January 25, 2010

Brains Matter

"Today, when we look at a brain, we see an intricate network of billions of neurons in constant, crackling communication, a chemical labyrinth that senses the world outside and within, produces love and sorrow, keeps our hearts beating and lungs breathing, composes our thoughts, and constructs our consciousness."
- Carl Zimmer

Brains are pretty amazing.  All of life is amazing actually.  When you think of all of the millions of ways in which something could go wrong, that any of us forms perfectly ready for the world is just awesome.

It bothers me then when I see people discount problems with the brain as if the person is just not trying hard enough.  I have seen it recently with discussions of depression, autism, and even concussions.  I'm no expert in these areas, but I am experienced with all of them.

A couple of years ago, B was in a car accident on the way to work.  He had a minor concussion which caused him to have terrible headaches, as well as lasting effects on his memory and sleep patterns.  Since his injury, I've had more compassion for people with concussions, especially athletes.  It seems they are the most likely to have to "man up" when hurt.  It seems that the term concussion is widely misunderstood as this article from Science Daily says:

"Concussion seems to be less alarming than 'mild brain injury' so it may be used to convey an injury that should have a good outcome, does not have structural brain damage and symptoms that will pass."
But despite the benign terminology, a concussion is actually a mild traumatic brain injury which could have serious repercussions.

Though B has recovered from the accident, his head is different now.  Small headaches never just go away, instead usually leading to severe ones.  His memory is still not what it used to be, and the man that used to get by on just a couple of hours of sleep at night, now sleeps more than I do (I have always needed a lot of zzzzz's).

I thought I'd written before, but I can't seem to find anything, about athletes being asked to donate their brains for science.  They want to study the long-term effects of these brain injuries.  Football playershockey players, and wrestlers are stepping up in the name of research.  I love it!  I'm hopeful that what we learn will have a big impact on the way we treat people with brain injuries in the future, giving them the time and support that they need to heal their most precious vital organ.

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