It’s hard to imagine anyone in their 50s who has not had some sort of brain injury at some point in their lives.
Some – like myself – have had more than others.
Most of mine were sports-related. At 13 I had such a severe concussion from a hockey game that I spent more than a week in hospital.
In my 30s, it was baseball. A collision in centre field, when my head inadvertently met with another fielder’s elbow, as we both charged for a “gapper” to left-centre. (By that time, I had already lost an eye – also a sports injury – so I literally didn’t see him coming.)
I’ve had a couple of non-sports-related concussions as well, of the milder sort, where consciousness was not lost.
Looking back, it’s a wonder I’m not more damaged than I am!
The big one for me, however, had nothing to do with sports. In 2017, I started having some balance issues, and thanks to the insistence of my physiotherapist wife, our doctor ordered a CT scan. It was discovered I had a substantial brain bleed – a subdural hematoma. (As a chronic bleed, it had been going on for some time. We will never know how it happened.)
Emergency brain surgery was performed, and remarkably, I have had a near-full recovery.
Indeed, there are some lingering effects, but most people would not notice them.
Those closest to me can spot them easily enough. I often struggle to find the right word, when speaking. Oddly, this does not happen with the written word. It’s been explained to me that the reason for this is because I use a different part of my brain for writing. Thank goodness.
My balance is still an issue, and my concentration levels may never return to what they were before… which has basically ruined my already bad golf game.
And yet, I am one of the fortunate ones.
I know many people whose brain injuries have been much more debilitating than mine. I have family members still struggling mightily with post-concussion syndrome, more than a year after their incidents.
I know people who have died from the same type of injury I had in 2017.
So yes, I am fortunate.
Why the article?
Well, if you’ll excuse the 400-word segue, it’s to inform readers that June is Brain Injury Awareness Month in Canada.
According to braininjurycanada.com, the purpose of Brain Injury Awareness Month is “to increase awareness about the prevalence of brain injury; the obstacles that exist for those with brain injury; and the need for more services and support at all stages of recovery.”
How common are brain injuries in Canada? Remarkably common.
On average, 452 people suffer a serious brain injury every day in Canada. This amounts to one person injured with a traumatic brain injury every three minutes.
Brain injury occurs at a rate of 500 out of 100,000 individuals yearly in Canada. From a population of 33 million, that translates to 165,000 serious brain injuries per year – and that rate does not include mild concussions!
In fact, brain injury occurs at a yearly rate greater than that of all known cases of multiple sclerosis, spinal cord injury, HIV/AIDS and breast cancer combined. (Source: Northern Brain Injury Society)
Of considerable concern is the correlation between brain injury and incarceration.
According to the NBIA, experts estimate that as many as 80 per cent of people in prisons have untreated acquired brain injuries, with most injuries happening before any crime was committed. “Untreated brain injury often leads to ‘self-medication’ using substances, drugs and alcohol,” says an NBIA report. “Self-medication often leads to crime.”
Statistics show that the majority of brain injuries are the result of vehicle collisions, workplace accidents, falls, and sports. It’s estimated that 90 per cent of all brain injuries are preventable.
So the good news is, most brain injuries can be avoided. Wearing a seatbelt while driving, a hard hat at work, and proper headgear for sports, can significantly reduce the risk of obtaining a severe brain injury. Please consider this the next time you think about hopping on your bike, scooter or skateboard without a helmet. Maybe helmets aren’t cool. But you know what’s really not cool? A severe brain injury. It could change your life. Or worse – end it.
So buckle up. Strap up. Be safe.
Life is short enough as it is. There’s no need to shorten it unnecessarily.
Terry Farrell is the editor of the Comox Valley Record.