Looking back with the benefit of hindsight two years after my daughter's concussion playing hockey at boarding school, I have some regrets about how I handled this unmarked detour in my and my daughter's life journeys. I think of myself as a pretty decent navigator, and I certainly worked hard to keep both of my hands on the wheel despite some very challenging driving conditions and over some very bumpy patches of road. But sometimes as a parent, the choice you thought was the correct one turns out to be the worst one, and I have to live with that: allowing Heidi to stay in school at the outset was an early mistake that likely sent us down a dreadful route.
So here are my four biggest regrets:
First, I regret not having been more concussion savvy. Parent awareness is everything in concussion. I knew some, but not enough, and I should have applied myself to learning much more, as quickly as possible (e.g. within the first 48 hours). I urge every parent to:
- print out a copy of the SCAT2 and post it on your refrigerator;
- keep the MomsTeam concussion center bookmarked on your computer.
- keep a sharp eye out for symptoms. As a parent, you know your child better than anyone, and there is a good chance you will be the first one to notice something is not quite right, either in the first 24 to 48 hours after a major hit (remember: delayed onset of symptoms is more common among younger athletes), or after, in Heidi's case, a series of sub-concussive blows.
- Understand that, while concussions share a number of common characteristics, every concussion is unique. Be aware of the other factors, such as age, concussion history (including whether the blow causing the new concussion, as in Heidi's case, was the result of a seemingly minor impact), pre-existing neurological conditions (Heidi's balance problems, for instance), academic load, and academic schedule, that may complicate concussion recovery and be considered in managing your child's concussion.
- If your child is diagnosed with a concussion, put together a team, including your child's pediatrician, a neuropsychologist, and the appropriate representatives at your child's school (e.g. dean, guidance counselor, school psychologist) as soon as possible to develop a game plan for academic accommodations when returning to school, accommodations which will often be needed even if the physical symptoms of concussion clear within the first week to ten days, as they do, thankfully, in nine out of ten cases) and a gradual return to exercise and sports, which should only begin once your child is completely asymptomatic.
Second, I regret that the coach let Heidi on the ice. I will never be able to forgive the coach who put Heidi on the ice for a game she didn't want to play. I regret not being able to find forgiveness in myself, but his decision, in my view, was a deliberately irresponsible act, which Heidi and our family paid for in many ways, and may continue to pay for over a lifetime. He is still coaching. Heidi's concussion forced her to retire from contact and collision sports completely.
Third, I regret not agreeing to an immediate medical leave. In hindsight, obviously, I should have acceded to the nurse's recommendation on the Monday after Heidi's concussion that she take a medical leave. I even wish that school had required me to return for a face-to-face conference immediately after the concussion assessment that day. A child's academic future is too important to decide over the phone with the nurse. Where was the dean? Or the dorm adviser? I now believe that schools are generally in a better position to comprehend the likely consequences of brain injury than any one affected family. School personnel just see more concussions, and have a broader experience base. It will require a deft touch by the nurse or athletic trainer, or perhaps the skilled involvement of other school counseling staff, to get the point across so that the family of a brain-injured student can accept what needs to happen. The wrong tone might sabotage any hope of a partnership and needlessly lengthen and complicate the recovery process.
Fourth, I regret that most schools still don't have academic contingency plans in place for concussed students. With concussion awareness increasing rapidly, the concept of a standard academic contingency plan needs to be developed and expanded. Families need to know that school staff are taking care of academic concerns for the concussed student, while the family tends to the medical issues. (More about this in a future article).
And, don't forget the Epsom salts!
Taggart Family Album
Last in the series, "Unmarked Detour."
For more articles in this series, click here.
For a page listing related video segments featuring Dorothy Bedford, click here.
For an article about Barbara Kinder, mother of Olympic women's ice hockey medalist, Caitlin Cahow, chronicling her daughter's journey through post-concussion syndrome, click here.
Dorothy Bedford is a mother of three from Princeton, New Jersey.
Posted February 1, 2012