I Got Beat Up in Our Dog Park
Here's the reason I talk about brain injury and PTSD so much
Ever wonder why I talk about brain injury and PTSD so much?
I’ve sustained at least four concussions, plus meningitis, and two of those brain injuries were partnered with PTSD. The first, in 1985, and the biggie, in 2011, resulted in PTSD and PCS (post-concussion syndrome).
Ten years ago today, we were celebrating Sunny’s ‘gotcha’ day with a trip to Norwood Park in Toronto’s east end, chatting with our dog park friends while the canines were zooming around.
I was hit by a frozen road hockey ball launched from a Chuck-It dog toy. You know, those toys that look innocuous enough and well-loved in dog parks and off-leash areas. They come as a set—a long plastic ‘launcher’ holding a special ball.
The Chuck-it balls themselves are often quickly lost in wooded areas or discarded when a dog loses interest. Some dogs chew them up, and they must be replaced.
Unfortunately, they are often replaced with other balls that fit the device. Like tennis balls and road-hockey balls. With their density and heavier weight, a road-hockey ball turns the Chuck-it into a toy on steroids…a flying, lethal device.
This is what hit me 10 years ago. A frozen road-hockey ball.
Right between the eyes, from about 12 feet away, traveling at considerable speed. I’ve done the math, with a bit of help from a couple of smart engineer types, and we’re calculating it hit me at about 40 km per hour.
It knocked me flat, knocked me out, and I hit the snow-dusted asphalt, face first. I regained consciousness almost immediately, except I was blind. Or so I thought. My ‘third eye’ had been hit so hard, my senses were off and for a moment I didn’t realize I couldn’t open my eyes. I heard shuffling and gasps and words I couldn’t decipher. Then thankfully, I blinked a few times, and realized where I was.
I crawled up onto my elbows, only to discover my face was dripping blood and snot. Lots of it.
Once I stood up, I saw the panic and terror in the faces of those around me. I knew there was something incredibly wrong.
Two women who had been chatting at the other end of the fenced-in area ran over with bundles of tissues pulled from their coat pockets.
I literally couldn’t see straight. Almost immediately, the bridge of my nose swelled to the degree that it eclipsed my sightline.
The ‘culprit’, Princess's dad, was our dog park friend. He was an older gentleman who lived down the street, and the nicest, gentlest guy you could ever meet. I was frightened for him—he looked like HE might pass out.
I don’t remember much else.
Kevin scrambled—somehow, he managed to corral Sunny and a very dazed me to the car and he talked to me all the way home.
Remember, it was Boxing Day. I avoided going to emergency, because I stubbornly insist on my right to self-determination, even though it has regularly been the catalyst for unintentional self-harm. I ‘knew’ it was a concussion; I ‘knew’ I’d broken my nose; and I ‘knew’ that the doctors would tell me to rest, drink plenty of fluids, use ice packs for the swelling, and so forth. I also didn’t want to be one of a mob of folks descending onto the East York General emergency department on the day after Christmas. I ‘knew’ I’d have to wait hours to see a doctor, and really, what was to be done?
Everything hurt. And I looked like the loser in a particularly heinous prize fight. I’d gingerly attempt to walk around our block and time my trips to avoid running into our neighbors.
My face turned from blackish purple to chartreuse to regurgitated yellow. Eventually my broken nose healed. When my doctor checked it out, she told me the break had fixed my deviated septum. Years later, although I can still feel the bump, my nose is straighter than it was before the incident.
Three months later, post-concussion syndrome kicked in. I went berserk. I was alternately in physical fits or catatonic. My body and my mind shut down. Even my long-time psychologist told me she couldn’t help me if I didn’t get onto some serious meds first. This was the beginning of a long and painful journey of living with PCS and PTSD. Both my psychologist and my doctor quickly and rightly so linked my depression and anxiety and behavior to my brain injury. I am so very thankful for the incredibly astute help I received.
I never went to Norwood Park again. Kevin would take Sunny on his own; I couldn’t bear it. I became the crazy lady in parks, walking up to people who carried those blasted Chuck-it devices to warn them about their danger potential. Starting off a conversation with a stranger by saying, “That thing just about killed me, and you should know…” didn’t garner me many friends or advocates. But if even one of those folks considered the impact of my story, I did my job.
People often asked me why I didn’t sue. It’s not in my nature to be litigious, and I certainly wasn’t about to deplete an old man friend with a stinky little old dog. But I DID write a letter explaining the incident and its outcome to Playmate, the manufacturer of Chuck-It brands. I didn’t hear a thing. My husband says it’s likely because even responding would spur the possibility of a hefty lawsuit. All I really wanted was acknowledgement, to be listened to. We all deserve that.
One of the things I asked the company to do is place a ‘caution’ on their packages. I see they do that now. But it’s still too easy to replace the softer Chuck-it ball with a harder ball of the same size. And it’s still incredibly dangerous if misused.
Freak accident, right? I know. I’m the only one in my circle of brain injury survivor friends who experienced something like this. But 10 years after the fact, I still deal with the consequences of that day. And for Sunny? For him, it’s simply Gotcha Day Anniversary # 13.
About the author
I live with a broken brain and PTSD--but that doesn't stop me! I'm an author, artist, and qualified mediator who loves life's detours.
I co-authored NOT CANCELLED: Canadian Kindness in the Face of COVID-19. I also publish horror stories.