Your brain needs exercise and nutrition too

The benefits of exercising, keeping fit and eating healthily have been impressed on us (society, specifically North American society in which I live) for a long time. Unfortunately, it hasn’t exactly caught on. It came close when Jared lost a bunch of weight eating subs everyday. Although Jared is to be commended for deciding to eat healthier and smaller portions, that campaign ended up being a better marketing gimmick than a healthy eating trend. Magazines, ranging from fitness to news, have urged us to exercise and eat healthily as well, but these attempts have generally failed when the timelines to do this fall outside of one week – a month at the longest. Magazines also compete with each other to give “the best” advice. However, “the best” advice is no match for “the easiest” advice and as magazines compete with each other, conflicting diets and exercise routines can very easily overwhelm someone whose commitment to keeping fit equates to their commitment to picking up a magazine. I should be fair, some of these routines actually work and give good advice about being healthy. Another option is using common sense. We’ve been cautioned about remaining sedentary and eating unhealthily and the negative consequences that has for our heart, one of our vital organs. But what about another vital organ, the brain?

The importance of exercise and nutrition (the first two articles) for brain health cannot be understated. Exercise, notably aerobic exercise, is like practice for your brain’s neural pathways. The better trained your neural pathways are, the stronger and more efficient they are. Not only that, aerobic exercise also improves the adaptive abilities of the brain. When I was brain injured, some pathways in my brain were disturbed, but my brain has found new routes in which it Continue reading

Now what?

So I turn 32 today. It’s kind of a non-age. In my mind, 33 is a bit of a milestone, 30 is an obvious milestone, but 32, that’s nothing. Of course, I couldn’t care less either way. Age means very little to me now, but I guess this is as good a day as any for me to reminisce/write about the past 9 years (8 years and 9 months, actually) and where I am now.

I’m fairly surprised about how happy I am now and how good I feel. On this day 9 years ago, I was with a friends in London, ON, on a inter-term break from my Master’s program (in Public Administration – MPA) from the University of Victoria. The next day, I would get picked up in Toronto and would get a ride  to the Ottawa River, near Cobden, to go whitewater rafting for the weekend (along with about 15 more friends). Good times!

I then went back to Victoria for term 2 of my MPA program and I continued training for triathlon, a sport I tried for the first time in January of that same year. Three months later, I crashed into a tree and my life changed.

When we were rafting/bouncing our way Continue reading

Forest for the trees

Everybody knows about the ‘concussion issue’ in the NHL, NFL and hockey and football in general (youth-pro levels). It’s all over the media. Occasionally it will be discussed somewhere else, but it rarely holds attention for much longer than it takes to read or watch the story. Unfortunately, brain injury is so widespread and can be so debilitating that it is overwhelmingly ignored and, unless there’s a feel good story, or someone to blame for the injury, it never gets coverage. Concussion, and brain injury in general, is not a sports story. It’s a health/medical/human interest story with a sports angle, but it’s not a sports story.

There are plenty of stories about people who have been brain injured and how they’ve recovered, but you have to look for them. Stories about pro athletes or children being concussed are much more prevalent, and they’re what most people will read. I began writing this blog because I’m dealing with issues from my brain injury in 2003, I like writing and I like playing and watching sports. I was injured while cycling but the things that I find the most difficult are not sports issues, they’re day-to-day issues. The concussion issue has become prominent in hockey and much attention has been paid to brain injury because of the importance we place on the sport. Unfortunately, I think Canada’s obsession with hockey may be clouding our view of the problem.

The problem is not the lenient rules in hockey. The problem is not that players are bigger and stronger now. The problem is not fighting or illegal hits. The problem is brain injury. Continue reading


I just finished Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. It’s about Billy Pilgrim, an optometrist in Ileum, New York who was a World War II POW in Dresden, Germany when it was fire bombed (Vonnegut, himself, was a POW in World War II in Dresden in Schlachthof Fünf (Slaughterhouse Five). He, like his future character, Billy Pilgrim, was there during the bombing in February 1945). After the war (in human time – more on that further down) he becomes an optometrist, has a wife, daughter and son, and is abducted by aliens to their planet of Tralfamadore and ends up with an ability to haphazardly time travel within his life. It’s funny and makes its anti-war points through satire. This is not a book review, I just figured I would give a general overview of the book before I launched into an exhortation about my brain injury and the Tralfamadorian view of life.

The Tralfamadorian view kind of relates to my point that I wouldn’t change a thing about my being brain injured because it leads me to where I am now. The Tralfamadorian view of life is that no one ever dies, they just jump around to different parts of their life and that things that happen will always happen and have always happened. By no means am I saying that I can travel through time Continue reading

This isn’t about Tebow…but it kinda is

Nick Mercer is a guest author and his original blog can be found at  Nick is a survivor of TBI using his experiences to educate and opine about current issues in the realm of concussions.  Nick has presented on these issues in his native Canada as well.  Enjoy!

On Sunday I watched the Denver Broncos score 10 points in a little over 2 minutes to tie the Chicago Bears and then win in overtime. This is an impressive comeback, but it wouldn’t be so believably unbelievable had it not involved the Broncos and their quarterback Tim Tebow. Last week Chuck Klosterman wrote an excellent article on  entitled The People Who Hate Tim Tebow and he tries to find out why Tim Tebow is so fascinating to other people and why he’s so polarizing. Klosterman inevitably talks about faith and belief. I think the reason a nice, genuine guy is so polarizing are very similar to explaining concussions and brain injury in sports.

Tim Tebow is the Broncos quarterback and seems to lack most of the apparently ‘essential’ skills of the modern-day NFL QB. Football purists and many former players are quick to note his lack of skill, his inability to make accurate passes and his reliance on running and scrambling. Continue reading

The Concussion Tipping Point

In The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, he notes that there are 3 rules of epidemics (in this case, the galvanizing of support for concussion awareness/understanding): 1) the Law of the Few, 2) the Stickiness Factor, 3) the Power of Context. Concussions and all brain injury are issues that need to become epidemics to gain any real level of support. Support that is now seriously lacking. I will try to apply each of these 3 rules to concussion/brain injury understanding and awareness.

1) The Law of the Few. Gladwell talks about a Paul Revere’s midnight ride and further breaks down this rule into 3 parts (Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen). It seems to me that telling people they need to know learn something or they should support something, inevitably spawns a level of resentment, however subconscious this is and however well-meaning someone is to a cause. Guilt is not a sales technique that will keep people interested and it doesn’t encourage people to spread the message. With the huge sports media and others constantly bringing up the issue, concussions have been a prevailing issue in hockey and football, Continue reading

Crosby has patience, what about the sports media?

It was really exciting seeing Crosby score his first (and second) goal and play so well the entire night!

One thing that many in the sports media overlook, however, is the importance of fatigue with brain injury. I don’t know how much fatigue has effected Crosby, but I would caution them that even though he can play well, with lots of energy for a game or a few games, there could very well be days when his body kind of shuts down or doesn’t react as quickly as he’d like. Before the hockey commentators anoint him scoring champion, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him miss a game or two based on fatigue or other concussion symptoms.
This is by no means a medical assessment, Continue reading

Lucic hit on Miller: Penalize or Punish?

I was at the game in Boston on Saturday, November 12, 2011, so I saw the play in which Milan Lucic crushed goalie Ryan Miller. Immediately there was a quick groan in the crowd around me. My friends know the seriousness of major strikes to the head better than most people, so they could see how bad the hit was and how much it could affect Miller.

After the immediate shock of the hit, the crowd went crazy. There was long and sustained loud cheering for Lucic and jeering of the Buffalo players for their reaction. There was also intense booing of the 2 minute penalty assigned to Lucic for the hit. This was followed by equally intense cheering as Milan Lucic was celebrated in a video shown on the scoreboard screen, profiling his big hits and physical style of play. It seemed the fans couldn’t be prouder. Of course, there is a whole separate debate among hockey players and media about goalies being able to play a puck outside of their respective, claustrophobic creases.

The referees didn’t assign a larger penalty because Continue reading

Symptoms & Perspective: Nick Mercer

Symptoms with which I am familiar are primarily dizziness and fatigue. The biggest symptoms I deal with are my balance/movement and double vision, but apart from immediate vision problems most people have after a brain injury, I think balance /movement and double vision lasting over 8 years is more specific to serious brain injuries, so I won’t talk about them per se.

The severity of my symptoms has lessened over these 8 years and I have never had to deal with headaches (apart from an intense and especially long one after the doctors replaced my bone flap), but the dizziness and fatigue, however diminished, remain. That’s not to say that I deal with serious episodes of these symptoms every day, but they are there frequent. As I wrote in a previous post, standing up quickly or abruptly turning my head to the side can result in dizziness. Fatigue is another animal altogether. I don’t know when it will be intense.

For people dealing with the immediate symptoms of a brain injury, these are unfamiliar and must be Continue reading

Observations: Nick Mercer

I watch Jersey Shore. I am neither proud nor ashamed of that. I just watch it. I doubt I’d watch it the same way if I hadn’t done a biology degree. Everything from examining ecosystems and watching vigilance behaviour to detailing the lives of fruit flies was based on objective observation. It is with that eye of an unimpassioned observer that I tend to watch any reality show, especially those shows that are trying to depict life in an ‘open’ environment. It’s fairly obvious that, although not scripted, Jersey Shore takes place in a well controlled, or at least well influenced environment. The Situation (Mike) – a nickname he seemingly gave himself – recently slammed his head into a wall. Purposefully I might add!

He went to hospital,was diagnosed with whiplash, given a foam neck brace and told to lay low for a week (not go out to clubs – a near nightly occurrence on the show). The Situation was never a favourite member of the house; he always drew attention and animosity to himself. He is also depicted as being aggressive, arrogant and naive. About to get into a fight, he got himself riled up and threw his head into the wall. After the shock and concern about his immediate well-being had subsided Continue reading

What can sport teach society about brain injury?

After all of the attention paid to concussions over the past year, it seems that sports, notably football and hockey at the youth and pro levels, are the some of the few aspects of society that are beginning to comprehend that a concussion is a brain injury. Sports leagues across North America are focusing more on concussion and brain trauma and are trying to understand this complex injury. Statistically speaking, I know I shouldn’t take anything away from the first week of the NFL season, nor should anything be gleaned from the treatment of a single player (Sidney Crosby) in the NHL from his brain injury over 9 months ago, but I am heartened by the apparent acceptance and the attempts to comprehend the brain injury situation in sports.

In the first week of the NFL regular season (and from the small amount of US college football that I’ve seen in the past month), I have seen several big hits that have certainly left the receiver/ball carrier hurting – and with second thoughts about attempting the same route again. These hits, however, did not involve a shot to the head, nor did Continue reading

Post-concussion symptoms, see concussion symptoms

I was brain injured in 2003 while cycling in Victoria, BC. Concussions are also known as mild traumatic brain injuries and while what I sustained was a coma-inducing severe traumatic brain injury, from what I hear, and what makes sense to me, there seem to be many overlapping symptoms. I read about how Marc Savard has “post-concussion” symptoms and I’m really wondering why they call them post-concussion symptoms and why I always say ‘I was brain injured’. I guess the major traumatic blow to my head  is a thing of the past, so, on a technicality, I can get away with saying “was brain injured”, but plain logic is enough to tell you that you don’t have symptoms from an injury that doesn’t exist. I still have major symptoms and even though you can’t see my injury just by looking at me today, doesn’t mean that my brain has completely healed. Some parts of my brain seem unaffected, but Continue reading

Progressively still

Frontline recently re-broadcast a documentary about concussions that it had done in April. The story revolved around a football team from a private high school in Arkansas. The Shiloh Christian program was used primarily as a backdrop for the central theme: the intensity, pressure and the resulting disregard of health issues – notably concussions – in high school football in the US.

It was interesting – and kind of disturbing – to see how easy it is for coaches, parents, players, to convince themselves that the ubiquitousness of the basic football mantra of ‘hit hard, hit often’ somehow destined them to a football player assembly line to produce the same product as everyone else. Like there was nothing they could do but keep hitting as forcefully and as frequently as they could.

Football players in the US, the really good ones anyway, Continue reading


“These days, we take pride in being tough enough to inflict pain on others. If an older usage were still in force, whereby being tough consisted or enduring pain rather than imposing it on others, we should perhaps think twice before so callously valuing efficiency over compassion.”

– Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land

This is a quote more about society in general than it is about sports in particular, but society and sport are so interconnected that the distinction is almost meaningless. I know I’m not breaking new ground by saying that the brain injury issue facing contact sports has a major communication problem, but the point is so important that it’s difficult to overstate.

Take hockey, for example. Any responsible kids’ minor hockey league coach will remind the players that hits to the head are big no-no’s. During the course of a game a player may hit an opposing player in the head (maybe intentionally, maybe not) – the hitter is penalized, the coach may get mad at him or bench him, but, as is so often the case, the hitter is noticed by other coaches for his hard -hitting, aggressive style of play. Due to a reckless and dangerous hit that contradicts everything the coach taught him and goes against the rules of the game, that player is noticed and rewarded by being picked for all-star teams and the coach is encouraged to give him more minutes. At higher levels, it’s more than other coaches and teams noting this aggressive player and his feared style of play. It’s also sponsors and TV networks, accentuating the pressure on the coach to showcase this player and the new hard-hitting and dangerous style of play.

We need to look at what we, as hockey, football, rugby or any contact sport fan, value in sports. If it’s fluidity of play and athleticism, then we need to make our values known. If it’s aggressive, strong, and tough players enduring pain, then we need to make that Continue reading

The Media and Concussions

After being ignored for far too long, concussions and brain injury seem to have been rightfully recognized as the most important issue in contact sports. However, even the medical community is quick to note the dearth of good information about brain injuries. After my cycling accident and subsequent coma almost 8 years ago, the information my family was given had them constantly bracing for the worst. My mom tells me that when she was a kid and she’d ask her dad a question, the answer would invariably be, “Look it up.” That explains her career choice (librarian) and her never-ending search for more information. Yet, even she had a very difficult time finding information that would give her solace or at least an idea of what problems her son would face. Even though my brain injury was more acute and severe than a concussion, both are brain injuries. I think that an extremely important point about concussions is being lost in the extra-subjective and passionate world of pro sports.

It’s fortunate the newspapers like the Globe and Mail and the New York Times were quickly on the issue as it came to the fore in their health and sports sections. As would be expected, the Globe and Mail centres most of their attention on hockey, while the New York Times focuses primarily on football. They’ve obviously done an outstanding job of bringing the brain injury issue forward. An issue will not become important to the public by starting with explanations and definitions, but once an issue goes from afterthought Continue reading

Consequences: By definition, they can’t be avoided

Good, bad or indifferent, consequences are whatever happens next.

The first time I ever truly had the wind knocked out of myself happened when I was a kid (probably 8 or younger), in one of those ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ moments. For me, climbing trees was less a hobby and more a pseudo-profession (you know, for an 8-year-old). I had climbed, or at least attempted to climb, every tree in our yard, but there was a tree at the bottom of our street that I hadn’t climbed. I realized this one day, perched high in a chestnut tree at the end of backyard and decided that this foolishness had to end. I would climb it!

It was the classic tree-climbers tree. The lowest branch was parallel to the ground and required a good jump to grab. Next I had to swing my legs around the branch (making me look like a scrawny pig on a spit). Done. Now what? There goes my grip and, of course, my legs weren’t in the best position to catch me and I landed flat on my back. As far as I remember, it didn’t hurt, it just scared Continue reading

Getting It Across

(Project Brain Wave) In June, the Newfoundland and Labrador Brain Injury Association, of which I am on the Board, is holding a symposium-type event to discuss brain injury, who it affects and how we think we can help people in the province. I have been asked to talk about my experiences, so now, I am writing and gathering ideas – from previous posts on this blog and from my mind – so that I can talk about my brain injury, my recovery and the struggles and opportunities that have come out of my experiences. I have named my talk: (Brain injury) Recovery experiences, challenges and new opportunities. Now it’s just a matter of putting this all together.

Before my brain injury I wasn’t a very confident speaker, but once I got going, my nervousness would disguise itself as confidence and I could ramble and bullshit my way through a lot. I have almost the opposite problem now; Now, my speech belies my confidence (this is unfortunately true in more situations than public speaking) and there’s a lot for me to talk about on this subject.

I am very excited about talking about this and I’ve got to make some decisions to keep the audience interested. Here’s the way I see it:
  1. Most people reading this blog are my friends and you may be interested to hear my thoughts because most of you knew me before I was injured and want to know how I feel now and what’s changed for me personally. I can’t thank you enough for your support during and since. Thanks so much everyone!
  2. You’re the audience for this blog, not for my talk in June. That talk is for people who — Continue reading

Editorial: Nick Mercer

Nick Mercer has and is from north of the border, so even though he does not play hockey, he is engrossed in the Canadian National Pastime.  Here is an editorial from him regarding the hit on Max Pacioretty in Montreal last week.

Don’t miss the point!

So let me get this straight: No cursing on TV, no nudity, no drug or alcohol use, because kids may see it and ‘get the wrong idea’.  However, it’s ok to show a man nearly get killed.  On the news, there’s often a warning that the upcoming story may contain scenes that are “not suitable for children”.  These are mostly scenes with blood or graphic violence.

Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens, without exaggeration, was nearly killed on Tuesday night during the Bruins-Canadiens game. In case you missed it – and if you live in Canada or have access to CBC or TSN – you are fortunate enough to be able to see it ad nauseam at any time of day from every possible angle.  I am a Montreal Canadiens fan and I was watching the game when it happened.  When I saw the replay, I honestly thought his head collapsed.  I thought he was comatose.

There is plenty of blame to go around and I think that blaming Zdeno Chara (the Bruins player who hit Pacioretty) is an incredible waste of time Continue reading

Wuss-ification? Seriously?

I was planning on writing a post about fatigue experienced after a brain injury, but last night (Saturday, March 5th) I caught some of ‘The Hotstove’ segment on Hockey Night in Canada and I had to write about it.

The last three minutes of the March 5th ‘The Hotstove’ is Mike Milbury railing against NHL-sanctioned violence and it’s definitely worth watching if only to see and hear the indignation with which his views are met by the three other panelists.  Pierre Lebrun (also a columnist with ESPN) actually uses the imaginary word “wuss-ification” when Milbury talks about changing the way the NHL looks at fighting.  Eric Francis (Calgary Sun), with one incredulous and contemptuous glare at Milbury shows us how this subject will likely be viewed by, not only the fan-base but, the traditional NHL media.  Milbury really hits a nerve when he suggests that fighting is part of the game because we (fans) “like it”.  This prompts proverbial ‘whoa’s and ‘pfff’s from the rest of the panel.  The ever-sagacious Ron Maclean says he likes “the threat of a fight”.  I like Ron Maclean, I think he does a great job, he’s smart and quick; unfortunately Continue reading

Better concussion policy: NFL, NHL or MTV?

When MTV takes more decisive action than the NFL or NHL, perhaps it’s time to look at who makes the final decision in pro sports. ‘Pro’ being the operative word.

MTV’s The Challenge isn’t technically a sport. Unless you hear ESPN’s Bill Simmons and Dave Jacoby talk about it. They’re probably on to something – it should be the fifth main sport. If you haven’t seen the show (it’s not in-season, but it is here), this season – The Challenge: Cutthroat – provided a good example of why everyone should pay attention to concussions. Seriously. MTV.

It’s not like Jersey Shore (but there is drunk fighting and debauchery), it’s more like Survivor meets a gym (30 contestants, 9 challenges). Unlike the quirky challenges in which ‘castaways’ compete, the competitions in The Challenge are extremely physical. Case in point was a team challenge this season in which the contestants had to dive/jump from a moving platform into a pond and then swim a circuit. Chet, a member of the red team, landed awkwardly on the water, and once on the shore he was attended to by paramedics, brought to hospital, diagnosed with a concussion and told he wasn’t allowed to compete anymore.

What made Chet’s removal an easy decision for MTV was at least partly because Chet wasn’t a professional MTV contestant. His career was not The Challenge (at least, I hope not). Whatever his eventual career choice Continue reading

Hockey’s Wandering Gaze

We would like to welcome our newest writer, coming over from and hailing from the North, eh!  The views from him coming from a person that follows non-traditional ‘American’ sports will be a huge asset.  Without further delay…

I guess I should start with a very brief intro.  In the summer of 2003 I was cycling, flew off my bike and hit a tree with my head.  My helmet did its job – or else I wouldn’t be here – nonetheless, I ended up in a coma for two weeks and had a severe traumatic brain injury.  I like to think that my experience allows me a unique perspective on what has become a central issue in sports – concussion and brain injury.

Sports have always been a big part of my life (not that I was star, but I was ok) and I’ve tried many.  That said, I am from – and still live – in Canada and have never played a game of hockey.  In fact, I think the last time I skated was probably 19 years ago.  Winter has never been my season (just as well, since my balance problems persisting from my brain injury certainly limit my participation in basically every winter sport).  However, I used to really like picking off friends with snowballs (I still like to, but my range is more restricted, so it’s easier for them to avoid a hit).

But I digress…

When Americans parody Canada’s obsession with hockey, they’re probably under-selling it.  Hockey means so much to Continue reading