Making Difficult Decisions After a Brain Injury

Bob Duncan talks about his son having to make the very difficult but wise decision to take a medical withdrawal from college to let his brain rest properly after a concussion.

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[Bob Duncan] Since Jonathan left the house and went back to college he continued to suffer from headaches; the soreness and stiffness in the neck; sensitivity to light, particularly fluorescent lights; and we continued to call and talk with Jonathan a couple times a day just to check on him, and he shared with us along the way what was happening, what was going on. But he thought, "It will get better. It will get better. This just comes with getting hit in the head." It was about 6 weeks before he went back. Jonathan, as I said, saw the trainer, took the concussion test, and failed. And so the school worked with him to set up things a little differently. So we wanted to give that some time. In the process, I had already started making some phone calls to some concussion experts that we had with the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and with the Medical College of Wisconsin, talking to them to arrange Jonathan. And Jonathan called and said, "I think I'm getting better, Dad, I don't think I need to go." And I think that was part of Jon wanting to protect himself because he didn't want to hear what we eventually heard. And so we put that off a couple of weeks, and then he came home—it was in April— and I'll never forget coming in and Jon standing in our kitchen he's white as a ghost and he's trembling, and he looks at me and just breaks down and tells me that he had been talking with the professors at the University with the Dean and with the concussion folks and felt like he needed to take a medical withdrawal, that he needed to give his brain a rest. And that was hard for him to say because here we are in three-quarters of the year, finishing his sophomore year, and he knew tuition had been paid and how difficult that would be. So it was nerve-racking. And at the same time—that was the same time the terrible incident happened in Boston with the bombing, and I told Jonathan, I said, "Jonathan, there's so many other worse things that could happen. Let's deal with this." And it was that moment we set up and made him follow through with seeing a concussion specialist and a physician dealing with concussions. And sure enough, he flunked the test again. And so they agreed that he needed to take a medical withdrawal and needed to give his brain a rest and laid out a curriculum for us to follow over the next several months, and they would reevaluate him as to whether he could start school in the fall or not.
Posted on BrainLine February 21, 2014.

Produced by Sharon Ladin and Justin Rhodes, BrainLine.

About the author: Bob Duncan

Healthcare Executive Bob Duncan and his wife, Sarah, have three children. Their son Jonathan was a sophomore nursing student and a cheerleader at Marquette University when he sustained a concussion that led to an academic leave of absence and ended his cheerleading career.

Bob Duncan