My laundry molders in the washing machine because I can’t remember to put it in the dryer. I use the copier machine but can’t collate the pages in order, try as I might. I go into the kitchen intending to rinse bottles for recycling, then stand there flat-footed, asking myself: “Why am I here?’’
This is my day-to-day reality since I fell outside my New York City apartment on Dec. 2 and cracked my head on the pavement. I woke many hours later in the emergency room, remembering nothing of the accident. I couldn’t remember what hospital I was in, either, no matter how many times people told me.
My doctors tell me I suffered a concussion. It’s been nearly three weeks. I’m still not healed. Not even close.
Concussions are very much in the news these days, with the new film about brain damage in NFL players coming out this week. I’ve been aware of the issue, but thought of it mostly in connection with professional athletes. I’m a 68-year-old journalist. How would I get a concussion?
Yes, I have been afraid of falling, given my slight build and early-stage osteoporosis. But I feared a broken hip that might turn me into a little old lady. I never gave a thought to a brain injury. Silly me.
Words come slowly these days, mostly nouns, I’m told, although I’m not the best judge of that. Numbers flummox me. I mix up their order when dialing the telephone. I’ve added extra money to my bank account lest I inadvertently bounce a check. Reading is all but impossible, though I do force myself to concentrate on articles about post-concussive syndrome, which alternately terrify and reassure me.
Yes, my symptoms are “normal’’ but they’re lasting way too long.
* Headaches? Check. And beyond the reach of Advil or Tylenol.
* Dizziness? Yup. I’ve graduated from the elevator to stairs to descend from my 2nd floor apartment, but cling to the banister with one hand and steady myself against the wall with the other.
* Loss of balance? That’s what got me in this fix to begin with and it continues.
* Irritability and poor judgment? Ask the people I have chewed out for no good reason or look at the intemperate emails I never should have sent and can’t retrieve.
* Slower thinking and disorientation? The other night, I couldn’t tell the difference between the skits on “Saturday Night Live’’ and the commercials, which seemed equally cheeky.
* Sensitivity to light and noise? I’ve set the TV volume so low that it’s almost silent. Nightfall is a blessing.
I was discharged from the emergency room at Weill Cornell Medical Center less than 24 hours after my fall, because they had no beds to admit patients. The noise and bright lights were making me worse, too. I went home with written instructions to follow up with a neurologist and a neurosurgeon, which I have done (once I found the lost paperwork).
I’ve added a neuropsychiatrist to the list, because my cognitive deficits alarm me — including not being able to compute how long this ordeal has lasted without counting and recounting the days on my calendar. When I filled out the intake forms for the psychiatrist, I made so many spelling and factual errors I considered throwing the paperwork away. Then I reconsidered. Maybe seeing the mistakes will help her make a diagnosis or offer a prognosis.
At my age, forgetfulness is commonplace. So is misplacing my keys. Or my glasses.
But these recent lapses are different. They feel different. They come so frequently.
In most patients with concussions, symptoms resolve within 10 days, but they can last weeks or months or even a year in some cases. Each and every doctor has told me that the brain is the slowest organ to heal. It requires rest. It takes time. How much more time for me? No one can say.
It’s hard not to wonder what being this muddled for months, for a year, would feel like. A dress rehearsal for Alzheimer’s?
Like early-stage Alzheimer’s patients, I am learning tricks to pass for normal, which sometimes work and sometimes don’t.
The new laundry routine is typical. I put clothes in the washing machine. I put Post-it notes all over the apartment to remind me to move them to the dryer. Then I forget where the Post-it notes are, or even that I’ve written them, until days have passed and the clothes are a wee bit moldy. So I wash them again — and again leave myself remedial instructions.
You can see where this is going: The wet clothes again languish. I almost wish they would start to smell. That might get my attention.
Jane Gross is a journalist in New York City.