When the nurse practitioner described my child's injury as a mild traumatic brain injury, I glossed over the terminology until I relayed it to my husband. Then it hit me with a shudder: brain injury.
It happens in a flash. A tangle of legs and arms in a tussle over a ball during a high school girls' soccer game. My daughter takes an elbow to the head that makes her stumble, but she pushes on for the remaining few minutes of the game. No one — coaches, teammates or spectators even notice she's been hit. She comes off the field at the end of the game complaining to me of a headache and later to her father — and unbeknownst to me — of nausea.
When it happened to my daughter we were unaware that her symptoms were signs of an injury that would last for six months. I was also unaware of the griefs that awaited me as her mother.
Heartbreaking moments such as:
- The school nurse calling to deliver the news that our teen was complaining of tunnel vision and feeling foggy-brained. Troubling symptoms. Yet I sent her to school for three days thinking it was her usual headache. I regret not taking her to a doctor sooner, especially when a concussion test administered by the school trainer conclusively diagnosed the injury I missed.
- Realizing I misinterpreted the pediatrician's follow-up instructions. She chewed me out the next day when I called to ask what medication to give my daughter for the headache after school. Why did my daughter attend classes when she should've been home in a dark room with no light, no sound, no mental stimulation of any sort?
- Friends texting our daughter reporting school-day antics and weekend plans two weeks into her isolation, hoping she'll join them soon. But our daughter appears to be no better, still curled up in her hushed bedroom, fleece blankets draped over windows. She sleeps most of the day, emerging only at night to shower in a dimly lit bathroom. I ache to see her regain her normal teenage life.
- The moment we visit a neurologist five weeks after the concussion-causing bump and the nurse practitioner describes our teen's concussion as a mild traumatic brain injury. I gloss over the terminology until I have to relay it to my husband. Then it hits me with a shudder: brain injury.
- The same nurse practitioner looks me in the eye and instructs that if my child exhibits symptoms of depression I am to ask her point blank, "Are you feeling suicidal?" I hope beyond hope that I will not have any cause to ask this. But the nurse's insistence makes me fear that I will.
- I sit in a meeting with support staff at the high school, working on a plan to help my child finish her freshman year while attending half days. The school nurse assures me that during my teen's scheduled gym class there will be a bed reserved for her in the health office so she can rest her brain. As I check out later at the attendance window, I chat with the receptionist there who has become familiar with my voice over the past few weeks. And I realize my daughter and I are discovering a side of the education system we never expected to experience.
- I count the third time in a day that my child breaks down sobbing at the slightest provocation. When I ask her why, she says she does not know. It happens again the next day and the next. Until one day she spends an entire evening in her bed crying. I ask the dreaded question: does she feel suicidal? She does not answer and I spend the night curled up beside her, hand gripping her shoulder. The following day I call the doctor to ask them to switch her medication. Soon after the uncontrolled crying stops.
- My ordinarily bright child slumps at our kitchen counter, weeping because she cannot understand math. I recall recent cognitive tests run by a neuropsychologist indicating her abilities have been compromised by the concussion. But she does not get what those results mean. And she does not get math right now either. What she desperately wants to get is an A in the class, injury or no.
- We are hosting our annual barbeque with a backyard full of our favorite people, when I notice my daughter following her friends around in a daze before quietly retreating to her room to be alone. I wistfully watch the teens having a water balloon fight later and wonder again how long until my child can take part in the fun, uninterrupted by pain.
Certainly worse injuries or illnesses can happen to our child. And I find reassurance along the way that she will recovery fully, without lasting impact ... eventually. But a sense of vulnerability and helplessness still catch me off guard at times. Because this is my child. And she has a concussion.