By: Jett Millican
Concussions are everywhere. You hear about them happening to you friends and peers, but to a person who has never experienced a concussion it can be hard to understand that they are more than just a big headache.
Jenks Athletic Trainer, Michael Catterson sees over 70 concussion cases involving Jenks students and athletes per year. I was able to talk to Catterson on the logistics of a concussion and what really causes them.
“A concussion is any type of injury to the brain that causes a disruption of normal function,” says Catterson. “It can be from a direct hit, it can be from a whiplash mechanism such as a car wreck or something like that.”
The science behind concussions starts with “neurotransmitters”. Neurotransmitters are pathways in the brain that process information about your surroundings, and then your brain decides how to respond to that information. Data comes in through a neurotransmitter on one side and “jumps” to another transmitter on the opposite side, this process is called a “synapse” and it is how data is processed in the brain.
A concussion occurs when an injury to the brain causes the opposite neurotransmitters to spread apart. This spreading of transmitters then doesn’t allow for a synapse to occur when it needs to, in turn delaying the act of transmitting chemical information from your senses.
Catterson sometimes describes concussions by comparing it to construction on a highway.
“If you’re going on the turnpike and you’re on three lanes of traffic going one way, then it goes down to one lane of traffic, the information still gets through it’s just slower,” says Catterson. “So as you’re trying to process math or remember things, you may get them eventually, it’s just a little bit slower.”
Junior Jack Monaghan suffered a concussion while playing lacrosse in his sophomore season.
“We were playing against Union, and somewhere in the game I collided heads with another player. The game was on a Tuesday night, but [the symptoms] didn’t really hit me until Wednesday afternoon,” says Monaghan. “I was in AP Physics and all of the sudden I got super sweaty and my head was pounding and I felt like I was just going to die right there.”
Monaghan went and saw a doctor shortly after that day and was out of school on and off for almost three weeks. Monaghan explains that some days were better than others when he had his concussion and would try to attend class when he could.
“Five or six days after [the event that caused the concussion] I actually got a stutter, and that what kind of prolonged me coming back because of anxiety and being super anxious, which is another side effect of the concussion,” says Monaghan. “ It kind of took over me and I didn’t really want to be at school with the stutter, that took almost two months to get rid of.”
Monaghan says that when he attended class he didn’t feel “all the way there”, and that he couldn’t focus on what he needed to. He confesses that he felt almost like a different person, and that he was “cloudy” and spoke a lot less for the three weeks he was recovering from his injury (Not including time taken to get over his stutter).
While playing contact sports puts you at a higher risk for concussions, they can happen to anyone, sometimes in the oddest of ways, Junior Lily Heritage can attest to this.
“I was hungry, it was lunch time, I was at Quicktrip,” says Heritage. “ I normally get a spicy chicken taquito, as I leaned down to get the bag for the spicy chicken taquito I hit my head very hard on the glass sneeze guard that was protecting the taquitos.”
Heritage didn’t think her injury was bad at that point, in fact she stood up, told her friend she had hit her head, and proceeded to buy her spicy chicken taquito. It wasn’t until they got in the car and Heritage looked in the mirror that she realized she had a large purple welt, three inches in diameter, protruding from her forehead.
“Mr. Catterson checked me out… he said it was a mild concussion and if it got worse then I should go see a primary care physician,” says Heritage. “I stayed home the day after because I woke up with a headache, but I came back to school the next day and I had to take a test.”
Heritage described how during the test she had to read the passage three or four times before she knew what it was trying to say, something that she usually doesn’t struggle with.
“Someone gently bumped the back of my head and it made me dizzy,” says Heritage. “I went to go see my primary care and they just said that I needed to take it easy.”
Heritage thankfully had a three day weekend so she could rest and recover, and was glad that her incident only caused a mild concussion. However Heritage described how she had to deal with some of the telltale symptoms of a concussion.
“It’s like being in a fog, maybe like when you are just waking up and you don’t really have your bearings, but it’s kind of constant like that,” says Heritage. “For me I couldn’t find the right words for things, I would start a sentence and I knew where I was going but I would get to a certain word and for some reason I would go blank…that’s pretty scary.”
Concussions should not be taken lightly, they are a serious injury and if they aren’t taken care of properly then they can have extreme repercussions.
“What we’ve really done in the last five to ten years is kind of not necessarily redefine what a concussion is, but really solidify what a concussion is,” says Catterson. “It used to be like, ‘Oh you just got your bell rung, or your clock cleaned’, and things like that. It was also [believed] that if you didn’t black out or lose consciousness then it wasn’t a concussion. We know now that that is not accurate. “
If you think you may be suffering from a concussion please seek appropriate medical attention, whether that be a primary care physician or the school nurses who can get you in contact with Mr. Catterson for concussion testing.