Jared Schwartz's Community Story - A PCS Patient Turned Aspiring Neurosurgeon
My story began when I was 12 years old playing baseball for my local little league club. I was struck in the head by a baseball when I was at bat. My only memory of the game was an anonymous voice saying, “are you ok Jared?” I looked like a boxer who had just been knocked out. This was the start of my three year journey to recovery. Slurred speech, short term memory loss and irritability were only a small fraction of the symptoms I had. For the longest time I could not walk without falling over, I could not sleep without getting shooting pains in my head, I feared opening my eyes because the bright light brought on severe headaches that would take hours to subside. I hid in my bedroom because even the noise of clattering silverware, a glass being placed on the table, or a small conversation caused immense pain that took forever to go away. I was scared. I had no idea what was going on with me. It was hard to remember conversations that I had with people; I would forget what the topic of the conversation was and who I was even talking to. My concussion secluded me from the rest of the world. I used to be very active and there was never a time where I was not doing something, but to be told you cannot do any activity anymore and that you have to rest all day was the hardest thing I ever had to do.
I was prescribed complete rest for the first four months. I physically and mentally could not do anything. My life felt like a light bulb that was shut off and never turned back on. Although I believe rest is very important to recovery, it unfortunately can destroy you personally. I became severely depressed to the point where my mom found me in the closet contemplating suicide. Each day felt like the same as the day before, with the same persistent symptoms that never seemed to improve. It was hard to find mindless things to do, because there was actually nothing I could do. As the months went by I was able to start increasing my exercise a little bit. I was able to walk to the end of my driveway and back up to my bedroom which was then followed by a four hour nap. One thing that kept me sane throughout the resting process was that I was able to drum on my lap. Drumming was my escape from all the problems I was dealing with. It was not too loud and it did not require any thinking. I just played. Also, I learned to set small goals to accomplish throughout the day. It gave me something to do and it made me feel good to know that I could still accomplish things. I learned to set these goals through my time spent therapy.
I was involved with occupational, speech and physical therapy. My time spent in occupational and speech therapy was to help with my short term memory loss, slurred speech and my hand writing. If one would have told me that our skills get impaired from concussions, I would not believe them, but to see my handwriting reduced to that of a second grader, was all the proof I needed to understand. The fight back to recovery was very, very slow and consisted of baby steps, small victories and determination. In the beginning of physical therapy I had to wear a heart monitor on my chest to make sure I kept my heart rate below a certain bpm. Months were spent riding the same stationary bicycle on the same setting and doing the same stretches in hopes of not getting a headache or any eye pain. As I started to improve I was able to slowly start doing more exercise until I reached a point a year later where I could take my final physical therapy test.
My recovery at home was just as tedious. I had to do many eye and memory exercises. One of which was called Vizual Edge. This was an eye and memory exercise program on the computer. Once I was able to start using the computer again for short periods at a time, I was able to start doing this program. There were different exercises designed to help with depth perception, visual flexibility, visual recognition and visual tracking. When I first started I could not handle it because I was getting severe eye pain and headaches. I stopped the program and waited several months later to start back up again. I still had eye pain and headaches but they were not as bad as when I first started, so I pushed through it. This program played a huge part in my recovery, as it helped me face the challenges of school.
School posed a very difficult obstacle for me to overcome. I went to school for half a day until the end of December. I was determined to try a full day starting in January and even though I was doing full days, I spent a lot of time in the nurse sleeping due to terrible headaches. For the entirety of 7th grade and the first half 8th grade I was on a 50% workload. Halfway through 8th grade I moved up to 75% of the work. Around the last two months I was doing 85%. In the beginning of 9th grade I was committed on doing 100% and I proved to myself and my doctors that I could do it; I did it. My sunglasses become a normal part of my outfit as I wore them all the time. Prior to acquiring my noise-canceling headphones, I spent many months eating in the guidance office by myself. When I finally got these headphones I found out that I could start eating in the cafeteria with my friends again. I received many strange looks from other students as they passed by me with my headphones and sunglasses on. It was hard to interact with the other students because to them I was this weirdo who was always wearing sunglasses and headphones, leaving class early, receiving handout notes, doing half the work and sleeping in the nurse everyday.
Looking back on what I went through, I should not blame anyone for treating me the way they did. They just did not understand the type of injury I had and its effects on me. A concussion affects you mentally and physically and I found it very beneficial to talk to others with similar injuries. Being able to relate to others and talk about my injury helped me understand that I am not alone. Through my recovery I learned to not let the concussion define who I was. I lived by the phrase “NEVER GIVE UP” and because of that phrase, I know that perseverance conquers. Today I am currently 18 years old and going to school at Temple University. I am studying neuroscience and am pre-med. I want to do more than just share my story with others, my goal is to help people who have also suffered brain injuries which is why my head injury inspired me to pursue a career in neurosurgery.