When the phone rang with my son’s school’s caller ID, I never expected it would be the secretary, telling me my 13-year-old had gotten seriously injured. “Mrs. Owenby, Chandler hit his head on the gym floor playing basketball,” she said, assuring me he was alert and responsive, and then handing him the phone. “Mom, I’m okay, but my head hurts," Chandler said. I grabbed my keys and headed out the door, thinking about all those stories of kids with brain bleeds—and praying all the while.
When I arrived at school, Chandler was sitting in the office with an ice pack on the back of his head. He’d been given some Advil and was resting. Since it was lunch period, I took him to get a smoothie. While we were in the car, Chandler told me he had fallen backwards and hit the back of his head; then a teammate fell on top of him and hit his forehead. At the smoothie place, the sound of the blenders made his headache worse—a symptom of concussion, though I didn’t know that. He went back to school since he didn’t want to miss his last period, science, but after that he still had a headache. I called our doctor, who told me to watch for sleepiness, vomiting or confusion. Chandler slept well that night, but when he woke up his head still hurt, and despite more Advil, nothing had changed by the end of the day.
So I took him to the doctor. He performed a basic neurological exam, asking Chandler to balance on one leg, touch his nose, make a fist; he also did a vision tracking test. The diagnosis: a mild concussion. The advice: rest for the weekend. After we left, a friend called and suggested we see a sports medicine concussion specialist. At our Monday appointment, Chandler failed two specific neurological tests—putting his hand on his thigh and flipping it over and back quickly, and doing jumping jacks. "What's a jumping jack?" he said when asked to do one. I looked at the doctor in shock.
He explained that a concussion is like someone swinging a baseball bat and into a telephone. Some of the plugs will pop out and it takes time for the brain to put everything back in place. He was put on full cognitive rest—no TV, iPhone, video games, excessive schoolwork or athletic training—for seven days. With weekly follow-up visits, Chandler improved, and was gradually allowed to resume normal activities.
He’s fully recovered, with no after effects. My advice to moms out there: It takes a specialist to recognize the symptoms of concussion, and without an accurate diagnosis your child is at risk for additional injuries or lifelong complications. I’m thankful Chandler’s injury was not worse, and that I had a smart friend who told me the right thing to do.
Christy Owenby is a mom of three in Covington, Louisiana, and a smarter, wiser concussion survivor.
(She’s pictured above with her boys, Chandler is on the left.)