The Widows’ Guide to Living Well: Concussion – A Reality Check

The Widows’ Guide to Living Well: Concussion – A Reality Check

First, an introduction to The Widows’ Guide to Living Well

I’ve learned a lot as a widowed mama. Someday, when my kids are a little older, all the God Things that got us through will go into a book. For now, a number of stories are clambering to come out – stories I share because I think they could help someone else. They’ve been collecting in my mind in chapters under the title, “The Widows’ Guide to Living Well.” This is a new story, but it’s definitely clambering.

My introduction to concussion

When Walter died, I was completely overwhelmed by the constant need to be “on” as a newly single mama of a then-two- and five-year-old. I couldn’t have sustained that level of Mama Bear if I’d tried; my circuits would have burned out. But even just two months ago, a friend said about me, “She keeps her chicks close under her wing,” and I do. My eaglets, as their Da and I called them, are 9 and 12 now, and I’ve endeavored to encourage them to fly as healthily as I know how – and push myself to do it better. So when I signed Elspeth up for her first middle school camp this spring, at a church I’ve long looked forward to shepherding my kids at just this age – that I have adored, so it will remain unnamed – I thought I was doing right.

Youth ministry is a funny thing. I remember feeling amusedly skeptical, from my years in Catholic school in Miami, that apparently I’d grow closer to God if I got little sleep and did kinda dangerous – but not too dangerous – things. Oh, and got really loud. I didn’t subscribe to it then, and Elspeth doesn’t subscribe to it now, but she went along for the ride, and the ride was pretty good – until an inner tube flipped and she hit her head on the ground the next-to-last day of camp. Elspeth went to the nurse on staff at the camp, who is actually an emergency room nurse. He checked her eyes, asked her a few questions, then told her she didn’t have a concussion, but to let him know if she felt nauseated. She let him know she felt nauseated. And … he just told her to rest.

If there is even a chance your child has suffered a concussion, and she is not with you, the very first thing folks with her should do is call you. This is not overreacting. This is common sense.

One of the big misconceptions about concussion is that it shows up right away in diagnosable symptoms. Sometimes it does. In this case it did, but those around Elspeth didn’t know what those symptoms meant. After she told her camp nurse she was nauseous, and he told her to rest, she told her camp counselor. She told her to rest. The next day, she was dizzy, nauseated and super foggy. She told another counselor. That counselor told her to drink some water. Nobody but nobody told her, or me, that she might have a concussion. Only one of the adults involved sought me out when I picked up Elspeth from camp, and she told me she was “fine.”

People with concussions can look fine, and very much not be fine

That’s worth putting in bold.

Now picture that you are a single mama, and you know damn well you sometimes tend to overreact, and a small group of adults you trust, including an ER nurse, for goodness’ sake, all tell you your child is fine. I saw a prepubescent girl who was super tired, pretty irritable, still battling nausea from gut issues we’d only recently resolved surrounding the trauma of losing her daddy young, kinda sensitive to sound, like she’d always been – all issues that masked concussion symptoms perfectly; and I saw the opinion of all these people I trusted; and I completely missed that my girl had a concussion.

Elspeth’s pediatrician confirmed the incident in March was indeed a concussion just this last Thursday. All we had to say was “nausea,” and that alone clinched it for her. Don’t everyone sigh in disgust at me now; I can handle that all by myself. I feel beyond terrible that I didn’t just quadruple check for myself.

Concussion numero dos

I miss homeschooling my kiddos in Spanish, which they love almost more than any other subject. But, I digress.

On July 11, Elspeth was bucked from a horse. Suffice to say I was practicing healthy letting go, at a place I thought I’d adequately checked out, and I did not witness this fall. Here’s the thing: The person in charge of Elspeth – and all the other youth there that day – checked Elspeth’s eyes, asked her a few questions … then helped her back up on that horse. Elspeth rode for another hour.

Turns out that was a very bad idea.

I say again: If there is even a chance your child has suffered a concussion, and she is not with you, the very first thing folks with her should do is call you. This is not overreacting. This is common sense.

That night, Elspeth had a headache and some nausea. The next morning, Elspeth was having trouble not running into walls, her head hurt, she was nauseous, she was sensitive to light and sound. I researched concussion, of course determined that’s what it was, and commenced dark-room therapy. She spent most of the next week lying in our dark living room, listening to Harry Potter audiobooks on our computer. On her pediatrician’s advice, I took her to the ER, just to make sure she’s okay (sure that they’re overreacting, because in spite of the primers from my boy’s soccer team, I, too, know zilch about concussions), and as we’re led straight past the waiting room, up the stairs, and into the short stay rooms, I’m the one trying not to cry. Well. Turns out Elspeth did indeed have a concussion, and not a mild one. But I was doing everything right, gold star for me – just keep doing what we’re doing, the ER doc told me, and as soon as her symptoms are clear for 24 hours, she could slowly go back to normal life.

Turns out that was bad advice.

Two days later, we took Elspeth to an afternoon party, with strict instructions to stay calm and stay safe, and she did – but also lost count of how many cotton candies she ate. Do you know what sugar does to a serious concussion? Let me paint the picture for you. The next morning, just after breakfast, Elspeth was stuck on the toilet with nausea, and diarrhea, and turning pale, and then she couldn’t hold herself up, and she was lying down on the floor, and she had blue and white stars in front of her eyes and her hearing sounded like she was underwater; that’s what sugar does to a serious concussion. It was like her power plug was pulled out. Half an hour later we carried her into the ER at Legacy Salmon Creek. Ironically, this time they did have us wait in the lobby, but not before they called an ER doc in real quick to ask her a few questions to try and determine if she needed help right that second, or in a few minutes. A few minutes it was, but they did a CT scan this time. Thankfully, no bleeding could be seen on the scan, and we were cleared, once again, to keep doing what we were doing and, as her symptoms allowed her, slowly go back to normal life.

Turns out that was bad advice, too! Just later that day, we found out mild dehydration can cause that “plug-pulled” effect, too.

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This is where Elspeth spent most of her July. August is shaping up pretty similarly.

By July 22, we’d determined that Elspeth can safely listen to audiobooks in the dark; hold baby chicks; and sew. She can do one-process activities. She could not read for any length of time, or run, or hold a normal conversation. She could not put away her leftovers after dinner. Heck, this girl couldn’t choose her own clothes in the morning, or at bedtime. She wouldn’t let me choose her outfits when she was two, not even then! We were seeing a pattern: brain overload led to headache and nausea. If the overload didn’t immediately abate, age regression and vicious circular thinking set in. And if the overload didn’t quit, we hit full-on two-year-old tantrum. I actually thought about recording it the first time it happened, just because no one would have believed it.

I did what I’ve always done when medical professionals hadn’t provided us with answers: I went to Natural Grocers on 192nd, and talked to Jenn Reznick. Jenn started us on turmeric, citicoline CDP choline and omega-3.

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Amazingly, Elspeth takes all of these without complaint. Amazingly.

In the days that followed we saw an amazing neurofeedback provider who had helped another TBI survivor we know immensely, but who I can not at this time possibly hope to afford; we went to several physical therapists who were “concussion specialists,” who pushed Elspeth to symptom trigger … then waited a few minutes … then pushed her again, telling us this was the path to healing; I’ve recorded more strange symptoms than I would have believed if I hadn’t seen them – way more than I have listed here, so if you’re wondering, and it would help you to know, please ask; and I slowly became more and more terrified that the Elspeth we knew was gone for good.

And then we met Dr. Webb

Dr. Charles W. Webb, DO, is at Legacy Medical Group – Orthopedic and Sports Medicine. Legacy’s ER actually referred us to him originally, but also to another doctor who was specifically pediatric – and booked out for weeks; and after our local PT experience, I felt like giving up on Western medicine. After all, look at all the misinformation that got us to this point.

Turns out that was my mistake.

Fortunately, I took to the phone, asking hard questions that did indeed lead me to folks who know (and believe!) what we’re dealing with, and they led us to Dr. Webb. He debunked all the wrong advice we’d been given thus far; added a gaggle of supplements; set us up with ongoing therapy colleagues back at Legacy Salmon Creek; and both scared the hell out of me, and heartened me. He told me kids usually recover – 80 percent, I think he said – from a concussion in two weeks. Maybe he said three, I don’t remember for sure. Well, Elspeth likely still wasn’t healed from her first concussion when she got this, her second. Ninety percent recover in six weeks. The rest can take months, years … or never recover completely at all. The key, he said, is to really and truly let her brain rest: Sunglasses, hat and earplugs, indoors too, at all times; twenty-minute brain rests every hour; no more than 20 minutes’ screen time per hour. Don’t trigger symptoms: Triggered symptoms are a step BACK.

We saw Dr. Webb yesterday. Yesterday! We put all his advice to work, right away. And today …

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We were a little wiggly on this particular brain rest period …


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Elspeth in her element.

Lord, this isn’t what I meant.

I have prayed many times in my widowhood for God to make me the patient mama my kids deserve. Funny how things like that come about. My daughter has gone too long unheard, on too many fronts. I hear you now, love.

Anyone who tries to tell you or your child that repeat concussion is an automatic cost of living life to the fullest, to be accepted and weathered like a common bruise – whether your kiddo is a horse girl or a teen searching for answers at church camp – is either trying to sell you something, or tragically just doesn’t know how misleading (and misled) they really are.

Yesterday Dr. Webb looked at our girl and told her we are going to get her back to the life she loves. And today we took a giant leap in that direction. AND today is the first day in so many I’ve lost count that Elspeth has not had one bout of tears. Well. She started when I was closing the door after stuffing her into bed, but I told her no, don’t mess with my record of no tears today, and let me write this post, it’s important. And she stopped.

Thank you, Lord. Thank you, Dr. Webb. And thank you, so much, Rebecca, Katherine and Debbie. You kept me sane and gave me guidance and hope when I was scared half out of my wits.

I was contemplating writing this post tonite, when by some strange coincidence, I met someone who studied under a martial artist I’ve long admired who is no longer with us on this earth. This gentleman found me through an old tbi (traumatic brain injury) tag on an Instagram post I made about someone else long ago. Strangely coincidentally, he told me his tbi was caused by multiple concussions that were not taken seriously enough. Off to bed the kids went, and off to write went I.

Helpful links

If you or someone you love live anywhere near the Vancouver/Portland metro area and are having trouble getting help for your concussion symptoms, get in line to see this guy:

If you want to improve your health, solve a tough health problem or simply save money on medical bills in general, get in line to see this gal:

Here’s the concussion education site Dr. Webb directed us to:

P.S. as of 12/08/2020: This was a long time ago now. I wasn’t as far along in this journey as I am now. Read on before you follow any of the referrals above.

Further update as of 3/28/2021: Yeah, reach out to me before you follow those referrals. I’m leaving this post up for the record, but we had to dig much much deeper for answers. Don’t settle for anyone who runs of out tools in his toolkit and just declares you “healed,” or responds to the end of her toolkit with toxic positivity. Again, if you’re struggling with tbi or related injuries, reach out and I’ll be glad to share my resources.



A Connection Unexpected.

Serendipity can make a time of life when everything feels wrong, make sense. I call serendipitous things God Things, though I’ll admit my faith has been tested of late, so I feel a little hypocritical saying that at the moment.

I haven’t been shooting too much lately. I’ve been learning all about the business side of photography, which is good. I’ve also been navigating a very scary and unexpected health change in my daughter, which is not good. But I was glad Camas Life Magazine asked me to photograph Saturday’s Camas Days Grand Parade, because I knew it would inject some normalcy into my spirit.

Just before parade start, I spied a stylin’ couple standing just where I wanted to shoot. Perfect. The rain started, and they opened an umbrella. Score! And then I noticed the Hayao Miyazaki tattoes on her calves. Totoro, no less. We’re major Miyazaki fans in this house. I knew this would be my favorite shot of the day.

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I knew when I shot it that this was my favorite photograph of the day.

I put my worry for my daughter on hold, and really enjoyed shooting the parade, but by its end I was ready to return with my son to our girl, home with a traumatic brain injury (because “concussion” just doesn’t do it justice). As I was leaving, I ran into that couple again, and decided to introduce myself and ask permission to distribute what I knew would be a photo I loved. Turns out they were at the parade with Peter Khalil, candidate for Congress, who very politely asked me to shoot a portrait. At first, what Peter got was the mental car crash that occurred when my urgency to return to my daughter met up with his request, which emerged as all my worry over her, shared sputteringly, with this complete stranger – definitely not my usual MO while I’m working.

I don’t know one thing about Peter Khalil’s politics, but I will tell you that if you ever need to appeal to a person in power for help, you want someone to listen with his depth of compassion. He was so kind, and so humble, and so backed off immediately from his request. So of course I brought him to a better background and shot the portrait.

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Peter Khalil, candidate for Congress and one heck of an empathetic guy.

Here’s the serendipity.

But this was the really cool thing. The Miyazaki-tattoed woman with the flaming hair is named Lyann. Lyann shared that she, too, had a concussion that deeply affected her life. I have found precious few people who truly understand how our lives have been turned upside down by this. Lyann got it. And now I know two people who can illuminate what has taken over my vibrant, crazy active daughter’s life and … turned it off, basically. Put it on indefinite hold. These two people I know – one just met Saturday, remember – are the reason I have a clue what is going on, and that’s not for lack of seeking professional help for her. After all our little family has been through, to find that, right now, is like finding gold.

Camas Days Grand Parade 2019!

Camas Days Grand Parade 2019!

I shot today’s Camas Days Grand Parade for Camas Life Magazine. Talk about photographing connection; this is one connected community, and you can really see it at events like this. Raindrops started just as the parade did, but the support from the crowd was lovely. I just love this town.

Here are a few of my favorite moments. I apologize these pics don’t click larger; this site is a work in progress. Enjoy, and thanks for stopping by!

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Friends walking just before the start of the parade.

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Rainy-day parade encouragement.

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Camas Mayor Shannon Turk was obviously enjoying her candy-tossing duties!

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Somebody find me the mama of that boy saluting in the background, I want to shake her hand. This is the beautiful Virginia Warren, the parade’s grand marshal.

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Aslan turned my head just in time to catch this little cutie riding in style.

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Pure luck, this kiddo yawning just as I clicked the shutter, this near the end of the parade.

Portrait Photography Connection

Portrait Photography Connection

Connection – an Origin.

I’ve been thinking a bit about who I am lately. What’s made me who I am, and … who exactly is that? Three traits keep floating to the top of my mind: I’ve always sought a man to partner with; I’ve always sought Jesus; and – as a local portrait photographer in Camas and Washougal, Washington, and as a person – I’ve always sought connection.

Connection Found … and Lost … and Found Again

Well. That first trait yielded a number of frustrated years spent “waiting to become,” at first; then, two amazing kids, an angel who is pretty much on point, and lots of kids’ books in our home that don’t focus on building one’s life around a princess-rescue myth (change is good).

Jesus has shown Himself real in my life; seeking paid off well in that department, so that trait holds strong. Lately it’s the connection bit, especially in our cellphone-absorbed society that says it wants to connect, while burying its nose in anything but, that has me thinking. 

Portrait of Bonds Unrealized

I grew up in Bellevue, Washington, strangely unaware of its wealth, but very aware of the societal value of stuff over connection. I was an empath in a not-very-empathetic world. 

My family went to the zoo fairly often. You might think this would be a good thing, but in the mid 1970s, zoos were much more … cage-y than they are now. It was hard for me to imagine life inside those cages as joyous, and I wanted to connect with those lives. I didn’t want to see them on show, performing, looking happy – I wanted to see who they really were. Family zoo trips were contemplative, for me. 

Storytelling in One Frame

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One of the first portraits I ever shot, artsy bokeh and all.

I just recently unearthed this, one of my very first portraits, shot with a Kodak Ektra on 100-speed film. I’d forgotten that the photography style I’d grow to love showed up in anything I’d shot before my 20s; I was maybe 8 when I shot this. But I never, ever forgot this face. 

Importance of Kinship

Connection makes life bearable, even beautiful, when life is not easy, which frequently it is not. One of my great joys in life is fostering connection, especially with my children. 

My other great joy in life is photographing it.

Charity Feb is a wedding, family and business photographer focusing on storytelling and connection in and around Camas and Washougal, Washington. She is sure her childhood zoo is a much less “cage-y” place now, as is her current local zoo, where her family’s favorite exhibit can be found here:

These words keep following me.

These words keep following me.

These words keep following me.

Recently my sifu observed that I’m trying to walk forward while holding on to a boulder with both hands. That boulder … “is it fear?” I asked. He confirmed, but … fear of what?

This saying crops up a lot on pages that address narcissism … um … fallout. I’ve been staying up late for days trolling such pages, trying to figure out why I feel so gutted, a little crazy, and mournful; let that suffice as explanation of my summer. I do not think Walter’s up there pulling strings to see me (us) hook up with … that. But I felt so *led*. And then … I fell pretty hard. So I spent most of August extricating myself, but it hurt. Still hurts. Guess I was more vulnerable than I thought.

Then, this last Saturday night, God says, “I see you” through a friend. And this week, in conversations with my cool friends Judit and Helena, I start to see where God might be pointing me now. I see recurring themes of open-ended ministry, and I see need. Then I arrive to kung fu last night to – surprise! I’m leading basic class?! *terror* And Sifu Tristan coached me not on my fear of public speaking, or the fact that I’m choreographically challenged, but my fear of leadership.

Leadership: Like, the role you can’t escape when your husband dies. Of course. And I’m surrounded by the fallout of broken people raised by broken people who turned inward and embraced their brokenness, instead of turning outward and joining God in healing others’ brokenness — essentially, leadership. But have I been embracing it? Well … not exactly.

So, I ask Sifu Tristan this morning: Is it fear of leadership? “How about letting go?” He answers.

And wouldn’t you know it: This morning at Thatcher’s Coffee, Sheri says, “Look!” and here it is: “‘What if I fall?’ Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”

And Sheri and I have this beautiful walk on the Vancouver waterfront, and talk about the recurring theme of letting go in scripture, and I tell her all the stuff that’s been happening this past week. And it all falls into place.

Helena says revival’s happening all around us. Yeah, I think she’s right.

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