And no, I’m not being melodramatic.
That’s exactly what it’s like.
Because the very part of them that is able to determine whether or not they are OK is the part that’s hurt. Impaired. Injured.
Giving in to a student athlete begging to get back on the field, and letting them play the rest of the game, is like letting them get on a school bus driven by someone who reeks of alcohol.
What people don’t understand about the effects of concussion, is that immediately after you get concussed, you can feel infused with this amazing energy and focus. Your brain has gotten injured, and it’s releasing a somewhat toxic combination of chemicals that don’t belong there… plus, it’s getting bathed in glucose. And we all know what happens when our brains get too much glucose — it’s the reason some parents restrict sugar intake with young kids.
When you’re concussed, you’re the last person who believes that there’s anything wrong with you. You feel invincible, like you can take on the world. And if you have attentional difficulties (as so many kids do — especially those with a history of getting clunked in the head), the sudden influx of adrenaline and other biochemicals in your system can make you feel focused like never before. Your brain is literally under attack by its own chemistry, and your body responds with a fight-flight stress response that blocks out all distractions and puts you into high gear.
Back in the day, when people lived under much more hazardous conditions, that fight-flight response after getting clunked in the head could make the difference between getting out of harm’s way before the second impact/slash/explosion could happen… and getting creamed by yet another boulder sliding down the hill towards your hut, or getting chopped in half by that invader, or getting blown to smithereens by another bomb. So, our systems automatically try to save us by kicking into high gear.
But on the playing field, that impulse can be sorely misdirected — and send kids back into the danger zone, only to get hit again.
I know. I was one of those kids, back in high school. I got tackled once in football, and I could barely walk a straight line. But I insisted on going back in. And when I got hit again, it was really game-over for me. I’m lucky I didn’t get hurt worse.
Anyway, this is something to keep in mind, when you see a kid who’s been concussed, who’s campaigning to get back on the field right away. They may sit out for 10-20 minutes, then appear to be okay, but the biochemical havoc is still happening in their brain. It’s going to take a while for the brain to A) clear out the chemicals that shouldn’t be there, and B) rebuild the pathways that got frayed and broken apart in the impact.
That takes a lot of time. And until then, a concussed kid is not the one to believe about whether they are okay to play.
So, the next time you see someone who’s sustained a head impact and doesn’t seem quite right immediately afterwards, pay no attention, when then assure you that they’re okay to play. The equivalent is that drunk school bus driver taking another swig from the bottle in the paper bag, belching, and saying, “Yaaaah, Imokhaaaytodrrrriiiiiive.“