Concussion Diary, Week Four I Think. (Previously, on “Concussion Diary”…)
First of all, it’s weird looking back on the first day after my concussion and remembering how I assumed I’d be completely back to normal in a couple days. Ha ha. I can work normally now–I was able to read and concentrate without pain after about two weeks iirc–but my head still hurts and I still can’t sleep on my back because I have a knot on the back of my skull. Also another thing I’ll talk about in a moment. Through the end of last week I got exhausted unusually easily (and I am part sloth at the best of times) and had to sleep/lie miserably in bed for even longer than usual before I’d feel semi-human. I think that’s done though.
Second, I continue to be fascinated by what people think is scary. Like, when Gay & Catholic and then Amends came out, several people mentioned the hallucinations from alcohol withdrawal (mine were very mild, as these things go) as a super scary thing, whereas when you’re actually in that situation you have so many other awful things going on in your life that a free spooky shadow show may not register on the scale of bad things. Until I was willing to acknowledge the psychological and spiritual damage my addiction was doing, I basically responded to all physical symptoms of addiction with, “Oh, huh, I guess this is where we are now. This is what we’re doing? Okay.” I went to a not-great presentation on addiction at one point that listed one of the “physiological symptoms of addiction” as “Chaos” and I mean lol, how is chaos physiological?, but also chaos is a symptom you’re more likely to care about than hallucinations and shakiness.
So a friend asked me what had been the scariest part of the concussion and although really I should’ve answered, “The hospital bills” (my years of Obamacare paid for themselves a couple weeks ago! #thanksobama, no joke) I sort of mused and meandered and eventually said it was the loss of smell and taste. So a) if that surprises you, you totally underestimate how depressing it is to be unable to taste comfort food when you’re not well, and how blank and fake the world feels when you can’t smell it, like a Potemkin village. But also b) my friend asked, “But didn’t you lose a lot of the memory of what happened the day you fainted? That would really frighten me, to lose hours of my life.”
Me, a recovering alcoholic: “? but that’s normal?” It literally hadn’t occurred to me to be scared or fazed by the whole “reconstructing what happened to me while I was out and about” thing.
Among the many gifts I received from my experience with addiction I guess we can list, Rolling with it when you can’t remember hours of your life. Be grateful for all things.
The main reason I am updating, however, is to give you the news from this weekend. I have been increasingly depressed about the whole anosmia thing. BUT THEN Saturday late afternoon I suddenly smelled cigarette smoke: one of my favorite smells, speaking as a nonsmoker, and one which I’d been around many times since the concussion because one of my housemates smokes, but I had been completely incapable of smelling it.
After the cigarette smoke a cascade of smells and tastes began. Lemon! A wood fire! Chinese food! Steak, butter, onions, bread! Seriously, like Dorothy stepping out into Technicolor. Today’s new smell & taste was coffee, finally.
I am still not 100% and may never be. I still don’t have a lot of the unpleasant smells, which is unfortunate since those are useful ones: Is this rambling old guy next to me on the bus drunk? Do I need to wash this bra? But I am so happy and grateful. Give praise to God for Sister Nose, you guys.
My friend Brian Hoefling explained to me some of the science behind concussion anosmia and its healing. He learned about it as part of the research for his book on the science of drinking. Anosmia didn’t make it into the final product, but if you want to know about the science of beer foam, or many other fun sciences about how alcohol works, pick up a copy of Distilled Knowledge! I saw the physical book over the weekend and it’s lovely. A fun kitchen/bar resource, and a great Christmas gift for your nerdier boozier friends, she hinted.