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Concussions: A Serious Injury

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On Sunday I was skiing down Mt. Washington in British Columbia alone on a glorious sunny day when I caught an edge and veered out of control off the groomed part of the trail, where I immediately saw a gulley, couldn't jump it, and landed -- splat -- into the hard, icy snow, my head going forward fast and then back.

Usually when I fall, I get up pretty fast, dust off the snow and get on with it. This time though, I felt kind of mellow and unmotivated to get up. I did an inventory of my body and nothing seemed bruised or broken; I didn't even have snow burn, but still I just couldn't make myself get up. I called my partner, who didn't answer his phone, and then I tried to shake off my daze. Eventually, I did get up and while I skied back to the base I felt really weird, kind of shaken up and wobbly. I felt like crying, which was also weird because nothing really hurt.

When I met my partner, who was with a ski instructor, both advised that I go to the first aid hut and get checked out. That seemed a little dramatic to me; after all, there was no blood, no broken bones, no bruises, but I complied. I realize now that I complied because I had just read a huge article in the Globe and Mail about concussions in hockey that had been in my awareness and so I did go to first aid. I did indeed have a concussion and the first aid volunteers were very knowledgeable and insisted I stay until they had properly accessed my condition.

The day before, I had gone over a very small jump, lost my balance and slammed into a tree (there is a reason I became an Olympic rower and it may have to due with lack of aptitude in other sports!). I kind of bounced off the tree, actually, and the damage seemed to be minimal. I did however, slam my head briefly onto the snow, but didn't think much of it and I skied the rest of the day. It turns out though, that the two falls were related, or more accurately the two slams to the head accumulated and the first made the second one worse.

What I have learned over the past few days is that a concussion is a serious injury and that many of us do not treat them seriously enough. We like to keep going, we like to keep playing and many of us, if we are not bleeding, just keep going. One blow to the head makes a person so much more vulnerable the next time. There is a young boy on the couch beside me at the ski resort and he has had three concussions in the last four months from playing hockey. He fell on his head earlier today and still wants to go out skiing with his brothers this afternoon. The two of us have been chatting about how serious concussions are and how they can lead to permanent damage. I hope he will not ski this afternoon.

So now I am at Mt. Washington and I am not skiing. It's kind of a drag because I love skiing, but I have chosen to enjoy myself anyway. I am walking the trails, writing, enjoying a good book and meeting the kids for lunch at the chalet. I am not putting myself at further risk because I was given the right care and information by first aid staff. I have also been influenced by everything I have been reading in the papers and the increased information available to all of us. I feel fine, but apparently my brain needs a few more days to heal and then I will ski again, with a new helmet and a much greater awareness of how to treat a head injury when I fall again!

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