This past summer, my teenager was accidentally elbowed in the nose, causing a fracture as well as a concussion. Although she complained for weeks of headaches, the doctors repeatedly assured her that headaches were a common symptom of nasal fractures. As her nose healed, it became apparent that something bigger was amiss, and she was diagnosed with a concussion. We understood at the outset that certain risk factors such as preexisting migraines, age and a prior concussion, could cause this injury to linger, but all the explanations in the world didn’t prepare us for the months ahead.
The Mayo Clinic defines a concussion as “a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. Effects are usually temporary but can include headaches and problems with concentration, memory, balance and coordination.” Most people have heard of concussions, but few fully grasp the implications. The patient’s family, friends, teachers and support network cannot see or touch the problem. It can be overwhelming not only to the patient, but also to family and friends who struggle to understand the nature and scope of the issue.
When school began this fall, my daughter’s headaches increased, and the rigorous classes in which she’s enrolled became more challenging. She was also unable to cheer, as the noise and commotion were detrimental to her headaches. Missing out on her favorite football season had a palpably adverse effect on her psyche. Unaccustomed to seeking help, my daughter refused to avail herself of the accommodations the doctor prescribed. She didn’t want to be singled out for extra time on exams, open notes or even a quiet room in which to test. When she realized the magnitude of the memory, recall and concentration deficits, she began working with each of her teachers individually, putting together manageable plans and making up exams and work on a personal schedule. Even with accommodations in place, she worked harder than ever before but ended the first marking period with straight A’s. While doing well in school is not new for my daughter, doing this well under the circumstances is a colossal accomplishment, and a nod to the fact that underneath this new label is the same resilient, determined and hard-working girl.
Here’s what I wish I had known before my daughter was diagnosed with a concussion:
1. Finding a supportive and knowledgeable network is crucial. We conducted extensive research and were lucky enough to find incredible medical professionals. But with concussions, that’s half the battle, and my daughter’s guidance counselor is the star quarterback of our team. She is an intelligent, informed, kind and dedicated woman who goes above and beyond whenever possible (and then some). She relentlessly advocates on my daughter’s behalf, thinks outside the box and helps us pursue options that promote success. When I’m exceedingly anxious (which is always lately), she reminds me that this is temporary and offers judgment-free support. We are beyond blessed to have her in our lives.
2. There is no time limit on “temporary.” Unfortunately, the symptoms of concussions can linger for months. Some symptoms, such as memory loss, may require extended therapy, and 100 percent recovery is not guaranteed. I wish I knew that “temporary” in concussion-speak is not the same as temporarily having the flu. Patience is not only a virtue when it comes to concussions, it’s a must in order to stay positive.
3. Some people are just not going to understand. When my daughter dislocated her knee and couldn’t walk, we received nonstop calls and offers to help. Now that we’re dealing with this intangible injury, I hear crickets. Recovery isn’t a linear upward progression. Even as my daughter makes progress, we have good days and bad. A headache-free day and a great night’s sleep mean fewer concentration issues, productive schoolwork and the ability to watch a movie. A rough patch means a step back, and having to explain to friends and teachers why you can do something one day but not the next is exhausting.
4. Communicate with your child’s teachers and coaches regularly. Each person recovers from a concussion differently. Communicating with teachers, coaches and everyone in the child’s support network ensures understanding and a mutually beneficial working environment. My daughter’s incredibly experienced and motivational English teacher suggested “resiliency” for her research project and class presentation. His sensible suggestion empowered her to embrace her injury and gave her courage to share it with others, on her terms. My daughter’s teachers and coaches have been supportive and proactive. They have been our partners through the recovery process, and I’ll forever be grateful for their willingness to offer alternatives, a kind word and “normalcy.”
Not a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me, “Is that concussion still going on?” And I get it. I didn’t know much about this condition until it hit home. We’ve been in the trenches with our team of supportive professionals, friends and family since the beginning. We are staying positive and embracing the new “normal” whether it’s temporary or not.