Doctor visit tomorrow

I have my annual physical tomorrow. I had an early dinner, because I have to fast for the bloodwork. I can have some black coffee in the morning. That is it. None of my rocket fuel – just black coffee, with no sugar (which I don’t use anyway).

It will be interesting to see how my bloodwork comes back. I have been eating less red meat and drinking a lot of butter coffee. I’ve been consuming a lot of butter. We’ll see how that goes with my cholesterol and triglycerides.

It’s a beautiful night tonight. My spouse is away on a business trip, and I have the next three days to do just as I please. I’m going to hang out at the library tomorrow afternoon, after I am done at the doctor’s office.  After that, I see my neuropsych, and then I am going to see an independent film, which my spouse would not be interested in seeing.

I’m going to enjoy myself.

But for tonight, I am going to take my shower and go to bed early. And get up early for my physical. It’s all good.

Onward.

Help for a racing heart rate

This post How I learned to slow my heart rate is by far the most popular one on this site, and it has helped a lot of people, from what they tell me. Folks have shared links to it, and hundreds of people see it each week, which makes me very glad.

Some have even said it helped “save their life” — and that makes me even happier :)

It’s actually a really short post, so I have written an extended PDF version of this that you can download and save to your computer, tablet, or smartphone. You can also share it with others. It’s free.

Here it is: How I slow down my heart rate (click here to download)

Please remember: I am not a doctor. I am not qualified to give medical advice. I have just found a technique that works for me and helps me get my heart rate under control in a few minutes. I hope it helps others, but it’s not a substitute for medical care. See your doctor if you have issues and/or concerns.

Thanks. And be well.

Town and Country – Where (and how) we live should determine the treatment approach for TBI / Concussion

Not everyone lives in a city – or thinks and talks like it

Since I’ve been down with the flu this week, I’ve had a lot of time to think about how different sorts of people get — and respond to — different sorts of treatment. This can be for flu… or it can be for traumatic brain injury / concussion. The basic paradigm is the same, across the board, I believe. And it’s something I think we really need to consider, when it comes to treating TBI / concussion.

One thing I have noticed, over the course of my life, is how I am often at odds with my doctors over being self-sufficient… to the point of being considered a “risk taker” with regards to my health. This includes doctors, dentists, neuropsychologists, therapists, nurses, etc. The thing they don’t seem to understand, is that this is how my whole family is – has always been.

See, here’s the deal – even though I have spent half my life in cities and half in very rural settings, I come from a rural family. I mean, frontier-rural — prairie rural. My great-great-great grandparents (on both sides of the family) were some of the “sod-busters” who moved out into the newly opened prairie (my apologies to the Native folks who were driven off — I am really deeply sorry for what was done, and it’s a little horrifying to me that my ancestors benefited from your terrible losses).

Before them, too, my ancestors were adventurers and explorers who traveled far and wide throughout the European world, and lived on the margins of “mainstream” society. They were self-sufficient. Because they had to be. Same with my great-great-great grandparents. They lived miles from the nearest doctor. He was usually a day’s wagon ride away. If you fell or got sick, you had to make do, until he got there, or for as long as you could.

Sometimes you couldn’t even get a doctor.

Given this fact of life, my family — both sides of them — had to develop a self-reliant quality that would keep them alive and keep them from depending too greatly on professional help for their daily needs.

Contrast this with folks in cities or other developed areas, where you can get to professional help within hours, if not minutes. In a city, or in a developed community, the challenge is not keeping yourself alive, it is learning to communicate the details of your ailment/need to the professional who can help you.

Now, let’s fast-forward through time to today — when I am still as independent as anyone in my family, and I look for solutions of my own to issues I face.  My doctors/providers approach me at times as though I am “hostile” to their help, when all I’m doing is having the same orientation of independence that folks in the middle of nowhere have to have. I also live at some distance from the nearest hospital I trust implicitly, so I have to choose carefully when and where I get my medical care.

It’s not that I am uncooperative or hostile. I am rural at heart. Self-sufficient by nature. I am my great-great-great grandparents’ offspring (aside from the Native antagonism), and that’s how I stay alive. It’s how I always have, and it’s how I really feel I have to be, to get by in the world. But when I try to communicate with my doctor, they seem to think that I am being intentionally difficult, simply by needing to stand on my own when I can. I have to be able to function without leaning on everyone around me — which is the way that you can be when you’re in an urban environment; social interaction and interdependency is built into your dna. I’m not knocking leaning on others. If you can do it reliably, then fine. But with me, depending on others can very well shorten my life needlessly, if I disregard my own judgment an the signs I see about my own situation.

The other piece of this, which I think needs to be factored into adequate TBI / concussion care, is class. I’m not talking about taste and money, but the way in which you work and live your life. Working class folks have different ways of interacting with authority figures, than professional class folks do. I think Malcom Gladwell made a really going point of it in his book “Outliers” which is about people who do exceptionally well in life. He points out that people in professional classes are taught (sometimes from a very young age, if they’re born into it) to interact with “authority” as peers, rather than subordinates, while working class folks expect authorities to offer them guidance and direction and clear instructions on what to do.

When you “occupy” a certain class, it’s like you occupy a certain “geography” – and I would wager to say that being part of the professional class is like being urban/suburban in nature. You have more money, you have more access to other professionals (by social association as well as perks and benefits with work, etc), and you are more interdependent with others, from service providers who care for your house and your property and your money and your health (in all its manifestations).

When you’re working class, however, your world is different. The scenery is different. You have different types of friends and acquaintances, and different levels of access to different aspects of life. And you have to be a lot more self-sufficient, just as you do when you’re rural. You don’t have the same amount of money that gives you instant access to certain services and assistance, so you either have to do without, improvise, or find alternatives. That applies to every aspect of life, including health care.

And here is the big disconnect I see between the kind of help that’s offered to TBI / concussion survivors and the providers who seek to help us. At least, this has been my experience… The doctors I know and have worked with over the years have often come from urban or suburban backgrounds. And they obviously are members of the professional class. As such, even if they grew up in urban surroundings, they are now part of a class that is by its nature geared towards interacting with other professional class members as peers, rather than as superiors/subordinates. So, when folks come to them asking for help, and those folks are from working class or rural backgrounds, the docs don’t always ‘get’ what’s expected of them in that relationship. Either that, or the docs aren’t willing to meet their patients half-way with language and communication that bridges the gaps in class and background.

A prime example is my own experience with my PCP – I have a great doc, who it took years for me to find. They have my best interests at heart, and they are very personable towards me. They clearly want me to be well, and we have had some great exchanges. But they just don’t get my need for self-sufficiency. And they seem to think that my wish to be independent and self-sufficient is a sign of distrust of them and/or our relationship. They see my reluctance to get flu shots as being stubborn, when my real rationale is that it’s just plain unhealthy for a human body to not build up its own resistance to heavy-duty infection (as unpleasant as the building up process may be). They interpret my need to call the shots in my own life and make my own health decisions, as disrespectful of their expertise, when it’s just me exercising the very essential mental muscles, so that I can have some say in my own destiny. It’s a little problematic for our relationship, and I need to do some clearing up, when I get a chance.

I may get this chance on Friday. Or not. But whether I do or not, it’s always going to be a factor with them. On Friday, I hope to ask them if they were raised in a city or in the countryside. That should shed a lot of light on the dynamics. We’ll see how that turns out.

In any case, I think especially when it comes to post-TBI care (be it medical or ongoing rehab), the socio-economic background of the individuals involved needs to be factored in and adapted to. This is something that every medical school should teach, in my opinion, because teaching young doctors to realize the differences between individuals based on class and where they live, could truly transform the doctor-patient relationship – especially with regard to such gray areas as concussion / TBI.

Specifically with regard to concussion / TBI, I think it would make sense if there were different ways of instructing Emergency Room visitors to handle TBI recovery. Instructions should be phrased differently, based on the person — not over-simplified “d’oh” language for hayseeds, but plain English for those who need that, versus more technical explanations for those who need that. The English language offers many different options. We should use them all, in explaining proper TBI care to patients who desperately need it.

Beyond immediate medical response and care, I’m sure there are elements of rehab that could also be modified to accommodate different classes and geographies, but I don’t know enough about them to speak to them. All I really know about is dealing with my own doc who seems to think they know enough about TBI and don’t need to factor that into my overall healthcare, let alone discuss the impact it might have in individual circumstances. TBI and the issues that arise from it touch on every single aspect of my life, yet my doctor just seems to dismiss it. And when I bring it up, they just get nervous — perhaps because it’s not something they can fix with a pill or a prescription. And it’s also not necessarily something they can bill insurance for. If they can’t bill for something, they’re not going to spend the time. It’s not that they’re negligent — they are under pressure from their practice to log truly billable hours. I’ve seen that first-hand, and it’s not pretty.

I think, in the end, there are significant aspects of our lives which are not getting due respect, because they’re concealed beneath the layers of socio-economic bias that separate so many of us. And nowhere is it more visible, than in healthcare — particularly in care for those who have sustained TBI / concussion. People who do rough, dangerous jobs stand a greater chance of sustaining a traumatic brain injury, than those who sit behind a desk all day. And those who do rough, dangerous jobs, tend to not have Ph.D. after their names.

What’s more, out in the country where you’re living a bit closer to Mother Nature than when you’re in town, you’re more exposed to the kinds of events that will get you hit on the head. Farming accidents. Building accidents. Hunting accidents. ATV accidents. Falls. Tornadoes. Storms. Floods. Sinkholes.  The list goes on. And if ever there were a need, it’s for people with the power and influence to provide advanced medical care, to make it more accessible to those without the letters after their names and the zeroes a the end of their salaries.

I’m not asking for hand-outs or charity. I’m just asking for common sense. In the end, access to quality care isn’t just about proximity and availability, it’s also about interpretation and understanding.

Sometimes, understanding is what we need the most.

When things don’t go as planned

Sometimes there’s high seas ahead – oil painting by Joyce Ortner – click to see her gallery

I had my doctor’s appointment the other morning, and it went pretty well. I got some antibiotics for the infection that has been bothering my ears and making it hard for me to keep my balance, and I gave my doctor the holiday card my spouse told me I needed to give to them. It was a good call – and I picked out a good card, because it really touched my doctor a lot. They didn’t want to let on, but I could see it meant something. I mean, if you think about it, doctors spend their lives trying to help others. They have their limitations, like all of us, but in the end, their whole reason for doing what they do is to help people.

I have been taking my meds for the past few days, but I’m still having balance issues. I’m going to keep on doing it, and hope for the best. I really don’t want to go back, though. It’s just more opportunity to get put on more meds — which my doctor tried to do, when I told them about the balance issues. They tried to put me on meclozine / antivert, thinking that would fix what was wrong with me, but I told them no, because that stuff just makes me feel rotten and weird and dense, and it doesn’t do a thing for my vertigo. It’s supposed to fix the nausea thing and supposedly make me feel less dizzy, but it’s an antihistamine and the side effects whack me out.

Drowsiness and tiredness and that weird spacey feeling that antihistamines give me, is just not worth it. So, I told them not to prescribe it. Even if they had, I wouldn’t take that stuff. Like I need more crap in my system…Anyway, I can always take Dramamine if it comes to that. I’ve taken it for seasickness and it seemed to help me. At the same time, it still make me feel weird and “off” and the fishing trip I was on was a lot less fun because of it.

Anyway, I had been planning on “having the talk” with my doctor about not being a risk-taker, just having a hard time sorting through the myriad little “issues” I have on a daily basis. For any doctor who is reading this, please take note: TBI can introduce a whole host of physical issues, from noise sensitivity to light sensitivity to touch sensitivity to pain to ringing in the ears… a whole host of physical issues that can cloud the overall picture of one’s health. And that’s not even the mental health issues, like depression and anxiety, which can make everything seem 1000x worse than it really is… or it can make everything seem like it’s nothing at all. This obviously has implications for patients with TBI being able to accurately self-assess their level of well-being. And it’s helpful to address that aspect of our experience.

The only problem is — and I realized this when I was driving to my dr. appointment and was thinking about the best way to broach the subject. I thought about how I would approach it, how I would introduce the topic of my not being a risk-taker, but just a person who struggles with sorting through all the stimuli of each day… and I considered (based on past experience) what my doctor’s response would be.

I’m glad I did think it through, too, because it gradually dawned on me that if I talked about my issues the way I was, my doctor would try to prescribe me something. Or prescribe tests. Or try to DO something, instead of just understanding and thinking things through and letting that inform their approach with me. They tend to jump right into action! as though that will solve anything right off the bat. Sometimes it does. But in some cases, you don’t need a procedure, you need comprehension and understanding and a slightly different way of approaching things.

Knowing what I know about my doctor, after seeing them for a number of years, I really think that if I’d “had the talk” about my issues, I might have ended up fending off a slew of prescriptions and tests — they’ve already tried to get me CT-scanned and/or X-rayed over sinus issues. I mean, I’m sure they mean well, but I am not exposing myself to a bunch of radiation over a sinus infection. Seriously… It’s just not going to happen. Not unless I am in serious danger.

Likewise, I’m not going to raise a red flag that my doctor is going to treat like an invitation to charge. They’ve got a bit of a fight-flight predisposition, and the last thing I want is to have to try to explain and fend off their headlong charges and attacks against what might be vexing me, when all I really want is for them to temper their responses with a little more knowledge. I can easily see them ordering a bunch of tests and prescribing a bunch of meds, in the interest of helping me… and all the while, I just get sucked into the medical system with more crap on my chart to fuel the standard-issue medical responses that pathologize and (over)medicate my condition… when all I really need is some understanding and consideration. All I really need is for people to slow down… but knowing my doctor, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. At least not with them.

So, I didn’t have “the talk” with my doctor, and I’m a little disappointed in myself. At the same time, though, I’m glad I thought it through carefully ahead of time. In a way, I feel like I may have dodged a bullet from a weapon that I had trained at myself. I unloaded the weapon and put it down, and now I’m feeling a bit better. What I really need to do is speak up, in the course of conversations, when I feel that things are going too fast or my doctor says something that doesn’t sit right with me. Sometimes I can speak up and defend myself quickly, other times I can’t. I’m working on that. The times when I don’t speak up, I feel terrible afterwards, so that’s more impetus for me to practice speaking up.

That was something I did do on Friday — I spoke up about the meds and the tests and the assumptions my doc was making. They seemed a little peeved that I was questioning their judgment, but you know what? It’s my body, it’s my life, and I need to do what I need to do. Provided, of course, I’m not putting myself in danger.

Anyway, that’s one example of things not working out as planned, and it being okay.

Another example is last night, when I decided to go to bed early, then I got caught up in going on Facebook “one last time”. I swear, that thing is a massive time-sink, and I have to be careful. By the time I got to bed, it was over an hour later, which just sucks. Oh, well. I’ll just have to nap today. I had planned on doing some last-minute Christmas shopping, but the other thing that’s happening is that we have company from the party last night. Rather than driving home, we had someone stay over, which is fine. But now I need to be social and hang out, instead of running out to the mall. That’s annoying to me. But come to think of it, I actually knew that we might have company staying over, so I’m not sure why I was thinking that I was going to run out, first thing this morning, and take care of that. More annoyance — this time with myself.

Oh well — tomorrow is another day, and I can probably get all my shopping done early in the morning before the crowds hit the mall. I pretty much know what I want, and there’s not much of it, so it will keep things simple. Plus, having less time to spend on it really focuses me. Even if that doesn’t happen, and I get stuck in the crowds, and the lines are long, and I get trapped in the holiday crush, I can always check Facebook while I’m standing on line.

So, yeah – plans. I have them. We all have them. And when they don’t go the way we expect them to, then it’s up to us to decide how we’re going to handle them. I can get worked up and bent out of shape. Or I can roll with it and come up with another course of action. I can get annoyed at this, that, and the other thing, or I can just let it all go and see what happens. When I’m tired (like I am today), I am less able to just let it all go. When I am stressed (like I am over my job, even though I am off on vacation for a week and a half – the residual stress is ridiculous), it’s harder for me to just BE.

I’ve noticed an increasing level of intensity with me – I’m starting to lose my temper again (though inside my head, not out in the world around me so much). I’m starting to react really strongly to little things… like I used to, before I started exercising regularly and doing my breathing exercises. I’m noticing a change, and I’m not liking it much — especially the parts where I’m not rolling with changes as well as I would like to. Things are starting to sneak up on me again.

So, it’s back to using the tools I was working with  before. Despite my good progress, I had gotten away from the exercise and the breathing for a while, in part because I just got so uptight over doing it each and every day like clockwork, and also because I just needed to let it all sink in for a while. I was working really hard on my technique and also my regular practice, and it got to be just another chore that didn’t have much sense to it.  I just hit an impasse with it — maybe I had too many ideas and my head was spinning, maybe I had too much experience that I needed to just get used to… in any case, I needed a break.

So, I took a break. And I must admit it was a pretty big relief to not “have” to do the sitting and breathing every morning. All of a sudden, I had extra time, and ironically, I felt like I could breathe. I was still doing intermittent breathing throughout the day, when I felt my stress level increasing, but I didn’t have a daily practice.

Still, I do feel like I need to get back to a bit of that again. I’ve had my break. Now I need to try it again to see how it helps me… pick up where I need to — maybe where I left off, or maybe somewhere else… Just do what I need to do to get myself back on track and take the edge off this intensity, which has been building and is starting to drag me down.

Things change. Plans change. What we think we can do is often very different from what we can do, which is also different from what we DO do. Life has a way of changing directions on us when we least expect it, and the only constant is change. So, I need to work on my flexibility and chill-ness, so I don’t end up ship-wrecked over every little thing. Yeah… I need to work on that. And so I shall.

Now, to go for my morning walk in the woods.

Long-term dangers of pediatric concussion/brain injury

Football less dangerous for kids?

The Concussion Blog has another thought-provoking post about an announcement made by Dr. Howard Derman, co-director of the vanguard Methodist Hospital Concussion Center that children’s brains are (apparently?) better able to tolerate the effects of concussion. From what I read — also in the orginal article at Beyond Chron — the plasticity of a kid’s brain, along with its greater amount of room to handle swelling, makes (football-related) concussions “less of a concern” for children.

“I’m not saying it’s safer to play football as a child,” said Dr. … Derman,… “but the plasticity – flexibility, in layman’s terms – in the brain is greater in a child, and it has more room to swell. So things we see in adult football players are slightly less of a concern in children. That’s just a statement of fact.”

Okay, so let’s assume that the doctor has his facts right, which is up for dispute by a number of truly independent writers and investigative journalists. Even if a kid’s brain is more resilient (and I’m not agreeing that this helps), another fact to be taken into consideration is that having a concussion makes you more susceptible to having others. And speaking from experience, the cumulative effects of childhood concussion into adulthood (which brought with it yet more concussions/tbi’s), can wreak havoc long after the initial injury was sustained.

What concerns me about this statement — aside from the fact that it was made by a physician with ties to professional sports teams, whose word is probably taken as gospel in certain circles — is that it treats childhood concussion/brain injury as an isolated incident that you really don’t need to worry about, because, well — as so many people have said over the years — chances are everything will clear up and things will go back to normal.

I truly wish I could say that was true for me, but from where I’m sitting, those supposedly harmless blows to my head when I was younger, led to more supposedly harmless blows… which ended up sidelining me not only from games, but from the game of life.

And this was some 30 years after my first concussion — the first of many, which had cumulative effects over time.

Where does that leave me? Still working to pick up the pieces, still trying to avoid meltdowns, still trying to keep my act together at work, still hassling with light and sound sensitivity, as well as continuous fatigue. I won’t say “chronic fatigue” because chronic implies that it comes and goes indefinitely. With me the fatigue just never goes away. Oh, well.

And where does that leave the people around me? Stressed out for reasons they don’t fully understand, and scratching their heads wondering WTF?! when I do something truly boneheaded.

And where does that leave my community? Well, my immediate community as well as my country, have lost about 40% of my original tax revenues since late 2004, when I left a good job because I just couldn’t hang in there after my last TBI. Say what you will about the individual being responsible for pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Thanks to (undiagnosed and underestimated) TBI, my employment situation is at 60% of what it should be. And in the past seven years, the loss in tax revenue is thus equal to about three years of full-employment tax revenue. By the time I stop working (if I ever do), thanks to the TBI-related gaps in my employment history, the lost tax revenues will probably be equivalent to me retiring and no longer contributing to the collective kitty at least 10 years early. If not more. Can the government afford this? I’m not sure — especially considering that I was born at the tail-end of the Baby Boom, and it’s my tax dollars which will be buoying up the aging generation of retirees right before me, as the younger generation struggles to just pay off their credit cards and student loan bills.

It’s tax time, and I’m hassling through yet another data collection process — which is so much harder than it used to be, even though my taxes are significantly less complicated than seven years ago. In the process, I’m thinking about the effects of my injury on my tax rate. And while I don’t really chafe at how much money the government is scooping out of my pay (so long as I can just live my life and I’m not being totally flayed), if Uncle Sam did the math on how much revenue is lost to TBI each year, thanks to fully employed people becoming under-employed (or un-employed), I’m guessing they might take it a little more seriously.

Seriously, we live in expensive times, and I’m willing to help pay for roads and schools and infrastructure and War on Terror and national parks and all the things we tend to happily take for granted. Somebody’s got to. But it’s difficult to really contribute when you’ve got this whole… deal going on. And it’s difficult to take seriously a prominent doctor who claims that a contact/collision sport like football poses less of a problem to kids than to full-grown adults. Especially when I look at the long-term effects that one seemingly innocuous concussion after another can — and in my case, did — have on a young brain, and a young life.

So, in the end, it’s caveat emptor as usual. Be smart. Consider the sources, and draw your own conclusions. And remember, just because you have “M.D.” after your name doesn’t make you the ultimate authority… even in your chosen field.

TBI? S-O-L

I once talked to someone about a brain injury support group that kept a list of all the neurologists and physiatrists and psychologists and other medical and mental health providers in their area, who consulted for insurance companies regarding TBI survivors.  They offered this list to people who sustained TBI, to keep them from walking into a trap, because these people offered to “help” but only helped the insurance companies disqualify them from receiving coverage for needed care.

They also included on the list any doctors and others they knew of, who were helpful and who “got it” about TBI. This was to guide people in choosing healthcare providers who could actually help, instead of sitting there and looking at you like you had two heads… and then prescribing some medication that would totally mess you up.

Seriously, medical and mental health professionals who don’t know about TBI are bad enough. But those who use their position and expertise to deny care to those who need it, are another breed of human being entirely. It kind of boggles the mind, at how eager some folks are to “defend” large institutions against “exploitation” by individuals who have been injured and are some of the most vulnerable folks around. But I suppose there’s a reason for everything.

Anyway, I come across situations all the time, where people are denied help from insurance companies or doctors or other providers, because of some technicality or some bias. It’s maddening, especially when it seems so obvious that there is definite need involved, and people are hurting. But it constantly happens. To our vets. To professional football and hockey players and pro wrestlers… to MMA fighters… to first responders and stuntpeople… to kids in school and adults in cars. All the time, people get hurt, and then they need help. But the ones who are in a position to help… well, just don’t. And they hire professionals to make sure they don’t have to help.

Me? I’ve just lived my life a little too actively, I guess. I got hurt a bunch of times when I was a kid, and I’m sure that didn’t help my judgment and my co-ordination over the years. In many ways, my early life “set me up” for later injury, and in times when I am tired and don’t have the strength to do better, I really feel sorry for myself and my sad lot in life. It really isn’t fair, that I fell when I was in child care as a young kid. It really isn’t fair, that I fell down the stairs when I was 7. It really isn’t fair that I was attacked when I was 8, because some kids didn’t like the looks of me. And all the rest that came after… well, sh*t. It generally sucks. It also sucks, that I haven’t been able to get any help at all for any of this, until three years ago — and that was just by chance.

And here I am. Or, maybe I should say but here I am — ’cause I am.

The world keeps spinning without taking me into consideration, but I’m still attached to the planet. The world keeps rolling right along, and it’s on me to keep up with it. On days like today, I feel totally fine with that. But most days, I have to say I resent it a little bit. Because things shouldn’t be as hard as they are for me — the simple things should be simple, the fun things should be fun. I shouldn’t have to work as damned hard as I have to. And I shouldn’t have to be surrounded by people who don’t understand what a chore it can all be for me, at times.

Really, truly, I do feel like someone should know… someone should care.

But that’s a wish for an alternate universe. Tons of people are suffering and in pain each and every day, and there’s not a damned thing I can do for them, other than just acknowledge how much pain they’re in, and try to do my part to cause less suffering for others in the world. I wish to god I could solve a lot of this and make it better, but between dumb luck, off chance, willful endangerment and exploitation, ignorance, and greed, it seems the world has us by the short curlies and isn’t going to let go anytime soon.

So, I just live my life. I’m not happy about a lot of crap that goes on, and some of it I’d just love to make right — don a cape and charge out into the world to set things right. But with my luck, I’d end up on the business end of a cross-town bus ;)  All I can really do, in most cases, is do the best I can with what I have. And hope that others are doing the same.

TBI can be a real bitch. But then, so can many other things. And it does me no good to focus on how screwed I am by my situation. I just have to keep looking up, keep focused on the positive, and do what I can with what I have. ‘Cause you never know… it might not all be that bad, after all…

Then again, it might.

But I’d rather not reach any conclusions until I have all the facts — and that’s not something that’s going to happen anytime soon… or probably ever.

So, onward. There are better things than my lot in life, yes. But there are also worse things.

Getting MTBI diagnosed sooner for better medical outcomes

I’ve been reading more this article: Mild traumatic brain injury in persons with multiple trauma: the problem of delayed diagnosis and I’ve been thinking about why MTBI tends to be overlooked by doctors treating folks with multiple injuries (multi-trauma).  I’ve also been thinking about what benefits might come from diagnosing a mild traumatic brain injury along with other injuries.

I hear it time and time again – from people who read this blog, to people who post on forums, to people who post to comments on websites about mild traumatic brain injury – they got hurt, but the doctors didn’t pay any attention to the TBI issues they were having. This is especially true of veterans who return with a host of issues, with their physical injuries taking precedence.

Obviously, it’s easier to assess and understand physical injuries like broken bones and torn muscles. You can see them, you can measure them, you can tell when they’re healing and measure how well they’re being repaired. But the treatment of these injuries is just the first part, and long-term it seems to me that diagnosis and treatment of any brain-related issues goes hand-in-hand with the treatment of bodily injury.

Because one of the keys to a good recovery is compliance with doctors’ orders. And compliance can depend on a number of things

  • first of all, understanding what the doctor(s) said,
  • secondly, understanding the need for following instructions, and
  • thirdly, having the capacity for following those orders independently over the long term.

If the brain has been injured, it undermines you in at least three ways:

  • First of all, it can make it hard to understand what the doctor(s) said, and (perhaps worse) it can make it hard to know that you didn’t understand. You can’t very well ask for clarification, if you don’t realize you need it. And when you have TBI issues around organizing your thoughts and making yourself understood, it complicates that very critical first step of comprehending what your doctor is telling you about what’s wrong, what you need to do, and what you can (or cannot) expect to happen as a result of your treatment.
  • Secondly, TBI can undermine your ability to understand the need for following instructions. If you don’t understand why you need to follow the doctor’s orders, the chance of motivation is a whole lot less than when you know why you should do what they’ve told you to. Compliance with doctor’s orders is notoriously difficult, and a lot of people just don’t do it, even when they do understand everything that’s been said to them. Take away that ease of understanding, and you’re further complicating an already challenging situation.
  • Thirdly, TBI can reduce your capacity for following those orders independently over the long term. This can be cognitive or energetic. If you’ve got big problems with fatigue and confusion and organizing your thoughts, and your entire life becomes a trial, day in and day out, and you have your hands full, just doing the stuff you’re familiar with, what are the chances of you going above and beyond to take on extra-ordinary activities to further your healing? The issues you have at the outset may continue unabated — even worsened — over time. And even if you start out fully compliant, if you don’t have the ability to sustain your efforts, your long-term recovery can be dramatically impacted. For too many TBI survivors, life can be so draining and confusing that even the most basic of activities leave them exhausted and depleted, frustrated and agitated, and them have no energy left to go above and beyond. So, long-term maintenance — or choices for extended recovery — can fall prey to that dynamic.

Personally, I’d like to see doctors be better educated about TBI in general — especially because of these issues which can directly impact not only quality of care but quality of outcomes. Improving outcomes is everyone’s desire, so why not address these issues from the get-go, and help patients gain a better understanding of their total situation, so they can take appropriate steps to offset the effects of a brain injury?

Part of the problem, that I can see, is a dearth of medical knowledge about mild traumatic brain injury. It’s not difficult to find research on severe or even moderate brain injury, especially where there was some external injury. That’s quantifiable, it’s measurable, and it graphs well. You can track it. With mild TBI and/or closed head injury, when results don’t show up on the CT scan or other imaging/diagnostic mechanism, you’ve got a conundrum. And when the doctor in question doesn’t have the perspective of pre-morbid (before the injury) behaviors and experiences, how can they actually tell that something has happened that is out of the ordinary?

Medicine as we now know it isn’t particularly well suited to recognizing and addressing mTBI, and in failing to do so, the quality of care — the possibility of quality of care — can be pretty strongly diminished.

Which is a shame. Because nobody wants to pour all their time and energy down a gaping black hole. But by ignoring mild traumatic brain injury in multi-trauma situations, by the force of sheer ignorance, that’s exactly what people are helping to make possible.

So, what can be done about this?

  • Well, education helps, for starters. An understanding of the actual impact of mild traumatic brain injury on cognition (I’m not talking about IQ, which is a completely separate issue), mood, behavior, and willingness to engage with the world, may help.
  • Also, making education a priority not only for doctors but also patients is a good step. Making sure patients and their caregivers understand that certain things may be happening — confusion, depression, irritability, anxiety, agitation, disrupted sleep, and a whole lot of other things that tend to get chalked up to psychological states — may help ease some of the uncertainty and agitation that often complicates the situation, and makes a tough spot even worse.
  • Knowing what you can do about these symptoms can also help. It gives you a greater sense of control and hope. Initially, rest is critical. Being smart about taking it easy and having good medical help is also good. And understanding that rest is not a punishment, but an important part of recovery, can also be helpful.
  • For physicians, it may be a challenge to not have a pharmaceutical solution for concussion/mtbi, but this just highlights the importance of addressing patient mtbi issues — you can’t give them a pill to fix it, you need to rely on their cooperation and compliance to improve outcomes. And that means addressing their brain injury issues in a constructive and supportive way. This may be a departure from how things are done for many, but I really feel it’s worth the effort.

One blog post isn’t likely to change much, I realize, but if one person in medicine reads this and takes a slightly different approach that factors in TBI when treating multi-trauma, so much the better.

How Can I Recognize a Possible Concussion?

One of the nice things about being a blogger is that I can add my information to the general wealth of data about subjects of interest to me – in this case, mild traumatic brain injury. This blog is about more than telling my side of the story — it’s about fleshing out info that other trusted sources provide, in ways that are personal and individual… and hopefully contributing to the general understanding about traumatic brain injury, and sports-related concussion in particular.

The CDC has a wealth of information on concussion in youth sports over at their Heads-Up site.

What’s missing is a bit of in-depth explanation about the different points they make.

Since this month is Brain Injury Awareness Month, I hope to contribute to the awareness piece with further info and examples from my own concussion experiences.

From the CDC site about recognizing concussions:

To help recognize a concussion, you should watch for the following two things among your athletes:

  • A forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head.

AND

  • Any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.

Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.

Signs Observed by Coaching Staff

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can’t recall events after hit or fall

Symptoms Reported by Athlete

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”

Remember, you can’t see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. Most people with a concussion will recover quickly and fully. But for some people, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or longer.

Now, for some explanation to fill in the blanks…

To help recognize a concussion, you should watch for the following two things among your athletes:

  • A forceful bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body that results in rapid movement of the head.

The head, atop the neck, holds our precious brain — which has the consistency of pudding, and is surrounded by fluid which protects it from the bony inside of our skulls. Unfortunately, the bony insides of our skulls can have rough/sharp edges which can rake across the surface of the brain and cause damage that way, should the head/bodybe knocked so hard that the brain pushes past the protective fluid and scrapes against the inside of the skull.

You can see a video of different types of brain injury at YouTube. It’s very informative, and I recommend it.

When the body or head is hit hard enough, the brain can hit against the front inside part of the skull, be injured there — and then fly back against the rear of the skull (called coup-contracoup — which means head-back0fhead — injury), causing damage to the rear part of the brain as well. Under ideal conditions, the protective fluid provides an ample buffer to shelter the brain, and the inside of the skull is not really sharp and uneven. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that that’s the case.

Forceful bumps or blows or jolts to the head can be things like:

  • being hit on the head by a ball, such as in soccer or baseball
  • colliding with another player and bumping heads
  • being elbowed or kicked in the head
  • colliding with the catcher and slamming your head against his/hers when you’re trying to steal homebase
  • falling and hitting your head on the basketball court floor

Another way the brain can be injured by a hard hit to the body, is a whiplash effect — where the connections that are located at the base of the skull and neck are twisted and torn by the head snapping forward and backwards really hard. You don’t need to be knocked out, and you don’t even need to have your head hit, to sustain a concussion in sports.

Forceful bumps or blows or jolts to the body can be things like:

  • being tackled hard in football
  • being fouled hard and knocked to the floor in basketball
  • falling during a soccer game
  • colliding with another player when going after the same ball
  • landing hard after any kind of fall, even if your head doesn’t hit the ground
  • running into the wall when you’re eplaying squash/raquetball

It’s important to remember that these very common collision/impact occurrences (which are part and parcel of just about any sport) will NOT necessarily lead to concussion. If everyone who was tackled hard, or fell, or was fouled hard and ended up on the floor/ground sustained a concussion, there would be a whole lot of impaired people walking around.

Being hit or tackled or falling during a game or practice is NOT a guarantee of a concussion. This is where the next criteria comes in… the “and” part.

AND

This AND is important. The first set of criteria — the bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body are no guarantee that a brain injury has occurred, but they can serve as a trigger to watch out for the following. The next point is what acts as an alert that a concussive event has occurred.

  • Any change in the athlete’s behavior, thinking, or physical functioning.

Signs Observed by Coaching Staff

  • Appears dazed or stunned
  • Is confused about assignment or position
  • Forgets an instruction
  • Is unsure of game, score, or opponent
  • Moves clumsily
  • Answers questions slowly
  • Loses consciousness (even briefly)
  • Shows mood, behavior, or personality changes
  • Can’t recall events prior to hit or fall
  • Can’t recall events after hit or fall

Symptoms Reported by Athlete

  • Headache or “pressure” in head
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Balance problems or dizziness
  • Double or blurry vision
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Feeling sluggish, hazy, foggy, or groggy
  • Concentration or memory problems
  • Confusion
  • Does not “feel right” or is “feeling down”

Here are some examples from my own experience:

When I sustained a concussion from a hard tackle during a football game in high school, there was an immediate change in my thinking and physical functioning.

  • First of all, I was not thinking as quickly as I was before the hit. Even I could tell I was slower — I wasn’t following the calls by the quarterback very well, and I was clearly a little dimmer than I had been before the hit. I had trouble understanding what was said in the huddles before the following plays, and I had trouble following the instructions I was given. For example (I can’t remember the exact details, but this is how it was), when I was told to go long and then cut left at a certain point, I went long, but I didn’t cut left.
  • Secondly, I was not as coordinated as I had been before the hit. I ran clumsily — like I was drunk — and I couldn’t catch the ball when it was thrown right to me. I also stumbled a lot, and I fell a few more times. For all I know, I did more damage to myself, but I was so totally focused on continuing the game and not letting my teammates down, I refused to take myself out of the game. They had to stop the whole game, completely, to get me to quit playing. I was that stubborn.

When I sustained another concussion from a fall during a soccer game a year or two later  in high school, there was yet another immediate change in my physical functioning and behavior.

  • First of all, I was a lot less coordinated than I had been before I fell. I couldn’t control the ball as well as I had before, and it felt like I was moving in slow motion. I stumbled and fumbled, and there was obviously something different about how I was playing.
  • Second, I was not the same player I’d been before my fall. Before, I had been aggressive and confident on the field. Afterwards, I was hesitant, confused, and I hesitated before shooting on the goal (or just plain failed to shoot). I had a number of opportunities to score, but I didn’t, because I was uncertain and confused. I was also less able to be a team player. I didn’t pass the ball to my open teammates as frequently as I should have. I also became more withdrawn and was not communicating with the coaching staff on the sidelines. It was like I was in my own little concussed world, suspended in a foggy soup that slowed down all the input and output.

Athletes who experience any of the signs and symptoms listed below after a bump, blow, or jolt to the head or body should be kept out of play the day of the injury and until a health care professional, experienced in evaluating for concussion, says they are symptom-free and it’s OK to return to play.

Absolutely, positively. This must be done. Unfortunately, I myself never received any medical evaluation or treatment for my injuries. But on the bright side, I was removed from play in both instances. Nobody watched me afterwards to make sure I was symptom-free and it was OK for me to return to play. Then again, by the time I got to those games, I’d had a number of TBIs already, so I already showed symptoms of impairment. Still, the changes I did experience, on those two separate instances, were clear indicators that I’d undergone a concussive event. I only wish someone had known what to look for, and helped me out.

Another important piece of the CDC info is:

Remember, you can’t see a concussion and some athletes may not experience and/or report symptoms until hours or days after the injury. Most people with a concussion will recover quickly and fully. But for some people, signs and symptoms of concussion can last for days, weeks, or longer.

This cannot be overstated. Concussion, hidden as it is inside the skull, can also be hidden by time. It can take hours or days for symptoms to show up, which is why it is so important that not only coaches, but also teachers and parents and teammates are all familiar with the danger signs and informed about how to respond appropriately.

One of the things that can show up later, are behavioral issues. Indeed, behavioral issues are the bugaboo of mild traumatic brain injury, because on the surface everything looks fine, and the brain may have recovered from its initial trauma, but there are microscopic changes under the surface that can have long-lasting effects. If you know someone who plays sports, whose behavior has suddenly started to change for the worst – suddenly they have a lot of anger, rage, irritability, distractability, sensory issues, fatigue, insomnia —  it could be they had a concussion during a game or some other event — and nobody realized it, including them.

Concussion doesn’t just affect the student athletes — it affects everyone who interacts with them, everyone who loves and cares about them. It’s in all our best interests to learn about it, learn what to watch for. And to report it to someone who can help.

As the CDC says, most people recover quickly and fully, and it doesn’t need to wreck their lives. But if you don’t pay attention to the first warning signs, it is all too easy to re-injure yourself (having a concussion increases your chances of experiencing another one from 2-6 times). So, paying attention, right from the get-go can help prevent other problems from happening.

In retrospect, I wonder what might have happened, if I’d stuck with track and field and cross country exclusively, and not played any team sports that involved tackling or the danger of falling/collisions. I wonder if I would have been so susceptible to drugs and alcohol, if my behavior would have been so problematic. Thinking back, I had a ton of problems when I was a kid that actually resolved as a result of organized sports. Unfortunately, the thing that helped me most, also introduced more problems to my mix.

Well, I can’t worry about it. What’s done is done, in my case. I’m just happy I’m as functional and well-off as I am, today.

I also hope that coaches and trainers and teachers and teammates are learning enough, today, to help avoid the kinds of situations I got myself into… and help address the after-effects of the kinds of injuries that I — and hundreds of thousands of others young athletes — experienced. The CDC material is really helpful, and they have lots of free information and additional materials available.

Check ‘em out. It’s worth the trip.

Video on Concussions & ImPACT Test

This is a feature story by ESPN Outside the Lines on the epidemic of concussions in teenage sports and the result of untreated concussions

In 2008, 5 high school football players died during games or practices from getting a concussion on top of a concussion – a condition know as Second Impact Syndrome. A recent study by nationwide children’s hospital in Ohio that found an alarming 41 percent of high school athletes with concussion returned to play too soon. And while football has by far the highest rate of concussions compared to any other sport: hockey, wrestling gymnastics, lacrosse, volleyball, cheerleading, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer all have their fair share. Concussions happen when the brain is shaken inside the skull. And even though they’re common in sports many coaches and trainers still don’t know how to manage them. That’s partially because there is no one-size-fits-all guideline for what to do when a player gets one. Some athletes will heal in a couple days and some in a couple months. Researchers are just beginning to unlock the reasons why.

Watch it here

Video about Concussions in Sports

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-4nrxgsRa1o&NR=1

The growing number of concussions in sports has many coaches, trainers and parents thinking twice before risking a second hit for an athlete who may have had his bell rung. In this Children’s Channel video podcast, Joseph Congeni, MD, director of the sports medicine center at Akron Children’s Hospital, discusses the signs and symptoms of a concussion, as well as the latest guidelines for a safe return to the field.

Watch it here