Before reading you need to know I am not a medical professional. I am not a Doctor. If you feel like you could have a TBI or concussion, you must see a doctor as soon as possible.
Did you know your brain is made up of about 75% liquid? Did you know it weighs about 1.4kgs depending on your age and it has a consistency similar to that Aeroplane Jelly? Did you know that wearing a mouthguard and helmet will not to you from a ‘coup’ TBI style injury in high speed deceleration? In other words, did you know that your Jelly like brain can twist, deform, and slam in to the inside cavity of you skull in a sudden deceleration event?
I ask you these questions because as sports person, likely you could be to, I never really thought much about brain injuries. I wore all the crash gear so shouldn’t that make me give me ‘GOD MODE’? Some of us psychos have watched the Hannibal lector scene where he is feeding his dinner guest his own brain. It’s pretty horrifying as you would expect such a concept to be, a bit on the insane side. So, I’ll have the faber beans and Chianti while I smash myself in this blocker I am trying to pass at 15km p/h and use myself as crash test dummy body and head as turn myself in to a spaghetti noodle and fade in to the floor. I like my brain for all it’s weirdness, it’s creativity and I am grateful even if it isn’t the brightest. So why am I cannibalsing it?
Recently I played a derby game and basically concussed myself in a sudden deceleration event. If you don’t know what it’s like, let me explain what it’s like for me. Imagine your driving down a freeway at night and your lights cut out. When your lights come back on you’re on the side of the road with the engine running. You haven’t crashed, but you are shocked as to what happened because you don’t know how you got there. To you it seems like an instant. One minute your driving the next minute you’re stopped. The lights are really bright, probably twice a bright as before and you have a headache, fuzzy vision and bit of confusion. You try to speak, but for about 30seconds the sound’s don’t form. Someone rushes over you to help you and ask’s if your okay and you seem to them like you’re in shock. With some considerable effort and thinking you start to speak. They say they will give you lift home and they do. Over the next few days the fuzzy and foggy brain continues. It’s hard to focus and nothing seems to fix that little headache. You rest sleeping 10hours a night over the next few days which does nothing. You eventually get an appointment to see your doctor by which time your symtoms have cleared up.
In high impact sports mild TBI’s (concussions) are common, but they are very serious events with serious lifelong consequences. I wont quote exact stats, I’m not an expert, but rather just mention some general notes of NFL, Rugby, Boxing players. After only 5 year careers in their sport players had about a 50% higher chance of developing a neurodegenerative disorder over their lifetime. After playing their sport where repetitive high impact events were part of the game some developed symtoms of the following. Headaches that are ongoing and did not go away, requiring pain and migraine meds. Some developed a serious lack of concentration (of the appearance of ADD or ADHD like symptoms where their weren’t before). A development of anxiety, depression, insomnia, short term memory loss, mood swings, violent behaviour (dis-regulation of emotions) and chronic fatigue. Some develeoped substance abuse as coping mechanism. More serious life long consequences of TBI’s are linked to; chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and is even linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Now, all of that sounds pretty terrifying and I should note that those things do not happen to everyone and certainly not in every sport. I will say again that I am not an expert. These are just some of the symtoms I have noticed in my own playing and some information I read about.
When I started playing sport about 3 years ago, and I started to have heavy impacts I didn’t think to much about it. The symptoms I mentioned above were almost non-existent. I would think, ‘geeeezz that was a pretty full on hit’, feel a little light on my feet, a little dizzy and carry on. In fact I would receive a lot of praise for my ‘terminator like’ ability to recover from what seemed like a knock out hit. Overtime the impacts continued at about the same rate. Maybe every 2nd game or so, I’d have a high impact deceleration event. Sometimes those games were about a week apart, sometimes they were the next day and rarely they were about an hour later. In the spirit of ‘solider on’ I would keep these TBI’s to myself. I would say I was fine, when I really wasn’t. I want to be clear that I made those choices. No one forced me to keep playing.
The thing is my brain doesn’t really heal like my jarred index finger would, or that cut on my face. It’s a complex organ that can be damaged and that it requires very little shaking and knocking about to scramble it. The symptoms I talked about above are now more and more apart of my non-sporting life. There is a part of me that is too scared to ask my doctor for a brain scan. I don’t really want to know if it damaged because I know there is nothing much I can do about it now. There is no cure.
I think about my choices, as a strange exchange. Did I trade my brain for shot a sporting glory? To impress my coaches? To impress my team mates and our opponents? I wonder often will my brain ever be as good as it was? Will the fog clear? Will it recover, or is this what they call brain damage? Right now I am scared. I am angry. I’m embarrassed. I’m alone. After the whistle I gear down, I say goodbye, I get in my car and drive home and I wonder with great anxiety if the next TBI is the one that ends it.