student’s] handprint on my head for years. What had happened was because [the student] had hit me so many times on the top of my head, my head was actually shoved down into my shoulders an inch. Thank God I was raised the way I was, and my character is what it is. Otherwise, I would not have survived the first year.”
3. Were there any obstacles that you encountered while recovering?
“So everything had to go through worker's comp, which has not been a positive experience.
They never believed anything I had to say. All of my injuries happened in 2013, but I didn’t have an MRI done until 2019. I have been treated so badly. I just talked to the case manager I have now about long-term stuff. Absolute sweetheart. I've made her cry many times, not because I was trying to, but just with what's going on. She's like, “but policy in the legislature it's written as this.” Maybe it's time for all this to change because I shouldn't be treated the same as someone who broke their thumb, but I am. My doctor actually recently sent worker’s comp a letter stating that because of the way I have been treated, I now suffer from PTSD. Workers comp denied me my service dog and that has now been in appeal for years. They also stopped my physio because they don’t do maintenance. In addition to this, I exhibit so many persistent post-concussive symptoms that have never been looked into. For example, I often forget words or cannot finish a thought or sentence, I am very sensitive to light and sound (cloudy days are especially excruciating), I choke all the time on my own saliva, I struggle with balance, and if the cold even touches my face I will experience a lightning bolt of pain. I’m not sure if I’ve had a day over these 8 years without pain. I get so screwed up cognitively: memory, attention span, and understanding is something that I struggle with to some degree daily. Not to mention the anxiety, depression, and loss of interest that come with the injury. I do feel stranded on a deserted Island and have had to cope on my own because of the lack of help from professionals that are not available in Newfoundland.”
4. What are the strongest aspects of your character that allowed you to push through this difficult time?
“Oh, I'm just so freaking stubborn (...). [After the accident,] I went from being the provider, doctor, lawyer, whatever you want to call it, within my family. I flew by the seat of my pants.
Plans got changed? No problem. There's a car accident? I guarantee, I'm going to be the one at the scene doing first aid on somebody. That's me and it's still me. While that hasn't changed, I went from having basically control over everything (...) to having someone cut my food small enough for me so that I could put it on a fork that didn't hurt as much to put in my mouth. Chewing would make me cry. The kids got used to watching mommy cry while she tried to eat. Even now, eight years later, I still have days where if I hold an empty coffee cup or a mug in my hand, the wrong way, it will send shockwaves through my head.”
5. Are there any specific routines or strategies that you engage in to help you to cope with your symptoms?
“So four years ago, we got a puppy. He was nine weeks old when we got him, but by the time he was three months old, he was picking up on my balance problems. He was picking up on when I was getting headaches. He was picking up on my new changes. He was just all of it. We didn't know what he was doing at first. It took a while for me to go: “wait a minute, every time I start tipping to one side, he gives me a nudge just before it's going to happen.” Also, when there is information overload or whatever, he'll nudge me and lick my hand to make me feel better. One of the things that Bailey does for me, that's my dog, is hyper-vigilance. I can't afford to be hurt. My sons also helped a lot in the beginning, they both did a lot of the groceries because my husband was working full time as well.”
6. How has the pandemic affected your lifestyle?
“It's been weird. I went from being so used to being alone in the house with my husband, but then all of a sudden I have all these bodies that are home. The kids weren't so much of a big deal, they kept to themselves for the most part, but I struggled a bit with [my husband] being home and working. Change with me is very hard. Sometimes I find that my hormones and my head compete to see who can cause the most amount of grief in my body. Last year, I was having all these meltdowns constantly because of not being able to release my emotions. It didn't matter what I did because it always made symptoms worse. Just your everyday stresses are enough during a pandemic, but when you toss on the loss of a parent, crazy hormones, and awful concussion symptoms, it can make [life] really challenging.”
Interviewed by Elle Nelson