The college kids are home for Fall Break, and my living room is once again filled with sleeping, Facebooking, TV-watching young people wrapped in blankets, unfurling themselves only to get snacks from the kitchen as they chit-chat and catch up on all the shows they have no time to watch at school. My son and one of his best friends, a young lady who's been home with him before and toward whom we are starting to feel familial, arrived last night, my niece this morning. My niece's boyfriend arrives tomorrow from some networking event in the city (he's a senior). They'll all be here till Sunday.
Last night, my mom came over and she was lying on our bed and everyone was in our bedroom with her, listening to my son tell us stories about his clinical hours as a student AT (Athletic Trainer) for his college's football team, and the way the players have to be taped and strapped before every practice due to chronic injuries, and how they monitor for serious injuries, especially concussions, which seems the be the thing that has made the deepest impression on my son. He talked about the dangers of sports concussions among student athletes, whose brains aren't fully developed until age 23, making them more prone to catastrophic injury.
He told us about second-impact trauma (I think that's what he called it) and how a kid could just die out there on the field from routine contact if the coaches and trainers didn't know what they were doing and put him back into the game after a head collision. Head injuries are apparently always more critical the second time around, even if the second injury is years after the first. He got a lot more technical than that, but what really struck me was when he looked at his dad, who enjoys watching boxing and ultimate fighting, and he said, "Sorry, Pops, but I cannot stand to watch boxing now, because I can picture what's happening inside their heads."
This is so ironic coming from my son, who has never protected his own head very well. He's always just hurled his body through space, fearless about impact. As a toddler, he would jump like a superhero from the back of the couch or dining table. In his high school soccer games he would leap to head the ball and connect with the cleats of a player trying to kick the ball. My son's 10th grade school picture captured for posterity that particular injury just below his eye. I shudder when I look at the picture, grateful that the cleat didn't hit him just an inch higher.
Hearing him last night, I couldn't stop myself from asking, "So do you take better care of your own head these days?" He laughed and said indeed he did, then told us that he had had a least two concussions that he could remember. One was in his 7th grade science lab when he bent to pick up a pen a friend had dropped. He must have grown overnight or something because he didn't correctly judge the edge of the marble table and it clipped his forehead, leaving a gash that bled frighteningly. His science teacher and classmates were scared. My husband and I got the dreaded call, "Your son hit his head. Please come at once." We rushed to the school and drove him to the doctor. He had a headache that evening, but was otherwise fine.
The second time was when he was on a high school trip to Paris during spring break of his senior year. He never told us about that one. Apparently he and one of his friends were wrestling in the hotel room and he turned to get a better hold and slammed his head into the concrete floor. He blacked out and regained consciousness to see the three other guys with whom he was sharing a room crowded over him, worriedly asking if he was okay. He said his head hurt like hell and he threw up that night. But he never bothered to tell the teachers or tour leaders. "The symptoms were just classic," he says now. He remembers that he went right to sleep, the worst thing to do. Someone should have tried to rouse him several times through the night, to make sure he could wake up. They didn't know that. Fortunately, he woke up the next morning with not much more than a headache, and traveled with his group to Normandy (see them acting up on the beach here). The rest of the trip was without incident.
Looking back, my son was fairly moody and irritable toward the end of senior year, which I attributed to teenage crankiness and his impending departure for college. But after doing some reading on concussions this morning, I now wonder if maybe his brain was still healing from being slammed against his skull in Paris. Mood swings, headaches, forgetfulness and irritability are all symptoms of a person still healing from concussion. Oh well. It's all moot now. What's important is he seems fine today and even mellow this time around. I thank his angels.
It is so good to have him home. And my niece, who is currently curled up in an armchair sleeping. And all their friends.