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Monday, July 18, 2011

Always secure your oxygen mask first (or, a concussion story)

Always secure your oxygen mask first/or A concussion story

Me, right before I ate it!

Before we go into the details of the week that followed, let me re-cap the actual accident. I was at Ghetto Park, (that’s what we call it, it’s a skate park in the middle of the projects in LB) practicing with the Moxi Junior Street team. (Every Sunday at noon if anyone wants to join us). I was getting pretty bold. It was my 4th or 5th time on ramps and I was starting to feel pretty comfortable doing jump transitions and dropping in. Plus, there were a bunch of 10 and 12 year olds making me look bad. So I got ballsy.

I don’t remember how I fell or what caused me to fall. Not because I lost consciousness but just because I don’t know what I did wrong. If I did, I wouldn’t have done it! Uni Mommmer says as I was going back and forth doing my jump transitions that my feet became increasingly farther apart, and then one time I just landed wrong, (you’re supposed to land it with both feet at the same time, and I landed one in front of the other) and then went down the ramp onto my shoulder, and then face!

I want everyone to know that I WAS WEARING ALL MY PADS. And thank god too, because I probably would have lost consciousness, or worse, if I didn’t have a helmet on. I have knocked a tooth out before and I had just gotten $300 worth of dental work done on my front teeth. I was SO grateful I hadn’t broken a tooth! I think in the future, I am going to start wearing my mouth guard to the skate park. Forget losing a tooth, I’m lucky I didn’t break my jawbone! I slammed my face fucking HARD.

Karla Sutra took this immediately after the fall

To see the pictures I took that day CLICK HERE!
Just the week prior, my friend Estro Jen had told me a story about going to the skate park in Venice Beach and meeting a dude in a neck brace. He explained that he always wore his helmet, but this fateful day he had loaned his helmet to a child who did not have any protective gear on, and low and behold, that was the day he broke his neck! Estro explained to me that this guy’s story really got to her and she promised him she would start wearing her helmet again. The light bulb came on and she had an epiphany: She said to me, “You see, that’s why you always secure your oxygen mask first.”


She was just talking off the cuff but it seemed so poetic to me. That this man had broken his neck on the one day that he lent his helmet to someone else, and that he ran into my friend at the skate park, so he could remind her of the importance of protective gear, so that she could later say to me, “always secure your oxygen mask first” so that the next week when I went to ghetto park….

…and looked at Karla and thought, “She really should have a helmet on”… that I DID NOT LEND KARLA MY HELMET, and kept it on my head. I actually considered giving my helmet over to her and what did I think? Estro Jen’s words of wisdom rung in my ears like Shakespeare. “Always secure your oxygen mask first”. We are roll models. We lead by example. You can’t tell someone else to put pads on and then not wear them yourself. I can’t reiterate more, how happy I am that I was wearing gear that day at the park.

Anyway, the instant it happened I knew I was DONE. I crawled off the ramp and IMMEDIATELY started pulling my pads off and said, “that’s it for the day! Show’s over boys!” And Killer Bee started asking me questions about the year and my name and where I was. I could answer everything. I was just in PAIN and in SHOCK and my adrenaline had just kicked in.

You see, I have seen Estro Jen fall on the ramp before, and of course the first thing that follows is a string of “are you okay, are you okay?” questions, but because our adrenaline has kicked in and because we are in shock, and because logically we can see with our own eyes that there are no body parts severed, we repeat nonsensically, “I’m ok, I’m ok, I’m ok”, almost as if the mere act of saying it will make it true. I’ve seen Estro say “I’m ok” when she really wasn’t. What “I’m ok” really translates to is “don’t call an ambulance just yet”. So that’s what I was doing, “I’m ok, I’m ok! I just need some ice”.

But I could TASTE the concrete. The right side of my face had swollen to twice its normal size instantaneously. I was crying uncontrollably. One of those falls where you just can’t afford to think about your pride, the tears just come. I think I freaked Killer Bee out a little bit. I sat at the park for an hour while everyone continued to skate, icing my face, before I decided I needed someone else to drive me home. I was feeling fine, just a bit shook up, until we started driving back from the park…

I became increasingly agitated, and confused. Estro said she was going to take me to the ER and I started screaming at her. I was about to jump out of the moving car if she didn’t agree not to take me! Back home, nurse Killer Bee brought me some popsicles while I tried to get a grip. The upstairs neighbor, a paramedic, came down and asked me some questions. He said I’d be fine, but then asked mysteriously, “have you thrown up yet?” I was confused. “Of course not,” I said. “Well, you’ll probably throw up” he replied, and then vanished.

No sooner had he said it did that popsicle start coming up. I began puking for about 30 minutes straight and THEN things got weird. Killer Bee asked me what year it was and who the president was and I thought it was 2006 and I couldn’t remember the president. I had trouble remember if Killer’s name really was Killer and apparently I said “Fabian says you gotta pay to play” like 10 times. It was a full hour or more since I had fallen. Estro decided to take me to the ER.

I have had a concussion before, and this time it was different. I’m not going to say it was super severe or anything, because the doctor refused to classify it as that, and I certainly did not have symptoms that would indicate that. But it definitely wasn’t anything like the first one I had. The first time I got a concussion I accidentally skated into a pole at the bottom of a hill. (My rollerblades were brand new and I had failed to install the brake, [duh]). But somehow I knew I’d be okay…I skated home and my thoughts felt like they were floating up out of my brain, but somehow I was able to get a grip, and tell myself to calm down and that it’d all be over soon. This concussion was nothing like that. I was a fucking wreck.

Sidenote: Now, here I must admit, I DRANK A SHIT TON THE NIGHT BEFORE. -The kind of night that ends with hugging the toilet. So I felt kinda silly going to the ER. What if I was only puking because I was still drunk? How embarrassing would that be? But my friends reminded me that I wasn’t hung-over when I woke up, and that 3 or 4 hours had passed between the time that I had woken up and when I hit my head, (and I kept remembering Natasha Richardson) so I went to the ER.

Oh I haven’t even mentioned the best part yet! My PARENTS were on a road trip from the Bay Area down to see me and had just concluded a 6 hour drive and I got to call them and say, “Oh no mom and dad, don’t check into your hotel, come meet me here, at the emergency room!”. It was a delight, let me tell you.

When I got there I was still feeling pretty nauseous and had to throw up as soon as Estro parked the car, but when I was seen they gave me a chewable pain killer that cured the nausea pretty quick. Then I got a CT scan. After that I waited for at least an hour. I had to keep texting my parents in the waiting room because they wouldn’t let them see me. I began to feel pretty silly that I was there since I had started to feel a little better and since I was putting my parents through all this trouble, (and since god knows how expensive and ER visit is!).

But I am relieved I went. The CT came back free and clear but the doctor still said I am not allowed to skate full contact or on the vert ramps for 6 weeks because apparently people with brain injuries tend to think they are fine sooner than they are, and then re-injure themselves tenfold. So even though I feel pretty much okay, (despite the giant bruised and swollen face I have) I am not allowed to participate in fun activities.

(This is me not playing in the game)

I missed the opportunity to play in the game on Friday and this past weekend was the ultimate beach party in Long Beach. Moxi had a vert ramp set up and the Junior Street Team was taking a class on learning how to drop in. All I have wanted to learn and work on for the past 3 months is vert ramp skating and it was really painful for me to sit there and watch as everyone else participated and learned things for the first time that I would kill to try. Four or five people asked, “how come you’re not skating the ramp?” and I had to remind them, “because I got a concussion last weekend!”. I know they weren’t being maliciously insensitive, but at a certain point I had to walk away.

Just because I am “okay” and the doctor sent me home that day, doesn’t mean I am still not feeling the effects of the concussion. Everyone assumes that because there is no bodily injury or cast that I am okay. Okay, let me rephrase that. I don’t think that they necessarily “assume everything is okay”, I think that they just forget that everything is not fine. Why else would everyone who KNEW I had gotten a concussion ask me why I wasn’t skating? It’s because they forgot.

And somehow, sometimes, I would forget too. I was trying to do normal everyday things and was getting frustrated and emotional. The day after the concussion I started crying the instant I woke up about my ex boyfriend that I broke up with over 6 months ago. I drove over to the hotel my parents were staying in and started crying because I couldn’t remember the street the hotel was on. I was fighting with my friends and being short tempered. (Okay, even WAY MORE than usual). I was nervous to go to work because I didn’t trust myself to do basic math. It was days after the accident and I would start to break down crying because I felt like I was going to be dumb forever.

THIS is why it was different than that first concussion. After that first one I did not feel any effects after that first day. But I was feeling effects for more than a WEEK this time, and that was SCARY. My friend Dingo kept reminding me that concussions are BRAIN DAMAGE, and the thought of that scared me. I never did like thinking about my brain. The whole concept seemed weird and trippy and kind of spooky. When I would get confused I would psyche myself up even worse tripping out on the idea of “will I be like this forever?"

Now I’m more confident I am returning to normal, and the biggest thing to conquer is just getting back into my skating groove. I have been out recreationally skating a few times but the idea of roller derby scares me. Even though I hurt myself skating alone on the vert ramps, I’m still scared to play with other girls. I watched some game footage recently and as I watched all the girls hit the floor the reality sunk in for me just how dangerous this sport is and just how remarkable it is that I haven’t gotten more hurt playing it in 6 years.

Even before my concussion I had spoken with my dad a great deal about Chris Benoit, a professional wrestler whose life ended tragically in a murder suicide and whose family points to multiple concussions and brain damage as the cause. I had also heard the story on NPR of football player Dave Duerson who has suffered multiple head injuries and later killed himself and whose family also wanted his brain studied. And we can’t leave out the fact that only THIS MONTH 95 NFL players sued the NFL for downplaying the severity of head injuries. Is it ironic that I was already interested in this issue and I got my head konked? Or am I just fated to become an advocate for the cause?

Either way, it was a pretty gnarly experience all around, and frankly, I’m still healing from it. I heard somewhere that after 3 concussions doctors claim you’ve retained permanent brain damage and I’ve already gotten 2, so… I can’t lie and say I’m not a little spooked. But soon enough I’ll have my head back in the game. I’ll keep you all updated. Just please be aware, (friends and future victims) that there is recovery time for a concussion and to let yourself rest. You may feel silly laying in bed all day watching Scooby Doo, but you’ll feel sillier pulling your car over crying because you can’t remember where the grocery store is.



  1. I got a minor concussion while on TDY for a Military Class a few years ago. Long story short, people need to look and make sure everyone is clear before yanking a 3/4" chain and whipping it across someones temple.

    I never lost consciousness, but I was dizzy and sat down. I got through the first round of questions ok, but couldn't 'grip' with my hands and my eyes were all buggy.

    Silly me, I TOTALLY missed the chance to answer.. "Of course I know who I am Captain....' I am Batman' "

  2. I always feel lame because Im the only person I see with like full on gear on the roll outs...but Imma keep on doing that, especially if I ever muster up the guts to try a ramp!