I’m always amazed when I discover that a person doesn’t know that a concussion is a form of brain injury. And yet I never knew myself until my husband suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and I involved myself with the TBI community. The word “concussion” sounds mild, like a minor knock on the head, a bump on the noggin. But the truth grows clearer by the day: concussions can alter and devastate the lives of individuals and families in ways people never expect.
Bonnie Nish is the editor of an anthology of stories about people who have sustained concussions or mild brain injuries. Published by Lash and Associates, the book presents an enlightening array of personal accounts that illustrate the various ways that concussions have impacted people, families, and communities. The book contains nineteen distinct stories. I found all of them enlightening but, due to space, can only reveal a few quotes that stood out to me:
Give Pain a Voice by Luanne Armstrong
“Somewhere I have a body and a life. The lump on my shoulders smiles and talks for me. The noise in my ears is constant but distant now. I function. That’s what I want. That’s what my doctors want. ‘Are you functional?’ they ask. Meaning, can you drive, make tea, and toast?”
My Last Game of Hockey by Alastair Larwill
“Don’t let disturbing signs direct your path, but take small steps toward the future in which you want to live. And there are signs: taking little things at work too personally, creeping feelings of anxiety that everything will be taken away randomly without notice. These are bad signs, but they are not STOP signs, they are warning signs, be careful, be cautious.”
Our Lady of Perpetual Surprise: Reflections of a Recovering Concussive by Meg Stansby
“It surprises people that I characterize this time as stress-free; but without the capacity to anticipate, I felt calm (if not slightly stunned). Imagine how liberating it might be to be impervious to the sense, ever, that one ought to be doing anything. I’d become a child of the moment.”
And in another section of her essay:
“Reminder notes don’t help if you don’t remember writing them.”
The question that kept entering my mind while reading these stories is: why did anyone ever attach the word “mild” to brain injury? Yes, there are brain injuries that do not show up in the tests we have developed to date — a CT Scan or MRI may not show a brain abnormality. But people certainly suffer symptoms, and sometimes, those symptoms cause pain, memory loss, inability to function or work, and mood swings, all of which can spin a life out of control. There’s nothing mild about this condition.
People who have sustained a concussion know that brain injury is sly and complex. It’s so complicated that sometimes the injured person does not know he or she has a brain injury and fights treatment; or the family of the injured person thinks the injured person is “faking it” by exaggerating and complaining. In either of these cases, proper treatment may be avoided or withheld, and quality of life can be diminished.
Bonnie Nish and editors Nicole Nozick, Chelsea Comeau, and Phyllis Basset have put together a solid collection of moving stories that illustrate the diverse struggles of dealing with this condition that doctors and the public are just beginning to fully understand. These stories fill the need for connection and community building through shared experience.
Here’s the takeaway for me: concussions are brain injuries and should always be taken seriously. If you suspect you have a concussion, or if you know someone who has sustained a hard knock on the head, please don’t ignore it. Watch for symptoms, and if your doctor shrugs it off, and you feel strongly that something’s not right, find a good concussion clinic. It’s a hard truth that delaying treatment can make it harder to convince others that a simple bump on the head created so much havoc.
And if anyone in your family doubts that you can suffer severe symptoms after what they see as a minor injury, please show them this book.