Concussions: A Firsthand Account

By: Michelle Meunier

As a 17-year-old kid I didn’t have many cares in the world. I went to school, was a member of the school newspaper, got decent grades and played travel soccer in one of the most competitive leagues in the state.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I wasn’t half bad at soccer either. I played goalie, which I loved, and forward, which was cool too besides the fact that I was pretty slow (the intellect I had for the game made up for my lack of speed).

Everything in life seemed like it was going the way it should be; great family, friends and extracurriculars. It all changed during one game.

As I went up to head a ball my opponent jumped with me. She missed the ball but got the back of my head, and in that moment I know I lost a lot of my talent, passion and desire for the game of soccer.

While sitting on the bench and watching the rest of the game, my parents came over to check on me. How frightening it must have been for my mom to hear me slurring my words like I was wasted, and answering my question about how many points my team had (points, really)?

For me, it was just as scary. Going to a neurologist, knowing I was no longer the student I used to be and definitely no longer the athlete I had been. Coming back from any injury is difficult, but when it is something as serious as your brain, it is a bit different.

With the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB all re-evaluating their stances on returning to play after head injuries, there are many aspects of the game and the evaluation of players after injuries that still need to be considered.

The NHL has banned blindsided hits to the head and has contemplated outlawing headshots altogether. In 2011 the NHL also ruled players with “concussion like symptoms” must be examined by a doctor in the locker room before returning to the ice. In the past all it took was a trainer’s evaluation of the player.

As a teenager I was so adamant about continuing to play for my team that I went out and played again the next day, and in the end sustained an even worse concussion because of that decision. I wasn’t getting a huge paycheck or any perks besides playing the game I loved. It is hard to imagine having to tell a professional “no,” but that is what needs to continue to happen in order to keep these sports as safe as can be.

I’ve heard many people argue, especially NFL fans, that implementing these new rules changes the game, but to me there is no argument. No matter what kind of sport you are playing, high contact or single player games there is no need for a head to head hit. In the NFL in particular it can be argued that these current players would never go in for a helmet to helmet hit if they played decades ago when the helmets worn by the players were less protective than they are now. Just because players have these elaborate, padded plastic shells protecting their heads it does not mean a direct hit will not jostle the head around and develop concussion like effects.

As a fan of all sports I can honestly say I love to see a great hit in hockey or football, a great in the air challenge in soccer and competitive diving plays on the basketball court, but when any of these plays happen with an obvious attempt to hit another player directly in the head it is inexcusable. Is a fine for a helmet to helmet hit really that significant to a player who makes millions per year?

Having fought my way back from a concussion from August of 2006 to August of 2007 I felt comfortable enough to be back on the field. I’m positive some of my aggressiveness was taken from me, but I was almost as good as new after rehabbing from my first issue with concussions.

Then, lightning struck twice. While practicing in August of 2007 for my final season as a member of the travel team Midland Atletico, a team I had been a part of since 1999, it was my luck to be hit again. While sharing a field with another team, I was lined up at centerfield with my teammates to get ready to run a drill as the other team scrimmaged horizontally on their half of the field. Standing amidst at least twelve other girls, when the stray pass came sailing in, the back of my head is the recipient it found. At that point I knew I was done playing travel soccer, and I only had one final season of varsity soccer to hope for.

Although I wore headgear to help protect me, it was only a headband, used mostly to protect while going up for headers. Having had these injuries myself I can understand a professional athlete’s urge to return to the game. It is how they earn a living and often times all they have known in their adult life.

After walking around in a haze for months on end it was January, and time to begin conditioning for spring season. I went to the sessions in the Midland High back gym as often as they were held. As a senior I wanted to be able to show some leadership role, but as the time came to run, jump, cut and kick my hopes began to dwindle. Having been fairly inactive for almost half a year these preseason trainings were too much for me to handle. I immediately felt dizzy and drunk. I either had a dazed and confused look about me or a small, creepy smirk on my face as if I had been drinking.

I had countless MRI’s, CT scans, word memorization tests with a neurologist and even an EEG and I was cleared to play with the declaration if I took another hit to the head I was done for good.

At this point, as an 18-year-old I understood how foolish it was to continue to play, but even that didn’t stop me. I played my senior season, but was not as strong, fast, agile or aggressive as I should have been. I knew I had college to look forward to; classes to lead me down a path for the rest of my life, and it just seemed stupid to risk getting hurt again by heading the ball or playing the caliber of soccer I knew I was capable of.

Looking back on it now, I can see that my decisions to continue to play were selfish to my family, my team and most importantly myself. Who knows what could have happened if I got hit one or two more times. I already felt significant personality changes and did not feel like me. I don’t think it was until September of 2010 that truthfully returned to myself. The process of recovery takes so much time that rushing yourself to get back into the game is not worth it.

It has been said that clinical depression is present in about 5 percent of the general population, but throw in head trauma and that jumps to nearly 40 percent. Early signs of Alzheimer’s can be detected, and effects that come with depression or post-concussion syndromes.

Speaking from experience and having four years of retrospective thinking, continuing to play soccer at the competitive level I did was probably one of the dumbest things I could have done. Soccer was an escape, it was my time to get away and not worry about the other things going on in my life. I felt like I needed it, and I’m almost certain all of the professional athletes who suffer from concussions feel the same way. However, is it really worth it to deteriorate your brain down to nothing, suffer while battling to become who you used to be and risking your potential long-term health? I don’t think so.

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