Who is telling the story here?

Liz Breslin

In 2016, Liz Breslin was concussed. This is the third part of her ‘Diary of a Concussion’, an occasional series that documents this experience. See below for where to read parts 1 and 2.

brainI nearly give up. Twice. The first time I am sitting by the window at home, hand over my ear which still has a strange thudding lack of unlocated feeling that the doctor couldn’t find with her little hammer light thing and I can’t find the words for. Dull? Numb? Dumb. I feel so dumb. Stupid, stupid me.

The second time, I’ve driven to the city for the day because of the little white envelope of hope that said the neurologist would see me.  A long time coming and a long time driving but that’s OK because, answers. Because, something. Because, someone.

blood testHe asks general questions and checks my balance and my reflexes and then I sit opposite him at the desk while he narrates into his little Dictaphone and I hear him saying patient mumble mumble migraine mumble mumble triggers mumble mumble something mumble and then he hands me a piece of paper and tells me to get my blood tested, yes, go right, right, left and right again, and I must’ve been in his room five minutes tops but at least I had fun in the waiting place, guessing in on a kid playing I Spy with two adoring adults. I want to sit in the corridor and cry.

He’s very good, my friend says, when I meet her for a coffee after. Very thorough. Very good. I am dumb. Wordless. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

What’s the joke about the Dictaphone when you could’ve used your finger? I forget it, but anyway, the neurologist’s mumblings come through in black and white and the story says things I know I know about migraines and red wine and blurred eyes and somewhere in there is the concussion story all mixed and mayhem and somehow the blunt nub of things isn’t front and centre of everything like it is in my head. Well, not actually front and centre. It’s sort of right and deep and almost where you swallow and where the jaw might be if you could feel either of those things. But metaphorically.

The story’s going wrong. The story says amitriptyline (which must be popular because it is a word that Word knows how to recognise) and I disagree heartily with the story over this because I don’t believe in robbing Peter to pay Paul. I know what I mean.

But knowing how to say it is another thing. I nearly give up but I don’t. I go back to the surgery, with written notes on the story I want to be telling so that I can’t get distracted or confused. The migraines are the doodles in the margins. The migraines are the dropable subplot. I’ve got to stick to the point.

(But if I was going to insert a subplot point here, I would like it to do what a story does where it notices things that are relevant to itself, sort of like a conspiracy theory. And the noticing I’m doing is of all the people I’ve met, through this diary for Corpus and just, I guess, life, with their own concussion stories – and why are there so many of us? And how, as a thing, concussion is so personalised and how, as a thing, it is about withdraw, not engage. And how invisible it can be. And how dumb.)

In the GP surgery again and it’s like a Robert Frost ‘two roads‘ lightbulb moment. I could take either road here. I have to make the difference. I leave with a feeling of being heard and a referral for someone to stick needles into me because that seems like a good idea because maybe what’s going on in my head/jaw/ear is nerves. Lack of them. Worth a try.

Acupuncture points on modelI sit in the acupuncturist’s room and tell my story again, leaving out the poetic bits. Stick to the facts. That’s what they want, right?

So does it feel numb? she asks Or more of a dull pain?

I want to cry with being seen but instead I lie on the bed and feel as needles pinch and radiate and a mugwort cigar warms up and down my cheek. Things feel like they’re moving. I go back week after week. I ask questions, questions, questions, listen to the world view, the physiology, the history, the theory and retain none of it except a conviction that this is rerighting – rewriting – the connections all through my body. The bruising from the fall slap bang of the accident comes back and is tender and is almost gone. Is this the power of belief?

I feel like an idiot, I’ve left it so long. It’s not too late, she says.

One day I’m driving home and I swallow and I can feel it. I chew and it’s like a whole brass section of an orchestra celebrating. Like being sliced with a spatula. An actual feeling. And oh, feeling is good.


Liz Breslin lives in Hawea Flat, New Zealand and writes poems, plays, stories and articles as well as a fortnightly column for the Otago Daily Times. Liz’s first collection of poems, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, was published by Otago University Press in 2017. Her website is www.lizbreslin.com

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