Ow, My Head Hurts!
I’ve had two concussions in the past year. By “I,” I mean “we.” By “we,” I mean two of my sons. Because when your kid has a brain injury, so do you.
If your child’s brain has somehow been slammed up against the inside of his cranium, here’s what he can’t do:
- read, watch TV, play video games, text his friends, run, turn his head fast, concentrate for more than a few minutes (so the whole education thing becomes pretty absurd), play the drums or electric guitar, ride his bike, play any kind of sports including stuff that doesn’t seem like it would hurt, like swimming or shot put, be in bright light (like sunlight), be in loud places (like anywhere there are more than a couple of kids, for instance our dinner table), be in the car for very long, because the visual of things coming at him hurts like crazy. Pretty much anything fun or educational. Or normal.
Here’s what he can do:
- bake, do art projects (but not complicated ones), sleep, have his grandfather or aunt mercifully show up and take him out for lunch, sleep some more.
Here’s what you can do:
- worry, take him to endless chiropractic and other alternative practitioner visits because western medicine’s only recommendation is physical and cognitive rest, worry some more, yell at him for sneaking video games because he’s so bored, apologize for yelling, wrack your brain for new “concussion-friendly” activities, get depressed, worry some more.
Both of my boys had prolonged post-concussive syndrome, which meant months of the above. Here’s how it happened: football. For both of them. Now, I have nothing against the sport (total lie), and I really enjoyed going to their games. Both of them were pretty good at it, as a matter of fact. And God knows you can get a head injury just walking out your door—or into it, as the case may be. Nevertheless, guess what sport we no longer play in the Fay house.
Okay, now that you think I am the most depressing person since Eyeore, here’s the funny thing: some cool and interesting stuff has happened as a result.
My older son, Liam, has never gone a season without playing a sport, but he was so desperately bored he decided to try out for a play. Unfortunately, even four months post concussion, he couldn’t memorize lines for the audition—short term memory goes haywire with a head injury. But he could ad lib, so he faked his way into a small role.
He enjoyed it so much, he tried out for the spring musical, FAME. Again, not a big part, but he’s having a blast, and has met a bunch of very fun dram-y friends, who are now in and out of our house, being dramatic and laughing a lot.
“So,” I said to him the other day. “I think you’re officially a dram-y.”
“I am,” he said, grinning.
I’m sure there are more satisfying things than watching your kid find a whole new side of himself, a whole new way to love life, but at the moment, I can’t think of any.
My younger son, Nick, has always had difficulty with reading. Not enough to bump him into the echelon of kids who get Individualized Education Plans. But enough to make reading a real chore (for both of us, if you know what I’m saying.) Our good friend Concussion has changed all that in two ways: first, Nick jumped to the front of the line in terms of school supports, teacher help, and tutoring from a young woman whom I’ve never met, but would likely kiss on the lips if I did. School is working for Nick in a whole new way.
And second, out of extreme, oceanic boredom, he started listening to audio books. I really don’t care how you take your fiction, as long as you find ways to drink deeply from the clear, cool, bottomless well of stories in this world. I’m a fiction writer. That’s how I see it.
And one last concussion-rendered gift for the Fay family: I’m now working on a story I really, really like.
I had been slaving away on a historical fiction piece, second-guessing every word. Is this how people talked to each other in 1919? Is this what they were worried about? Was this product even invented then?
Sidebar (because I ought to do something with all that information I dug up): The radio had been invented, but there were no public broadcasts until 1920. So you might have had radio, but there was nothing to listen to. You see what I’m getting at? Every flipping sentence was a quagmire of research and self-doubt. I was exhausted.
Along came the beginnings of another story in my head, and I thought, well let me just write this scene and save it for later, when I’m done with the brain-eating, confidence-snuffing historical fiction project. But, oh my gosh, it felt so good just to write, without all the angst!
And because I was feeling sorry for myself about the concussions and everything, I let myself off the hook with the historical fiction. I said to myself, “Hey, you’ve got a lot of balls in the air. Setting this piece aside for later (and so help me, I will get back to it) is not the worst, most irresponsible thing in the world. It’s not even the worst, most irresponsible thing you personally have ever done. (Let’s face it, not even close.) So, poof, here’s the hook—you’re off it.”
The moral of the story is not Get a Concussion, Good Things Might Happen. In fact I’m not sure if there is a moral, or even a point, except maybe that life is funny. And wonderfully unpredictable sometimes. Worthy of fiction.