Are they testing the right thing, when they “prove” football helmets help prevent concussion?

Stanford research suggests football helmet tests may not account for concussion-prone actions

Photo by L.A. Cicero – A multiple exposure shows the effect of an impact to the top of the helmet in a laboratory experiment. The dummy head is mounted on a biofidelic neck, and helps to realistically reconstruct field impacts. New Stanford research suggests that current football helmet tests may miss concussion-prone actions.

Mounting evidence suggests that concussions in football are caused by the sudden rotation of the skull. David Camarillo’s lab at Stanford has evidence that suggests current football helmet tests don’t account for these movements.

When modern football helmets were introduced, they all but eliminated traumatic skull fractures caused by blunt force impacts. Mounting evidence, however, suggests that concussions are caused by a different type of head motion, namely brain and skull rotation.

Now, a group of Stanford engineers has produced a collection of results that suggest that current helmet-testing equipment and techniques are not optimized for evaluating these additional injury-causing elements.

The ideal way to test any protective gear is to gain a sense of what causes the trauma, set up a system that replicates the way the trauma occurs, and then evaluate the gear against the injury-causing criteria. For the past several years, David Camarillo, an assistant professor of bioengineering and, by courtesy, of mechanical engineering at Stanford, and his students have been collecting and analyzing data in hopes of identifying the signature skull motions that cause concussions.

Continued on the Stanford Site here: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2015/july/football-helmet-tests-072015.html – click here to keep reading

Aaaannnnddd… Problem solved.

Like mine, but in better condition

I’m glad I didn’t get rid of my old bike — “Old Ironsides” I call it, because it’s an ancient three-speed similar to the one my dad used to ride to work each day. I guess I hung onto it, because it reminds me of those days when my dad was still young and vigorous and had the energy to bike to and from work — and come home for lunch in the summers so we kids could spend time with him.

Anyway, I picked up Old Ironsides one day when I was out doing errands. Where I live, when people don’t have use for things that haven’t yet worn out, they put them out on their curb with a ‘free’ sign, so people will help themselves. I threw Old Ironsides in the back of the van, and it’s been in my basement for the past 11 years or so.

I’ve pulled it out, now and then, to ride around, but it’s an old rattle-trap, with a slightly bent wheel in the front, and a bit of of bumpiness when you ride along. But the brakes work, and the gears still shift. It’s still a solid bike, and I’m glad I hung onto it.

I have been really challenged with my physical fitness, lately. I am lifting weights more deliberately now, and I also spend time each day juggling, which is good for my coordination — and my frustration tolerance. I have an exercise bike, and I ride it sometimes. I also take long walks on the country roads around my home, as well as hike in the woods. But sometimes I need more.

I used to have a really awesome bike — a Specialized Roubaix road bike, which was so light, and so good on bumpy surfaces. It was easy to ride, easy to handle, easy to put in the back of my little car and take wherever I wanted. The thing was, when I had it, I was struggling with balance issues, and I was not doing well with being out and about on my own. Riding my bike on back roads really concerned me, because of traffic and distractions and the potential of falling.

So, I sold the bike to someone who would love and care for it very well. It was a wise choice. But I have missed that bike ever since.

In the past years since I sold it, I have gradually gotten better about my balance and my ability to stay focused on what’s happening in front of me. I am still uncomfortable with the idea of ranging far and wide beyond my home on a bike, because I can’t afford to get hurt and not be able to get home. There are also lots of hills around my house, so it’s a killer workout to ride bikes around here.

But within two miles of my house, there are enough gently rolling hills and enough untraveled back roads that I can ride Old Ironsides on. It really gives me a workout, just pedaling up gentle inclines — let alone the 45-degree slopes not far from my front door. I have enough road to ride, just within a 2 mile radius, to get some exercise, get my blood pumping, and feel the wind rushing past me. Also, my bike is not good enough to go that fast, so the issue of velocity is… negligible.

So, this afternoon, I dragged Old Ironsides out of the garage, hauled it down to the gas station, filled up the tires, found my good bike helmet, threw on a fluorescent orange t-shirt, and took the bike out for a spin. I didn’t have to go far, to tucker myself out — but I also had a good time pedaling and covering some ground. I know it’s not the most advanced piece of machinery, but it got me exactly where I wanted to go, and back, so that’s good.

I’m feeling really positive about this. Another fall is not something I care to experience, and that chance was always in the back of my mind with the other bike. This one is literally incapable of moving at the kind of speed that’s a danger to me. It’s sturdy, solid, and it does the job it’s meant to do — move a person from one place to the next quicker than they could go on foot.

So, I’ve had my exercise for the day, and I’m looking forward to doing it again, when I get some time. Safety first. And then plenty of fun.

Well, it’s time to get some supper.

Onward.

Considering TBI : Staying safe during the holidays

This looks familiar – and not in a good way.

Well, I almost did it again. I almost fell down some stairs while rushing around during Thanksgiving activities. Nine years ago tomorrow, I fell down a flight of stairs while packing to home after Thanksgiving. I completely screwed myself up. Trashed my life. Almost lost everything. And I didn’t even realize what was happening, while it was happening.

That fall in 2004 happened because I was standing at the top of some stairs and I turned around to do something, then my feet went out from under me. The same thing happened yesterday, while I was getting ready to head out to Thanksgiving dinner. I was starting to go down the stairs, when I remembered something I needed to take with me, and I turned around, while my body momentum was moving forward. My feet slipped on the stairs, and I stumbled down a couple of steps, before I caught myself. Fortunately, this time I was wearing shoes. When I fell in 2004, I was wearing socks. And I managed to stop myself from going head-first down the stairs, when my feet went out from under me.

Hm. Wake-up call. Time to slow down. Pay attention. Take things one at a time, instead of doing a couple of things at one time — like going down and up stairs at the same time.

Slow down. Don’t do everything at once. Just chill.

I paused for a moment and caught my breath and realized what had almost just happened. Then I slowly turned around and went back upstairs — much, much more slowly than before.

And I got through the day without getting hurt.

Even better, I had an amazing day, and everything turned out well, for a variety of reasons — including not falling down stairs and hurting myself.

As the holiday season officially kicks off, I have to really pay attention to things in the coming six weeks, to get through to the other side in one piece. I know what sets me off, and I know what makes things more difficult for me than usual, and the holidays are just the time when all those things come together in a perfect storm that aggravates my TBI symptoms and also puts me at risk for another injury (like yesterday).

  1. I need to remember that I’m dealing with TBI issues, and I can’t just push myself blindly like I have no limitations. We all have limitations, and mine are especially pronounced during the holidays. I need to be uber-mindful of my issues — not in a way that holds me back, but in a realistic way that keeps me from doing serious damage to myself.
  2. Make sure I get plenty of rest. Nothing kills the joy faster than fatigue-induced irritability. And given my history of melting down and flipping out during many holiday seasons past, my spouse is particularly on-guard around me during this time. So things can escalate quickly. And that’s not good. Shouting matches and flip-outs just because I’m tired, are no way to spend the holidays. Fortunately, staying rested takes care of a lot of this. Naps help, too, so I’ll be doing a lot of that this holiday season. Whenever I can.
  3. Eat smart.  When I get tired, I tend to boost my energy with sugar-containing foods, and the holidays are chock-full of them. Pies, cookies, candy… it’s all around me, and since I need to push harder to do everything, I fall back on them. A lot. Which just makes things harder in the long run, because it throws off my sugar and it makes my joints ache, which then makes me more irritable. AND sugar feeds infections, so I have more trouble with colds and sinus infections. I have to have a lot of willpower to avoid that stuff – and it doesn’t always work. But if I can enjoy with moderation… it’s not so terrible.
  4. Give myself time. Don’t rush around with everyone else. Give myself more time to do things like go to the library or food shopping or running errands. Just take my time, so I don’t get trampled by everyone else who’s stampeding around. Do I need to go out to the store today? Not one bit. Black Friday will be fine without me.
  5. Take frequent breaks. I get very irritable for a bunch of reasons during the holidays, so it pays to just take a break regularly, let me catch up with myself, and simmer down if I’m getting revved. It really helps for me to cut myself a break and give myself some extra time off by myself when I need it. Planning my breaks helps, too, because then I can keep from getting stuck in a “loop” and pushing myself past where I should be backing off and taking a break.
  6. Get a lot of exercise. I start my days with movement and stretching, and I get out and walk whenever I can. I also try to do some heavy lifting, now and then, as well as working around the yard and house. Yesterday I got a workout with roasting that turkey — a lot of lifting and bending and reaching. I’m actually sore, which is a good sign for me. This helps my body process all the extra stuff I’m putting into it, and it also helps clear my head. Both of these are important for being happy during the holidays.

These are things I can do, in general, to make my life better during the holidays. Not doing these things can result in experiences like falling down stairs, having confrontations with police officers, and losing it at work — none of which will add to my holiday cheer quotient.

It’s all a big-ass learning process. Onward.

Working my plan(s)

Got a ton of stuff done over the weekend. Sore as hell, but it’s a good sore — the kind that tells me I was productive.

Spring is definitely here, and with it comes a sudden surge in energy. The trip to see family did me good, in that it broke me out of my rut and got me thinking again about how I want my life to be, and how I need to shape it. Seeing my family members — both sides — all pretty much stuck in their status quo lives, with their resignation to “how things are” and their petty in-fighting and their self-satisfaction over “accomplishments” which are from just doing what they’ve been told to do, year after year… that was so depressing.

But it woke me up. Status quo… they can keep it. I’m much more interested in living my life, living it as an adventure rather than a task list, and really experiencing things around me — not just slogging through with “just a job” till retirement shows up.

Because to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’m going to be retiring anytime soon — probably not at all.

See, here’s the thing. I have no retirement savings. Zip – nada – zilch. I am barely keeping afloat with my everyday expenses, let alone building up some savings. Adding any money to a 401(k) or an IRA is a joke to me – I cannot afford to contribute even 1% of my earnings. Truly. So, even though much of the working world has rearranged itself to have people my age retire around age 55  (which gives me about 7 years), the simple fact is, I’m going to be working well into my 80s, maybe beyond — if I live that long.

So, the pressure is off, in terms of retirement timeline. And there’s really no reason for me to freak out over things like saving enough for retirement, paying for medication and all those other expenses that aging people accrue. Because I’m not going to stop working anytime soon. I will always have an income, doing something. And I’m fine with it.

My family members are a little horrified by the idea, but who the hell cares? They can have their retirements. They can fade into the background. They can drift away into a life of leisurely “rewards” for all the crap they’ve had to put up with, all those years.

Me? I’d rather not have to put up with the crap… be happy while I’m working (not after)… have a life I can enjoy, right here and right now… and continue to be active and engaged long into the future.

That means getting up and going. Doing. Being active. Keeping things going. And constantly re-adjusting and recalibrating as time goes on.  Not getting stuck with one set idea about How Things Should Be. It’s pointless for me to latch onto that, because it just doesn’t happen for me the way it does for others. This is not a criticism of myself, nor is it a reason for despair. This is just how things are with me – no reason to be upset or be down on myself. Just to acknowledge and adapt accordingly and really live to the max.

See, that’s the thing — everything in the world doesn’t need to be established and “perfect” and according to plan. All around me, people are so invested in the status quo, in being part of the establishment, in “playing their part” in the Big, Big World. That’s fine, but there are other things to do, and there are other ways to be, and sometimes it’s perfectly fine to be on the margins, to live the alternatives, and to walk to the edge and see what is there.

It’s like we’re all in this big boat, and most people I know are trying to stay near the center line of the boat, so it keeps its balance and it doesn’t tip over. When I am most anxious and tired and beside myself with worry, this is how I become. But there are some of us who would rather sit (or stand or climb) to the far edges of the boat, so we can have a better view. And we worry less about falling in, because we know we can swim.

I can swim. That’s for sure. And I don’t mind the edges of the boat. I don’t mind the wind in my hair, I don’t mind the mess, the spray, the salty residue that cakes on my face and hands. In fact, I rather enjoy it. Because it’s life. It’s just life. Sailing is dangerous stuff, to be sure, but I’m no good at the center of the boat. And everyone who is trying to put (and keep) me there — as much as they may mean well — is holding me back from living my life.

My family means well. Most of the people around me at work and in the community mean well. My healthcare providers mean well. They want me to be safe.

But safe is a terrible place for me to be. It’s dull and drab and it doesn’t keep me awake — literally. I’ve been hit in the head too many times — my tonic arousal (how awake my brain is) tends to be for shit, especially when I’m tired and overworked. My brain gets sleepy and it gets slow, when things are too safe and secure.

I need to be out on the edge, seeing what else is out there. I don’t need dysfunction, and I don’t need artificial drama. I need authentic, daring life that has something to offer me besides safety and security.

I need something more. Something real. Something untamed. Something leading-edge and vibrant. It’s not that I don’t want to plan my life and follow through. I don’t want some loosey-goosey flit-flitting around from one thing to the next. That’s fun, but it leads me nowhere. I need to move forward into areas that far exceed what others think or believe is possible for them — and me. I need to test waters and see what else can be done, what else can be achieved. The plans of the status quo are not for me. I need my own plans — and I’ve got them. I’m working on them. And things are coming along — not the way others envision, but the way I envision.

And with that, I’m off to start my day. We’ll see what happens. For real.

Wear your bike helmet – properly

Wear it properly – if you don’t, it’s like you’re not even wearing one

A few months back, I endured participated in a Franklin-Covey workshop at work called “Five Choices to Extraordinary Productivity”. Aside from the three-day investment loss of time (which I really couldn’t afford to lose), the ideas and principles they talked about were a mish-mash of eclectic brain science and some repackaged versions of buzz-speak that’s been floating around in personal improvement circles for years. For those who never heard of any of it, I’m sure it was eye-opening. Perhaps. I found it mildly frustrating and more than a little annoying.

I really needed that time to actually do some work, instead of having someone tell me I’m making “wrong choices” with regard to the work I do. It just wasn’t applicable at all — although I did learn some nifty Outlook techniques that I’ve used to my advantage.

Anyway, not long ago business author Steven Covey (who wrote “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”) died as a result of complications from a bike accident back in April. I wondered what sort of bike accident – must have been pretty bad… then forgot about it.

Then the other day I saw a kid riding a bike with a helmet on — and the chin strap unbuckled and dangling loose. Not much point to having a helmet on, if you’re going to do that. Out of curiosity, and on a hunch, I googled Steven Covey’s bike accident, and I learned that he sustained a head injury when he flipped forward over his bike while going down a hill. His helmet was apparently not properly fitted/fastened, and he hit the ground with his head. He also had broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung.

For heaven’s sake – if you’re going to wear a helmet, make sure you wear it properly. Tighten the strap snugly under your chin and make sure you have a properly fitted helmet.

I don’t know if Covey was wearing his properly or not, and I’m not even sure if it was the brain injury that did him in. But if you’re not wearing your helmet properly, you’re really not wearing a helmet at all.

Time for a ride?

Well, the plan today was to spend the afternoon and evening with my spouse, just hanging out and spending time together with a couple of friends I haven’t seen in a while. My spouse has seen them a number of times, and they’ve been asking about me, and we thought that today would be the day to go out and spend some time. Have a nice dinner together. Conversation. Catching up.

That was the plan, anyway.

But I was so wiped out from this past week, I could barely stand up when we were talking about going, earlier this afternoon. I had dark circles under my eyes, I was pale and shaky, and after doing a quick social abilities assessment (keeping in mind the fact that I become pretty UN-fun around other people, when I am tired and stressed and overwhelmed by a lot of activity), we decided against the outing. My spouse went. I stayed home. And I went to bed. I got a few hours sleep, which was good.

Now I’ve had my dinner — a plate of stewed chicken with ingredients I love (but my spouse hates, so I can rarely have them) with a heap of green vegetables on the side. I watched a little t.v., and I read a little bit online. And now I’m feeling antsy. Like I need to just move. Get in the car. Go.

But doing a quick check-in, I realize that I’m still really tired. I should probably just go to bed and read for a bit. Take a break. Give myself a chance to catch up. Just because I’ve got a few hours of sleep doesn’t mean I should run out and wear myself out again. It’s dark outside. It’s night. And it takes extra energy for me to drive at night.

The thought of going for a drive under the stars is appealing in a way… maybe driving up to the hill that overlooks the valley to the west… but truth to tell, I’m pretty wiped. I’ve been working with my NP on my social interaction issues, and it’s really taking a lot out of me to think about all the problems I’ve had over the years, and try to see them in a different light.

Reconstructing your life can be exhausting.

Which is why it probably doesn’t make any sense at all for me to go for a ride right now. As much as the sound of cars rushing past my living room windows attracts me, and the night air feels good, I do have the sense to realize that I am still very, very tired, and it makes more sense to stay in. Get some rest. Just chill.

Time for a ride? Not tonight.

Real-world TBI recovery

I can *try* to play it safe... but it's not in my nature. (Don't try this at home, by the way.)

TBI recovery is like anything else – if you want to do it well, and if you want to get a good foundation to work from, you have to have discipline, constancy, and you need to keep practicing, keep training.

Overcoming TBI is like doing the impossible. Like being in Cirque de Soleil. Like freerunning or being a parkour traceur. You end up doing things that nobody else ever thought was possible.  Until you did it. And even then there are skeptics — or just plain people who don’t understand or appreciate how “impossible” the thing you just did really is.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to get to a point in my life where I’m “good”. And it occurs to me now, after my morning walk-run-jump, that where I’m at my best, is in the unknown. Far outside the comfort zone. Making myself nervous – for a very good reason.

If there’s one thing that has held me back, over the past years (probably my entire life), it’s been the mis-conception that there can ever be a comfort zone for me. It just doesn’t exist. I’m mentally, spiritually, even physically incapable of staying inside a comfort zone. I don’t belong there. Never have, never will.

And the times I’ve gotten most into trouble, have been when I started aiming for a comfort zone… got it in my head that I needed to get to a safe place, get settled, get integrated. That doesn’t really work for me.

‘Cause when I get comfortable, I stop paying attention to the level I need to. I back off. And backing off is about the last thing I need to be doing. I need to be ON. I need to be alert. I need to be with it. And I need to do it in a way that doesn’t fall back on stressing my system unnecessarily to produce the stress hormones that keep me ON.

That sort of “On-switch” is far from sustainable. It just takes too much out of me.

So, I need to find a new and better way.

I’m looking for that now. Looking for how to do this. Looking for how to be this.

I realize I’ve gotten comfortable in this job, which is a huge mistake. Being in synch with everyone is fine, but I can’t get too comfortable. People around me crave comfort. And safety. And predictability. And their physical condition (or lack thereof) shows it.

That’s not me. Not me at all. I need to stop trying to assimilate with them. Just stay true to my vision, follow my own lead, and do what my decades of experience tell me is the right thing to do. TBI did not take from me my general fund of knowledge, just my facility at accessing and using it appropriately. And that’s coming back now, thanks to working with my neuropsych.

Adieu zone de comfort. I’m off and running…

Diving back into the real world, for a real-world recovery.

Computerized concussion testing – not such a good idea after all?

The Concussion Blog pointed the way to this excellent post by Matt Chaney, discussing the issues around computerized concussion testing, especially the ImPACT test that’s publicized by the NFL

His post discusses:

glaring faults in “baseline” testing of hot-selling ImPACT software employed by youth leagues, schools, colleges and pro sports. “The use of baseline neuropsychological testing in the management of sport-related concussion has gained widespread acceptance, largely in the absence of any evidence suggesting that it modifies risk for athletes,” Randolph observes.

Since 2005, Randolph is among reviewers for several journals who find unacceptable rates of false-positive and false-negative results for ImPACT, among popular brain assessments developed and marketed by academics and doctors associated with the NFL and benefiting from the league’s pervasive publicity machine.

“It is a major conflict of interest, scientifically irresponsible,” Randolph told ESPN The Magazine in 2007. “We are trying to get to what the real risks are of sports-related concussion, and you have to wonder why they (NFL experts) are promoting testing. Do they have an agenda to sell more ImPACTS?”

The marketing succeeds, with sales to a thousand schools and hundreds of colleges thus far, and media only increase exposure of ImPACT in the furor over concussions, especially in football.

Read the rest here (http://blog.4wallspublishing.com/2011/04/23/critics-evidence-debunk-concussion-testing-in-football.aspx) — it’s well worth the read.

What really worries me about computerized testing is what worries me about most computerized “solutions” to problems in life — they relieve you of the burden of having to really understand and think about what’s going on. A computer will give you a certain amount of information, which can be a good starting place. But it’s really up to you to figure out what — if anything — to do with the information. Most people forget (or never figure out) this important fact, and they think they can let the computer do everything for them.

On the playing field, “testing” (potentially) concussed athletes without paying very close attention — over the long term as well as the immediate short term — can have catastrophic consequences, if the test is not accurate (or fudged), and real issues go undetected and unaddressed. Again, the damage can happen over the long term, not only the immediate short term, as issues arise and become problematic beyond the playing season, even beyond school, and well into adult life — beyond any window of opportunity for ImPACT testing.

Lost income, underachievement, broken dreams, and shattered lives due to health issues, attentional issues, cognitive-behavioral problems (and more) arising from undiagnosed and untreated traumatic brain injury are something no computerized test will ever be able to measure.

Down and up again

It’s been a pretty interesting week. I’ve gotten too little sleep, but I’ve been doing more than usual. Maybe that goes hand in hand — the times when I am more tired are the times when I am more inclined to push myself. And vice versa. I’ve been having some conversations with my neuropsych about this, and they are a strong believer in the ability of the trained mind to overcome impulses like not taking care of yourself or not being mindful and deliberate about things.

I suppose I agree with them to a certain extent. I do believe that the mind can overcome a lot of hurdles and obstacles. But I also know there is something else that drives me, other than my trained mind. There’s something else pushes me to take action in ways that I wouldn’t, if I were NOT stressed and tired — and if I were NOT so drawn to stress and fatigue. It’s like there’s a part of me that actually craves those things, and that part of me has a way of putting the kaibosh on some of my best-laid plans.

Logically, I know that being overly stressed and worn out is not the best way to get things done. I know I have a lot to do, and I know I need to take special care of myself so that I have the energy and the attention span and the calmness to get things done. I am well aware that I need to take care of myself, and yet I don’t. I know, logically, that if I stay up later than I should, I’ll be too tired in the morning to be 100% effective. I know, logically, that if I push myself too hard, I can become irritable and aggressive and start missing important details about my work and life. I know from plenty of experience that it’s no good for me to disregard my health and welfare.

But I still do it.

I get over-tired, I get turned around, I end up having my weekends fried, because I’m too tired to A) do all the things I want to do, or B) enjoy myself… or both. I make poor choices about what to eat, how to handle my time, how to interact with people. I end up impaired — for no good reason at all.

And it really puzzles me. This, to me, is one of the biggest challenges of my life, I and I’m convinced it’s directly tied to my TBIs/concussions/head injuries. There’s something about my thought process, over the years, that’s gotten pretty messed up, but it’s not a purely logical thing. It’s not even a cognitive thing, I think. I really believe it has more to do with the physical effects of my traumatic brain injuries – the metabolic changes that took place. The way my physical body handles energy and keeps things going, has been changed a little bit by each successive concussion/mtbi, and that physical alteration has reached into many parts of my life, including cognitive and behavioral ones.

Here’s how I understand it breaking down (and I apologize if I’ve gone on about this before and it’s all old news to you) — mild traumatic brain injury often results in a constant restlessness and agitation, which is either related to (or is a cause/result of) fatigue. Fatigue causes the brain to work less well — fogginess and slowness and a general feeling of “not quite being all there” results. This is a really shitty way to feel (sorry for the language), and I friggin’ hate feeling that way. I feel like crap when I’m “low” and I’d do just about anything to overcome it. So, I do — I push myself in ways that trigger an adrenaline rush and get my system all hopped up on stress hormones. I sleep less and take on more things to do. I procrastinate and don’t actively manage the things I’m doing. I do things that will sharpen my attention — or at least makes me feel like my attention is sharpened — and those things are often detrimental or edgy or risky.

It’s my version of extreme living — my everyday version of extreme sports. I push the envelope. Push myself harder. Set tougher deadlines. Take on more projects. Get completely overwhelmed, and love it — until I get in a jam and find myself behind the 8-ball and just barely able to pull myself out from behind it.

And I know I’m not alone in this. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who procrastinates and pushes the envelope and willingly becomes sleep-deprived is neurologically “impacted”. But I do believe that my own difficulties with staying on track with my sleep and activities can be mapped directly to my TBIs. And I’m sure I’m not the only one out there.

Which leads me to think about all the people out there — including student athletes — who are concussed or brain injured and have difficulty staying on track with recovery and/or activities and behaviors that are healthy and geared towards their recovery. It leads me to think about all the athletes who have gotten dinged and aren’t feeling quite with it, but throw themselves back in the game with an even more intense fervor. Recently, I read a blog post by a former football player over at The Concussion Blog, who returned to play right away after his first concussion, and then ended up in the hospital when he was concussed again — and again. He attributed his determination to get back in the game to pride, which I agree with — in part. There’s something more basic, almost primal, at work, too, that plays a role. The other part of it is an internal engine that gets fired up after you’re concussed… that propels you forward and amps up whatever you’re feeling 2000%, till it becomes this irresistable force that neither you nor anyone without sufficient power and influence (and the proper education) can resist. It intensifies your emotion, it consumes you with the drive to use that emotion, and it does not relent on its own. Somebody has to stop it — preferably a coach or a trainer, rather than an EMT.

Personally, I think this young man was fortunate to have not been more seriously injured by his second and third concussions. Second Impact Syndrome can kill. But the bottom line is, plenty of damage was done. His football career was at an end, even before it got a chance to really get started. Who knows what might have happened, had he stayed healthy throughout high school and gone on to play in college?

We’ll never know. Just as I’ll never know what might have become of me, had I not sustained all those concussions/TBIs over the course of my life and been driven by a sort of madness to let my wandering emotions direct my life. I told myself I was an explorer, an adventurer. I told myself I was living my life. But I was really bouncing from one distraction to another, one heady experience to another. Job changes. Friendships won and lost. Moving from apartment to apartment, back and forth across the country, and overseas as well. Getting in and out of trouble. Pushing the envelope, having run-ins with police and other authority figures. There was something that told me that this was all part of life, that it was all part of me being “more alive” — but it was the same kind of impulse that had me picking myself up off the ground, after falling hard and being a little woozy and wobbly afterwards, and hurling myself back in the game, throughout many a sports competition in my youth.

It was pride – absolutely. It was a desire to compete – totally. It was a burning need to be part of a team, part of what was going on, part of life. But the volume of my pride and desire and need was pumped up so loud by my neurological situation, that it deafened me to everything else — including common sense and a sense of perspective.

Now, granted, that drive and desire has served me well over the years. My eagerness to be part of a team, to contribute, to be a part of what was going on, has helped me be quite successful in my own way, and it’s brought me a good living. The problem was, I had a lot less modulation than I needed. My control panel had a bunch of On-Off switches — I was either ON or I was OFF — and there weren’t a lot of volume controls. The lack of modulation sent me to extremes countless times, and that’s cost me a lot, in terms of long-term employment prospects and just my ability to advance in a career.

For years, I spent an awful lot of time bouncing from job to job, all the while telling myself that I had good reason. But the simple fact was, I didn’t have the wherewithall to stick with it. Because the volatility got to be too much, and I just couldn’t tolerate the build-up of pressure (not to mention keeping track of all the crap I’d overcommitted to).

Had I not been so volatile, so prone to racing off on flights of fancy that gripped me again and again, I might have become a doctor. Or a lawyer. Or an esteemed researcher with tons of degrees and distinctions to my name (which is what I wanted to do, when I was younger). I might have become a fantastically wealthy serial entrepreneur who ends up funding much-needed health research. Who can say? All I know is, the decision-making process that tends to take over my mind and derail common sense, has definitely been altered, thanks to a series of mild traumatic brain injuries.

Now, I’m not one to sit around and boo-hoo my sad fate. I believe that we make our own fates, and we have a lot more power to change the way our world is, than we often guess. But it is good for me to step back and look at what I’ve had to contend with over the years, to keep it green, keep it real with me. I can’t afford to dismiss this undercurrent of agitation and restlessness that steadily undermines my health and well-being and thought process. I can’t afford to ignore it, as it washes out the foundation of my life.

It’s a problem. It needs to be dealt with.

Speaking of problems, the wind of the past few days has apparently taken out my phone line. I thought for sure it was going to go out two days ago, but it wasn’t till last night that it went down. I need to go check the box on the outside of the house to see if it’s a house-related problem or a network-related problem. I called the telephone company and got the steps I need to take. I’ve had my breakfast, now I need a shower, then I’ll suit up and go out into the cold to see if I can get a dial tone.

This is not the sort of thing I need to put off. I have to return some calls from yesterday, and some of my relatives have been trying to contact me about an upcoming wedding I’m supposed to attend in June. So, I’ll gather my supplies — a screwdriver and a phone with a cord attached and the instructions — and head out to see what the deal is.

This is one of those projects that’s easy for me to stay on track with. It’s a relatively short process, going out and checking the box. And the steps for how to do it were laid out very clearly by the telephone company. I have been involved in multiple phone calls around this, in the past 24 hours, so there’s a feedback mechanism to keep me on track. And it’s important I have a phone line open, because there are important things going on. The project is limited in scope, has a feedback loop, and it’s a priority. So, I stay on track.

Not so, with so many other undertakings I pursue. Not only am I susceptible to distraction, but my brain infuses those distractions with such fervor tha I’m convinced they are necessities, instead of distractions. Just over the past few days, when I’ve been working on these other projects of mine, I’ve gotten swept up in a handful of other distractions that are huge projects in and of themselves, and will demand a lot of time to follow through with them. They’re NOT the sorts of things I can add to my plate right now, but sure enough, as I was writing down the steps for the three new projects I have in the works, they came roaring to the forefront, as though they couldn’t wait. More distraction. But infused with a passion and a drive that made them seem like The Real Deal.

That, to me, is the biggest drawback/danger of TBI — the infusion of passion into distractions and poor choices, that makes them look like viable activities. True, it’s not necessarily life-endangering, but it has kept me from following through on the things that meant most to me, at times, effectively arresting my development in ways that – ultimately – have endangered parts of my life. It’s been a constant battle, to keep things in perspective and push back the rising tide of supposed “necessity” so that I can just get things done. I’m sure that distractability is not unique to TBI, but the compulsion to fixate on it and get pulled off in a completely Wrong direction (thinking that it’s Right) adds a whole new dimension to the distractability and thought process.

TBI adds a whole new dimension to basic human shortcomings. Things like:

  • Intense emotion.
  • Compulsion.
  • Obsession.
  • Fixation.
  • Rumination.
  • Rigid, literal thinking.
  • Diminished risk assessment.
  • Combativeness.
  • And more.

The trick, for me, is remembering this. At the times when I am most susceptible — when I’m tired or stressed or agitated or turned around or all of the above — those are the times when I’m most likely to get waylaid by this stuff. If I don’t, I run the risk of getting swept up in something far bigger and badder than myself. I run the risk of running myself down… then having to drag myself back up, all over again.

If we’re going to sit kids out for three months…

… after a concussion, then it seems to me we’d better figure out how to return them to play in decent physical condition.

What worries me almost as much as the daunting effect the prospect of being benched for 3 months will have on student athletes and their willingness to report symptoms, is the prospect of kids being sat out for an extended amount of time with MINIMAL PHYSICAL EXERTION (per doctor’s orders) and then being returned to play without adequate physical conditioning.

What will that rest period do to their coordination, their viability on the field, their ability to compete safely? Forget about diminished competitive advantage — what will  that amount of time do to their athletic abilities, period?

Back when I was still active in sports, even a week out of action would result in noticeable loss of skill and endurance. What will three (or even one or two) months do?

It’s bad enough that concussion can result in diminished ability to assess risk. Not to mention the job it can do on executive function, coordination, balance, and sensory abilities. Add to that the cumulative effect of relatively sedentary time out of the game — and the athlete’s (totally understandable) eagerness to get BACK IN THE GAME ASAP — and I think we’ve got ourselves a conundrum, folks.