This is what a concussion sounds like | KUOW News and Information

This is what a concussion sounds like

Jun 20, 2016

A school assembly on the first day at Garfield High School sounds like this:

But to Daisy Emminger, a Seattle freshman suffering from a concussion, it sounded like this:

"It was just overwhelming," Emminger said. "And painful." 


When you hear about concussions in the news, it's often about a football player. But kids get concussions too. In one recent year, nearly a quarter million children went to the emergency room for a concussion or other traumatic brain injury.

Roughly three months before starting high school, Emminger got hit in the head twice in the course of a week: once wrestling with her little brother, and once by her surfboard. The surfboard hit was so severe that it caused short-term memory less, so she didn't realize something was going on until almost two weeks later when she was out running.

"I became so nauseous, and the light was just too bright, and the sounds of the cars driving by were too loud," she said. "My vision completely blurred, and I just collapsed on a run."

Emminger and her parents went to several different doctors to discern what was wrong. It took almost two months of tests before she got a diagnosis. 

Related: Why do so many concussions in kids go undiagnosed?

Her doctor told her to rest her brain – that meant staying in her room with no stimulation. Emminger said that bright lights, noises and even thinking hurt her head.

But that didn't stop her from trying to attend the first day of school a week later. Within five minutes, she ran out of the assembly, straight to the nurse's office. She spent two more weeks isolated in her room with a constant migraine.

Emminger fell behind in school and out of touch with her friends. They were bonding over the experience of the beginning of high school, but she was in so much pain she couldn't even think about what she was missing.

When Daisy Emminger finally returned to school after spending weeks in her room recovering from a concussion, she had to wear dark sunglasses in the hallways.
Credit Conor Gormally / KUOW

When she did return to school, it was for half days. At first her friends were sympathetic. But the concussion caused major changes in her personality. Emminger said it literally made her slow.

"Before, I felt like I was a witty girl," she said. "That might be a little egotistical, but that's how I felt. Then the concussion made me quiet and more reserved."

After a while, her friends started to drift away. "Just because I didn't have a physical cast over the injury, a lot of my friends assumed that it wasn't really there," she said. "So they gave up on me, or just didn't care."

By January, Emminger's physical symptoms had improved. But as her physical pain went away, her emotional symptoms got worse. Her mom called it "feeling blue."

"I thought that I would always feel blue," said Emminger. "That this was life and I needed to get used to feeling this way."

Teens with a history of concussions are over three times as likely to suffer from depression as teens who have never had one.

This isn't unusual for people who suffer from concussions. The emotional repercussions of a concussion are often overlooked. A 2014 study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that teens with a history of concussions are over three times as likely to suffer from depression as teens who have never had one.

There was more to Emminger's depression than just her isolation and the physiological effects. Before her injury, Emminger had been a runner and a passionate soccer player who planned to play for Garfield. However, her soccer career ended the day the surf board hit her. 

Emminger couldn't play soccer anymore, and she couldn't do a lot of other things that had once defined her. "I had to re-define myself," she reflected. "And I think that fear also contributed to the depression. The fear and anxiety of finding new ways to define myself."

She would spend the next few years figuring that out. Luckily, Emminger had a support system in her parents and little brother that helped her do that. She tried a number of activities in the next few years, but what finally made a difference was art.

Though she played with charcoal and other media, she found photography helped the most. "With art, I was able to find beauty in negative things. And that's what I needed to do with my own situation," Emminger said. "I needed to find the benefits to my concussion."

Emminger did find those benefits. Her concussion made her more empathetic, more patient and harder working. It taught her not to judge other people by what she sees on the surface.

This story was created in RadioActive Youth Media's Spring 2016 Workshop for high school students at the Southwest Branch of the Seattle Public Library.  Listen to RadioActive stories, subscribe to the RadioActive podcast and stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter