Monday, February 27, 2012
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Last week I got ‘the call’ – the one where you find out a loved one is hurt and there’s nothing you can do about it. On a work trip in Utah, my boyfriend decided to go snowboarding for the 1st time before his afternoon shift. I was expecting to hear from him around noon, but I never got a call. The knot in my stomach grew bigger with each passing hour – you know when you just KNOW something is wrong. Finally, around four hours later, he called. He was in a doctor’s office all day because he took a hard fall after his board clipped a rock, resulting in a concussion.
I was speechless at first, but then launched into a barrage of questions: What did the doctor say? How do you feel? Where on the mountain were you? Were you wearing your helmet? Realizing that I couldn’t come to his aid (me being about 2,714 miles away), I then proceeded to call physicians at Maimonides. Some people might call me an overprotective girlfriend. I like to think I’m just prepared for all situations.
I knew a concussion was a type of traumatic brain injury, but I wasn’t exactly sure how they occurred – or why they were bad. I spoke to Dr. Erich Anderer, a neurosurgeon at Maimonides. “Your brain is surrounded by fluid that acts like a cushion to prevent it from bumping into your skull every time you move around,” explained Dr. Anderer. “However, if you suffer from a fall or blow to the head, your brain shakes and can be injured if it collides with your skull.” A helmet absorbs the shock of the impact, cushioning the blow. “It’s important to remember that helmets are designed to minimize injury as much as possible, not prevent it.”
Recently, sports-related concussions have been getting a lot of news attention. Young professional athletes are experiencing depression and cognitive problems, which researchers believe could be attributed to multiple concussions over a long period of time. “Repeat trauma can cause damage to neural tissue, causing abnormal depositions in the brain,” Dr. Anderer told me. In simpler terms – the damage caused from multiple blows to the head creates what look like tiny tangles throughout your brain. After performing autopsies, researchers have found that players in their 20s have brains that resemble that of an 80-year-old Alzheimer’s patient!
While you may wonder why athletes don’t stop or rest after receiving a concussion, the truth is that the condition often goes undiagnosed. They are considered subclinical, meaning that they aren’t accompanied by loss of consciousness or other telltale signs. While Dr. Anderer doesn’t want people to have anxiety about participating in healthy activities, he stresses the importance of being honest and aware of how you feel. “Pay attention to your symptoms, especially if they persist longer than 15 minutes,” he states. “If you feel confused, have a persistent headache or people notice that you’re slurring your speech or are incoherent you want to get medial attention.”
Luckily, my boyfriend was wearing a helmet, and recognized that he needed to see a doctor. With rest he’s now fine. Unfortunately, a friend who took a similar spill wasn’t as lucky. She had to be hospitalized and she’s still in a neck brace. And, no, she wasn’t wearing a helmet.