I’m thinking about brain injuries today. On Sunday one of my son’s teammates got carted off the diamond after falling on his head while trying to make a play. Though scary, it seems he did not sustain an injury other than a headache. At least that what the initial scans suggest. Then today I heard a story on NPR about brain injuries of soldiers experiencing a “concussive” event–those who survived roadside bombs. These soldiers may not have been pierced by shrapnel and may not have had their heads slam into something (two obvious causes of TBI) but may have experienced injury from the impulse of the blast of energy hitting their brain. Pro Publica explains the injury and has the larger story about the many soldiers who fail to be properly diagnosed and treated in military care centers.
It stands to reason why this would happen. Minor brain damage is hard to quantify. Brain scans may not pick up these minor changes. The person isn’t missing a limb which visually reminds others of injuries. Some of the symptoms are similar to other mental health problems and so providers may wonder whether injuries are physiological or psychological.
Some of you have been around long enough to remember MBD or minimal brain dysfunction. This was a term used in the 1960s for a wide variety of problems that now go under the name of ADHD. MBD was a way of signaling that something wasn’t right in the brain even though no one could actually pin point where the problem lay. At this point we may not have ways to identify damage to cells (rather than whole structures) and cell communication and so much use the term concussion or minor TBI (mTBI).
Worse than missing the diagnosis is not having great solutions to deal with the wide variety of symptoms. Our best solution for civilian sports related concussions is to avoid having a second, even minor, head bump. We do so by banning participation in sports for a couple of weeks. It is often these second or third bumps that do the worst of the damage. But I suspect that having a soldier sit in Iraq for a couple of weeks after being dazed by a blast will not be anyone’s desire.