Hello, my name is Anna Leggett. I live in a small village in Suffolk, and I’m wife to Alex and stay-at-home, home-educating mum to three children. On 10 November 2016, my life was turned upside down when I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury in a car accident. I’m thankful that I’ve made a good recovery so far although I do still have some symptoms which I have to manage on a daily basis. Here’s my story.
It was a dark cold rainy evening in November. My car was stationary in a traffic jam on a busy A road during rush hour, leading up to a large roundabout on the outskirts of Ipswich. The traffic was inching forwards every now and again but I was mainly sitting there, not moving at all, listening to a story CD with my 3-year-old daughter in the back seat. We were returning from my parents’ house about 40 minutes away from home, where I had dropped my other two children off for a sleepover. I had stayed for a cup of tea and then decided to set off for home shortly before 5 pm.
All of a sudden there was an enormous jolt to my car and a very loud bang. The bang came completely out of the blue and my quiet every day humdrum moment was shattered. I had my handbrake on but in a matter of seconds I felt a violent shake like I had never experienced before. My head was slammed forwards and backwards against my headrest, and my body jammed abruptly against my seatbelt and fell back into my chair. I felt a strange sensation in my head, body and behind my right eye, like I had been thrown into a wall and gone rigid.
“What on earth was that?” I said out loud. At first, I had no idea what had just happened. I was disorientated by the experience and thought an explosion had gone off behind me, the noise was so loud and jarring. Then I quickly realized that someone had driven into the back of me. Thankfully, I spotted a layby to the left, so I pulled in there and the driver of the car behind me also pulled over. As I got out of the car the other driver ran over to me apologising profusely. I went to the back of my car to check the damage but it was dark and wet and my car is black so I could see very little. I was surprised as I had expected to see obvious damage to the back of my car but decided that I would get home as quickly as I could, away from this horrible scenario, and check properly when I got home. The other car was a large Land Rover with a big grille at the front and that too had no obvious damage. I said to the other driver that we should exchange details for insurance purposes but then I forgot to give him mine and wandered back to my seat, having to be called back, which I thought was a bit odd at the time.
From then on, my memory is a little hazy, partly due to the amount of time that has passed since the accident but also because I had experienced a concussion without actually realising it. I felt shaken by the experience but I managed to drive home, check the car to find out that there was quite a lot of structural damage; the boot wouldn’t close and was damaged as was the back bumper area, the metal lock was broken, and the lights and interior electrics were damaged and wouldn’t work. I rang the insurance company, firstly ringing my home insurance company by mistake, to arrange for them to collect and repair the car, then my husband cooked me dinner. After that I went into shock, shaking and shivering uncontrollably, and ended up lying on the sofa in front of the TV with a hot chocolate. I thought that, apart from a sore shoulder, it was just an unpleasant experience and that was that.
When I woke up the next day my shoulder was in a lot of pain and my whole body and head hurt. I tried to carry on life as normal, but things became more of a struggle and over the next few days my symptoms gradually got worse. I went to an out of hours GP a couple of days later who told me to use Ibuprofen gel on my shoulder, neck and back, and said I should be fine in a couple of weeks. A few days later I was noticing that I was forgetting things, like where I had put things, and the pain was increasing to the point that normal over-the-counter tablets weren’t working. I also noticed that I was feeling dizzy and my vision wasn’t quite right. I went to see my GP who told me I had a soft tissue injury and concussion. He gave me a card with the details of a physiotherapy service on and told me to contact them. He gave me a brief eyesight test and said that my prescription had probably changed and I should go to an optician. I forgot to ask him at the time for painkillers, one of the main reasons I had gone to see him, so went back and he prescribed something. I went home again, thinking I would be OK in a few weeks’ time.
A lovely physiotherapist friend contacted me when she heard I’d had an accident and offered to visit me at home for some treatment. I thought I would be fine by Christmas. I was taking it easy at home, not really going out very much, and trying to rest and get better. I was home educating my three children at the time and I had to adapt how I did that. We stopped most of our external activities and we just did gentle things as and when I could. I didn’t feel safe to drive so I started to take taxis if I ever did need to go out and had to do that for six months. More and more, I noticed all the ways that I had been affected. I was very tired; my movement had been affected and I was much slower and would bang into doorways sometimes. Everyday tasks like cooking meals were exhausting and my husband took on a lot of chores around the house and did most of the cooking. I often couldn’t read bedtime stories to my children because the words would jump around on the page and I was too tired. I couldn’t move as well as I could previously, I felt like I had aged about forty years over night. There were times I would sit in a chair and then just couldn’t get back out again. I found it painful and mentally difficult to write; and reading, which I had loved, became unpleasant and uncomfortable to do. I found it hard to watch TV and films because they were overstimulating. When I did occasionally go out, especially to busy places like the supermarket, I would feel overwhelmed, dizzy and disorientated, and would have to rest when I got back home. Things I had previously enjoyed, like taking photographs, gardening and home decorating fell by the wayside. They were just too hard and caused too much physical pain and fatigue. My motivation was affected too and I started to feel very down about my situation, especially when I didn’t really seem to be recovering.
I found it very challenging that often the doctors didn’t seem to have any answers for me. There didn’t seem to be a cure. The hardest and most frustrating thing was that sometimes the medical professionals didn’t even seem to believe that I had a mild brain injury and dismissed my symptoms as psychosomatic – it was all in my head. I was variously told that I had depression, adjustment disorder and functional symptoms.
It was also difficult because a number of family members and friends didn’t understand what had happened to me and reacted with a mixture of disbelief, denial and unrealistic expectations. This was upsetting to me but I accept that they have no idea what it is like to have a mild brain injury. Others kindly tried to understand as best they could and were non-judgemental and accepting of me. Some people were amazing and offered to help with my children, came and helped me with the housework and were incredibly caring and compassionate.
Yes, it is all in my head. But I haven’t made this up. I don’t think you could make this up if you tried. I suppose unless a person has experienced a brain injury it is very difficult to understand what it’s like. And it’s hard because I look completely normal and I usually sound completely normal. So it’s hard for people to understand the processes and experiences that are going on inside me that I am often acutely aware of but that appear on the outside to be slightly odd behaviour, such as slightly slower reactions, speech and movement; disengagement and a bit distanced; or a bit disorganised and forgetful.
A few weeks after the accident I was fortunate enough to stumble across the website of Headway, the brain injury charity. I had Googled something like ‘concussion symptoms that won’t go away’ and their website appeared. The information they provide online and in booklets and leaflets was incredibly helpful and pinpointed exactly what I was experiencing. I figured out that I probably had post concussion syndrome which is where concussion symptoms persist. Most people who have a concussion will get better within a few weeks, but a significant minority have ongoing symptoms for weeks, months and years afterwards and for some the damage can be ongoing indefinitely. Unfortunately, there appears to be a very diverse understanding of post concussion syndrome among those in the medical community and while some health professionals accept it and have answers, others do not and dismiss it.
Fortunately, there are many things that can be done to alleviate and improve symptoms both on your own at home and with the help of others. Thankfully there are health professionals who can provide relevant therapies and expertise. Initially, though, it can be difficult to find the right people to help and the slow wait to get medical help can be frustrating. It can often take months to get to see a neurologist, and appointments can be months apart. Although the injury may not show up on scans and is often invisible, the symptoms that the person experiences and the impact on their life can often be disabling and devastating.
I became obsessive in my desire to recover as best I could from my injury, especially as I realised there didn’t seem to be a quick, clear pathway to receiving medical help from the usual channels. I was desperate to act and feel normal again, and to be the wife and mother I wanted to be to my family. Even though I struggled to read and would get exhausted being on the computer I read every blog post and website I could and watched countless YouTube videos in the hope of gleaning some insight into how I could help myself. I found that there were people who had been in a similar or worse position to me who had done various things to improve their symptoms and make good recoveries. I found information about health professionals and organisations, especially in the US, who were experts in treating concussion and offered various modalities and recommendations on healing. Once I was able to read better again, I read book after book on how to heal from mild brain injury.
I was also extremely fortunate to find the legal team at CFG Law in Cheshire, who have considerable expertise in the area of mild brain injury. Not only did they provide me with the legal support I needed but they excel at putting the client first and helped me to access treatment from specialist health professionals in the field of mild brain injury. I was therefore able to hugely benefit from treatment from a neuropsychologist and neuro-occupational therapist and was also seen by a neurologist and chronic pain specialist.
I realise that not everyone reading this will have access to the specialist help that was available to me through my solicitor but in most regions there are health professionals with the knowledge to help those with concussion and mild brain injury. It may be the case, as it was for me, that your GP or even the neurologist at your local hospital do not have specialist knowledge of mild traumatic brain injury. However, be persistent and be proactive about your health and healing, and keep pushing and searching for answers and help. One good place to start is the Headway national helpline. They have a list of neurologists and neuropsychologists and also a list of solicitors who deal with brain injury cases.
You may need to phone or visit several doctors or specialists before you get the help you need. Do have a good look online, and you can always speak to them before you visit to see if they have experience of concussion and mild brain injury. I found one local osteopath who was particularly helpful with my movement challenges. And although the neurologist at my local hospital generally treated those with more serious brain injuries, with some persistence I was able to get a referral to a neurophysiotherapist to treat my balance and dizziness issues.
There definitely are people out there who do get mild brain injury, so keep going. Trust that you are the best expert on knowing your symptoms and seek out those who are sympathetic and have the knowledge and skills to help you. If someone or something isn’t helping, then move on. As mild brain injury can affect so many different parts of the brain meaning the symptoms can be wide ranging, you may need to see a number of different professionals. For example, in addition to the people mentioned I also saw a mind body practitioner and a counsellor. Obviously, treatment on the NHS is free but other times it may be necessary to pay for private treatment so it’s important to choose wisely and it may only be possible to focus on one person at a time. But that’s OK and over time you will see improvements in your health and functioning.
I’m so grateful that CFG Law have given me this opportunity to write for them and to share my experiences with others. I look forward to writing more articles for them in the future.