In August 2020, near the end of our annual Homeschool Family Conference, my husband and I both started to feel ill, with headaches and sore throats and a general feeling of miserableness. My husband went for a Covid-19 test, which was negative, but we hadn’t been this sick in a long time.
I was feeling pretty frustrated and nervous because we were a few weeks away from a promised launch of our new Word Power series at Foundations Press, a set of phonics, grammar, Hebrew, spelling, and writing workbooks for grades K-8. It had been a huge project that we had been working on for almost two years at that point, and we wanted to get the books into the hands of homeschooling families before the new school year started.
So with a pounding head, I tried to keep working… but I wasn’t making much progress.
After about two weeks of this, most of my symptoms were gone, except for a nagging headache. It was now the end of August, and I determined to accomplish a lot that week. I would wake up each morning at 5:00 and tackle writing early before the kids woke up.
On Tuesday morning, August 25, it was ironic that I was working on the placement tests for the phonics part of the Word Power books. My desire was to do more than give the children a list of words to read, so that we could plug them into the correct level. I had done a lot of research on dyslexia and how a human brain functions, and I wanted the parents to also be able to use the placement tests to get a glimpse into how well their children’s brains were processing information. I sat on the floor next to my desk, with binders spread out all around me, amazed at how different styles of reading could indicate which lobe of the brain was being used, as well as point out areas of weakness that could be strengthened.
“I will praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139…
The alarm on my phone went off a couple hours later, to remind me to wake up my children for the day. One daughter was helping out at a local summer camp, so I knew I needed to make sure she got up on time. Eager to return to the mounds of research on the floor around me, I hopped up and hurried upstairs to wake her. After saying good morning to the kids and opening the blinds in their room to let in sunlight, I stood at the top of the stairs to greet our dog and rub his ears affectionately. He turned to go back into the boys’ bedroom, as I turned to head back downstairs.
That’s the last thing I remember. Wham! I found myself almost at the bottom of the stairs, flat on my back. Somehow my feet had slipped, sending me sailing through the air and landing hard on my right side, 10 stairs down from the top.
I could barely walk, but I stumbled into the living room and snuggled into my favorite blanket, tears streaming down my cheeks. Waves of nausea came over me, and I couldn’t speak. I sat there for a couple minutes, and then I stumbled into bed. Everything on the right side of my body hurt, from my ankle and especially my hip, all the way up to my shoulder and neck. My head was throbbing, but I was sure that if I could just hold still for a little while, I could keep my breakfast where it belonged.
My husband found me there about 20 minutes later. I still couldn’t talk very well, but I tried to explain what had happened. None of my children realized what had happened because my daughter had dropped her water bottle from the top bunk around the same time, and they thought the thunk they heard was from that. However, the sympathy came pouring in, and my husband told me to stay in bed awhile. He could take care of things around the house and get our daughter to camp for the day.
Later that morning, I tried getting up. Everything hurt, and I knew the bruises would start showing up soon. My head continued to pound, worse than it had while I was sick, but I tried to sit at my desk and answer customer emails and take care of shipping for the day. I looked at the piles of research on the floor, but I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down there again. Later my family took the binders and put them away for me on the shelves.
Over the next week, I tried really hard to function. I would get a binder out and put it in front of me on the desk, but I couldn’t seem to keep my eyes on the page. My eyes would get to the end of a line of text and just seem to wander down the page. Reading or looking at my computer screen would cause a knife to go through my head, and besides, it hurt so much to sit up. I took care of customers, and then I would just lie back in my recliner.
I knew I needed to keep moving, so I spent some time in our shipping area, cutting phonics flashcards. We had just received a new order of over 300 cards, ready for the new school year, but they still needed to be cut out. Unfortunately, I really struggled with the math of knowing where to make the cuts, as the cards had odd measurements — 2 3/16-inch, 4 7/16-inch, borders of 2/16-inch, and so on. I kept making mistakes, and quite a few sets of flashcards ended up in the trash. My neck and head would be pounding again — so I’d head back to my recliner for a break.
My husband is a former football coach who knows how to check for concussion, but the bruises on my hip were so large and painful that it never occurred to us that anything else could have happened. I figured my headache was leftover from the strange virus we had gotten, now over 3 weeks before. But when my neck started to hurt so badly that I couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours at a time at night, and when my husband caught me crying in the living room at 4 am, in too much pain to move back to bed, he started to realize how bad things were.
We called our chiropractor, a wonderful man with a lot of expertise in sports injuries. He shared that in addition to the bruises on my hips and shoulder, I was suffering from whiplash and a concussion. He had carefully checked my eyes, noting that they were not tracking together or dilating properly.
“Anne,” he said, “You need to go home and rest. Stay off your computer and spend some time in a dark room. If you do that, you should be feeling better soon.”
“But Doctor,” I protested, “We are in the middle of a huge project, and we’re already not hitting our deadlines! I’m okay, really. I’m just not sleeping very well. I think I’ll be alright if I can just sleep through the night.”
But he and my husband insisted, and I sent out an update to our customers.
Long story short… Guys, we are going to postpone the release of Word Power.
How long? I don’t know. I am going to see the doctor again several times over the coming weeks, and I’m going to be doing some brain therapy as soon as I’m able. (I praise YHVH that we’ve been down the road of these kinds of injury before, so I’ll just use the techniques I’ve told others to use.)
My concern is that I usually work very long hours each day on the computer — and the doctor only wants me to be on the computer very short times and to stop as soon as I have any kind of symptom such as headache. If I do as he says, I’ll be back soon and getting books written for you and your children.
My stomach was in knots, and I struggled to hold back the tears. I had spoken with a mother earlier that summer on the phone. She had an eighth-grade daughter with severe difficulties reading, although she was perfectly capable in many other areas. I had told her promising stories of the research we had done on using Scripture as a child’s primary textbook and its amazing ability to heal the brain. Here was a mother whose daughter was now ready to start high school but was extremely discouraged. How could I tell her that the project she had been waiting for was now postponed?
It hurt to use my eyes, sound was bothering me, and I still couldn’t seem to keep my mind on the words on a page, so I tried to rest in my bedroom as the doctor said. In the quiet and dim room, I listened to YouTube videos on the latest in concussion research. If I kept the volume low and didn’t look at the screen too much, I was fine.
The amount of research coming out on traumatic brain injury in the past couple years was impressive! I was really encouraged as I wrote therapy ideas in my planner, and I got an encouraging report from the chiropractor the next week.
Great news! My eyes are tracking correctly now, and my retinas are working like they should. That is so encouraging, because it means my brain is working properly. I just cannot tell you what an answer to prayer that is!
On the downside, my pain levels are still really high, bringing nausea at night and difficulty sleeping. However, he said that’s an entirely different issue that should resolve within 4 weeks. That sounds like a REALLY long time, LOL! But he increased my magnesium, turmeric, yarrow, and vitamin C, showed me how to relax and breathe through the pain (which I told him reminded me of childbirth), and reminded me to stay hydrated (which I admit, I can forget to drink enough some days). He also increased my protein intake for a little while. I really like this doctor!
He said that I need to keep stimulation (noises, smells, lights, too much thinking — ha!) as low as I can for another couple weeks, because the brain actually swells when it is stimulated. That is SO hard for me! At the moment, I’m trying to just do work in short bursts.
Music was a big part of the YouTube research I heard, which was great because I was preparing to play the piano for a big wedding that coming Sunday. I’ve been playing the piano since I was 5 years old, since before I could read and almost as long as I could tie my shoes. The songs weren’t difficult, and being at the piano is always a place where I feel comfortable.
But as I looked at the notes on the page, they would start to swim. The parents were going to sing “Sabbath Prayer” from Fiddler on the Roof, during which my hands were supposed to play large chords low in the bass, then hop up to the top of the piano, back and forth. It wasn’t usually a difficult song for me — but as I practiced, I would feel incredibly dizzy, almost carsick, and my head would pound. Advil was my friend that entire week, and I took it like candy the day of the wedding. It was a beautiful day, and everything went fine.
The next day we took our 18-year-old daughter to visit a college a few hours away. I remember walking into the conference center where parents were to hear a presentation from the admissions department. Stairs stretched ahead of me in the grand lobby, and all the classical symmetry made me feel very dizzy. We were required to wear face masks, but I felt sick to my stomach and keep sneaking mine off when no one was looking. By the time we left mid-afternoon, I just felt sick all over. I chalked it up to all the excitement of the weekend.
Meanwhile, I still wasn’t sleeping. Like clockwork every night, I would wake around 3 am with the worst headache I could imagine, and I would try all sorts of things to make it go away. I remember my headaches increased in magnitude after the college trip. I still hadn’t slept through the night a single time in the past few weeks.
Thankfully, I had recently hired my second daughter to start helping with customer service, and my oldest daughter has been on staff with us for awhile now. We started having meetings about jobs that they could take off my plate, and we increased the amount of time we spent in planning and training. My third daughter helped in countless ways with housework, and my fourth daughter was learning to take over shipping completely. (Children are truly a blessing from YHVH!) We felt encouraged as we next started to prepare for the coming fall feasts.
The next chiropractic appointments went about like normal. He used a cryo-pain treatment on me, which would blow cold air on my scalp for several minutes. It was my favorite time of the week! I remember one Thursday when the cryo treatment helped so much that I told my husband I could accompany him to Costco afterward. Unfortunately, whether it was the lights or the stimulation or the the noise, I’m not sure, but by the time we came out, my headache had returned with a passion.
My journal from September 21 shows that I was searching for something that would help.
I knew the power of Bible reading, but I was struggling to read. Not only could I not keep my eyes on the page very well, but I would fall asleep after a few verses. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on my work at the computer for more than 15 minutes at a time. I had typed one page of text in our new Word Power books in a month. Yikes!
My planner records these statements:
I am thankful for kind and good customers. Even though I fell and got a concussion, I am thankful for all I have learned. I am thankful for help. I am thankful for healing. Abba, help me concentrate on my writing and not feel so exhausted.
But my mom was coming to visit for a few days. (Isn’t it amazing how moms always make things better?!) And as soon as she went home, it was time for another Sabbath, followed by Yom Kippur, one of the most special days of the year.
On Sabbath, we attend a local fellowship of believers who had been meeting outdoors for the summer because of Covid restrictions in Michigan. We were still joyful as we sang together. That week, the sun was bright overhead and the light hurt my eyes, but I loved playing the piano for worship. After our singing, I sat down in a lawn chair at the front, because I like to be near my husband as he teaches. I was right in front of the speaker, however, and every word he spoke felt like it was rattling my brain. I moved my chair over to the far edge and pulled out my Bible and my journal to take notes as I always did. I found that I couldn’t write very well, and my headache increased. Advil to the rescue, but it didn’t help much. I decided to just put my journal away and listen. I think this was the first time in a decade that I didn’t take notes during a Sabbath teaching.
On Sunday morning, I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down with my planner, like I always do on the first day of every week. It was the start of a new quarter, which means I get to open my brand-new planner. I love the smell of a new book, and I snuggled into my recliner with a pen, optimistic about the months ahead and all that we would be able to do.
Things didn’t go so well. My headache returned after a few minutes, and now it was accompanied by nausea. I could hardly see because my eyes were so blurry, and my handwriting was terrible. I tried to read through my goals and think about my purpose in life, just like normal, and yet I couldn’t keep my mind on it. My neck was stiff, and I felt dizzy. I decided to go play the piano instead.
The next day was Yom Kippur. We had a quiet but lovely service at our home, and afterward, we sat together as friends and spent the day talking together and encouraging each other. I spent a couple hours quietly coloring in an adult coloring book as we talked.
That night I threw up for the first time. At first I thought it was the stomach flu and was worried because everyone had been at my house. But soon we realized that it was just another concussion symptom. We talked to our doctor, and this time he was emphatic.
“Anne, I want you to stay far away from your computer, any reading, and any writing for the entire next week. You may do things outdoors, or you may rest, but that is it! If you haven’t improved in a week, I’m going to send you to a neurologist.”
Thankfully, the next week was Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. We always spend a lot of time outdoors (although my husband refused to let me sleep outdoors in the tent because I would get sick the worst in the middle of the night, and he was worried that the cool temperatures would make me feel worse).
It was a wonderful week! It really helped to spend time outdoors with dear friends. We sang, we ate so much good food, we laughed. Our congregation said I wasn’t allowed to play the piano, so I just sat back and enjoyed the music. We gathered together every day, and truly, it was the highlight of my entire year. I loved every minute.
But in the middle of the night, I would feel nauseous or vomit. I started feeling dizzy, and I would notice it more when there was a lot of noise and singing. If I would watch the young people twirling and spinning as they did Hebraic dancing, my brain would fire off strange flashes of lightning. By the last day of Sukkot, even the music was too much for me. I was dizzy, so I tried to stay seated most of the day.
I saw my chiropractor today, I did not get a fantastic report. My concussion symptoms have gotten worse over the past week, with vomiting, issues with balance, and a lot of eye problems. The headaches are pretty severe as well. Because it has been over five weeks since my injury, these are not good symptoms.
I am not to work at all, until there is improvement. He is preparing to refer me to a medical doctor, but I am also scheduled to see a naturopath on Tuesday.
I asked the doctor how long I need to stop working, and he said a minimum of a week and possibly as long as several months. Time will tell.
My naturopath is a tall man who himself experienced several concussions while playing basketball in high school. He gave me a lot of help, but at the end of our time together, he warned me that I was showing symptoms like people who have a brain tumor. He recommended an MRI right away.
My chiropractor agreed. He was worried that maybe I had an extremely slow hematoma (bleed) on my brain, which would explain why my symptoms were gradually getting worse. He referred me to a neurologist for that MRI.
It took several days to get the results.
…to be continued…
P.S. While waiting for the next post, here is a short video I recorded to share some of the challenges I faced, the therapy that helped, and the lessons YHVH has been trying to teach me.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this blog post taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.