Catching up with Grant six weeks after his frightening injury at Nationals
December 6, 2022 by Charlie Eisenhood in Interview with 0 comments
The men’s semifinal between New York PoNY and Washington DC Truck Stop at the 2022 USA Ultimate National Championships had one of the scariest moments ever witnessed on an ultimate field.
PoNY’s Grant Lindsley collided at full speed with Truck Stop’s Aaron Bartlett while running down on the pull, knocking him unconscious for more than 20 minutes and requiring ambulance evacuation to the hospital, where he would remain for multiple days.
We reached out to Grant late last week to check in on his recovery process, his future in ultimate, and what the last six weeks have been like for him. Our lightly edited conversation follows.
Ultiworld: First of all, how are you doing from a physical standpoint? Are you well on the path to recovery at this point?
Grant Lindsley: I think I’m well on the path to recovery. The overall progress has been, I suppose, smooth from week to week; day to day has not really been smooth — one day might be worse than the one before. But, overall, from week to week, I’ve been slowly kind of progressively getting better, and symptoms have been reducing.
So I’m not there yet. I’m just beginning to do like pretty light exercise right now. And I guess tomorrow [Dec. 3] will be six weeks since the injury. So yeah, if I’ve learned anything about traumatic brain injuries from research, and from getting connected to some other people who have had them, it’s pretty unpredictable what symptoms you have and how long they last. Some are kind of common ones, and those are the ones like symptoms that I’ve been having. But it’s not really clear whether they disappear or whether they stick around or what kind of treatments work. So yeah, I’m just kind of crossing my fingers and continuing to try to do all the right things.
What was the ultimate diagnosis of what happened to you?
Traumatic brain injury. It sounds like that’s worse than a concussion, because this traumatic brain injury involved a brain bleed. So there were two spots in my brain that were bleeding, and immediately afterwards, in the emergency department in San Diego, they did CT scans to make sure that the bleed wasn’t getting worse. And so they did one for a baseline. And the second one, I don’t know, six hours or something later. And if it had gotten worse, they would have had to do surgery, which would have been really bad. And, luckily, they didn’t have to do that because it was stable.
From then on, it’s just been rest. Pretty much rest, and that’s basically it. And now come week six, I’ve started to do really low-level cardio and started to feel, you know, slowly more functional.
What’s the general prognosis on the level of traumatic brain injury that you’ve had? Are you expected to make a full 100% recovery to baseline?
I hope so. I think so. I’m really not 100% sure. I’ve had a pretty wide range of answers to that question from different specialists. And so, you know, some people in the emergency department were like, yeah, maybe six weeks and you might be close to back to baseline, and then I’ve spoken to others and heard from others who’ve experienced it themselves that the symptoms for some people can really linger and last years.
I know you had to stay in San Diego for quite a while. When did you get back home?
I stayed in San Diego for 10 days after the injury. The first five days out kind of get weirder and weirder the further I get from them and look back. Because I split my face open, too, I had to get a couple layers of stitches. And so I couldn’t smile or eat normally. So I was eating out of a tube. And other than like a couple of meals blended up through this tube, and getting help to go to the bathroom, I slept for five straight days. That was the only thing I did was just sleep for five straight days. Like a full 12 hours at night without getting up, and then the whole day it was just sleeping as well in between the tube and going to the bathroom. It was kind of crazy. That was what my body apparently just needed.
Are there specific symptoms that you seem to have recurring?
Yeah, it seems like there are three buckets that symptoms for brain injuries often fall into: sensitivity to light, to sound, and to motion. I have been pretty mildly sensitive to light and sound– Like headlights at night or really loud, construction banging noises have bothered me a little bit. But those have, for the most part, been fine. One of the big crappy things that can happen to people who have this injury is like working on a laptop can can hurt because of the light of the screen, which I’ve been really fortunate not to experience.
Most of my sensitivity has been to motion. Just like moving my head quickly. So I was moving my head very slowly, like sitting down or getting up or lying down really slowly. And having to put multiple pillows under my head when I slept because if I went fully horizontal I’d start to get this weird aching, sloshing, dizzy feeling. So the dizziness and the head throbbing have been the things that I’ve been feeling for the most part, and those are what I’m monitoring mostly from day to day and just hoping go down. So that’s why doing stuff like stationary bike has been good because I can I can get some cardio in without actually moving my head hardly at all. Running force is a little more up-and-down.
Have you watched the play?
No, I still haven’t. I’ve found myself — probably because tomorrow will be the first milestone, the earliest milestone that anyone has said I might be close to normal again. And I’ve also started to feel, especially with being able to exercise, close to normal — I’ll still get some weird, painful dizziness for brief periods of time — but because I’m getting close to that milestone, I found myself being like, yeah, maybe I’m ready to watch the footage of the game at least.
But no, I haven’t watched it. I felt like it might be somehow too much for me to see it. And also the more I’ve talked to people who were there and who saw it, the more it seems like it was kind of traumatic for the people who witnessed it in a way that I frankly don’t understand or know. Because I remember running down on the pull. And then I remember waking up in an ambulance 20 or 30 minutes later. So yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know if I really want to see all of that quite yet.
That’s very understandable. It was extremely scary.
Has this made you think about your frisbee life? I know you’ve always been a really thoughtful person in general and I know you’ve got a book coming out soon. And it gets into some of those topics. How has this made you think about your life or your Frisbee career?
Yeah, definitely in the first week or two after the injury, I found myself thinking about retiring from frisbee for the first time ever. I think as I’ve gotten further along in recovery, I won’t say that I’m starting on planning a comeback quite yet, but it’s more that the thought of retiring has sort of fallen away. I’m not really thinking about next season at all. I’m just kind of in the day to day. I can’t really decide — that’s not really a decision I can make right now whether I play again or whether I play next year, because it just depends on what happens and if I can make a full recovery.
If I lie down quickly or get up quickly, I have to grab on to something because I can get kind of dizzy still. So obviously if that were something that just stuck around, I wouldn’t be able to play again, but I think with the way recovery has slowly continued, I’m definitely hoping to make a full comeback.
If I am done playing frisbee, then it hasn’t hit me yet. And so I’m not grieving that quite yet.
At least from what you’ve heard from doctors, what are the next steps? Are there things you have to do to work to get back to normal? I guess I’m just a little ignorant of the process of recovery for something like this — it’s not like when you hurt your shoulder.
Yeah, I know what you mean — I’m frankly ignorant of the process for for recovery on this to. Everything that I’ve heard is that it pretty much comes down to rest. And then, if symptoms remain, then beyond rest, there’s this whole, I don’t know, compilation of different specialists and industries that all promise potential relief, but none of which are proven, and some of which are really expensive. And I’m in just the type of desperate situation to spend money on something that might not work. [laughs]
I guess because the brain is just so complex and not fully understood, there’s a whole bunch of different stuff out there that is different than a pulled hamstring or something.
What I’m doing is making sure that I’m trying to lean harder on some of the things that I’ve felt like had been good for me already. So I have a really low inflammation diet, and I’m continuing to not drink, not smoke, and, going further, no caffeine, no edibles for I don’t know how long but certainly not now. And then natural supplements and like sleep supplements, things that kind of help just maximize the kind of holistic well-being type stuff.
I got a little bit of acupuncture. And then I’m working with a PT who’s worked with athletes with some of this stuff before. But some of that is geared towards how to how to start exercising again in safe ways.
So in terms of direct treatments to the brain, I don’t know, you see this kind of Q-collar thing that’s 200 bucks that people are wearing. And I don’t know if that does anything. You see $1,000 hyperbaric oxygen chambers that you can do. There’s all kinds of stuff. But I’ve also heard from some of these specialty programs that they’ve really improved some people’s lives. So if my symptoms really linger, I’m going to be open to pretty much anything.
Sure. Have you had a chance to talk a lot with your teammates over the last six weeks?
Yeah, some. Most of the interaction I’ve had has been them helping me and my family out, which has been a very moving and vulnerable position for me to be in. I’ve not been on the receiving end of this much support maybe since I was, like, my son’s age and I was a baby and I needed it. But, yeah, it’s been really great.
When I got back to New York, there was a schedule set up for guys coming over in the morning to take Reggie, my son, out in the stroller for hour-long walks so that I could continue to sleep and MJ, my wife, could get ready for work and dinners taken care of and delivered. And it wasn’t just the immediate PoNY team, it was also people who used to play for PoNY that don’t anymore that were sending stuff. So yeah, that level of interaction has been pretty moving. We had end of the season party get together, maybe three weeks or four weeks afterwards, and I went to it for like an hour and then got exhausted and went home, but it was good to see everybody there too.
That’s awesome. What are you looking forward to getting back to normal with? I imagine that things come and go in terms of symptoms, but are there things that you’re like, ‘I just really want to be able to do this thing without it being affected by getting tired or otherwise not being able to sort of participate fully?’
The biggest milestone was being able to play with my kid. I didn’t really suffer like the trauma of seeing the injury happen, and so, for me, I was never in significant pain or stress, because I was just completely unconscious. Getting stitches kind of sucks, but they put a local anesthetic on and so honestly, probably the hardest part of the injury in the first five days was being with my baby and a) not being able to smile or be animated with him because of my lips and the stitches and b) not being able to move at all.
At first, they didn’t want me to pick up anything heavier than 15 pounds for six weeks. And I was just like — that’s not going to happen, I have to pick up my kid, and he’s 25 pounds. So we’re going to have to figure something out there. So yeah, being able to do that, being able to be interactive with my family was number one.
And number two is being able to have a day go by where I didn’t need 12 or 14 hours of sleep, because I slept pretty much entirely for the first five days and then for probably two or maybe even three weeks afterwards, I was still sleeping 12 or 14 hours a night, which just put a ton of the responsibility on MJ for taking care of Reggie and house stuff. So now that I’m sort of back to a regular schedule and can smile and move around and lift up the baby, the basics are covered.
In terms of frisbee, I’m still not really thinking about frisbee, but I am thinking about fitness, I guess. So I just had the first PT session that felt okay two days ago. And he’s set me up on a plan that’s just light bodyweight stuff with some like Zone 2 low-level cardio activity. And I’m going to try and be really on it kind of every day doing the routine for the rest of the year. And then kind of see where things stand in a month, I guess.
That’s great you’re able to get back to that.
Yea, it feels good to sweat. The moment where the thought of retiring kind of just dropped away was when I started to transition from needing a shitload of sleep every night into what is more normal for me, which, like four weeks after the injury, is feeling like, ‘Oh, I actually can’t sleep very well because I haven’t exercised.’ I was like, ‘Okay, this feels like me again.’ And so now I’m ready to get back to work a little bit. I just have to be a little smart about it. Felt good to start moving my body again.
It was a highly successful season for you this year. You win World Games, and you’re on this great team that who knows what would have happened if you didn’t get hurt. I know you haven’t watched the game at all, but have you either thought about it or talked to other players about, you know, could PoNY have won? Is that a discussion?
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, on the one hand, it’s sort of useless to imagine what might have happened. But yeah, I mean, of course, I think if I don’t get injured, then we definitely have a chance to win that game, and I came into the game feeling fired up and confident and felt like we had a really good game plan.
And I don’t think that we would necessarily win that game just because I would be back in the mix. I think seeing that injury had an impact, it had to have an impact on everybody on the team. Granted, seeing the injury also probably had some impact on Truck as well, though I don’t know what necessarily. It’s impossible to say but certainly I do wish that I had been able to be present for the whole game. Yeah, we felt hungry. We felt dialed in. I mean, we had really turned it up on Chain the day before, and I felt like we were firing on all cylinders.
And then from what I heard, I haven’t watched any of the game, but from what from what it sounds like we just had a few turnovers that were uncharacteristic, kind of self-generated more than generated by the other team. So that’s always a little bit frustrating and something that I, as a historically offensive player who’s been playing D-line for the past two years, try to help us avoid. But without having seen it and without knowing, it’s hard to say.
Have you talked to Aaron Bartlett about the collision at all?
He sent me a really nice text, maybe two days afterwards or something like that. And I was in my sleepy fog so I sent something that I think was nice back to him. I haven’t gone back to look at it; now I’m kind of curious to. That’s been the extent of our interaction.
Normally for you, when would you start getting back into doing frisbee stuff? Because we’re in the winter, so do you give yourself another five or six months before you start to think going back out there? Or it it kind of a ‘wait and see,’ depending on how you’re feeling?
I think it’s going to be wait and see. Normal for me is over the offseason to do a little bit more distance running stuff. I have sort of a an informal habit of trying to run a sub-5 minute mile in the offseason. I don’t know if that’s gonna happen, although with all the low-level cardio stuff I’m doing, I might be better set up to do that if I keep improving, come like February or March. The thing that PoNY is about to start doing is a weekly high-level pickup game that I definitely won’t be playing in anytime soon. I think when it comes to like explosive movements or changing direction or something even like laying out and then not to mention being around other people, I think I’m probably going to have some some psychological blocks, just being scared of colliding with somebody again.
I think probably I’m just gonna have to wait for the symptoms to be entirely gone. And then wait another month or something and like really feel like I’m comfortable with a lot of explosive movement before I consider coming back and playing.
Well, I know we’ll be talking about this in more detail later, but you’ve got a book coming out in April. It’s available for preorder already. I actually haven’t had a chance to ask you about this yet. So, what’s the story behind how this book got started, and what should people expect from it?
Yeah, thanks for asking. The book is called Mediocre Monk, a stumbling search for answers in a forest monastery. And it’s about the half year that I spent over 2014 and 2015 in a rural, small, Buddhist monastery in Thailand. The story is meant to be entertaining and fast and easy to read. I really wanted to keep it under 300 pages and kind of accessible to anybody. You don’t have to know anything about Buddhism or meditation to enjoy it, I hope. And a lot of it’s about all the mistakes that I made going into that experience and then during that experience as well. All the misunderstandings that I had about Buddhism and also about the results that I might get. I went in kind of hoping to transcend suffering entirely and become more of a wise ‘sage on a hill’ type of being and just kind of got humbled again and again.
Even when I set out to write the book, which was kind of born of the diary that I kept while I was in Thailand, I thought it was kind of going to be like a quote-unquote “important spiritual” book or something like that. And it slowly kind of morphed over four years of working on it into something that was more self-implicating, and maybe funny at times, but with the joke often on me. A lot of people, especially in the Frisbee community, or who know me know that I did this experience. And it’s been a way for me to try and keep the memories complex and preserve them for myself. And hopefully tell the story that’s more in depth and better than one that I could tell by myself over dinner.
Yeah, I’m halfway through it. And I’m enjoying it immensely. So we’ll have a conversation about it soon.
Right on. That’s awesome. And I’m glad you’re enjoying it.
Well, Grant, thanks for taking some time out to chat and obviously hope that you can get back to full 100% and see you out there soon.
Sounds great. Thanks a lot, Charlie. I appreciate it.