Tuesday December 12, 2017

3 concussions gave this Yellowknifer a (temporary) French accent, and a new outlook on life

Miranda Currie at home in Yellowknife.

Miranda Currie at home in Yellowknife. (Joanne Stassen, CBC)

Listen 29:27

When Miranda Currie woke up on the ice, she was confused. Her dog was licking her face. Her head hurt. Then her phone rang. She dug it out of the pocket of her parka, and answered. It was her dad calling. "I don't know where I am," she told him. 

"I don't know where I am." - Miranda Currie, on the phone to her father, Bob Currie, after waking up on the ice

Miranda was out on the frozen lake that day, not just walking her dog, but kite skiing. This tells you a bit about who Miranda is: adventurous and creative, with a love of the outdoors. It was November 28, 2011, and Miranda was on Great Slave Lake, just a few kilometres down shore from her home in Yellowknife, NT.

Miranda Currie with her dogs

Miranda Currie hit her head on the ice of Great Slave Lake after a kite-skiing accident. She was woken up by her sled dog, Kenzie (not pictured), licking her face. (Joanne Stassen, CBC)

As she came out from behind the shelter of an island, a big gust of wind lifted her up into the air. "I remember just thinking, 'land well, land well,'" she says. 

"And then, I mean... I didn't."

"I remember just thinking, 'land well, land well.' And then, I mean... I didn't." - Miranda Currie

"The next thing that I remember is my dog's licking my face, and I'm waking up, kind of. And I'm like, 'Oh man, ugh!' and just not really... just being confused, generally."

That's when her phone started to ring. It was Miranda's father calling from Thunder Bay. "We talked her off the ice," Bob Currie says. 

Miranda had hit her head, hard. Over the next few weeks, she would hit it two more times, once by fainting when she was getting out of a hot tub, and the third time by sneezing and hitting it on a metal shelf. 

The series of concussions would derail her life, and Miranda would spend the next six years trying to get it back – and nearly losing it in the process. 

Miranda Currie and Ryan McCord

Miranda Currie stands in front of her home in The Woodyard with Ryan McCord, her neighbour and bandmate in The Back Bay Scratchers. (Joanne Stassen, CBC)

Before her accidents, Miranda had been busy. Her main work was in outdoor education, which she loved. She was also an avid fiddle player with the band The Back Bay Scratchers, in addition to writing and recording her own solo work. 

Even her home reflected her lively lifestyle: Miranda lives in a ramshackle hut in Yellowknife's frontier-like neighbourhood known as The Woodyard. Her shack has no running water, and is kept warm by a stove that Miranda has to keep supplied with wood, often chopping it herself. 

Miranda Currie tends her stove

Miranda Currie tends her wood-burning stove in her shack in The Woodyard. (Joanne Stassen, CBC)

After the concussions, Miranda's life as she knew it became all but impossible to sustain. Even mild exertion would leave her shaking and twitching uncontrollably. Her sleeping patterns became erratic, sometimes leaving her sleeping for 18 hours at a time.

Even her speech was affected. "The left side of my tongue still seems like it's a bit slower, so it comes out as a French accent," she said in an interview with CBC's Joanne Stassen. And through all of this, Miranda had to deal with constant, blinding headaches. 

"The left side of my tongue still seems like it's a bit slower, so it comes out as a French accent." - Miranda Currie

But some things hurt her spirit more than her body. For one, she could barely play her fiddle anymore. The connection between her brain and her fingers, built up over a lifetime of playing, had been broken. And when Miranda played, it was only sustainable in short bursts that would require immense concentration, leaving her shaking and exhausted. 

Young Miranda Currie playing violin

Years before her concussions, a young Miranda Currie concentrates while playing the violin. (Photo provided by Miranda Currie)

During this time she was unable to work, and was instructed to rest in a dark room for months. "They said I had a concussion, that I should rest. Ha!", Miranda recalls. 

"They said I had a concussion, that I should rest. Ha!" - Miranda Currie

But Miranda kept pushing herself, determined to fight through her injuries and maintain the life she knew and loved. Sometimes her determination seemed to work – she managed to get her fiddle playing strong enough to play The Back Bay Scratchers' CD release. But for the most part it only made things worse – after the release, she had to stay in bed for days, sleeping.

Miranda Currie hiking

For years following her concussions, Miranda couldn't participate in the outdoor sports she loves. (Photo provided by Miranda Currie)

Miranda's life turned into pattern of exertion, exhaustion, repeat. The instructions to rest were so against her personality that she couldn't stand it. That kind of surrender felt like defeat. 

About four years after her injuries, Miranda's recovery was still slow going. Unable to live her life as she knew it, she began to withdraw. "I couldn't do the things that gave me joy. I fell into a really sad and lonely place, I just didn't feel that there were options," she says, describing that time. "I felt like I was a burden to people. I wasn't living the life that I wanted to live and my body wasn't doing the things that I wanted to do. I needed so much care and attention... It really was an insult to my value of self-sufficency."

Slowly, Miranda's depression turned to thoughts of suicide. "In some ways I was more interested in what my energy would become without it being trapped in this body that couldn't do anything that I wanted to do. I had a plan, and that plan to die made me feel better, somehow." 

"I felt like I was a burden to people. I wasn't living the life that I wanted to live and my body wasn't doing the things that I wanted to do." - Miranda Currie

But then, something changed her mind, and saved her life: love. 


To hear Miranda's full story, including her remarkable recovery, click Listen above or download and subscribe to our podcast


About the Producer

Joanne Stassen

Joanne Stassen

Joanne Stassen is a radio producer for CBC North in Yellowknife. Joanne cut her teeth as a radio reporter in Rankin Inlet, covering everything from polar bear populations to prime ministers' visits, and has contributed to CBC shows including Now or Never, Q, The Inside Track, and The Global Village. 

This documentary was edited by Acey Rowe.  

All the music in the documentary was performed by Miranda Currie, either solo or with her band, The Back Bay Scratchers, including a cover of the song "Carabella" by Gordon Stobbe.