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My nephew has had at least 12 concussions

Posted Dec 26 2009 12:00am

Or so he proudly announced to the family the other day, after he had a hard fall while sledding and was knocked loopy for a bit. He sledded down the hill to a ramp some kids had built, lost control of his sled, and landed flat on his back from six feet up. He said he got knocked out a bit, but nobody saw him hesitate. They say he looked like he just got up and went back to sledding.

My sister, who was supervising all the kids while they were sledding, was concerned. The last thing she wants is to return the kid to his mom worse than when she picked him up. But there’s only so much you can do with young teenage boys. Especially when they’re into extreme contact sports, which this kid is.

This nephew is a relatively recent addition to our family, the son of a new spouse who married into the extended family a few years back. I don’t know him well, and I don’t see much of him, as he lives a couple of states away, and I don’t get on the road much, between my job responsibilities and money and fatigue. But he’s always seemed like a decent kid, and I hate to think of what this may eventually mean for him, his behavior, and his cognitive future.

Then again, you never know what the future holds for anyone. If I fretted about all the head injuries I had when I was a kid — and there are a bunch that I don’t remember ultra-clearly, but I know did happen — I wouldn’t have any time for the rest of my life. And the fact that I have the excellent life I have, is proof that a series of concussions doesn’t have to ruin your life.

But still, it does give one pause. It makes me wonder if this kid is showing off, telling folks he’s had all those concussions. It makes me wonder if it’s a badge of courage for him — it sounds like it is. I wonder if anyone has explained to this kid what happens to football players and the brains of people who sustain repeated concussions. I’m not sure there’s much point.  It’s really his parents who should be spoken to. But his dad is really into “boys being boys” which to hims mind involves a fair amount of contact sports, falling down, brawling, and general roughness that — as I’ve witnessed — involves at least some level of head trauma.

It makes me wonder… How much is head injury actually an accepted part of life, even an encouraged one, for some people — and their kids? How much are concussion and subconcussive head injury, which are quite widespread,  a standard-issue part of some lives? What kind of future do people have, if they’re neurologically compromised by head traumas they embrace as a sign of toughness? And how much does head trauma have to do with the endemic social ills we have to content with daily?

I don’t know my nephew’s biological parent well enough to say anything about this, without seeming like I’m meddling. And I don’t know enough about childhood concussions and their prospective outcomes to say much that’s hopeful or constructive. I guess all I have to offer is my own experience and my own example of how I’m getting along in life. My nephew is a really good kid. He truly is. He’s well-spoken and intelligent, and he’s doing amazingly well with his new brothers, now that he’s in the family. I just hate to see him end up disadvantaged in life because of after-effects from all those concussions. And I’d hate to see his family suffer under the misguided assumption that behavior problems he may eventually exhibit are about the kind of person he is, rather than the brain he’s got which has been shaped and reshaped by repeated trauma.

It could be that I’m concerned over nothing. It could be that he keeps his act together and is able to build for himself a positive and pro-active life. Maybe he won’t get into drugs and alcohol, like I did. Maybe he won’t get into trouble at school. Maybe all the things that made my life next to impossible for so many years won’t be his lot in life. One can hope.

Well, you never know. Every brain is different. Every body is different. And for the most part, we all have at least a fighting chance. I’ll just keep an ear open for news of how he’s doing, and spend some time figuring out what, if anything, I can say to his folks to help them understand what concussion can do.

But I’m not going out of my way to prompt any scare stories. It could be, with this kid, we’ve all got nothing to worry about.

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