Head injuries terrify me.
When I was a cub reporter, I covered a story about a little boy named Judah who died of a blood clot on his brain about 48 hours after slipping on some milk and striking the back of his head on a table in a school cafeteria.
The memories I have of the boy’s grief-stricken family in October 1999 would later have an enormous influence on how I dealt with head injuries as a parent. In a word: Panic.
The first head injury we dealt with was when our daughter, at about 18 months old, jumped from the second stair on our stair case, and smacked her head on the edge of the breakfast bar in our kitchen. A large, dark purple goose egg was still taking shape on her forehead as we carried her into the emergency room.
The doctor explained that the bruised area was low risk for a concussion or other brain injury, but gave us signs to watch for: vomiting, dizziness, disorientation.
I couldn’t fall asleep that night; I was afraid I’d miss one of the danger signs. I kept thinking about Judah’s family and how their lives had changed in an instant.
Fast forward about a dozen years and two more kids — silly, sometimes clumsy, fun-loving, can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other boys — and head injuries have become something we’ve had plenty of experience with. I won’t say it’s gotten easier, but I think we’re doing better at knowing which ones require immediate doctor attention, and which ones are OK with an ice pack.
Also, in the scheme of life, it turns out there are many other injuries that can be just as terrifying, such as sprained shoulders and separated ribs.
All of our kids play sports, and live life like their parents do — at 110 percent — and they have the scars to prove it.
In fact, on a recent morning, as we waited for a doctor to check our oldest son’s eye, which was temporarily blinded by the edge of a football (yes, this is my life), I wondered if the urgent care office could name a coffee table or hallway in honor of our family. We certainly have given a lot of money to them during the past two years, thanks to basketball-, horse riding-, peewee football-, recess-, sledding- and soccer-related injuries, along with run-of-the-mill coughs, colds, pinkeye and tummy bugs.
Maybe we could get a punch card and earn a free visit, like we do for our espresso drinks? You know it’s bad when the receptionist already has your file pulled up on the computer and greets you with, “I recognize you, mom, but which kid did you bring today?”
Yes, families like our party of five are probably the reason your medical premiums are so high. No, you don’t want to see all of the scars my hubby has from his childhood. Yes, we have talked about putting our children in germ-free bubbles. No, we wouldn’t change a thing, but you can believe we are sticklers for safety gear such as bicycle helmets because sometimes it feels like we’re accident-prone.
In fact, as I type this, our youngest son is recovering from two concussions within about five weeks of each other.
It’s very scary, but not necessarily uncommon. After the first head bonk, which happened when he was trying to get through a crowded area at school in April, the doctor explained that his balance was already off, so he was more likely to fall. The second accident, in mid-May, was a very typical kid type of fall, but it rattled him because of his earlier injury.
The thing is, we simply can’t have a third head injury. So this will probably be the summer that he’ll never forget because until he’s cleared by the neurologist, we can’t let him do what 8-year-olds do for fun: running, bikes, playground toys, excessive TV or video games. We canceled two weeks of summer camp because he’d have to sit out most of the activities. We’ve taken him swimming a few times, but made him wear a life jacket, swam beside him and eagle-eyed his every move.
He’s gotten upset and called us overprotective, but we’ve explained that we only get one of him, and we need to keep him safe.
The neurologist warned us that a second concussion would take longer to heal, and it has. But each week we’re seeing a little improvement; his headaches have become less painful and less frequent.
When he’s gone headache-free for two weeks in a row, the doctor said he can resume sports and normal activities.
I know he’ll be excited to play like a regular kid with his friends again.
But, honestly, I’d feel better if we could cover him in Bubble Wrap and put a helmet on his beautiful blonde noggin before letting him venture back into the real world.