It started out as just another day of color guard practice for 17-year old Brittany on a cold day in January, 2012. Her high school team was gearing up for a competition the following week and everyone was working hard. Then, the unthinkable happened. A series of maneuvers requiring a team member to jump over Brittany’s flag, while she spun her wooden rifle next to her, went awry. Instead of spinning the rifle next to Brittany, the other girl miscalculated the rifle spin and struck Brittany on the forehead and over her left eye with the rifle. Brittany fell to the gym floor, hit the back of her head, became dizzy and lost consciousness.
Someone cleaned the cut over her eye, and Brittany sat out for a few minutes. She called her parents to pick her up since she wasn’t feeling well. Brittany was taken to the doctor, x-rayed, and was told that there was mild bruising. She was sent home with instructions of 11 warning signs to look out for and be monitored at home. Two hours later, she exhibited one of these signs (vomiting) and was rushed to the hospital. What followed was a series of hospitalizations and accompanying diagnoses, ranging from mild concussion to moderate to severe brain injury. According to the Centers for Disease Control, “…health care professionals often describe concussions as a “mild brain injury” because concussions are not usually life threatening. However, the effects can be serious. “
As a result, Brittany reported symptoms of one-sided numbness and weakness, memory loss, double vision, impaired balance, headaches, decreased processing speed and attention, impaired speech, and motoric problems. Brittany’s mother, Melissa, recalled the time that Brittany was playing a board game with her hospital roommate while she watched, stunned that Brittany couldn’t remember when it was her turn, how many spaces to jump or the number on the dice that she had rolled moments earlier.
Brittany has only fleeting memories of this time frame and for one to two years prior to the injury. She recounted one of those scant memories – trying to work a puzzle with a friend, realizing that the picture on the puzzle just didn’t make any sense and how she had difficulty manipulating the puzzle pieces.
Brittany received occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech language therapy. Alongside these treatments, her doctor ordered “cognitive rest”, where she could not use electronics, read, or even listen to audio books or podcasts while she healed. She was permitted to talk on the phone (mostly listening) for 30 minutes per day and a friend could visit for no more than 10 minutes. After she was cleared medically, she began the daunting task of trying to make up months of school work.
Brittany was relieved that she had previously worked ahead in her curriculum. Brittany’s mother, Melissa, remarked, “Some kids go to summer camp. Brittany went to summer school. Not because she had to – because she wanted to”. Those extra credits came in handy as Brittany struggled to complete school work that had previously come easily. With those banked credits, she was able to graduate early, despite her difficulties. Recalling her love of physics, she said, “I used to be a sciency-mathy person. My favorite class was physics and that was my direction. Now I am not an academically-based person. Now I am a personality-based person and I work based off my smile.”
When asked what they would like to share about this experience, Brittany and her mother stated that they both hope for greater knowledge in the community about precautions after an individual has a blow to the head or another type of head injury. “You can’t overreact – you only have one brain!” Melissa exclaimed. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “Concussions can occur in any sport or recreation activity. So, all coaches, parents, and athletes need to learn concussion signs and symptoms and what to do if a concussion occurs,” according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Brittany advises, “A brain injury is a slow and difficult process. Don’t rush into getting better. Take your time and listen to the doctors.” With this comment, Brittany and Melissa shared a chuckle, as there had apparently been some “discussion” over the amount of cognitive rest she was instructed to have without electronics!
So what does the future hold? Brittany explains, “I’m better, but I’m not the way that I used to be. I am still good at math. Numbers are numbers to me.” She is considering the ways she can incorporate math into her future. She is able to drive and is working. She hangs out with friends and lives independently. She reports that she recently started color guard again for an independent college group and she is looking forward to participating in an upcoming competition.