1) You might not see it yourself. With most injuries, we usually have some separation from it — a toe hurts, stomach aches, our back is sore. However, our brain is at the center, orchestrating our life. It filters and colors all our experiences. When it’s off, we are off — in ways we often can’t fully realize, because, well, we’re off. We may feel fine but not be fine. Detroit Lions player Jahvid Best, benched to heal after another concussion, told the Detroit Free Press he feels fine. “It’s one of those things where you don’t really feel it.”
2) You don’t look sick. It seems hard for others, even health-care workers to digest the picture and see it for what it is. Patients often say: “I look fine from the outside. Inside, I feel horrible and my life is not the same.”
3) No one wants to be a “baby.” Soldiers, athletes, parents and many others do not want to stop the action of life and get help. They believe there is honor in carrying on, toughing it out, doing your best — even if it’s harder than anyone would imagine.
4) People will tell you different (everyone’s an expert). I sometimes tell people about my injury even though I’m recovered. It’s been part of my life path and explains the passion I have for my life and work. A neighbor once took me aside at a party and told me he didn’t think I had had an injury. He said he had seen me come and go over the years and saw virtually no evidence. It was sweet and meant to comfort me. It’s almost humorous though when I think of NFL football players observed by many doctors, millions of fans and other players who are never diagnosed as having brain injury — post concussion residual issues. Later evidence has emerged for some on the devastating effects of their undiagnosed conditions. Maybe we all just want to see each other as healthy?
5) Emergency rooms may not catch it. Concussions are bruises and bruises may not develop right on the spot. It can be the next day or even later. This probably explains why some of my patients drive to their first appointments when it scares me that they would be driving anywhere. No one told them they needed time to rest, to cut back on work or basically how to care for themselves.
6) Sports participation is exalted. Team sports often allow us to find our highest purpose and pull communities together. However, as a participant, getting your head smacked over and over again is a bad idea, even if it’s in a helmet. Being on a team can feel way more important than figuring out why you are dizzy and have a persistent headache. It’s understandable but heartbreaking.
7) The cause of your injury may not have registered. If you ask a patient if he or she ever hit their head, the answer is almost always no. Nine out of 10 times in talking further, I’ll find that they did something they just didn’t think of: fell out of a swing when they were a kid or bumped hard into someone coming around a corner. Trauma can also be caused when your head is snapped forward quickly even without impact.
8) You’re not sure how to trust your instincts. You seem to function OK but internally you know something is wrong. Sometimes when people asked me how I was, I’d say that things weren’t quite right. “Oh, it’s a brain thing.” Until the QEEG, I never realized what I meant. A part of me knew all along. Trust your instincts.
Diane Grimard Wilson, LCPC, BCN, is a resident of Oak Park.