When Commuting Goes Wrong: Concussion Confessions

By Jamie Morningstar

Jamie is back in the saddle after her bike commuting accident. Photo by Jamie Morningstar

If you know me at all, you know a few key facts: Raw tomatoes are gross, I almost always wear Birkenstocks, and I love to ride my bike. Yes, there are more datapoints available about my life, but I think those three cover the essentials.

I cycle commute year-round and I love it. My current commute is a quick 2.5 miles and rain, snow, or shine you’ll usually find me on the saddle with a smile. Cycling to work has many advantages: no parking hassles, cheap(er) transportation, fresh air, low carbon footprint, a little extra exercise, looking like a badass (especially on bad-weather days). My favorite benefit is having quieting centering me-time at the start and end of each workday – cycling truly is therapeutic for my body and soul.

My husband gave me a bike for my birthday seven years ago, and shortly thereafter I started to cycle commute whenever I could. It was love at first ride.

Over the years I’ve ridden to and from work over 800 times. That means I’ve cycle commuted about every other day since I started. Not bad, considering vacations, sick days, travel, and the occasional day when I have to drive in (sigh) because of off-site meetings or appointments. I’ve racked up a total of over 8,500 miles in commute distances alone. At this rate, it will take me another thirteen years to cycle commute the equivalent of the circumference of the earth. I’m up for the challenge.

So, yeah, cycle commuting (and riding in general) is a big deal to me and something I’m super grateful for. And after those hundreds of rides and thousands of miles, I had never experienced a serious issue while riding. Sure, I blew out a few tubes and got a couple of scrapes, but nothing big. Until the end of March.

I was riding home at my normal time, on my normal route, on my normal bike, and I got unlucky and biffed a few blocks from work. I don’t have any memories from the incident, so I don’t know exactly what happened. I think I just nicked a curb and went down. Hard. I was wearing a helmet, and hit hard enough that I broke my sternum and got a pretty nasty concussion. As a true hard-core commuter, I picked up my bike and rode home… at least, I assume I did, since I ended up at home with my bike. Good thing my body knew the route even if my brain was at far less than peak performance!

I do remember stopping in my driveway, putting the kickstand down on my bike, walking into the house, and telling my husband that I had fallen on my bike and needed to go to Instacare. CT scans and X-rays and a few checkups later, everything was ok, I just was very banged up and bruised – body and brain both.

Recovery has been slow and laborious. I love my brain, and the awareness that my brain is not performing at full capacity has been deeply challenging for me. My mental processing is still a little slow, especially at the end of the day or when I’m tired. I still get queasy if I spend too much time looking at a computer screen (I work in software, so that’s a bit of a challenge). I’ve given up TV and movies almost entirely because they just don’t feel good.

Jamie's bruises after the accident. Photo by Jamie Morningstar

But you know what still feels great? Riding my bike.

People have asked if I wanted to give up riding after my accident, and my answer is a resounding no. I got unlucky. Accidents happen in lots of different ways and staying home on the couch (or deciding to drive instead of ride) in order to avoid an accident seems like an unhealthy response. Besides, plenty of people get hurt in car accidents, too!

I did get a new helmet. And I watch corners with curbs more closely now. I’m still taking things slow; there’s a lot of healing still to do. I get frustrated on the slow days and the headache days.

And when I get frustrated, my very best therapy – body and mind – is still a to hop on my bike and take a spin.

If you have a suggestion for a commuter profile, have a commuter question, or other comments, please send it to [email protected]

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One Response to "When Commuting Goes Wrong: Concussion Confessions"

  1. Marc Rosello   June 19, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    I am a triathlete and therefore an avid cyclist. I am also an Occupational Therapist and I manage the neurologic specialty Sugarhouse Rehabilitation Clinic, a University of Utah Health facility. We have a well established concussion (mild traumatic brain injury) program with physical therapy, occupational therapy (vision rehab) and Speech Language Pathology (cognitive rehab) available for your reported symptoms. We are happy to help, provide education or schedule you for an appointment to help you get back to doing ALL the things you enjoy, including riding your bike! Safely I may add, with all your visual, vestibular and cognitive resources!
    Marc Rosell0

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