The Santa Clara
April 5, 2018
“Do you remember what you said…?”
Swallowing I blink, paste on a smile and try to play it cool. I now better appreciate how an Alzheimer’s victim must feel, early on in their diagnosis. In conversation I dig for clues while trying not to give away that I do not, in fact, have any idea of what my friend clearly recalls. A big moment, from her excitement, but my brain conjures nothing—the moment is gone. So, I shrug.
“Remind me,” I say. “I can’t remember,” I add with a smile.
To clarify: I’m 21 years-old and don’t remember large parts of the last three years—due to a second concussion received during a game of kick the can. It’s been 10 months since then. Memory loss, light sensitivity, stammering, migraines and an inability to think clearly are my new norm. Now, I double and triple check what I say—fingers crossed the words that come out are clear. I expect to have to write EVERYTHING down, and more often than not, I have a headache by the end of the day.
I’ve watched friends endure physically visible injuries—and suffered many myself. When you have a visible injury, people acknowledge that something is wrong. With something internal, there is no sign boldly stating, “I’m hurt. Tread carefully.” In both cases, however, you have a decision to make. Do you admit defeat, giving in to the overwhelming sensation that you’ll never again feel like yourself? Or do you decide to roll with the punches and do what you can with what you have left?
It’s relatively common knowledge that a concussion squeezes your brain. Your brain gets rattled around in your head—it’s bruised, and battered. Memory loss and the long-term, daily after effects are not as well addressed. I was asked a few weeks ago by a friend, who also suffered a self-altering concussion, whether or not I felt that my identity had changed. He asked, if I still knew who I was, or if I’ve changed so drastically and no longer recognized who I once was. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, nothing is permanent. Because at the end of the day, I might not remember why I spent the weekend laughing, or even with whom I spent the weekend, but I will be happy—because I refuse to be otherwise. And, at least for now, my friends can fill in a few of the gaping holes in my memory.
Injuries, visible or not, leave scars and lessons most people don’t see. How you deal with an injury is your choice. Sometimes that choice is a conscious decision: Today is going to be a good day. I’m going to smile and laugh despite the icepick I feel drilling a hole through my left temple.
Other days it’s not so much a decision as a necessity; there’s a midterm you cannot miss, a presentation that has to be given. Paste on a smile and get up, go. Because that’s how I choose to cope. I smile and move on—an injury is a reality of my life.
But nothing is permanent. And who knows? I might not remember the quick conversation with someone walking to class, but hopefully it left an impact on them.
Aurora Zahm is a senior political science and classical studies double major and environmental studies minor. If you or someone you know is concerned about concussion related symptoms, please visit a medical professional to discuss appropriate steps for treatment.