What I wish I knew about concussions

May 3, 2019, 1:00 a.m.

When I got a concussion while playing Ultimate Frisbee during fall quarter, I realized how much the proper functioning of my brain shaped my everyday experience. After my concussion, thinking took longer, and doing schoolwork, especially readings, became extremely unpleasant. My brain just wanted to stop and be still. My everyday experience was akin to feeling sleep-deprived all the time.School suddenly became nearly impossible, but with the help of my Vaden physician and academic advisor, I rearranged my academic commitments and barely made it through the quarter.

Here are four things I wish I knew during the process:

A doctor’s note is key.

At Stanford, a physician’s note is a record which fuels the machinery of university bureaucracy. Some of my teachers took me at my word when I told them I was concussed, but for at least one of my classes, a note was necessary to explain why I needed to reschedule my midterm and receive recordings of lectures I had missed. A doctor’s note is also necessary for registering with the Office of Accessible Education (OAE), which can approve academic accommodations and interface with university administration.

Take all the time you need to make up your academic commitments.

The three faculty members who taught me during fall quarter — whether professors, SLE section leaders or course coordinators — were conscious that concussions are a serious issue, and they were happy to accommodate my needs. One helpful accommodation two of my classes offered was submitting my course marks as “incompletes,” allowing me to make up missed work after the quarter ended.

However, during the beginning of my recovery, I overestimated how much I had recovered and didn’t ask for the arrangements I needed. In PSYCH 1, my course administrator told me she wanted me “to complete any make-up exams by early next week,” next week being the week after my concussion. I figured that since I had gotten past my excessive somnolence I was good to take the midterm, but while I was taking it, I ran out of time before I had answered all the questions.

It was only after meeting with the OAE during winter quarter that I realized I should have taken the test later, or at least requested extra time. An OAE staff member told me it takes about three months to fully recover. In the meantime, you can still experience the repercussions of your head trauma, such as difficulty concentrating and remembering things.

Advocating for more time on assignments is essential, especially since concussions are a condition for which it is difficult to determine if you have returned to normal abilities.

Consider registering with the Office of Accessible Education for testing accommodations.

Another thing I learned at my meeting with the OAE is that you can receive temporary testing accommodations, such as extra time, for concussions. Knowing this would have been really helpful for my psychology midterm. Like doctor’s notes, registering with the OAE is also helpful when trying to deal with university bureaucracy.

Your time spent recovering from a concussion can actually be a nice change of pace.

The only way to get better from a concussion is to rest. At first, this treatment felt strange. I should at least be doing something. Even when I’m physically sick and lying in bed, I can read or listen to podcasts, but with a concussion, rest extends to your mental activity. Once I looked at my recuperation as a rare opportunity to disengage mentally, I quite enjoyed my recovery. It was nice to stop and be still, even if it was short lived.

Contact Ravi Smith at ravi22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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