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.


  1. First of all, thank you so much for all these information about concussions. Second, it's really nice to hear that your son is finally recovering. Yes, we see memory loss happening in our televisions everyday, but it really is different once it happens to someone we know. Just a suggestion, maybe once he fully recovers you can get him a therapist for some post concussion management just to be sure that he is recovering well.

    Vanessa Adams

    1. Thanks for the comment. He is recovering nicely although still irritable. Tough to decide if it's teenage obnoxiousness or related to the concussion. We do have a psychologist we work with and we had decided to pursue that avenue if things didn't improve. Your point is an excellent one and should be added to the approach to concussion. Thanks.