July 5th, 2006.
The last time I played in a Major League Baseball game.
It was a day that changed the trajectory of my career and my life. Who would have thought one simple play would turn into two and a half years of doctors appointments, hiding in bedrooms, and bouts of overwhelming anxiety and intense sadness. I hid what was going on in my head really well.
It was all in my head. At least that’s what the doctors thought.
2005 was supposed to be a dream season. I was playing for my childhood team, the Toronto Blue Jays. I was back in Canada eating poutine, Ketchup Chips, and Crunchie bars. But I was not playing well. Right from the beginning, I couldn’t get in a rhythm. And, then I broke my thumb and my season tumbled. I signed in Toronto to be an answer to what the team needed, but instead, I was a problem. I couldn’t hit as they needed. In the offseason, the team traded me to the Milwaukee Brewers. I felt reinvigorated by the younger Brewers team. Prince Fielder, JJ Hardy, Ricky Weeks and Billy Hall helped me remember what it was like being a young kid playing a game I loved. Who would have thought that I would be uncomfortable in Canada and needed to go to the Midwest to get comfortable again?
I was having a pretty good year in Milwaukee. At the beginning of July, I was hitting .260 with 12 HRs. But, I knew that I was close to exploding. My bat was feeling good.
On July 4th, I hit a bomb off of Bronson Arroyo.
On July 5th, I had a bomb dropped on my head.
It was the top of the 7th, and we were in the midst of a 1-2-3 inning. Felipe Lopez was up to bat and hit a little flair over my head. It was one of those “Texas leaguers.” I wasn’t about to let this ball fall. I turned and sprinted to the spot where I thought the ball would land, but when I looked up, the ball was right behind me. I still was on a mission to not let this ball touch the ground. I fell backward and got my glove between the ball and the ground. When my glove hit the ground the impact sent the ball back in the air. I went to grab it with my other hand, but our shortstop Billy Hall was right there to catch it. The crowd went wild. Everybody at home watching it on TV heard Bob Uecker yell,
“What a play by Billy Hall!”
(I saw the play 3 weeks later. I thought “Really Uek…..I couldn’t get any love on that play!”)
I got up and jogged to the bench.
I felt fine.
It wasn’t until the next inning when it hit me. The ground under my feet felt mushy. The world around me got very distant. The noises became a jumbled mess.
“I can just shake this off,” I thought.
It turned into something more when I got up to bat. I knew I wasn’t shaking this off.
“Something is really not right,” I started to get concerned.
I remember thinking “Where do I run if I hit the ball?”
My concentration wasn’t there. The next pitches were a blur. I struck out. As I walked back to the bench, I told the trainer I didn’t feel well. He took one look at me and said, “Let’s go!”
I was diagnosed with a concussion in the training room.
The game ended, and I went home.
“Rest. That’s all I need. I will be good tomorrow!” I thought to myself.
When I got home, I felt strange. The room was spinning around me, and when I walked, the floor moved with me. The next day I did some errands with my family. Walmart was the first stop on our list. I took about five steps into the store, and my balance was gone. I used the shopping cart for stability.
“There is no way I should feel this weird,” I told myself. I pushed on. By the time we finished shopping, I was so drowsy I could have fallen asleep right then and there.
This trend continued throughout the next week. I felt something, minimized it and tried to push through until I couldn’t take it anymore. The symptoms weren’t that bad. I could manage them.
After about a week and a half, the symptoms went away. “Great! I’m back,” I thought.
It was the end of the All-star break. I called the team trainer, Roger, and told him the news. The Brewers were also excited by my recovery, so they got me on the next flight to Arizona for our next game.
I felt great. Even after I arrived, everything was still perfect. I was excited and ready to play.
Until I stepped on the field. I started to feel as if I were in Walmart again.
“Are you kidding me?,” I thought. “No, I will be fine. It’s just a little blip.”
I continued to warm up: Played catch, took ground balls, and even did batting practice. This lasted about 45 minutes. As I walked back to the clubhouse to get ready to start the game, I felt sick.
“I can play,” I told myself.
The doctor showed up to clear me, and we did a couple of drills in the batting cage. I ran. I did pushups and sit-ups. After those few things, I really wasn’t good. The world spun like never before. I thought I was going to throw up. The team sent me to the hotel to sleep it off. When I woke up, I had the worse head pain of my life. And, the crazy part was, the noise and the light made it worse. My symptoms went from a 0 to a 10, just like that.
For the next two and a half years, I battled these symptoms. Every day, all the time. I’d wake up, and my head hurt. I’d try to do little things around the house, and the room would spin. I couldn’t read, write, talk on the phone or even walk through my house without trouble. I couldn’t think straight. Even when I slept, it felt like I was having out of body experiences. I’d go to sleep, and I would float around the house, over the house, and then wake up in bed. IT WAS WEIRD! Not to mention that half of my body was numb. My right eye would water, randomly, and when I went to wipe it or itch it, nothing would happen because I couldn’t feel my face.
And, this is just the physical effects. To make it worse, my mental state was way off. I had bouts of anxiety, depression, manic behavior, and obsessive thoughts. They controlled everything. There was nothing I could do to occupy my mind or my body.
Play with my kids, nope.
Have a conversation with people, nope.
“Would I ever be normal again? Am I going to get my life back?” I screamed inside
I mean, the question of whether I would ever play baseball again was far from my wheelhouse. I had no idea where my life would take me.
I finally got better and tried to play again. I got a minor league invite with the Cubs and THEY WERE INCREDIBLE to me. They helped me process through my return and my decision to retire. This is another story at some point.
What I learned:
Recovering from the physical part of a concussion can be hard but dealing with the mental and emotional part, can make it overwhelming. When the world keeps moving, you can’t move. You are on the sidelines watching, and it is painful. All you want to do is to feel normal again, but you can’t.
The biggest mistake I made was pushing through the symptoms until I got sick. This might of played into the length of my recovery. It took me a long time to talk to somebody about what I was going through, I tried to burden the weight of my injury alone. I was embarrassed and ashamed of how I felt inside. I looked ok, most of the time, but I wasn’t.
I was trying really hard to get better but nobody could help me. The harder I tried the worse I felt. I had to learn to be OK with myself. My saving grace was a plaque in my basement. I would go in our basement when I felt overwhelmed and lay down staring at this plaque…..
Be Still and know…
It helped me get through a very difficult time
A suggestion on how to apply to your situation:
If you are dealing with a concussion find somebody you trust and talk to them. Keep talking about what you are feeling. If you can find somebody who has gone through a concussion even better. If you can’t find anybody, talk to me. firstname.lastname@example.org. Be careful when you try to push through your symptoms. If your symptoms are getting worse, stop!
If you have a loved one with a concussion, I get it, it is really hard. You have no idea what they are feeling, and they don’t look sick or injured. What helped me was I built a survey through survey monkey for my son to take daily so I could measure how he was feeling out of 10 and how he slept. Instead of asking “how do you feel today?” I asked,
“Do you have any symptoms?”
“What 2 things are bothering you the most today?”
“How would you rate how you feel out of 10?”
“What number out of 10 would you give your symptom of x?”
This helped us get through it.