Monday, May 24, 2010

Just a bump on the head?

My heroine from last week is a fourteen year old soccer player from Virginia who sustained a concussion--one we would have previously considered "mild"- five weeks ago. Sarah Rainey told the congressional committee that has previously seen the NFL and a host of medical experts testify: "I sometimes now have to use a calculator to do simple arithmetic." She made it painfully clear that head injuries might appear insignificant ("dings" in old parlance) but that the seriousness and consequences of such an injury might be quite subtle and interior to the patient.

After relatively minor head injury, difficulties with math are legion, not to mention emotional instability, memory dysfunction, and slow processing speed. Some teens will describe that their minds feel as if they are on dial-up instead of DSL. Hard to get through an SAT with that sort of problem. Because these symptoms are so subjective and depend on the student reporting them, the entire diagnosis can be missed. Add to that the pressure to get back to the game from coaches, teammates, parents and friends, and it becomes even harder to protect concussed brains.

One thing Sarah Rainey boldly spoke about on May 20 was the notion that sitting out a game or two will be enough. Before the august panel she argued about the Centers for Disease Control's
concussion slogan 'It's better to miss one game than a whole season.' She went on to say according to the New York Times report of the hearing: "I understand their intent, but I think they minimize the seriousness of concussions by making it sound like you just need to take a game off and then you'll be good to go."

Having seen a number of patients in the last few months who have truly been sidelined by concussions with marked behavioral, academic and medical consequences, I can only hope that these public reports will help to educate our coaches, parents and students about the subtle and important nature of this issue.

Watch Sarah Rainey here as she recently testified before congress about her experience with a concussion. Here on Youtube

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