When we were children, my brothers, friends and I spent many Saturday and Sunday mornings with our eyes fixated on the living room television watching the Three Stooges and Professional Wrestling. We watched intensely so we could learn every move they made. To practice those moves without severely injuring ourselves, we scavenged as many soft items as we could find throughout the house and dragged them down to the basement to set up a wrestling ring.
Each of us would choose our favorite wrestler and copy their mannerisms until we perfected them. We’d call out the name of the wrestler we were going to be in the matches. Standing in the center of the ring my brother Tom raised his scrawny arms to show his muscles and yelled out, “I’m Polish Power Ivan Putski!”
My brother Gary standing on the basement stairs getting ready to pounce from above yelled out, “I’m Jimmy Superfly Snuka!”
I strutted around the outside of the ring saying, “Oh yeah! I’m Randy Macho Man Savage!”
We had one on one and tag team matches. Piledrivers, clotheslines, body slams and figure four leglocks were moves we had to know how to perform and know how to get out of in order to survive our somewhat squared circle. We would often miss the soft padding and slam into the basement stairs, tubular steel columns and concrete floor. Bloody noses, fat lips, and black eyes were common.
Often we would imitate the Three Stooges in the ring by giving eye pokes, face slaps and other funny things they did to each other. Everything was funny even when someone got hurt. However, the person who got hurt never thought it was funny.
It was pumped into us through television that men could recover quickly after receiving a blow or multiple blows to the body and head. Somehow the great ones would always miraculously get a second wind when the referee got to the count of Eight. They would always come back from being stunned and then overcome their opponents for the win.
When I became an adolescent, I played more sports which increased my chances of getting a concussion. Helmet to helmet “pops” were strongly encouraged by my Pop Warner football coaches. Every time they heard a pop they would laugh and scream out in excitement to the team, “That’s what I want to hear!”
They told us we were going to be “The hardest hitting Pop Warner team and everyone across the country was going to know it!”
In order to achieve that goal, we hit constantly during our two-hour practices held five nights per week. Seeing players dazed and confused, our coaches would grin and tell us to “shake it off” because we only got our “bell rung.”
After receiving a concussion, I would try to bounce back quickly just like I had seen these men do on television. However, I learned that there was no way to “shake it off,” recovery from a concussion was slow and there was nothing funny about it.
Today, many of the drills we performed are now banned as well as the amount of hitting that’s done per week in practice. Even with these changes, football players from Pop Warner to the Pro’s still get concussions and they still hide them in order to play.
In 2005, I was evaluated for a Traumatic Brain Injury at the White River Junction VA Medical Center in Vermont. During the evaluation, a medical professional said to me, “There’s got to be more here than just this concussion!”
She then asked me, “How many concussions have you had in your lifetime?”
I began to count on my fingers the number of concussions I’ve had over a 32-year period. When I ran out of fingers and reset them to count some more, she asked me in a very distressed and concerned voice, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you about the cumulative effects of concussions?”
I replied, “Nobody. I was beginning to figure that out on my own the hard way!”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a disruption in the normal function of the brain that can be caused by a bump, blow, or jolt to the head, or penetrating head injury. According to the CDC, an estimated 2.8 million people sustain a traumatic brain injury annually. 52,000 die, 282,000 are hospitalized and 2.5 million are treated and released from an emergency department.
A TBI can cause a wide range of functional short- or long-term changes affecting:
• Thinking (i.e., memory and reasoning)
• Sensation (i.e., sight and balance)
• Language(i.e., communication, expression, and understanding)
• Emotion(i.e., depression, anxiety, personality changes, aggression, acting out, and social inappropriateness)
A TBI can also cause epilepsy and increase the risk for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and other brain disorders.
About 75% of TBIs that occur each year are concussions or other forms of mild TBI.
Repeated mild TBIs occurring over an extended period of time can result in cumulative neurological and cognitive deficits.
Repeated mild TBIs occurring within a short period of time (i.e., hours, days, or weeks) can be catastrophic or fatal.
According to the Boston University CTE Center, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in athletes (and others) with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as asymptomatic subconcussive hits to the head.
Recently, I watched the Three Stooges on television with a room full of men who had traumatic brain injuries. After every poke, slap, kick, punch and fall, all of us laughed like we were children again. I suddenly stopped laughing when I found myself thinking about my traumatic brain injuries and how difficult it’s been living with the long-term consequences of them.
What makes us laugh at someone who gets hit in the head or knocked out?
I thought about the evolution of television shows that depict violence as humor. When making home videos became popular, so did the television shows that aired them. From the comfort of your own home, you could now watch people from all over the world do incredibly risky, dangerous and stupid things and laugh out loud about it with your family members (the same people you will have to rely upon to take care of you if you ever got a traumatic brain injury.)
We still haven’t evolved from the “Hold my beer and watch this!” mentality, which still sends many people to emergency departments each year. But look on the bright side, if it was caught on video, you can still submit it for a slim chance to win up to $100,000.00 to help pay for your traumatic brain injury rehabilitation.
With the invention of the internet and cell phones, there’s now an endless supply of these videos you can watch anytime. If it’s funny enough it can go viral.
I thought about how laughter often detracts from the seriousness of a hit to the head and how it could possibly delay the evaluation and treatment of a traumatic brain injury. How that “shake it off” and “you’ll be fine” attitude could work against someone in need of medical attention.
I figured we would have learned by now to be more understanding and serious about a hit to the head and do more to protect our brains, but we don’t. We laugh and then bury our heads in the sand hoping nothing happened to the person’s brain. When symptoms do show up, people are ill prepared to recognize them for what they are and think the Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor is faking, lazy, looking for attention, malingering, out for monetary gain, etc.
That’s when the person with the traumatic brain injury realizes they’re on their own and there’s nothing funny about it!
If you need help, contact your local Brain Injury Association for information about brain injury rehabilitation facilities, medical providers (Neurologist, Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Physiatrist, Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapist, Neuro-Rehabilitation Optometrist, and Vision Therapist), brain injury support groups, annual traumatic brain injury and caregiver conferences, case management programs, and how to receive financial grants to pay for medical care and assistive technology. Ask about Caregiver Support Groups in your area that provide support to family members and caregivers.
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In The Dark, and
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