“What?” I said, momentarily stunned. I hadn’t seen any collision, maybe I'd missed it because I was chatting with a friend while trying to wake up by gulping down a large cup of coffee. My youth hockey player had been acting normally all day long following the game, vigorously playing, eating and not at all displaying the traditional signs that he’d sustained a concussion.
When he asked for some Tylenol after dinner, I knew he wasn’t kidding around, so I gave him some and told him to go to bed.
Yesterday morning he woke up and said his headache was still bothering him. I began to worry, despite the fact that he hadn’t been knocked out, lethargic, vomited or “seen stars” after the collision.
However when he came home from school yesterday afternoon and said his headache was still there, even though he was able to run around and play, I decided to call the pediatrician’s office.
“I don’t know if it’s a concussion,” I said over the phone. “He’s been acting normally. But it’s the headaches that are worrying me.”
Apparently I was right to worry, or so the pediatrician’s office folks told me, citing the work of a renowned medical expert in the field of children and brain injuries. We need to treat him with kid gloves, the nurse said before she gave me a list of things The Youngest Boy could not do until he’d been headache-free for a week:
- No sports
- No gym class
- No playing outside (including outdoor recess)
- No cardiovascular activity
- No HD TV
- No computer/iPod Touch/Nintendo DS screentime
- No drumming (he’s a drummer in his school band)
We told him about all the cautionary tales of pro athletes who’ve been forced to leave their sports and have continued to suffer from excruciating headaches years after they stopped playing because they didn’t give themselves time to recover from this largely invisible injury. (It was ironic that, over the weekend, I’d read a harrowing interview in the New York Times with former NFL star Kris Jenkins who had to abandon his football career in his early 30s due to injuries and is plagued by pain to this day.)
Upon mentioning the situation on Twitter, one of my Twitter pals suggested, “[You] can remind [the] kid the docs told P. Bergeron same stuff, and now he's better. Even the big kids have to be careful,” referring to Bruins player Patrice Bergeron who has experienced a severe concussion, allowed himself to heal, and then returned to the ice.
I later learned, after doing my own internet sleuthing that the expert whose advice the pediatrician’s office was following has offered this controversial advice in order to protect children’s brains: Collision sports should be limited to those ages 14 and older.
“The young brains are more vulnerable, they're less myelinated, the necks are weaker, the heads are bigger proportionately so the forces that accelerate the brain need not be as high to produce higher accelerations,” Robert Cantu, the co-director of the Neurologic Sports Injury Center at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told a Boston TV station, noting that he has seen otherwise asymptomatic teenage athletes who play contact sports who, once their brains are scanned, exhibit symptoms of degenerative brain disease, which can lead to "personality changes, memory loss, depression, even dementia," the news station reported.
"We have millions of youngsters putting their heads into collision sports right now and we don't really know how safe this is for them," he said to WCVB. "Even with that horrifyingly scary info in mind, this is going to be a difficult prescription for The Youngest Boy, who’s very active and loves to race around, to follow.
This morning he woke up and told me he still has a headache.
Damn this is going to seem like a very long week.