Head Injuries – You Can’t Be Too Cautious

Author: Attorney Courtney Van Winkle

The caller ID on my cell phone showed the call was coming from the middle school. It was only 1 o’clock in the afternoon and my heart skipped a beat. I stepped out of a meeting to retrieve the call. As soon as I heard the nurse’s voice, my son’s name and the words head injury, my mind darted to the recent tragic death of Natasha Richardson. A brain injury with no immediate visible signs of injury claimed her life within days. I instantly thought of the many clients I’ve worked with who suffered traumatic brain injuries, the face of the 7-year-old boy struck by a van who still struggles, the doctor involved in a motorcycle accident who could no longer operate, and the mother of three boys who cannot remember their names.

A brain injury occurs in the United States approximately every 23 seconds. Almost one-third of the 1.4 million traumatic brain injuries that take place each year involve children. Falls are the leading cause of traumatic brain injury in this country with automobile accidents a close second. As a personal injury attorney, I am very familiar with the signs and symptoms of a brain injury. As I hold the phone waiting to speak with my son, I run through some of those in my mind:

  • Trouble recalling events before and after the blow
  • Changes in Behavior
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble answering questions
  • Less able to follow directions
  • Repetitive speech
  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Headache
  • Abnormal movement of the eyes

I know it’s up to others to detect these symptoms, not my 13-year-old son. It’s up to those around him; the other boys, the nurse, the trainer and me. It’s up to the people who witnessed the blow, and up to those who are interacting with the patient following the injury to take control. He may be oblivious to the signs. The call has come shortly after the trauma as the nurse is well aware that the sooner intervention begins for a traumatic brain injury the greater the chances for a successful outcome.

When my son comes to the phone he says he is fine. I feel myself starting to relax. I start to explain to him that my sister will pick him up shortly at the usual spot and my thoughts are already creeping back to the meeting I have stepped out to answer the call. What have I missed? I am jolted back as I realize my son is having trouble following simple directions. He is repeating himself. “What usual spot?”, he says. He is mumbling about a headache. His voice sounds different and distant. I ask him about the blow and he is having trouble remembering. He remembers the dizziness afterwards though. He remembers the confusion. He feels strange. He wants to know where I am and if he can sleep when we get home. He is not concerned about missing his afternoon game.

I am already walking toward my office to get my keys when the nurse comes back on the line. We both know where we are headed. She was already concerned but having overheard our conversation, she is recommending immediate medical treatment. As we ride home from St. Mary’s Emergency Room later that afternoon, I am thankful for modern medicine. The CT scan was negative, meaning it didn’t show any bleeding, stroke, vessel abnormality, fracture, or similar problem. I am glad I disregarded those who claim that every blow to the head doesn’t require a trip to the Emergency Room.

When faced with a potential head injury, it’s best to always err on the side of caution. Make informed and knowledgeable choices with those who witnessed the trauma and the aftermath. Seek professional medical advice. The consequences of a traumatic brain injury are too devastating to ignore, and it’s too easy to underestimate the potential early signs.

About the Author: Courtney, a partner with the personal injury law firm of Allen & Allen, concentrates her practice on personal injury, brain injury and wrongful death claims. She has successfully resolved through trial and settlement many cases involving children.  As the mother of four children herself, Courtney is able to draw upon her own experiences to compassionately work with children.