On Thursday March 22nd, while grabbing some lunch from the Corbin-Olson dining center, I hit my head really hard on the glass salad bar and ended up giving myself a concussion. I wanted to check and see if the tomatoes were fresh, which was why I moved closer to the glass. Although the cost of this decision was great, for those wondering, the tomatoes were not fresh and I did not end up asking for them on my salad.
The timing of this incident was unfortunate, as it is the week before finals, and I have a lot of upcoming assignments I need to complete. Over the past several days, I have experienced a variety of symptoms including slurred speech, a metal taste in my mouth, dizziness, headaches, fatigue, and balance problems. These symptoms create an interesting combination with college classes, especially as a music major. The day of the concussion, I presented my undergraduate research to the university administration as part of our Undergraduate Research Day. The presentation was supposed to be fifteen minutes or less, and I had previously practiced it several times and fallen within this guideline. Because of my concussion and slurred speech, the day of the presentation it ended up taking over twenty-two minutes to present the same information. The day after the concussion, I ended up recording “Pomp and Circumstance” with the wind ensemble for graduation, playing a live orchestra concert (in sunglasses), and playing my final dress rehearsal for my solo recital which took place on Saturday. Playing all this music was challenging, as it is hard to look at a page and read the music, but luckily I had most of it memorized. My sensitivity to noise and light made it difficult for me to sit close to other instruments and focus on my own performance with the stage lights. While I am grateful to have not lost these opportunities because of my injury, ultimately going through these experiences with a concussion is something I hope that I will never have to go through again.
I think the fact that I feel the need to push through my regular college agenda despite this concussion highlights a fundamental flaw in academic culture, as taking a break never even struck me as an option when this injury took place. While the best thing for my brain would be to sit in the dark and heal, I instead pushed through my regularly scheduled programming which worsened my symptoms significantly. As my professors are understanding about health
issues and challenges, I have no one to blame for this except myself. However, I think that conversations within academia starting at younger ages could be very beneficial to help students realize the importance of their physical health.
This issue starts from a young age, as elementary students are rewarded for achieving perfect attendance, which usually requires them to come to school while they are physically sick. Over the course of their time in school, they will continue to be rewarded for attending school and even penalized for missing. In high school, I once received a C in an AP English class solely because I missed so many days of class, regardless of the fact that I completed all make-up assignments on time, did extremely well on the AP exam, and met all of the course requirements as far as English knowledge and achievement. The teacher said that she was trying to teach me a lesson about the importance of attendance, and clearly this lesson has stuck with me since.
I do not regret attending classes while concussed, as I have not experienced any long-term damage because of this decision and ultimately I am in the process of recovery. However, as a future teacher, I do regret the narrative we are sharing with children that academics should be more important than physical health, and specifically the impact that this can have with these children as they transition into their adult lives. It is time to expand the conversation about toxic productivity that plagues me as well as many other college students as we figure out how to balance academic success, self care, and adult responsibilities.