Ottawa·Point of View

I'd never ask for a concussion, but I'm grateful for this past year of recovery

Lindsay Chan writes about the year she spent recovering from the bike accident brain injury that sidelined her.

Lindsay Chan writes about the year she spent recovering from the bike accident that sidelined her

Seven months after a cycling accident caused her traumatic brain injury, Lindsay Chan ventured out on her first post-concussion bike ride this spring. (Lindsay Chan)

That Wednesday morning last September was like any other of my daily cycling commute — until I sped up on my bike to pass someone and clipped my handlebar on a blue flex-pole that divides car from bike traffic on Laurier Avenue. Those blue plastic poles don't really flex, I learned.

Bystanders told me I flew over my handlebars. Seeing the blood and feeling a part of my front tooth missing, I realized I'd hit the pavement jaw-first.

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After the initial shock subsided and I was en route to the hospital, I started to wonder how my brain fared from the jostle. But the ER doctor was more concerned about potential bone damage and having my dental injuries taken care of right away.

Her X-rays clear and her dental injuries taken care of, Lindsay Chan soon realized something more serious was happening with her brain. (Lindsay Chan)

Thankfully the X-rays came out clean, and my dentists squeezed me in that afternoon. I thought I'd rest for a few days and be back in the office on Monday.

My original optimism quickly waned as I realized I had more in store than dental injuries. Three days post-accident on a one-block walk for coffee, my head felt not-quite-right as the sunshine hit me. This weirdness continued as a dull whoom-whoom-whooming, never manifesting as sharp pain. I could also feel the swoosh of my spinal fluid, especially when I was looking at an electronic screen.

Despite knowing the prognosis for full recovery from a first-time concussion is fairly favourable, I struggled with my new reality: it would literally hurt my brain to think, listen, see and feel.

I tried not to panic, instead reaching out to my dear friend who'd recovered from his fifth concussion recently. His immediate response? GET THE F--K OFF OF A COMPUTER! From his experience, the first few weeks post-concussion were crucial, and it was important to minimize stimulation. He also warned me that recovery was going to be a long and non-linear process.

It took several weeks before Lindsay Chan could compose a letter — by hand — to tell friends and family she had suffered a concussion. (Lindsay Chan)

Despite knowing the prognosis for full recovery from a first-time concussion is fairly favourable, I struggled with my new reality: it would literally hurt my brain to think, listen, see and feel.

It took me a week to compose and translate thoughts into a short note telling my friends and family what had happened.

I had to ask someone for a wardrobe change because her striped shirt was too loud for my brain.

The first time I was able to sit outside, I could only do so for a couple of minutes before the wind and sun overwhelmed my senses.

I was forced to deepen my meditation practice, minimizing constant internal chatter that often brought on symptoms.

Lindsay Chan took up a number of hobbies while recovering from her concussion, including pottery, sewing and indoor gardening. (Lindsay Chan)

Interestingly, the accident gave me a natural litmus test for cognitive effort: my brain would pulse and pressure would build once I hit my capacity to do things and process stimuli. I learned my body's language for, "Rest now, please!" and to say no when I hit that boundary.

The recovery process has curbed my fear of missing out, taught me about prioritizing and made me (more) at ease with unfinished to-do lists.

Through the following weeks and months, I'd relish every small improvement, delighting in mundane tasks because my ability to do them translated to progressive recovery. Even dusting baseboards was a joy!

A year after her bike accident and serious head injury sidelined her, Lindsay Chan says she's grateful for all she learned during recovery. (Kathryn Desplanque)

Mid-winter, I was able to read a little again and listen to podcasts, consuming media in small bites to slowly increase my endurance for stimuli. This spring, I revived my dormant thirst for knowledge, rediscovering the library and taking up several new hobbies.

In August, I started back at my office with a gradual return-to-work plan, and I'm hoping to be at full-time hours some time early in the new year. The biggest challenge is managing screen time, but my office is working on accommodations to help me heal. 

One dental implant, two root canals and 12 months later — despite it not being something you'd ever ask for — I wouldn't choose to undo the concussion if I magically could. My bike accident afforded me an exceptionally educational and transformative year for which I am grateful.


Lindsay Chan is a lawyer, potter, sewer and plant-parent in Ottawa. She has been recovering from a brain injury since September 2018.