Today's Dish is going to be a little
Brain Injuries and hockey have gone
hand-in-hand from the early stages of the game. As the players and game have
evolved, the protection and awareness of the dangers has become as important as
the game itself.
In 1993 I was involved in a car accident that
changed everything about my life. The way I think, speak, see, walk, and even
react to seemingly everyday situations.
Twenty-seven years later, I still struggle to
find the right words in my speech, and often cannot get the words to come out,
causing a stammer. Headaches are something I struggle to manage. I can feel one
coming on for a day, than suffer through a daze to try and clear them. The mood
swings that come with the headaches are legendary. How my family is able to put
up with me is beyond comprehension. I have not been able to climb a
ladder or stand on a stool without going through nausea for years and have
failed field sobriety tests without having a single drink in weeks.
There were other concussions prior to the
accident. I learned later in life that each is compounded and the symptoms can
worsen over time. One of my cousins accidentally clobbered me with a baseball
bat; I was hit by a car while riding a bicycle, and once got shoved into the
flag pole by an overzealous defensive back while running full speed down the
makeshift sideline in a lunchtime touch football game. The last two also turned
the lights off and I awoke in the hospital.
After the car accident, I awoke with the loss
of feeling over the entire right side of my body from the neck down. I'd try to
stand up, and fall right down. As the brain swelling reduced, the effect
diminished. My doctor said it best after complaining about some of
the issues I was continuing to deal with. "You are lucky to be alive, but
some things will never be the same again."
The seriousness of head injuries and
concussions are only recently becoming more understood. Research now shows that
the effects often last a lifetime.
A concussion is a traumatic brain injury
caused by a rapid movement or blow to the head. The concussions' long lasting
effects have many medical professionals alarmed.
Post-concussion syndrome (PCS) is a set of
disorders with symptoms that last for weeks, months, and years. The force
accompanying the concussion event can tear, displace, or crush delicate brain
tissue, causing the PCS symptoms to last until healed, or forever if the damage
While any of the PCS symptoms could last
indefinitely, even with proper treatment, brain injuries can also lead to
long-term problems such as Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and
Psychological symptoms, which are present in
about half of people with PCS, often include irritability, anxiety, depression
and a change of personality. Other emotional and behavioral symptoms are
restlessness, aggression, mood swings, anger, impulsiveness, and a lack of
ability to tolerate stress.
Other physical symptoms include a sensitivity
to light, slight decrease of the senses of taste and smell, along with blurred
vision. Insomnia is also very common.
Another major concern should be the long-term
side-effects of over-the counter pain medication.
My go-to pain relief choice was Ibuprofen. Folks, read the fine print on the bottle. I
did not and had a nine-month war with kidney cancer as a result. The cancer is gone but I'm
still dealing with the consequences of the fight, and my unintentional abuse of the product.
During a recent hospital stay, I spent a few
hours with a Neurosurgeon talking about head injuries, concussions, and PCS. We
agreed that education is the most important aspect of the problem. One key
point that he made actually makes a lot of sense. Accidents happen in all
aspects of life, and the benefits of athletics far outweigh the risk of
concussions and head injuries. He applauded the efforts of science to improve
protection in the game of hockey, but still has a difficult time with the sport
allowing fights to continue.
I also asked him about my own experience with
the after effects of the injury and what was said helped ease my own concerns.
Now only if I can get him to explain it to my family.
There are a few products on the market that I
feel are designed with protection in mind before profitability.
The physical aspects and speed of hockey
directly enhance the popularity of the game. One of the by-products is the real
risk of brain injuries. Protective advancements and better awareness will help
eliminate much of that risk. As a sport, we are also doing a much better job of
properly treating our players when such an injury occurs.
We can still go further by mandating soft cap
shoulder and elbow pads and stronger enforcement of the blind-side rule.
Charging and elbowing calls also need to be made. Enforcing the rules already
in the book will go further than creating new ones.
The bottom line is sensibility. There is no
such thing as just getting the bell rung. Take every brain injury seriously
and consider all the consequences of a hasty return. I'd hate for any of you to
have to deal with the repercussions in the same way my family has.
* Disclaimer: This site may contain advice, opinions and statements from various authors and information providers. Views expressed in this article reflect the personal opinion of the author, Stephen Heisler, and not necessarily the views of JuniorHockey.ca. JuniorHockey.ca does not represent or endorse the accuracy or reliability of any advice, opinion, statement or other info provided in the article, or from any other member of this site.