“Pop” Goes My Brain

“Things I don’t remember…how the hell’d we get here, how the hell did we get here?” – Ugly Casanova

It took a while, but I have finally been pushed over the edge.  Not necessarily by what I thought would do it (I don’t really know what I thought would do it), but the two combined have done it.  Vaccines (more specifically, a lack thereof) and Concussion Lawsuits (the most recent one being the final kicker) are to thank.

Let’s start with the first.

Get them (vaccines).  Please stop not getting them.  (Sources: NPR, NPR, Autism Speaks, CDC, CNNSawbones)

Alright.  That felt good.  I’m already starting to feel better.

Now, onto number two, beginning with some context before the rant.

I have had seven concussions resulting in seven stories I sort of don’t remember.

  1. Floor Hockey (P.E.) – I went to body check somebody and I missed, thus running head first into a concrete wall.  The bump on my head was so prominent afterwards that when I went to put my football helmet on later that night (concussion protocol wasn’t quite what it is today), I couldn’t get it on.  “Hey coach,” I said, “I can’t get my helmet on.  It won’t fit.  This bump on my head is too big.”  They put me in charge of decoy signs for that game.
  2. Basketball – I was playing a J.V. game in Newport, WA when I took a charge.  I guess my head bounced on the court, because the next thing I knew I was in the locker room with some strangers asking me questions.  Later that night, I had to sit up front with the cheerleaders (most of whom were my friends) for the four-hour bus ride home so I wouldn’t fall asleep.  I don’t really recall what we talked about.
  3. Baseball – This one is a topic of debate to this day with my friend Dean.  At the end of an inning, I was running in from right field when he threw me a baseball.  A few minutes later, I was woken up by an EMT who had recently been smoking.  I don’t know why, but I vividly remember that smell.  Anyways, Dean claims that I was looking right at him when he threw the ball that struck me in the forehead and knocked me unconscious.  I, on the other hand, claim that I wasn’t, which is why I was struck in the forehead by a baseball and knocked unconscious.  I suppose he would remember the situation better than me (I was knocked out cold after all), but I do know how to catch a baseball and I had laces marked above my eye for the next week, so…the debate continues…
  4. Football – During my senior year of high school our football team made it to the first round of the state playoffs.  We traveled to Omak, WA on a below freezing day in November.  I remember being really cold and I remember the first play of the game where I had my clock cleaned by their full-back.  He hit me a lot harder than I was used to being hit.  We lost. (I also played the rest of the game, but I don’t remember it…again, concussion protocol wasn’t the same as it is today).
  5. Basketball – I took an elbow to the head my freshman year of college during an intramural game.  I felt fine initially, but later that evening my eyes rolled into the back of my head in my dorm room and they had to call an ambulance.  All I remember is that the next day we were in the championship game and I had to sit on the sidelines and watch (concussion protocol was beginning to slightly improve).
  6. Flag Football – I went up to catch a pass and my legs got tangled with the defender causing me to invert and hit the ground head first.  My head bounced, I popped right up, and then I proceeded to wander around the field wobbly and woozy.  My friends drove me to the hospital and I had a series of tests done (hello 2003! concussion protocol is beginning to really improve).
  7. Mountain Biking – The story is a longer story for another time, but this wreck was my worst by far.  I broke bones in my face, I wasn’t allowed to drive for a month, and it took me over a year to begin feeling like myself again.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s me the day after:
Nate's Concussion
October 9th, 2011

I tell you all this because I want to make something very clear:  I wouldn’t change my past experiences for anything nor do I blame anybody for the concussions I received or the care I was given (or not given) afterwards.  Life happens.

With that said, I sympathize greatly with people that are living day to day with post-concussion symptoms.  I am fortunate to be living symptom free (I think), but I know some people are living vastly different lives as a result of brain injury.  I get it.  I also get wanting to blame others for what they knew or didn’t know about concussions, especially in light of everything we’ve learned since the NFL concussion lawsuit and settlement.  But, there has to be a line.  I believe that line is crossed when you retroactively try to sue Pop Warner for decisions you made and for information they didn’t have.

Look, could I have been better taken care of or watched a little closer?  Probably.  But, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s people simply didn’t have the information they have now.  Plus, I wouldn’t have listened.  Or, if I had listened, I wouldn’t have stopped playing.  Sports, for me, have always been a place where I found community, friendship, competition, and adventure.  The positives I have (leadership, teamwork, success, and failure) in my life are a result of my involvement in athletics.  Sure, coaches and parents could have done a couple of things differently, and they probably wish they would’ve.  I could have, too.  However, the positive impact of youth sports in my life FAR OUTWEIGH the couple of mistakes.

If the woman suing Pop Warner wins, it will be a sad day for me.

We do need to make some changes in youth sports.  And we are making those changes.

Kids and adults need to be more aware of the short and long term damages involved with head trauma.  And they are.

People need to take responsibility for the choices they make and accept the consequences that result.

There are things I don’t remember from my childhood, like, for example, getting my vaccine shots.  And though I may have some concussion like symptoms to worry about in the future (like, for example, not being able to remember things), at least I didn’t die from measles.

Take better care of your brain.  And then use it to make good decisions.

Get vaccinated.

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