Deep Thoughts: Concussion Journal

What I Learned When I Couldn't Think About Anything For Two Weeks
Publish date:

February 19, 2020

About three weeks ago, I was walking through a parking lot having a conversation with a friend when I stepped off a curb I didn’t see. My face hit the pavement with such force that even though I knew in an instant I was hurt, I was immediately thankful that I hadn’t knocked out any teeth. When I sat up, I said to my companion, “I think I’m bleeding.” His answer, through nervous laughter, was, “Well, you are!”

I drove myself to the hospital because I wanted to make sure I didn’t need stitches (I didn’t.) However, the ER doctor said he thought my nose looked crooked and suggested getting an X-ray. I agreed to it. So after an hour spent cooling my heels waiting for the results, the doctor returned.

“Well, your nose is broken,” he said.

“Really?” I asked.

“Yep,” he said with a grin. “But you didn’t do it tonight!”

So, after learning I have been walking around with a visibly crooked nose and a deviated septum for probably decades, I was free to go.

That was on a Thursday. Weekend was fine. By Sunday night, however, I knew I wasn’t fine. My head hurt. I was irritable. I was having some trouble remembering words. I had bedspins for the first time since freshman year in college. On Tuesday morning, I called my brother-in-law, a general practitioner, and told him my symptoms. “Do you think I might have a concussion?” I asked.

“Um, yeah!” he said.

So he gave me a protocol to follow, which included limited activity (not a problem), avoidance of screens (kind of a problem) and generous quantities of hemp oil (tastes like the underside of a lawn mower).

For the next two weeks, I could only work half days before I thought I might get sick. I slept for ten or eleven hours a night. But the worst part, by far, was this—I could not think. I mean, not really at all.

No one would ever confuse me for a monk or a yogi, but I could not concentrate on anything. Even as I write this, the first writing I have been able to do, I am experiencing discomfort and a desire to go home and go to bed.

Forced to take it easy, and unable to do much of anything, I have spent the better part of three weeks alone with what few thoughts entered my head, and I would characterize these thoughts not so much as phenomena of the brain but of the body—probably closer to feelings than thoughts, feelings that led to realizations—but here they are:

First, boy, it’s nice to be healthy. Of course this is obvious, and it is a cliché to talk about taking health for granted, but it is sure true. I mean, I don’t think society would be meaningfully deprived if my brain were permanently damaged, but I know I would miss it. Gosh, to think of all the memories I might have lost.

Second, days are long. I know the conventional wisdom is that time flies, and we should make hay while the sun shines and gather rosebuds, but I’m telling you, when you are stuck in your house all by yourself with no television, iPhone, or even music, it is one long day’s journey into night. It made me think of all the long days everyone spends working, working away toward some goal. I hope for everyone’s sake that goal is important, because even a single day, just a single day, is long enough to make a dent in just about anything. This made me realize just how much one can do in a day—it just took me being prohibited from doing anything to remember it.

Third, the realization of how much one can do in a day didn’t have the effect of taking time for granted; rather the opposite. Once I witnessed just how much time could be directed toward anything you choose, it made me want to start hyper-organizing my hours. Believe me, that has never happened to me before…

Lastly, the inability to think caused me to obsess about thinking. What was thinking? Was it just forming plans to achieve physical and emotional goals? Which thoughts were supposed to come first? I found myself wrestling with thinking as a moral imperative. How could I improve my thinking? Were there systems of thinking or mental models I could use to think more efficiently and productively?

For decades, I’d been reading Charlie Munger essays and books about Warren Buffett and their utilization of mental models and lattices and only now am I able to internalize what value these disciplines might have as they relate not just to my investments but to how I construct my everyday thinking.

Well, I guess I’ll never know, because I’ve just been cleared again for limited use of Twitter, Instagram and Netflix. But if you ever find yourself getting conked on the head and forced to do nothing for three weeks except pad around your silent house in your socks, please let me know if you ever figure any of this out. All this deep thinking makes my head hurt.

Any opinions are those of Burke Koonce and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein.