Saturday, December 7, 2013

My Son. A Concussion Story.

December 7, 2013

Thursday afternoon I got a frantic phone call from my son who was incoherent and hysterically sobbing.    He had fallen and hit his head somehow and had absolutely NO recollection of what had happened.  I was driving home from work, and he was alone, sobbing, hysterical and terrified.  He was clearly very confused, and had NO short term memory.  He was unable to make new memories and kept asking me the same questions over and over. 
"Mom, am I going to be okay?"
"Mom, I don't remember coming to the phone.  I don't remember how I got to the phone.  I don't remember calling you .  I think I have amnesia." then hysterical sobbing. 
Then, "Mom, should I call 911?" 

Over and over again. 

I asked him, "Do you remember asking me that a minute ago?  What did I tell you?"  I was trying to figure out if he was just hysterical or if he really couldn't remember. 

He couldn't remember. 

I was freaking out.  Should I call 911 from the car?  Should I wait to get home?  He wasn't able to follow commands because he forgot what he was doing in the middle of the task-like getting ice. 

I kept him on the phone, talking, trying to hold it together for both of us, until I could get home and check him out. 

When I got home, it was clear he was in trouble.  He didn't know what month it was, what the last holiday was, where he went for Thanksgiving, or anything for the last week.  Worse, he couldn't form new memories at all. 

I called 911 and the EMT's/BLS (basic life support)ambulance came.  My husband came home around the same time.  The Basic Life support  ambulance upgraded him to ALS or advanced life support.  They took him to a local trauma unit.  My husband accompanied him in the ambulance and my terrified daughter, who came home in the middle of the chaos and thought her brother was dying, went with me in the car. 

When we got to the hospital, I wasn't sure who looked worse, my husband, who looked shell shocked, or my son, who kept repeating himself.  It was so bad that my daughter finally wrote down what had happened and each time he asked us, she said, "Get the paper out of your pocket.  It explains everything."
He'd say in amazement, "I've read this before?  I feel deja vu, like I've seen this before."  Then he would laugh uncomfortably as we told him he'd read it almost 20 times.  I videotaped him repeatedly asking the same questions over and over,  and our very patient answers.

"Is Esther okay?"  "Yes, she's fine."  "Am I going to be okay, Mommy?"  "I think so. That's why you're here."  "How long have I been out?"  "You haven't been. You've been awake this whole time."  "Am I at Swedish Covenenant?"  "No, you're at _____ hospital."  "What happened to me? I'm scared, Mom"  "We're not sure.  You hit your head."  "How long have I been out?"  and so on...

The resident and attending trauma physicians both came in several times and checked on him.  The CT of the brain and the xrays were all okay.  They took off the hard collar and took him off the back board.  They gave him some morphine for his back pain. 

Because we're both doctors, they let him go home with us.  They told us the memory loss could last from 24 hours to up to 4 weeks or more,  to let him get a good night sleep. Sleep would allow his brain to heal and rest.  They told us not to let him play sports for at least 6 weeks, up to 3 months. They gave us all of the instructions and answered all of our questions.  We were terrified that he was permanently damaged.  I'd seen traumatic brain injury up close with a patient who was in therapy for a year before her short term memory and working memory became normal again. 

Since he was sort of okay, we decided to have some fun. It WAS kind of funny that he asked the same questions over and over.  We gave him funny answers, which he believed, and promptly forgot.   Ellie put an EKG monitor pastie on his cheek.  She had him convinced that it was to monitor his jaw movements and it was important to keep it on.  He wasn't sure if he should believe her, but he kept it on.  At first it was funny. Then, it wasn't.  Poor kid.  I felt horrible for him and then I felt an overwhelming sense of fear that he would be like this forever, that my smart, beautiful, funny, anxious kid, would be living Ground Hog day--over and over again, forever.  His future could be completely erased in a freak home accident.

Fortunately he is recovering most of his memories from the last week.  His working memory is still a little spotty-he's sluggish on calculations, but it's getting better. It's only been a day and a half.
What do I tell his teachers?  How long should I keep him out of school?  Questions racing through my head. 

I guess it's human nature to try to find the humor in everything.  In retrospect, there were funny moments, but I am so grateful that he is recovering. It was funny that he believed we needed to monitor his chewing muscles.  (Poor kid)

"Bad stuff can happen in a split second.  Life is short."

 People say this kind of thing all of the time.  It never really means anything unless it's YOU it's happened to.  You can warn people until you're blue in the face, it will do no good.  It takes personal experience, fear and terror from a freak accident or unexpected illness, to make you realize it's true.  And yet, even afterward, we still live like we've got our whole lives in front of us. We live like everything is always going to be fine.  That we have plenty of time to do get things done.

 I will try to remember not to take things for granted, but it's hard work to live like that.  I don't want to constantly be worried about what's around the corner, looking for the next bad thing to befall me or my loved ones.  I'd rather live optimistically, like all will be well. Bury my head in the sand, and be happy.  Live in the now.  Live in the moment.  Hope for the best.  (My irish self says, "and expect the worst.") 

Here's some information on Concussions.  Please read it and become familiar with it.  It might be important for you some day.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013




December 4, 2013

Yesterday I noticed there was a new sign on the outside of our hospital notifying the public that bringing a gun into the hospital was not welcome. No kidding. 

There are signs all around us. Some we pay attention to, others we choose to ignore.

Some signs should never be ignored-- like a red stoplight. Recently I  was almost killed when a guy blew through a red light.  I had waited my usual two seconds after the light turned green before I proceeded into the intersection. (Thank you State of Illinois’ defensive driving course). I had just enough time to stop with a good 2 feet between the man’s car and mine. The man appeared bewildered and confused and I truly think he just didn't see that the light had turned red. He wasn’t paying attention.

 It's funny because I was thinking about
superpowers at the time. I was wondering what superpowers people have, and what they can do on a daily basis to effect change.  I was also thinking about how short and brief life can be.  Then BOOM! Well, almost boom. Fortunately not a single person was hurt, no cars were damaged, and I was able to proceed after the gentleman backed up out of the intersection. But again it reminded me how quickly our lights can be snuffed out. My superpower that time was good peripheral vision.

There are signs all around us for our health as well.

If we choose to ignore those signs and proceed into the intersection, we might crash. It's a fine balance between deciding which signs to heed and which ones to ignore. If we look at  every single sign on the road, we will become distracted. 

Sometimes signs seems more of a suggestion.  If you do the speed limit when everyone else is doing 80 mph, you're more likely to get into an accident from someone tail-gating. On the other hand, ignoring the speed limit in a school or park zone is a BAD idea.


It's  as difficult sometimes to know which signs our bodies are giving us and whether or not to pay attention to them.

Some people never learn what “normal” is. Normal is not “perfect.” Normal is not being free of symptoms or signs. Everyone has aches and pains. It's knowing when to be worried that is the trick. Is this pain my heart? Is this pain my chest wall? Could this be a blood clot? Is losing 30 lbs without trying good? Or bad? 

Our parents/guardians help when we're younger to cipher out the background noise our bodies are constantly putting out there. Growing pains, catches, itches, hiccups, colds with runny nose and scratchy throat, cramps in our muscles, feet and hands going to sleep in certain positions–all are things our elders teach us how to deal with when we’re kids.

 There are however certain signs one should never ignore.  A mole that's changing in size or color. A lingering cough. Unexplained weight loss. Urinating frequently, painfully or with blood. Changes in the color of or blood in  your stool. New daily persistent headaches. Flashing lights in your eyes. Unexplained weight loss. Uncontrollable nausea and vomiting with abdominal pain.

We learn which signs to ignore through experience and through the help of experts like our parents or our friends or our doctors. The trick is not blowing through the red light. Not missing the signs.

That's kind of how disease can sometimes be too. All of a sudden the light goes from amber to red, the hoarseness became vocal cord cancer. The weight loss is lymphoma.  The mole is melanoma.

When the light turns yellow you should slow down and pay
attention. When it turns red you should stop and give it your full attention.  Don't blow through the red lights your body is
putting out there. Pay attention to the signs and symptoms but learn what is serious and what is not.  Use reputable medical websites like Mayo Clinic or Medscape, and don't believe everything you read on the net.  Lots of people are just trying to con you out of your hard earned cash by feeding on fears and giving misinformation.  

AND BY ALL MEANS...Talk to your doctor.  And your Mom.