Sports-related head injuries are a common occurrence. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons puts cycling crashes as a leading cause of concussions and more serious brain trauma.
Concussions happen to all cyclists sooner or later. I have crashed plenty of times in racing and training. Bike racing is a risky sport (as opposed to say, beach volleyball). In fact, In all my various crashes, I had never suffered a true concussion. Sure I've broken helmets before and had a headache that evening and even into the following day, but nothing that really gave me the concussion symptoms I've heard about. Well, you do this sport long enough and it's bound to happen. A month ago I was out training on the West Plains. I had just finished my last sprint and hit a rock. Ironically, I had moved into the lane of traffic away from the broad shoulder to avoid road debris. But it was getting dark and I didn't see this particular fist sized rock until the last split second. One second I'm coasting down from my sprint, literally a quarter mile from my car, and the next second my front wheel jumps up and to the right and I'm flying through the air. At that speed my body just slid on the road, but acted as a whip with my head at the end. I knew I hit my head hard but was able to get up and get my bike out of the road. My sunglasses had been up on my helmet and had broken in half. Once on the side of the road, I sat down.
I was lucky. I didn't have any serious or life-threatening symptoms and I got medical attention immediately. If a concussion is suspected it is recommended to stop the activity and get checked out. The location where I crashed is where racers doing the Thursday night bicycle race series at Spokane County Raceway were just leaving. A couple racing cyclists saw me and pulled their cars over. One was cyclocross star and all around stud Kevin Bradford-Parish. The other was Dr. Ben Atkinson, neurologist. They looked at my helmet and the EPS foam was cracked in several spots. Dr. Atkinson works with patients who have suffered brain injury. Dr. Atkinson gave me a field concussion test. Although I answered all the questions correctly, I was woozy and nauseated. Dr. Atkinson said I had a concussion and probably whiplash. The adrenaline was wearing off and my legs were having a hard time holding me upright. Dr. Atkinson didn't think I should drive so he drove me home.
One of the strange symptoms of a concussion is that it messes with sleep. The brain needs to sleep for recovery, but I could hardly sleep that night. When I did sleep I would wake up every half hour covered in sweat. My sleep slowly improved back to normal after two weeks.
SHUTTING IT DOWN
The next morning, I woke up and was ready to get back to my normal routine. Breakfast, extra coffee, and away I go. My in-laws were visiting and I talked with them for about 15 minutes. But my brain wasn't working right. Holding a conversation was really hard. I ended the conversation and thought, maybe I could do some computer work. Nope. I could hardly send an email. The simple act of reading off my computer screen caused nausea. I had to stop doing everything.
WAITING FOR THE FOG TO CLEAR
The initial treatment for concussion is rest. For a busy lawyer like myself, that is borderline impossible. But it's also impossible to work as a lawyer when unable to concentrate. So I rested completely, except for short stretches when I reviewed concussion research and stories. We have fortunately entered a period of time when injuries to the brain are taken much more seriously. For cyclists, the Medicine of Cycling group of doctors has put out excellent information on concussions. They put together a flow chart that provides information on concussion assessment and the symptoms of concussion. USA Cycling has adopted this flow chart and other protocols for handling rider concussions. I also found this excellent article in Rouleur Magazine that discusses concussions in the pro peloton.
It took me about 10 days before the concussion symptoms went away. The symptoms I experienced in the days following included headache, neck pain, feeling slowed down, sensitivity to noise and light, feeling in a fog, and difficulty concentrating. It was not a pleasant experience. Fortunately my symptoms got better and I did not have post-concussion syndrome, which affects a small percentage of people whose symptoms last for months or even years.
BRAIN INJURY CASES
I have represented several clients with head injuries, typically resulting from vehicle crashes. Often times the liable party or insurance company will downplay the effects of the injury. However, traumatic brain injury such as concussions should be recognized for their serious short and long-term health impacts. It is important to get medical care, follow your doctor's advice, rest, and slowly return to normal activity.