By Karen Roush, MS, RN, FNP-C, AJN clinical managing editor
One Monday afternoon when my son Bryan was a senior in high school I got a call from him. He had hurt his back during football practice and was in so much pain he couldn’t move to get into his car. I rushed over to the field and found him standing, tense and still. When I lifted his shirt to look at his back, I gasped. The entire lumbar area was rounded and swollen out to the size of a grapefruit. At the hospital tests revealed he had a large hematoma, no critical damage done. The first question Bryan had for the doctor—“Can I play on Saturday?”
All week he insisted he could play and I insisted he couldn’t. His arguments never let up—he was quarterback and Saturday’s game was with an archrival. There wasn’t time for the backup quarterback to learn the plays, his team depended on him. Finally I made a bargain. We would go see his physician, whose judgment I trusted, and we would both respect his opinion, whichever way it went.
He played. One of the coaches wrapped his back in layers of padding with an ACE bandage and out he went. It was a brutal game. As determined as he was, the pain still slowed him down and he got tossed around like a rag doll. Finally in the last quarter they took him out.
I was reminded of all this when reading a New York Times editorial this week, “Dying to Play,” about the dangers of football and the growing body of evidence about the devastating long-term consequences of the repeated head trauma that football players endure. It talked about the decision a father, who was a pro football player, made with his son after his son got “his bell rung” in a game. They decided that the son, determined to follow his father into the pros someday, would “keep his mouth shut and his options open” rather than see the physician and wait for the okay to play.
Many parents will have their own version of these stories, the kid who insists on playing in spite of injuries or risk. They hide their injuries, downplay their pain, pop more ibuprofen than you know about. I watched Bryan’s best friend get knocked unconscious in a tackle, spectators standing silenced, watching, waiting for him to move as the coaches and the team doctor bent over him. Finally his legs started moving and people began to clap in relief and support, but I could tell by the erratic movement that he was actually seizing. An ambulance took him off to the hospital and next Saturday he was on the sidelines, impatiently waiting to get back in the game. […]