The widespread understanding of the concussion injury can be defined as scattered, for many may adhere to the simplest definitions of the neurological phenomenon while others may delve more thoroughly into all that the event entails. There are those who would rather set aside definition and reject any potential complications as something that may interfere with their daily objectives, and there are those who care to recognize the injury as a neurometabolic cascade of chemical imbalance—an attempt by the brain to self-repair after the moment of cell damage in order to restore a more stable sense of homeostasis. I’m not sure how we can exactly describe the state of the sports environment as it relates to the understanding or attempt to understand the concussion injury, but I do believe that there is a message that needs to be sent and it needs to be sent loud and clear. Yes, there are questions to be raised regarding the specificity and legitimacy of claims being placed upon terms such as post-concussion syndrome, second-impact syndrome, and chronic traumatic encephalopathy, but that does not mean there is an absence of truth in these trauma-related conditions. Many of us can understand athletes’ points of view regarding this matter, for you can’t go out on the field and perform with fear haunting your thoughts and be quite as effective, but we all need to be better educated on what a concussion really is. By this, I am not talking about a neuroscientific breakdown of the processes that develop during the brain’s recovery. I am talking about listening to the people who have felt the debilitating and, often times, life-altering effects of the concussion injury. I am talking about allowing those who have been impaired or have had even the slightest of alterations in cognitive ability to have a platform on which they can project their voices—their stories.
Efforts toward a more agreed upon and stable set of terms regarding concussion management protocol are by no means an attempt to overanalyze the injury itself. These efforts are not, in my opinion, indicative of overanalyzed nature because the risks are essentially laid out for us in the examples of real people struggling with real lives who have been in the shoes of the athletes who are complaining about what’s going on in professional, collegiate, and high school and youth sports. I cannot find any reason to reject such protocol because of the reality of the injury—meaning its capacity to act as a temporarily parasitic collection of damaged cells, where all it would take is one hit to end one’s season, one’s career, or one’s life. Even with that in mind, there is enough accessible information out there that can interest us in understanding the cumulative effects of the concussion injury, where the compilation of multiple traumatic events could come to haunt one’s life beyond the game in which they play. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and in fact, I have many of my own that aren’t necessarily considered as approving of certain decisions made regarding this subject, but it is hard to sound reasonable in any manner when one is openly criticizing the concussion injury as an insignificant event that athletes might as well have ‘signed up for anyway.’
I don’t think it’s fair to say anything like that at all, even if more and more professional athletes are employing the phrase today. Who signed up for this? Tell me what pride is grounded in playing through a concussion or lying about not having one in order to put a pair of football pads on, for example, to play a game for a few hours? I know this phrase varies in its interpretation as we discuss different levels, but regardless, will someone please tell me if Zackery Lystedt was proud to have little or no knowledge of any injury that caused severe bleeding in his brain, hospitalized him for many months, severely impaired the coherency of his speech, subjected himself to a wheelchair, and caused him to miss out on the many moments of his life that others get to cherish for the remains of their own respective lives? I know that Zackery is proud in his efforts to raise awareness of the concussion injury, including being the face of groundbreaking concussion management legislation that served as an example to over thirty states. What I don’t know is how anyone can tell me that football players ‘sign up’ for this kind of thing to happen. In my opinion—and I do acknowledge the professional athletes as grown men who can make such decisions for themselves—sports fans and the athletes in participation of these sports need to recognize a glory that is, quite frankly, more worth living for. That glory is having the ability to maintain stable cognitive relations with their friends and families after their careers have finished. That glory is being able to remember what the hell people might remember you for in the future.
Occasionally, I may post a ‘rant’ here on the blog regarding this issue, but the purpose of all that I am saying is to capture some of the thoughts and emotions that have been running throughout my head in the last day or so. Every now and then I’ll have a ‘slip,’ and it scares the hell out of me. And what scares me even more is that I’ll never know if what I’ve gone through or the things that I’ve thought are even related to the many instances of concussion that I’ve endured throughout my life. I can’t exactly say that some of the things I go through now are directly related to the concussions I’ve had, but I can compare such things to the person I was before these issues began to develop.
For quite some time I turned my back on football because I felt that it had turned its back on me. I absolutely love this game, and it means more to me than anyone will ever know, but by being stripped of it as a junior in high school because of a series of ‘headaches’ warranted my ‘retirement,’ I had broken down and grew to hate everything about football.
Today, I am a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh studying English Literature and Communications. I’ve maintained my passion in neuroscience during my stay here, in addition to being a contributor to The Concussion Blog. At nineteen-years old I have had at least eight concussions that I can recall. Seven from playing football, and one from a terrible car accident that I was in as a junior in high school. I guess you could say that I’m well aware of the injury because I was essentially one walking case of brain trauma for about two years. Last year, I almost joined Pitt’s rugby team, but even before getting a chance to show up to the first practice, at least five of my friends out here did all that they could to encourage me to think otherwise. I’ll admit it; I’m scared of just about any threat there is to the protection of my head. I felt that playing intramural football would be a safe enough alternative for me to maintain my love for playing the game, but during a game this year I collided heads with the lineman opposite of me. I ended up inflicting a wound to his head that bled all down his face, and for me? Well, I felt a little dazed.
It’s been a little over two years since my last diagnosed concussion, and during the time period since that moment of the car accident during the summer of 2009, I’ve had to combat several issues regarding my cognitive health. Or at least, I believe that it may be related to the concussions I’ve had, but then again, maybe not. I honestly don’t know but I wish I could tell you.
I’ve developed some serious issues with short-term memory over the years in comparison to what my capacity to remember was before. It bothers me, and it sometimes bothers my friends and family, though they are quite understanding, when I continually repeat things that I’ve already said before. In most cases, I’ll repeat something or bring something up that I mentioned a day before, but in others, I’d literally be repeating something that I said just a few hours ago to them (“Did I tell you?,” “Did you see this?,” “Did you know that?”). My girlfriend often worries about me when this kind of thing happens, but thankfully she’s supportive enough to help me forget that it even happened. How ironic.
Losing my train of thought has become common for me, and so has stuttering or fumbling with words in my speech. I’ve often caught myself having trouble in lecture taking notes, as when I tell myself to write down a certain word I’ll write down a word that is completely irrelevant from what I had planned to spell out. I used to be really good at mathematics and the sciences, but that’s gone. I haven’t been able to consolidate such techniques into my memory at all—one day I’ll learn a method that I finally can master, only to find that the next day I am completely unable to recall what I had perfected the night before.
I even find myself facing episodes of depression that truly scare me when I finally come to my senses. As noted in the article I wrote on my story, I would be sitting wide-awake in bed considering slamming my head against the wall until I could never think a thought ever again. Other times I would be driving my car to work and wonder what would happen if I were to let go of the wheel and let fate take care of business.
And more often than not I find myself subject to mood swings, and if you’ve known me for the majority of my life, you’d understand that I’m one of the happiest guys around.
Yesterday I was hit by one of these mood swings, and I don’t know what to really say about it. I was just unhappy. I was depressed. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I wanted to confine myself to my room for as long as possible.
I haven’t told any of my friends or family about this, because its quite embarrassing to admit for a nineteen-year old kid, but I make lists every single day. I take out a three-by-five note card and plan out every day as if it were an itinerary for incoming freshman to learn the Pitt campus. My list yesterday included the times and locations of my classes of the day, when and where to go during my breaks, what sorts of assignments I had to do, and who I should contact regarding work or whatever else. I don’t know. Usually you’d think that a college student would know where his recitations are over three months into the fall semester. When I finished the list at my desk, I put down my pen and I sat there and stared at it. I stared and stared and stared at it. And right at that very moment of the morning was when my day collapsed. I was embarrassed for myself.
I don’t know.
But again, I’m not making any claims on the causal effects of repetitive head injury regarding this, but I can’t help but connect the dots. I know there is plenty of other factors that can be worked into the mix of this, but all I have to my knowledge is who I am now and what I’m doing now in comparison to what I was before. I love who I am though, and I’m happy. Even if I have to make lists every day so I don’t get lost in my mind when I’m on campus, I am happy. Even if at some point I may question who I am, I’m still happy. You have to be as positive as you can when it comes to this kind of stuff, and that extends beyond just the implications of the concussion injury.