Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Concussions are unlike any other type of injury.
As a young boy growing up, I was extremely ignorant of all types of injuries. I thought, well, if I fell, I'd just get back up and over time whatever I hurt was going to heal.
I was right, for the most part.
I was born with cerebral palsy, which affects my walking. As a result, I need a walker or some type of support. Because of that, I've had a lot of situations where I have fallen or tripped and been injured.
I've had my fair share of concussions, too. There was one incident that I remember like it happened yesterday. I was in Grade 2 or 3, and I was playing outside with a friend during lunch hour. It all was in good fun until my wheels got caught on the curb, which put the walker on an angle. At the time, I wasn't physically strong enough to get my walker on even ground, and it went straight backward.
I heard “KONCK“ as my head hit concrete at full force.
“Are you OK?” my friend asked, in obvious concern.
“I'm fine,” I uttered.
But I clearly wasn't. When I tried to get up, I couldn't.
I'd try again, and again, but I just ended up laying on the ground every time. I didn't want attention put on me while in that situation, but it ended up happening anyway. All the parents, students and teachers came running to see what was wrong. I was just laying on the ground like a starfish. A mother of one of the kids got on her knees and spoke extremely close to my face.
“Honey, you will be fine,” she said.
Then she screamed for someone to call 9-1-1 and request an ambulance.
I didn't really know what was going on, so I didn't respond to anything she said. Thank goodness she didn't have bad breath; she was inches away from my face and it could have looked like she was making out with me. Anyway, within minutes an ambulance showed up, by which point I was really scared.
It was my first time experiencing the big emergency truck.
“What's happening?” I said to my teacher as they loaded me into the ambulance. “What's going on?” I had no idea where I was going.
“These people are just taking you somewhere to make sure you’re OK,” my support worker said. He rode to Children's Hospital with me.
When I got there, they did a bunch of tests on me, and a few hours later my mom showed up and began asking me how I ended up in the hospital.
One of the translators jumped in and explained what had happened and what the doctor was saying to her. The doctor said I was doing fine and I was free to head home. The wooziness was gone.
I really didn't know what concussions were, until I got in my early teenage years where I started hearing about the issue during NHL broadcasts. But, even then, I still didn't understand the impact of a head injury.
Norm Weseen, one of my close friends, reads this blog every day for hockey news. In the summer of 2011, Gregg Drinnan, the founder of Taking Note, posted that there was going to be a conference focusing on head injuries at the University of British Columbia's Brain Research Centre on Sept. 21 and provided a link to the registration information.
You may recall that awareness on concussions had started to heat up because Pittsburgh Penguins forward Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL, had suffered a concussion in the 2010-11 season from blindside hits to the head.
With that in mind, Weseen, a great man who is always willing to help people, saw the post and decided to call me right away.
“Hey, bozo,” he said, jokingly. “Gregg says there's a conference at UBC on concussions. You interested?”
“Yeah,” I replied, knowing what had happened with Crosby.
“OK, I'll figure out how to register and I'll pick you up at 7.”
“OK,” I said.
Now it was Sept. 21 and we were close to getting there. But UBC has so many building that it took us 20 minutes to find the right one, and we arrived just in time.
As I entered the conference room, there was five minutes until the opening remarks and there weren’t any media people in attendance.
I thought to myself that “maybe they're just running late.”
As the time came to start the conference and the security people came to shut the doors, there still were no reporters there. I was the only person there that does media. The rest were students. I was baffled at the fact that there was no media. Don't they want to cover something that has not only a huge impact on hockey, but sports altogether? Shocking.
Anyway, most of the speakers’ presentations went so fast that I didn't understand 90 per cent of each one. But when I attend coaching clinic, they always say that it's not about taking in all the presentations, it's about learning one item at a time. So taking in 10 per cent of each presentation was pretty good in my books.
But there was one presentation that I paid more attention to than the others. It was by Dr. Ann McKee of Boston College and she talked about the major consequences after suffering a head injury.
“What the hell?” I said to Weseen, who was seated beside me. “There's consequences?”
“I don't know,” he replied, with a laugh. “Just shut up and listen.”
During McKee's presentation, she mentioned two names that really got my attention. One being Crosby, and the other being Rob Van Dam, a WWE wrestler. Aside from watching hockey, I've been watching professional wrestling on a weekly basis since I was two years of age. McKee explained that because of Van Dam's high-flying style, he had suffered a number of concussions. This proved to me that wrestling wasn't fake, but that the outcomes are scripted in order to create storylines.
Then she showed the people in attendance something I had never before seen. She displayed pictures of brains that had suffered concussion and the sort of damage it does. When athletes suffer a concussion, it puts a brown spot on the brain, and it stays forever. The ones with the brown spots are more prone to another concussion, which will make the brown spot darker and perhaps even larger. If it gets bad enough, athletes having incurred a number of concussions may behave abnormally.
So that begs the question: Why are shots to the head allowed in hockey?
In terms of wrestling, I get it, it's simulated fighting. But why are shots to the head allowed in a game that, in order to obtain victory, you have to score more goals than the other team? You don't score goals with dirty hits; you do it by putting the puck in the net. What really bugs me is a pre-planned fight during a hockey game. Fine, if two players are fighting out of anger, let them be. Hockey is a game with high emotion.
But if the fight has no reason behind it, then why risk getting a head injury that could have affects later on in life? It makes no sense.
After attending the conference, I get all fired up when I hear about concussions, especially because of my own experience. Those head injuries will stay with me forever, even if a doctor tells me I'm fine.
It's not just another concussion.
(Dickson Liong is Taking Note’s Vancouver correspondent.)