It’s going to happen, learn from it

8 Nov

Yesterday evening, as I was about to talk to receive a call from someone from the Mayo Clinic about their Concussion Program to discuss how I could be involved, I was thinking about what it is about brain injury that I want to share with people. I’ve said it in a more muddled way before, in posts and talking to others, but that never translates properly into how important I think the point is. Another problem is that we, as a society, haven’t truly realized the prevalence and lasting consequences of brain injury until recently. The effects of brain injury had barely been recognized when it became an epidemic in sports and, not long after, a pandemic. Concussions are going to happen. Brain injury is going to happen. Of course we should look for ways to prevent it and ways to treat it, but perhaps most importantly, we should be responsible adults and stop kidding ourselves that this sort of thing is curable.

This post is not strictly about sports, but I will use sports as an example. Last year in the NFL there were 171 concussions among 1696 players. Approximately 10% of all active players in the league suffered concussions. ‘Wow! Even 1 is too many! That’s shocking!’…No it’s not! The average size of an NFL player varies by position, but to generalize, it’s about 6’2″ and 250 lbs. Average! We’re still not talking about power and the force with which they collide! The NHL is smaller but still above 200 lbs and similar height. However, these guys hit each other at higher speeds in many more games. Obviously, these are adult statistics, but these are adult statistics for people who have been playing the respective game for a long time and know what they’re doing. The youth level in either sport is filled with kids of varying size and drastically varying skill levels.

Look at those numbers and think about any NHL or NFL game you’ve seen, even if it was just highlights. Really think about it. Seriously, think about it. Thanks to all of the attention on brain injury, including concussions, in these past few years, it’s now blatantly clear that there are going to be these types of injuries. What’s truly surprising is that there aren’t more!

Better concussion policies. Better equipment. Better treatment. What seems to have been forgotten is common sense. People getting hit in the head is not some new phenomenon that is catching the world off-guard. You’re about to get into your car, then a friend sees you and you have a little chat. You say good-bye and then casually duck into the front seat. But you don’t duck enough and slam your head into the door frame. That is not a rare occurrence that you may hear about on the nightly news:”Local man hits head while getting into his car!” Nevertheless, it hurts and the next day you have a headache that seemingly came out of the blue. That anecdote is not meant to illustrate how easily you can be concussed – though it does happen that easily – it’s meant to demonstrate that it happens every day.

Education about brain injury and awareness of preventative measures are essential. Hitting your head is bad. Hitting your head repeatedly is worse. Aren’t you glad you read this? Otherwise, you’d be oblivious to this little nugget of wisdom. You’re welcome.

More wisdom: Eating candy all day and never brushing your teeth will lead to cavities. Your breath will stink too. Again, you’re welcome.

It’s called common sense. Not rare sense, not extraordinary sense. Common sense. Before you go rushing of into some head colliding activity, recognize that there is a chance – large or small – that you will hit your head. In some activities the risk will be high, in others it will be low, but there’s always a chance. It’s never zero. I mentioned hockey and football earlier, those are obvious examples of high risk activities. Deciding to play or not is your choice. I played water polo for 8 years until my brain injury. There was certainly less awareness of brain injury when I was playing, and I wasn’t brain injured when playing water polo, but it is an example of a very rough contact sport. My opponents and teammates were strong. We were chasing a ball around the pool. There were feet and knees. There were fists galore. There were inescapable elbows. And that was only what was visibly being forced in your direction. You don’t need ESP to see that you’re probably going to get hit a fair bit.  It’s a violent game, but I really liked playing. Concussions are going to happen there and in life. It’s not defeatist and I think it’s great that there’s more research on concussions and the brain, but we’ve got to stop treating brain injury as an anomaly, like it’s something we’re going to fix and then be done with. It’s one more thing to be conscious of and take precautions to avoid. When we treat brain injury, or anything, with panic not logic, we learn nothing and no one is helped.

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