The Mighty Logo

Are We Conditioned to Not Take Concussions Seriously?

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

Growing up I remember seeing many shows, cartoons, videos, and real life experiences where someone hit their head and it was always associated with laughter. There has been a lack of seriousness surrounding this enormous epidemic — death from a brain injury.

I have had many concussions through my life and I was always able to “bounce back” — until one time I didn’t. In 2011 I sustained a TBI while playing basketball. It wasn’t until two years later that I wound up in the ICU, and I didn’t know who I was or where I was. This was the first time I began taking concussions and brain injury for what they were: a serious, life-threatening matter. But let’s take a look through history and see why it took so long for me to understand the gravity of the situation.

Cartoons have always referenced someone getting hit in the head repeatedly, and it was never thought of as anything less than funny. To this day, I still see kids’ movies and shows making light of someone’s damaged head. How can we get society to understand the ramifications if it is ingrained in us from such an early age?

It wasn’t just cartoons that were guilty of capitalizing on people who hit their heads. If you ever grew up watching “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” you would remember how often people submit videos of incidents like these on the show. Everyone in the audience and around the world is laughing at you taking a bat to the head. I will admit, I used to be one of the people who laughed, until I started learning about the serious side effects. According to a study done by Danish scientists, people with head injury were 65 percent more likely to develop schizophrenia, 59 percent more likely to develop depression, 28 percent more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and 439 percent more likely to develop organic mental disorders. If you were a happy kid, but later in life you were diagnosed with depression or bipolar disorder, and you don’t know why, it could be from hitting your head previously.

“The Three Stooges” was one of my dad’s favorite shows growing up. I remember being a child and the whole family would gather around our old tube TV to watch the guys play jokes on each other. However, their famous punch lines didn’t involve much verbiage; in fact, they were mainly focused on blows to the head. If you sustain a concussion or traumatic brain injury, the effects can be long term. Some of the lasting symptoms can include migraines, headaches, memory loss, issues with balance, sleeping issues, cognitive issues, trouble walking and sleeping, just to name a few. Ironically, healing a broken brain is not the same as healing a broken arm. One with trauma to the brain may never recover or their lives may be changed forever.

When I was growing up, I liked to watch some fights. I remember playing Mike Tyson’s “Punch Out” on the original Nintendo. It was so thrilling when I could make my way through the game and take down Mike Tyson. The crowd cheers and celebrates your victory of hitting someone down until they are knocked out. The game isn’t too far off from reality. People are placing bets, observing, yelling out recommendations and cheering when someone gives another person a beating. According to the Mayfield Clinic, the classifications for traumatic brain injury are as follows: Traumatic brain injuries are classified according to the severity and mechanism of injury:

  • Mild: person is awake; eyes open. Symptoms can include confusion, disorientation, memory loss, headache, and brief loss of consciousness.
  • Moderate: person is lethargic; eyes open to stimulation. Loss of consciousness lasting 20 minutes to 6 hours. Some brain swelling or bleeding causing sleepiness, but still arousable.
  • Severe: person is unconscious; eyes do not open, even with stimulation. Loss of consciousness lasting more than 6 hours.

If you are watching these types of sports, and a competitor is exuding any of these symptoms, you may want to stop cheering because at that point there is damage to the brain.

I was born and raised in Denver, and I have always been a Denver Broncos fan. We always hosted parties where we would watch them play every weekend. Ever since I was in the ICU for TBI it has been a little harder to watch football. Before I would find myself saying things like “Wow, what a hit! Sit down! Not in our house!” After I learned the risks, and felt what it’s like to fight for my life back, I find myself singing a different tune. If I am watching the game and someone gets hit hard the first thing out of my mouth is “I hope he is OK.” No matter what color jersey he is wearing. If the hit is too bad I have to stop watching. Even if he gets up off the field, I know from personal experience, that tackle may not change your life until years later. Later in life he may have problems walking or remembering the birth of his child. He may lose his friends, family and his identity. And depending on the damage, it might only get worse from there.

I want to offer some insight and possibly some understanding to those who have experienced head trauma and those who haven’t. There are many stigmas around traumatic brain injury. Traumatic brain injury can’t always be seen by the naked eye. By looking at a picture of me, can you tell I have a TBI? People have said cruel things to me before because I didn’t heal at the rate they expected, or I couldn’t remember a memory they were referring to. Or because I was confused in a conversation and something weird flew out of my mouth instead of what I actually meant. I have worked really hard and conquered some things. I still do have a couple symptoms, but by looking at me you wouldn’t know it. I write this in hopes that the next time you want to be mean or fly off the handle, please remember someone may have something going on that you can’t see.

I also write this for survivors and caregivers. As much as we want people to understand what we are going through, it is hard to change an idea that has been ingrained in people for so long. From early ages we are taught to laugh and cheer when someone gets a concussion or a traumatic brain injury. It’s hard for others to understand the gravity of our circumstances when cartoons, shows, and live sports are wrapped in fallacies that there aren’t lifelong consequences from taking blows to the head. Through awareness and facts, we can dissolve stigmas. Don’t give up. Our stories and our statistics are the best preventative medicine out there. #NotAlone

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo by contributor.

Originally published: November 15, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home