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ONE VOICE: ANDREW CUMMINGS Will I Be Myself Again?

Sitting down to write about my story of post concussion syndrome isn’t as easy I thought it would be. For almost a year and a half I was living my nightmare. There were bad days and there were good. Lows and highs.

A lot of days blurred together. It was a sort of constant disorientation. The constant vertigo made me think, was this forever? Will it get Better?

Will I be myself again?

It was spring break of my sophomore year and the Geneseo men’s lacrosse team was practicing at the University of Tampa. We had a game against Clarkson the next day. I caught a ball running down the right alley and took a shot on goal while rotating my body.

As I followed through, a defender slid to me. In the split second my side was exposed, I took a hit to the head.

It was the typical immediate reaction: ringing in the ears, blurred vision, loss of balance. After our athletic trainer Jeremie ran through some tests, it was safe to say I was out with symptoms of a concussion.

A couple weeks after the injury, I was home watching Syracuse play in the NCAA Tournament (I remember Cardiac ‘Cuse ended up pulling out a win in the Elite 8 - Go Orange!).

The following day, my friends Charlie, Kevin, Dylan and I got into a car to head back to Geneseo. It was supposed to be a typical trip back to school, one I had made many times. However, this time was going to be much different.

Charlie was driving about 55 mph on the NYS Thurway and the roads had giant banks of snow on each side from a previous storm. Light snow was coming down and the wind blew it around with ease. Suddenly, a big gust of wind and snow completely cut off our vision. It was as if we had been thrown into the middle of a nor'easter.

As we started to slow down, the car in front of us had already come to a complete stop. Charlie reacted as fast as he could, and brought us to a halt with about two inches separating us from a horrible accident. We were a little rattled, but each of us sighed a breath of relief as we praised ol’ Chuck for his quick reaction.

Unfortunately, the guy behind us didn’t have as fast a response. He plowed his mini-van directly into the back of our car going about 50 mph.

I was sitting in the back right seat.

It was kind of a blur. It happened fast, like really fast. I remember stepping out and hugging Kevin asking if he was okay, knowing things could have been much worse. Walking out of that car, I knew my guardian angels were watching over me.

Miraculously, we all walked away with minor injuries, or so I thought. My head did not hit anything, but what I would find out later was the whiplash from the accident gave me my worst concussion yet.

It was sort of weird, though. I felt fine for weeks afterwards. I even played the rest of the lacrosse season. However, a couple weeks after the end of school when I was driving home from the first day of my summer internship, I realized something was wrong.

As the sun beat down on my windshield, I began to get dizzy. I was losing my vision and the road became blurred. I pulled over because I knew something was up. After taking a break and resting my eyes, I was able to make it the rest of the way home.

Not long after that incident, I went to the doctor and he concluded I was facing concussion symptoms again. Only this time, they were much worse than before. My concussions happened so close together, their effects were compounded since my brain was not able to fully heal from the first one.

I felt like I was going crazy. I would wake up disoriented and then go to work, only to come home and sit in my room with the lights off and curtains drawn to decompress in the darkness from the constant stimuli I faced all day. I became depressed.

My doctor recommended I meet with a concussion specialist at Upstate University Medical Center in Syracuse. This is where Dr. Brian Rieger became a part of my journey. I explained my situation to him as well as how I was feeling physically, mentally and emotionally. He was like a rock, holding me down from going off the rails.

The first thing I asked was, “Will it get better?” He reassured me it would. Hearing about his expertise and all of those he had helped in the past, I trusted he was right. And boy, did I need to hear that.

"I felt like I was going crazy. I would wake up disoriented and then go to work, only to come home and sit in my room with the lights off and curtains drawn to decompress in the darkness from the constant stimuli I faced all day. I became depressed."

Summer came and went, but I did not get much better. My head felt like mush. Life was just dull. I wasn’t Andrew. I was also missing lacrosse, which was my passion, my hobby, my social circle, and my release, all rolled into one.

I got back to school for my junior year, excited but also nervous to see how things would play out with my symptoms. It was time for me to go to speak with our athletic trainers to figure out my situation for the coming season. I sat down with Jeremie and explained the situation and we decided I should see the department doctor to get his opinion.

My head needed to rest. I could not play my junior season.

Anyone who has had concussions, or any season ending injury for that matter, knows that feeling. It sucks. I mean everyone tells you, “it's the smart choice,” or, “you gotta do what you gotta do” in order to get healthy. That's all true, but finding out you have to sit out a whole season is still a tough pill to swallow.

Academically, that year was a rollercoaster. I remember sitting in class at the peak of my post-concussion symptoms and not being able to look at my laptop, a projector screen, or any type of light because everything was sensory overload for me. I couldn’t pay attention in class and ended up having my worst semester as it related to my grades.

I knew I couldn’t just stop having lacrosse in my life altogether. I would miss the team and the sport too much. I would hate sitting home as my friends all left for practice.

So I paid a visit to our new head coach, Nick Fiorentino, who had just started a few months earlier. I asked him if there was anything I could do to contribute to the team. If I couldn’t be on the field, I wanted to help in any other way possible. Coach Fiorentino gave me the opportunity to be a volunteer assistant coach. After being upset through this whole ordeal, this opportunity gave me some new life.

I met with another specialist and traveled to nearby Rochester a couple times a week for visual therapy, while also learning various eye exercises. All that was making a difference, but emotionally, being around lacrosse seemed to help even more. I went to as many practices and games as I could and did whatever I could.

It was therapeutic. It was like a healing process for me.

The season went by and we began to form our new identity under a new head coach, which was exciting. We took steps forward as a program and I was happy I could still be a part of it in a different way.

I have come so far since the end of that year. I appreciate so much now being able to sit down and type an essay on my laptop without having to nap for two hours afterward because my head was pounding.

There were so many things I took for granted before concussions. Oddly enough, the perspective that PCD (post concussion disorder) gave me was a hidden blessing.

I am appreciative of my health so much more now, and I feel for those who have suffered through the same things. I read about professional athletes who suffer concussions all the time. I never really thought twice about what was really going on until I was injured.

Now that I know that pain, I empathize with those people in a completely new way and send them my thoughts and prayers.

It’s my senior year and I have one last season. Through the help of my loved ones, my doctors and my teammates, I get to lace ‘em up again with some of my best friends and play the game I love. There is no better feeling.

I can proudly say I am having my best year on the field. I was also voted a captain.

But most importantly, I am able to pull on my Geneseo jersey and say I am myself again.

If anyone reading this is dealing with concussion symptoms, know that it gets better. Stick close to those who you can count on to lift you up. They are the ones that will help in the healing process and be there when times are hard.

You will become yourself again.

Created By
Andrew Cummings
Appreciate

Credits:

Photos by Keith Walters. Others provided by Andrew Cummings.

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