2011 NATM Tribute Letter: Broken Brain

During the month of March we will continually highlight the work of an athletic trainer.  This series will incorporate open letters about the men and women of the profession from other professionals, the aim is to have at least one a week.  If there are others out there; parents, coaches, teachers, doctors, lawyers, athletes or anyone that would like to form a letter please do so and send it to theconcussionblog@comcast.net.

Granted our last letter was from an anonymous source and this one is as well, the anonymity is a bit less with our next letter.  This profound letter comes from a blogger (really a very good writer), his site is Broken Brain — Brilliant Mind; Using the infinite mind to overcome the limits of the brain…  Including Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) Survival Strategy and Tactics.  If you have taken the time to follow his stylings you will find out that this self-taught individual has the proper perspective on all things related to head injuries.  I appreciate his time in contributing to National Athletic Training Month with a kind letter;

National Athletic Training Month and Brain Injury Awareness Month – it seems like a perfect combination to me. In these times when concussion in sports is gaining a higher profile, and there is so much confusion about it (what exactly is it, and what exactly do you do about it?), Athletic Trainers’ time has come. Who else is this well-positioned to not only learn about the issues surrounding concussion, but also to actually put that knowledge into practice on a regular practical basis? I say this not only as someone who has lived more than 4 decades with the after-effects of multiple concussions/mild traumatic brain injuries (a number of them sports-related), but also as someone who was once seriously considering becoming a personal trainer, because the connection between brain and body is so obvious and important, and physical fitness has been shown to be a great way to both rehabilitate an injured brain as well as protect against future injuries.

I’ve since moved in a different direction, believing that I can probably do more good with awareness raising online, than in starting a new career from scratch. (It would probably also help if I didn’t have some serious TBI-related problems with reading and retention that got in the way of my trainer studies, as well as an already established career I enjoy.) But it’s truly gratifying to find that there are “boots on the ground” athletic trainers who are personally committed to the health and safety of student athletes.

The importance of this cannot be overstated. I, myself, was not a big contact/collision team sports player in high school, and the times when I did play, I tended to get hurt. I was already more susceptible to head injury, thanks to at least 4 concussions (that I know about) prior to the sports-related concussions I sustained in high school. I can’t begin to imagine what would have happened to me, had I played the team sports that the coaches of my high school repeatedly encouraged me to join. I was a pretty gifted athlete, I realize now, but in retrospect it’s good that I ran cross-country and track, rather than racing up and down a field, surrounded by competitors would have done anything to get the ball away from each other. There was something in me that realized that diving into the fray spelled trouble for me — but that was something the coaches apparently couldn’t detect.

Now, I’m not saying the coaches were blind to my safety. But they had the clear goal of winning and training all their team members to become active players and winners, despite their misgivings and hesitations. It probably goes with the territory – a coach’s job is to win. When it came to health and safety, that was important, but it wasn’t uppermost in those coaches’ minds. And if I hadn’t been as resistant to the pull of the “thundering herds” on the field, court, and diamond, I might very well have ended up injured — and my high school career cut short by concussion.

Now, I’m not one for divining the future/past — who knows what would have really happened? My point is, when it comes to high school sports, somebody has to be looking out for the health and safety of the athletes. At that heady time in their relatively young lives that can often set the tone for the rest of your life, the lines can get blurred between heroism and plain old stupidity, and it’s all too easy for everyone to get caught up in the excitement of the game and overlook the uncomfortable truth that a player didn’t just get dinged — they really got injured.

And that recognition is really only the beginning. Concussions need to be detected, certainly, but they also need to be properly managed. With the primary focus being on playing and winning, having another dedicated person in the mix whose job it is to pay attention to such things and make well-informed recommendations for ongoing response… that seems to me every bit as important as the initial detection and pulling an athlete out of play.

I often wonder, as I look at my life of the past 25 years, if getting proper response and care for my high school concussions might have made any difference to my schooling and my young adulthood. Granted, I had already sustained at least 4 concussions by the time I set foot in high school, but the additional two head injuries (at least) I sustained by the time I graduated certainly didn’t help. Concussions have cumulative effects, making later injuries more impactful, and even if there were no scientific evidence for that (which there is), I’d know it in my gut from my own experience. How else would I explain the cognitive and behavioral problems I had during my senior year? It wasn’t like I came from a terrible home situation or was living in horrible conditions. My parents had a stable marriage, our family was always actively involved in church and social life, and we lived in a very safe part of the world. In the midst of all that abundance and safety and opportunity and benefits, I struggled. Deeply. Profoundly. As far as anyone could tell, I “just wasn’t trying hard enough.”

If only they’d known how hard I was trying.

But this letter isn’t to gain anyone’s pity or sympathy for myself. You can forget I’m even here — but please consider all the other individuals out there who had the same kinds of experiences I had, and have struggled and suffered “for no apparent reason.” As as you consider those other individuals — there are an estimated 1.6 -3.8 million sports-related concussions in the United States every year — also consider that there actually are people who are in a position to help — ATC’s, the certified Athletic Trainers who stand at the ready to keep players as safe as they can, and respond to injuries and emergencies as they arise — which they probably always will do.

Bottom line is, in this world which is often unsafe and uncaring, there are individuals who are in a unique position to do what they can to protect and care for the health and safety of the athletes we watch and admire. Thank you, to each of the Athletic Trainers who commit yourselves to this important work. We’d be in serious trouble without you.

Thank you BB for sharing your thoughts!

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