Several months ago I was assigned an article on concussions for a local family magazine. Unfortunately I was well versed in the topic already because several of my daughter J’s friends and teammates had gotten concussions in the past year. In addition, I contacted two medical concussion experts. By the time the article went to print, I felt fairly confident that I knew everything there was to know about concussions.
Turns out, I had a lot more to learn.
Last week, my daughter (J) got hurt during her high school soccer practice. She was knocked to the ground by another player. It took her few seconds to get up, but J told the trainer she didn’t think she hit her head or lost consciousness.
The minute I saw J I knew she had a concussion. Her eyes had a look I had seen before in other kids with concussions. She complained of a headache and the trainer had noticed she was having balance issues and difficulty tracking his finger with her eyes.
A visit to the emergency room confirmed my suspicion. The next day I brought my daughter to see one of the concussion specialists I had interviewed months earlier. Instead of listening to him as an objective writer, I was hanging on his every word as a concerned mother. He helped J and I to understand what had happened and what to expect as my daughter recovered.
While my research for the article helped me to recognize the signs of a concussion, personal experience has changed my perspective.
Here are 7 things I’ve learned about concussions in the past week:
A child does not need to be hit in the head to get a concussion.
I actually knew this before but I am not sure I believed it until it happened to J. Any blow to the body can cause the brain to reverberate and result in a concussion. The force of the blow does not dictate whether a concussion will occur or predict the severity or recovery time.
“It is all in your head.”
If you break your arm, you get a cast. The injury is visible and an x-ray confirms it. When you get a concussion, there is a tendency for people to think “Really? You didn’t get hit that hard? But there is no bump or bruise?” The pain really is “all in your head” and it is hard to explain it to other people.
Concussions are real.
Prior to our daughter getting hurt, my husband and another parent were talking on the sidelines of our son’s football game about concussions. Both thought it was crazy how many kids were being diagnosed with concussions and how this never happened when they were young and played sports. Their conclusion was that concussions were over diagnosis and that today’s parents overreact. Watching our daughter cope this past week, my husband ate a large plate of crow, mixed with a few tears and it didn’t taste very good. Concussions are real.
Having a concussion is isolating
The treatment for a concussion is cognitive rest. Depending on the person (because everyone reacts differently to certain stimuli) that can mean no TV, computer, texting, reading etc. J, like many kids with concussions, could not handle any light or loud noises. It may sound great to be able to lie around and do nothing for a few days but it is awful. It is lonely and boring. Which leads to …
J experienced many typical concussion symptoms including but the most heartbreaking was how emotional she was. J was weepy and scared that she would never feel better. Her doctor explained this was quite common. Doctors are not sure whether emotional imbalance is actual symptom of the concussion or a reaction to feeling so alone and being removed from your life (school, friends, sports) during recovery.
Most kids recover—but at their own pace.
Yes, Robert Griffin III, quarterback for the Washington Redskins, was back in the game days after a concussion (although whether it was a good idea for him to return so soon remains to be seen). But kids are not professional athletes and it takes time to recover from a concussion. Concussions do not follow the “no pain, no gain” rule. Instead, the worst thing to do for a concussion is to push through the pain.. Most kids love their lives and want to return to school, sports and friends as soon as possible. J wasn’t enjoying being home and “playing hooky.” She was waiting impatiently for her brain to heal.
A big THANK YOU to my daughter’s friends who texted her and posted kind notes on her Facebook wall (even though she couldn’t read them) and to the ones who stopped in to talk to her for just half an hour so she could hear what was going on and feel less alone. Whenever something like this happens, I always ask the mom, “What can I do to help?” and now I know.