Cameron McNeish discovers that a head knock had much more serious consequences than he first thought.
IT all seemed fairly innocuous. The gutters on our house needed clearing and I figured it would be an easy job to stand on a ladder with a hosepipe and get the job done.
I cleared the gutters and was about to descend the ladder when whatever happened next happened. I had fallen off the ladder (the ladder had actually slipped and I came down with it) and on the way down I banged my head off the harled wall, which tore the skin on my skull quite badly and I landed on my back on the edge of some decking. My back hurt more than my head at that point. There was blood everywhere.
After seeing me fall and knock myself out my wife immediately telephoned for an ambulance and I was carted off to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness where a doctor put in several stitches and I had an MRI scan. The results were clear and I was pronounced fit and well, if a little sore.
I thought that was the end of it. I had been told to see my GP within a few days to get the stitches removed and I was still more concerned about my back, which tended to stiffen up whenever I walked any distance.
After a few days I thought I’d give myself a bit of a test. I rode my mountain bike up Gleann na Squaib in Wester Ross and climbed Beinn Dearg. This isn’t a particularly tough walk although a lot of deep and unconsolidated snow made it tougher than it normally would have been. I’d intended adding Cona’ Mheal and Meall nan Ceapraichean to the day’s tally of Munros but I couldn’t. After climbing Beinn Dearg I was done in. During the descent to Gleann na Squaib I had to keep stopping for a rest. I was whacked. At one point I felt dizzy and had to sit down and the tension headache I had been suffering from since the accident seemed to get worse.
A few days later I picked up the worst cold I’ve had in years, although I appreciate now that my resistance was very low, my immune-system wasn’t working too well.
But still I pushed on. With holidays approaching I had a lot of work to get through and television programmes to film and it was during one of these filming blocks that things seem to come to a head (forgive the pun).
I had to conduct an interview about a fairly complex subject and I just couldn’t get my brain to work. What really worried me was the fact that I was completely disinterested. I think everyone in the film crew realised there was something wrong and later, a close friend who was working with us, emailed me and advised me to go and see my GP.
“You’re just not yourself,” he said. “We blokes try to be bold and macho and just carry on as though nothing was wrong but we really should take notice of what our spouses are telling us.” My wife had been very concerned about my mood swings, lack of concentration and constant tension headaches and she too reckoned I should see the doctor.
My wife had more sense than I had so she telephoned our doctor, explained the circumstances and the next thing I knew she had arranged an appointment. The doctor carried out various tests, arranged for me to wear a 24 hour blood pressure monitor, took some blood for testing and explained to me a thing called post-concussion syndrome, which I had never heard of. He reckoned I had pushed myself too much instead of resting after the accident and my bash up Beinn Dearg hadn’t helped matters. I had pushed myself too hard, too soon.
The doctor also advised me not to take undertake any long solo walks in remote areas for a few weeks and avoid riding my bike as my balance had been affected.
Three months on from the accident and I’m still suffering from this post-concussion syndrome. It comes in various forms – depression, anxiety, pins and needles in my arm and leg, sleeplessness and fatigue. The headaches have gone, thank goodness and I’m back on my bike and I’ve even been up one or two hills, but I’d never have believed a few minutes of being unconscious could have such a long-lasting effect.
The moral however is clear. If you bash your head and end up unconscious, even just for a few minutes, take it easy for a while and don’t go bashing off to the hills. The mountains will be there for another day and you can’t rush brain injury. You can’t take some painkillers and just go for it. The brain needs one thing and one thing only to heal itself: and that thing is time.