THE morning of the 31st of July, 2014, was like any other for Baltimore woman, Linda Collins, who was on her daily commute to work on her bike.
“I was coming along Camden Street in Dublin, when I heard a rattle,” recalls Linda.
“My tyres jammed and I went head-long over the handle-bars of the bike. I landed on the ground directly on my helmet.”
She picked herself up and dusted herself down.
“While there was a dent on the helmet there wasn’t even a scratch on me,” says Linda.
“I looked at my hands; they had no cuts or bruises. Bystanders inquired if I was OK. I brushed them off. I thought I was OK. There were no outward signs that anything was wrong.”
Nothing seemed amiss. Linda wasn’t to know then that she had sustained a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI), also known as post-concussion syndrome (PCS).
It caused constant pounding in her head, making it a struggle to work, to socialise, to shop — to function as a normal 24-year-old.
“I became very emotional,” says Linda. “If I didn’t cry at least once a day, it wasn’t normal. I became extremely anxious with the efforts to cope with something I did not understand.
“I struggled to leave the house. The ‘outside world’ made my symptoms worse. The noise, the light, everything left my brain exhausted. I had to stop working. It was an invisible illness.”
The day of the accident, Linda went into work.
“I remember I was outside a bike shop. I handed in the bike and I walked the last 10 minutes to work. People looked at me funny and asked me if I was all right,” says Linda.
“There was nothing obvious wrong with me. I worked away for an hour or two. I struggled to concentrate. My manager spoke to me. I saw him mouthing the words; I had no idea what he was saying.”
Linda knew she should get checked out in case she had concussion after the fall from the bike.
“I was severely concussed,” she says. “I was told to rest up and take Friday off, do nothing strenuous and just sleep.”
Her mother was concerned.
“‘I fell off my bike, mum’,” I told her. “I was laughing. ‘I’m fine’.”
But she wasn’t fine.
“I felt wrecked and emotional,” says Linda. “Noise irritated me.”
She was advised to take two weeks off work to recuperate. But things were serious.
“When I went to A&E at St Vincent’s Hospital, I saw Professor John Ryan, who put me through a really detailed concussion test that came from the US.
“Everything from my memory to my balance, to my cognitive abilities, was tested.
“My brain found it difficult to process the severity of the symptoms.
“I became more and more frustrated with the endless questions and answers about what I didn’t understand.
“I couldn’t find the answers, I felt nauseous. It was all too much effort for my brain.”
Linda made a big effort to get better.
“We worked on my cognitive skills, like multiple-tasking, my concentration, and things like dealing with background noise.”
Other things suffered.
“I was struggling emotionally,” says Linda. “I was in a new job in marketing, which I loved. Now I couldn’t do my job. This added to my guilt. What will they think I’m like?”
The weeks turned into months. Linda was attending Dun Laoghaire Rehabilitation Centre as an out-patient.
“I was seeing an Occupational therapist and a counsellor,” she says.
“The vocational therapist helped me to look at my expectations and my abilities. By degrees, I was able to go back to work in stages, first for four hours, two days a week, but not two days in a row, then increasing my work days to three days and so on.”
Commuting was difficult for Linda.
“At 9am in the mornings, the traffic and crowds heading to work was manic. I couldn’t handle it so I aimed to go to work at 10am to avoid the traffic and noise.”
From the outside, looking in, Linda was good to go.
“I looked fine, therefore I must be fine,” says Linda. “But what was happening to me was really hard to articulate.”
What was happening?
“I had constant pain in my head,” says Linda.
“It was always there. I began to keep a headaches diary broken into two hour blocks and I began to notice that the pain got more severe at certain times for two hour blocks throughout the day.
“The pain could be at level 7 in the morning, and then reach level 9 during the commute to work, reaching level 10 while I worked for the next three hours. Fatigue was a huge issue.”
So was noise and crowds.
“I used head-phones to muffle the noise when I was travelling to work,” says Linda.
“If I had to speak to someone on the phone at work, I went into a different room.
For Linda’s website, see patiencelivingwithabraininjury.com