I Ain’t Dead

You may have noticed that lately I’ve been somewhat absent from, uh, everything. Dead to the world for most of December, and just brief ghostly appearances so far in 2013. I’ve posted a couple of times on Twitter about why, but I wanted to write something a bit more substantial about it all, now that I’m able to do so. Thus begins my tale of woe and boredom…

Once upon a time (1st December 2012), in a land far far away (New Zealand), there lived a great bearded wizard (that’s me), tormented by an evil troll.

Old garden shed

Ok, so that’s not a troll — it’s our old garden shed. Although I do consider it to be slightly evil now.

Notice the grape vine creeping up the trellis; I was attaching the trellis to the wall of the shed one bright Saturday afternoon. I bent down to pick something up, stood up and turned around, and in a fit of bloody revenge the shed viciously attacked me. Or I may have just hit my head on the corner of the shed — I don’t specifically remember that part. I vaguely remember feeling well enough afterwards to finish the job and clean up; though afterwards I did need to retire inside for a rest on the couch, then have an early night.

Sunday morning was quite the opposite of “feeling well enough”. “Awful” is a much more accurate description. I’m usually very resistant to see any doctor, but I got there as soon as I could on Monday. The medical field seems to involve a lot of inexact science (or as I like to call it, “guessing”), and my doctor’s best guess was a pinched nerve in my neck and a concussion. I knew very little about concussions, but my doctor warned me to stay away from computer screens and books.

Now, I’ll admit to a fair amount of ignorance here, as at this stage I expected to have an easy (if somewhat boring) time and be back at work after a week. Obviously, that didn’t exactly go to plan.

In fact, I was so wrong that on Tuesday Anne and I planned to take a trip out of town (Anne driving, of course) so I wouldn’t be completely bored out of my mind. We got as far as the emergency department of the hospital. Nothing serious, but I did learn that even sitting as a passenger in a moving car was enough to bring on some very worrying symptoms. Confusion, disorientation, difficulty focusing attention, blurry vision, double vision, atrocious headache, nausea, etc. All of which turned out to be normal, for a concussion — but nevertheless scary to experience.

I think most people don’t have much of an understanding as to how a concussion (or any brain injury) can affect a person. I certainly didn’t. This lack of understanding, and the types of symptoms and limitations, can be very isolating. As it turns out, being a programmer involves doing everything that you’re not allowed to do when you have a concussion:

  • In front of a screen
  • Reading
  • Concentrating
  • Thinking

Yea, really — I was pretty much banned from thinking. And for good reason — thinking made my head feel awful. Interestingly, I was also banned from doing much physical exercise. I found I was very easily physically exhausted, as well as mentally exhausted. Conversations with people overloaded my brain very easily, and I couldn’t cope at all with listening to groups of people. Both the mental and physical symptoms are caused by what’s called neurogenic fatigue — which apparently is remarkably similar to sleep deprivation. And so the trouble with a concussion is that you can’t push yourself to recover faster — it just ends up making things worse.

So I was stuck for most of December trying my best to do as little as possible. I plan on writing a separate blog post about this, but it’s actually quite difficult to do nothing — really do nothing. I spent a lot of time sleeping, or laying on the couch or outside trying to keep my mind blank. Some forms of meditation worked, but many involve too much concentration. Most days I had a short trip into a quiet café somewhere — I’ve never been in cafés so often before in my life. Needless to say, it was a remarkably boring time. But thankfully this was during a very pleasant New Zealand summer, which permitted plenty of time lounging in the sun and quiet walks along the waterfront of St Clair beach (yea, such a hard life).

Oh, and of course it helped having my attentive friend Harley keeping me company:

Harley, our ginger and white kitty

On 18th December I was given the all-clear to start slowly returning to normalcy. On 3rd January I was told I could start reading work email for an hour, spread out over a day, every second day. It took me until 1st February to build up to being able to work half a day, albeit still not coding. If this seems slow, it was — agonisingly slow.

It’s 14th February now (for me, at least – yay timezones) and I’m still doing roughly half days, but building up what I’m doing. So I’m finally getting through my review queue, some technical reading, and generally catching up on things I missed. Hopefully I’ll soon be able to get back into some serious coding, help finish that little project I started last year, and generally be back into my normal routine. In the meantime, I’m a delicate little flower, so please don’t bury me with too much work :)

2 thoughts on “I Ain’t Dead

  1. I hope you’re feeling better and can get back to being your awesome bearded self real soon. Your forced “vacation” sounds awesome until I start to think about all the things you couldn’t do. Reading, coding, driving, watching movies, … Not to mention all the activities requiring some degree of physicality. Basically, everything.

    get well soon (but don’t rush it!).

  2. Ain’t dead?! You’re not. You’ll be stone dead in a few minutes. …. Bring out yer dead! *rings bell*

    ;-)

    But srsly, great to have you coming back online. We’ve missed ya!

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