Don’t Do What I Did: How Minimizing Concussions Caught Up to Me

Seriously, don’t do what I did. 

All of my concussions were sustained during ice hockey. My first concussion occurred in an ice hockey game in high school in 2007. At the time, I was told to just lie in a dark room and rest for a week which I did. I didn’t seem to have any residual or lingering symptoms and carried on like normal one week later. The next concussion occurred later that season. This was also in a game and I lost consciousness for a little over twenty minutes. I was hospitalized and observed after imaging. The doctors said I had “multiple areas of bruising on my brain” that was monitored with more imaging. After about two weeks, I carried on like usual. I didn’t notice any residual symptoms after that.

Freshman year of college I sustained at least two documented concussions, among many other subconcussive head impacts. They seemed like pretty bad hits at the time – my head pinned between a player’s body and the boards. It was just accepted to play down the injury and minimize the symptoms if you had any so you could keep playing. This was pretty much the culture. Maybe it was just competitive hockey player pride – I did it and many of my teammates did it. At the end of the day, you didn’t want to let your teammates down even though you were sacrificing your own health. 

I remember being so dazed and dizzy after a hit. The athletic trainer came over to the bench to evaluate me and I somehow pretended that I was completely fine. I was cleared to go back out like nothing ever happened. I can’t even tell you how many times this happened.

The next weekend we had an away game. The opponent’s athletic trainer was helping me before the game and during the conversation I would try to respond but could not express the words I wanted to say. I knew what I wanted to say but I opened my mouth and I could not express the words. I started panicking. What is happening? I brushed it off and got ready and played in the game. I did not tell anyone.

The summer after freshman year I started experiencing a multitude of issues – lack of focus, memory loss, headaches, struggling to find words. I saw several specialists who did a lot of testing and determined I should take the next year off of school and hockey to allow my brain to heal. I considered it…lightly. I couldn’t be away from my friends and from hockey. I started a few different medications to help with the symptoms and headaches. I went back to school and continued ice hockey. 

I wish I had never done that – taken the head hits so lightly. Don’t do what I did.

Sophomore year was going great in terms of not sustaining any concussions until one game I took a cheap shot. I was completely wrecked. My head slammed the boards. Black out, dizzy, ringing. I got up in an attempt to skate to our bench but every time I made it to my feet I would black out and fall back down. I knew this was bad. At least I acknowledged that. I made it to the bench and left the game where the trainer evaluated me.

Before the sophomore hockey season we took the ImPACT test to have a baseline of cognitive function if we were to sustain a concussion. ImPACT stands for immediate post-concussion assessment and cognitive testing. This is a computerized test that is used to determine when you can return to play based on comparison to your baseline scores prior to the concussion.

After this concussion, I could not be cleared to return to play until I scored better or the same as my baseline testing. I took the test three times and failed. I really struggled with matching and identifying the shapes that flashed on the screen and disappeared.

I was becoming exceedingly frustrated and just wanted to play. It was embarrassing that I couldn’t pass. During my fourth attempt at the test, the athletic trainer left the room and I was alone. I felt like I lucked out. I saw a dry erase marker nearby and thought, “this is how I will pass this test.” I used the dry erase marker to make little notes, dots and write out letters on the computer screen to show me where the disappearing shapes and letters were because otherwise I would never pass – I couldn’t remember anything. I passed using the marker and was cleared to return to play.

An example of an ImPACT test module.

This was my last documented concussion from college and if I did experience any residual effects, I just pushed through it. I didn’t start to develop chronic daily headaches until about a year to a year and a half later. I was shocked when I saw a neurologist who diagnosed me with post concussion syndrome. I asked, “how could this be when my last concussion was over a year ago?” That’s when I first learned the symptoms can be delayed by months to years even. 

At that point I tried so many different medications and really suffered for years. I saw an integrative medicine doctor who discussed the guts involvement after brain injury. More on this later. I changed my diet and the headaches vanished. I was feeling a lot better and felt pretty much back to normal.

Everything was good until the most recent concussion. You think I would have learned from these previous mistakes, but I didn’t. I again tried to push through it and minimize it the best I could. Something I regret to this day.

I often ask myself if I had done things differently then, would I be in the position I am in now? Is my current recovery a cumulative effect of all of these hits and the last one was the final straw? I wish I had done things differently.  

Don’t do what I did – don’t play through an injury, don’t minimize it, be honest because otherwise the protocols that are in place are useless. 

Being a hero doesn’t mean pushing through an injury. Being a hero means being strong enough to be honest and take the injury seriously. 

We only have one, precious brain.

Don’t do what I did. Take it seriously.