First a Concussion, Then a New Outlook


Patricia Manchester, 56, was a proudly a type-A superwoman — until a concussion forced her to look at her life in a new way.

She was on the way to her grandson’s birthday party in September 2018. While she was stopped at a red light, her car was rear-ended twice by the same person.

“Afterward, I was all shook up, but my car was drivable, and my priority was by grandson’s birthday party, no matter what,” she said. “When I got to my daughter’s, I went into superwoman mode and started calling my insurance and a rental car company.”

But the pain in her back, neck, and head got worse. At an express care clinic, she was diagnosed with whiplash. “The next day I worked from home, head pounding, ice pick above my right temple. I was a train wreck, but I was still pushing because I pushed through everything,” she said.

Two days after the accident, she couldn’t focus or get organized for an important client meeting. “I’ve been doing this job for 22 years,” she said. “It was always easy for me. I never had to think about thinking. Now things weren’t connecting in my brain. It was frightening,” she said.

She thought it was just a nervous reaction to the accident, but it just got worse.

Getting concussion care

When the headaches and light sensitivity became unbearable, her family doctor referred her to AHN Neurology for an evaluation and CT scans. “The doctor told me I had a concussion, but I didn’t really know what that meant. Then he said, ‘No work, no TV, no computer,’” Patricia recalled.

A concussion is a brain injury that can come from a direct blow to the head, a violent shaking, or a sudden deceleration without any contact, such as whiplash. It often occurs after a sports injury, slip and fall, or car accident.

When Patricia met with Dr. Marco Alcala of the AHN Concussion Clinic, he explained that the staff would coordinate Patricia’s appointments for physical, speech, cognitive, and vision therapy. This reduced her anxiety and allowed her to focus on getting well.

She started therapy but couldn’t totally break from her work life. “I wouldn’t disconnect. It wasn’t until I admitted defeat that I started to make progress,” she said.

“Once I accepted that my health had to be the priority, I was diligent.” Patricia said. Family members drove her to all of her weekly therapies — physical, cognitive, vison and vestibular (for balance.)

“My world was falling apart, but they were great, and took care of me,” said Patricia. “My therapists truly cared about me, and even personalized my treatment to apply to my job.”

Ongoing symptoms

Patricia also got psychiatric help for anxiety and depression, a common component of concussion treatment.

“I didn’t want to see a psychologist, but Dr. Alcala  told me to let my guard down. I was anxious, angry, and depressed but a specialist would help me through it. I was a tough nut to crack, but Dr. Alcala knew that my life depended on it,” she said. With help from her psychologist, Patricia has a more balanced life. “I’m happier, my family is happier.”

Her vision problems continued until a brain injury vision specialist diagnosed and treated her for convergence insufficiency. “I got aggressive vision therapy at the office twice a week and daily at home,” she said.

Patricia was released from care this past summer, but she knows that her therapists are a phone call away if she needs them. She is also joining a post-concussion support group, which she sees as a way to give back to others.

“I want people to understand that what they are going through is normal,” she said.

Still super, but not so speedy

Today, Patricia has returned to work, but operates differently.

“I never had to think about thinking. I’m organized, and things came naturally to me. But, until this accident, I was rarely present in the moment. I was always connecting to something else,” she said.

“Now that all has changed,” she said. “I still have some symptoms, but now I’m a different, better, person. My health is first and foremost. I go for walks when I get stressed or anxious. I eat lunch and don’t drink coffee after 8 a.m.”

“Now I take breaks, move slower, and am present for my family. So, some good came out of it.”

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Categories: Medicine and Health Features