On concussion

It is always important to assemble the ‘facts’ pertaining to the truth when beginning a story lest one be accused of causing the downfall of Western civilisation. F

Fo

So here they are:

  1. I was in Canada
  2. Canada has lots of snow
  3. Sometimes precipitation turns to ice
  4. I have lived my whole life in Australia
  5. Australia does not have lots of snow, and even less ice (if one is happy to exclude the methamphetamine which gives people such alluring smiles)
  6. Being from Australia I am strikingly unused to snow

Now that the crisis of Western civilisation has been averted (take that you pomo mofos) I feel that the preliminary moves of this post has been concluded, and we can move onto the narrative. Cue ominous music.

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I was invited to Banff by the Alberta Teachers Association (ATA) to take part in two events, their Twin Peaks Summit, a kind of meeting of academics and teacher unionists to swap ideas on the pressing issues in education around the globe, and uLead2017, a conference for over 1100 school leaders from Canada and around the world.

Both events are held annually in Banff. I don’t want to make you jealous, but it is a petty nice place (refer to facts #2 and #5 above).

Banff

The winter in Alberta has been long and cold, and there was snow forecast when I arrived. While the poor Albertans have turned up their collars over the winter, I wanted it to snow. My Canadian friends just shook their heads when I wanted to go outside in the snow to catch falling snowflakes in my mouth.

Twin Peaks finished on Saturday evening, and uLead 2017 did not begin until Sound evening at 6.30pm, so a colleague of mine (let’s call him Sam because that is his name) decided it would be a perfect day for a walk. Except it was snowing, but we figured that snow was really just angel kisses (see fact #6 above) so we attired ourselves appropriately and got ready to embark on our walk. On the way we, being prudent and recognising that we don’t really know much about snow in Banff (see fact #6 above), asked the concierge at our hotel for advice as to which would be the best short trails to experience the angel kisses natural beauty. He suggested two trails, a 5km hike up the mountain or the 2.5km trail into town.


Now, those amongst us who know Banff at all will probably have remarked on how many Australians there are that work in Banff in hospitality. Our concierge was a nice lad from Adelaide (see fact #6 above).


We initially started the climb up the mountain but found that as the snow was getting heavier, we didn’t think it was a good survival strategy to find yourself exposed on a Canadian mountain top. So after about a kilometer we decided to turn around and try the low trail into town. Initially it began very well, but as we got about a third of the way in, the trail became very icy and treacherous. As the trail descended from the hotel to the town, this made walking extremely difficult, and deep snow drifts on either side made it almost impossible to walk on the sides of the path away from the ice. Figuring that there must only be a small icy section, otherwise why would the concierge have said this walk was safe (I know, I know, fact #6), we continued on slipping, sliding, scrambling for footing.

After a while it became apparent that the whole trail was ice, and this was really bad news. See, we had descended so far that climbing up an icy path was just not physically possible, and going cross-country to try to find a road seemed an even worse idea. So we had to go on, increasingly concerned about our precarious footing.


Sam and I gave a presentation at the University of Calgary on the 6th of April, before catching a lift with one of their academics up to Banff on the Friday for Twin Peaks. During the trip this academic told us that she had just returned to work after a bad fall on an icy path that had caused significant head injuries and brain trauma. Ice is dangerous.


So, it appears that I slipped on the ice. I say appears because I have no memory or sensation of it. One moment I was standing upright, the next the back of my head was making a weird, wet concussive sound, like punching an uncooked pork roast wrapped in a dripping hessian sack. So there was this sound, pain in the back of my head and I was lying on the ground, wondering at this strange turn of events. How was it possible that I was lying on my back when I had intended to stand up. Who was punching uncooked pork, and why would they do this? Why would you wet it? Why did my head pork-sack hurt?

Now it seemed that this mental investigation of the pork roast pugilist was processed over a long period of time as I calm and rationally went through the options. Then it dawned on me. I had gone ‘guts-up’, ‘arse-over-tit’ etc, the noise was my head hitting the ground and this was the reason that I was lying on the ice.

At the same time sensation returned, there was a loud ringing in my ears, I couldn’t feel my legs and while I could feel my hands there was such an intense tingling in them it overrode my ability to move them. And both my fists were clenched with my arms stiffly extended at about 30 degrees. I was a strange soldier lying at attention, waiting to take orders that never came.

There was obviously a sense of concern, or panic at this. I had played enough sport to know that tingling in your limbs after an upper body trauma was rarely a good thing. Yet there was also another sense. My initial impression was that my body was ‘locked-down’, unable to move, and I had been ejected somewhat from it, and was hovering nearby, looking at the scene somewhat sardonically and saying; “Look what you’ve done here, you big duffer!”

At this time I thought I should tell my colleague that I had fallen and couldn’t seem to move, but try as I might I couldn’t get my mouth to move. I could think the words, send them towards my mouth, but nothing would come out. Or more precisely, my mouth would not move.


When I was a young bloke, I had a job cleaning a school gym at 5am Monday-Thursday. As it was a polished wood floor and had to be cleaned with a mop soaked in turps it needed to be done early so that the smell had dissipated before classes started. I used to get up at 4.30am, run the 5kms there, clean the gym and then wander home. Often when I would get home I’d have an hour or so before I would have to get up to go to uni, so I’d lie on my bed while I waited. Occasionally the strangest thing would happen, I would fall asleep with my eyes open, I’d be conscious but unable to move, a phenomena known as sleep paralysis. I’d know that if I could just move something, a finger, a hand, my leg, I would waken from this trance-like state and return to a more normal consciousness. And this required a sort of triumph of will, as I would try to force movement. And time seemed to move so slowly.


Hovering, sardonic me was remembering sleep paralysis somewhat wistfully, while locked-in me was struggling to will movement, specifically to alert my colleague to my predicament. And finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I was able to make a noise, to break this paralysis, a triumph of the will indeed.

Of course, it really only sounded like a gurgle, and my colleague though it was my death-rattle, so I don’t think he was as pleased as I was. I tried again, and managed a “mmmmmwahawms”, the sound most reminiscent of crossing the 40 marshmallow threshold when playing ‘Fluffy Bunnies’.

Slowly feeling came back into my hands, I could speak again, and was able to sit up while feeling returned to my legs. Then we continued to inch our way down the path and eventually walked into he hospital. Where they charged me $865 for a 30 min hospital visit and $411 for a doctor to give me a concussion test that took 5 minutes before saying I had concussion but could go. Of course, this will be covered by work insurance, so I’m not really complaining.

Now, the point to this blog. Already I am forgetting the event. My experiences and sensations are being replaced by images. I am remembering a non-embodied version of hitting my head (forever known as a pork-sack – thanks @chalkhands), I’ve no doubt that in the last 2-3 days I’ve lost significant affective recollection which was so powerful, so pronounced as I lay there for what seems like an hour, but with my colleague suggested was about 90 seconds. Time, heh?

By writing this down I am creating a form of external memory, what Steigler would call a memory prosthesis:

Derrida’s student, Bernard Stiegler, built on his teacher’s arguments about the supplement, stressing the prosthesis of writing and memory: “What is exceeded is the essential fallibility of a person’s memory that, as living, is mortal; the supplement of writing allows that person to confide the trace of his or her intuitions, which become as a result transmissible, to future generations” (Stiegler 245). Within the concept of the supplement, Stiegler compounds living and dead, interior and exterior. His argument returns to the double nature of prosthesis as extension and amputation when he writes, “the supplement, marking the default of origin, does nothing but try and fill this default in; and yet, in doing so, it can only affirm it as necessary…” (260). Like Derrida, Stiegler does not use the supplement as a device for separating the artificial and the real, but rather as a concept that is inseparable from existence, and in which many seeming oppositions collapse together.

And if I’m honest, I want to remember the strangeness of it all, and this prosthetic amputation/extension will have to do. But it is already unsatisfying, such are words I guess. The event eludes its truth, we remember each event as images haunted by the body.


POSTSCRIPT: I flew home Air Canada and arrived in Brisbane at 8.30am Easter Sunday. During the flight I experienced some mild discomfort behind my left knee. By Tuesday morning, as the pain was getting worse, I took myself off to emergency pretty sure I had developed a DVT. This was confirmed, and I now have a 6 month course of treatment in front of me. The whole experience results in quite complex emotions – the stage shame of the body expressed in a frustration that you can’t just will it to be otherwise. 

4 thoughts on “On concussion”

  1. Omg perhaps you should have to Canadians in your workplace (e.g. JL) before your big Aussie boys’ adventure in the snow. Great your mate Sam was there and that you woke up Dr BF. Come home to more familiar environmental hazards (sharks, floods, fires)

    1. Yes, Australia seemed much more benign at the time. Who knew that walking could be so treacherous?

  2. Hey Greg, that sucks. I’m Canadian. My grandparents lived just south of Banff. Beautiful part of the world. Sorry you didn’t get to enjoy it more.

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