My ten-year-old son fell off the monkey bars at school and hit his head. When the school secretary called and told me he was complaining his head hurt quite a bit, I rolled my eyes. I did. I didn’t want to go pick him up and have him miss a half day of school.
I did go get my son, put him in my bed, and told him to rest. I did laundry. I did some writing. I ate lunch and made lunch for my little guy. But when I noticed he was talking funny, and walking rather wobbly and leaning to the left a bit, I thought I’d better take him to see our pediatrician.
I was shocked when the doctor told me my son had a concussion. She said he needed “brain rest” and I’d have to keep him resting at all times for a few days, at least. Right. I couldn’t imagine keeping the kid in bed for a day, let alone however long it took for his headaches to stop. I would have my work cut out for me.
He injured himself on a Wednesday, so I kept him out of school for the rest of that week, thinking he’d be ready to go back the following Monday. He had a negative CT scan at the hospital, so I thought he was going to be just fine in a few days. I breathed a sigh of relief and began planning for the few days I would have to keep him occupied while he rested in my bed.
I was nervous. On Monday I was to accompany my husband on a business trip to Chicago. Some big insurance company was going to pay for a beautiful room at a fancy hotel, and I would be able to order room service and lounge around, carefree and happy, while working on my children’s book, snacking on bon bons and enjoying a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the city. (I didn’t have any bon bons; I don’t even know what they are, but I did order room service. Twice).
I left my injured kid at home. I did leave him with my wonderful, caring and sweet mom, so I should get some credit for that, right? Who better to take care of a wounded child than his own grandmother? She did a great job watching him and my other son, and my boys had a nice time hanging out with Grandma.
I dropped my injured baby off at school on Monday, and went to the airport. Surely he’ll be okay, I thought to myself. It’s good for me to get away, right? I need to do this, don’t I? It’s only for two days!
I pushed away my doubts, got on the airplane and set out to have a good time with my husband in a city I love. I told my mom that my son would be fine, but if he needed to come home from school, he would call her and she could pick him up early.
He didn’t call on Monday. He made it through the whole day at school. When it was time to do his homework that night, his head hurt so badly, he cried. My poor mother had no idea what to do, so she practically did his homework for him (later apologizing to me and vowing to never do it again). She had felt stuck and so sorry he was in pain, that she couldn’t help herself.
Grandma took him to school on Tuesday (per my instructions). He had a terrible day. He was in pain, the lights hurt his eyes, the lunchroom was too noisy, and he couldn’t concentrate on any of his work. He had to call her to come get him that afternoon.
I was home on Wednesday, and he wasn’t doing well. I kept him home for the rest of that week. He slept, he cried, and he rested. On Friday, he was doing better, and he did really well that day and Saturday, too. Sunday didn’t go as well, but he wasn’t miserable.
Back to school he went on that following Monday afternoon, just for a half day. It went well, as did his half day on Tuesday. On Wednesday, I took my son to a neurologist because he was still having strange symptoms a week after the accident. He was complaining of the headaches, of course, but also the light sensitivity, loud noises bothered him, he said he “felt short”; that his feet were numb and he wasn’t as tall as he normally was (whatever that meant??), he was still walking slightly slanted at times, and he was dizzy and would sometimes see “white spots”. The strangest thing that happened was eye swelling that would occur most often after he would wake up in the morning or after taking an afternoon nap.
I wanted to be proactive and see a specialist because I just had this strange feeling in my gut that something wasn’t right. I knew I’d feel better if a neurologist told me he was fine.
He was having a really good day the day he saw the neurologist. He passed the neurology test for the first time since the concussion occurred. I was so happy and relieved! He could go back to school full time, he could go back to recess (minimal activity), and he could start doing his homework again!
As I came to find out, I had jumped the gun. He wasn’t better. The headaches still came. He couldn’t remember the Taekwondo form he’d learned and knew so well prior to getting hurt. He wasn’t able to read without pain and math work was excruciating. Once again, he woke up from a nap, and one of his eyes was swollen. He was still seeing white spots, he was dizzy, and loud noises were still bothering him.
I’ll admit at first I wondered if he was making things up; telling me he was having all this weird stuff going on because he wanted attention and it was fun to miss school a couple days here and there. But at this point, two weeks after the accident, he was done. He was crying a lot, very depressed, missed his friends, his teachers, his principal and missed being “Luc”. I was slowly watching this amazing, happy, excited, smart, fun-loving kid, become sad, depressed, angry, and lonely.
I took him back to his pediatrician and explained all of this to her. He didn’t pass the neurology test that day. In fact, the doctor told me that she thought he was “worse than he was right after the accident.” She told me I was to keep him home from school for an extended period of time, until his headaches went away completely. He couldn’t watch TV much at all; just a few cartoons that required no thinking, no homework, no sports, nothing that would raise his heart rate was acceptable. He couldn’t read or write, or play board games.
The guilt set in and took hold. If I had been doing this from day one and not pushed him to go back to school, not taken him to that Lions football game, not let him take a walk with me outside that one day, if I had not left him and gone to Chicago to indulge in fancy hotel fanciness, my kid could have and should have been OK by now.
This was all my fault.
I didn’t know a concussion could be so serious. I didn’t realize Post-Concussion Syndrome was a real thing. I didn’t realize that my son could have one or two good days at a time, but not be fully cured. I didn’t realize that my poor baby would endure headaches that sometimes felt like someone was “stabbing him in the head with a knife.” How could I not, as his mother, have done a better job researching concussions? How could I have not realized earlier that all these weird symptoms he was having were actually sometimes how many people felt after getting a concussion?
I am not happy with some of the medical professionals my son saw. It wasn’t until the third visit to our pediatrician’s office and one visit to a neurologist that I was told that although not necessarily “normal”, these things can and do happen after a concussion sometimes. I really do love our pediatrician, and I think during our first visit, right after his accident, she was so concerned with a brain bleed that rather than sit me down and explain the seriousness of a concussion and what could happen, she rushed us over to the hospital for the CT scan. I guess I really can’t blame her for that.
So, yes, some of the blame goes to the doctors, but I feel like much of the blame falls on me. I doubted my son at first because he can be a bit of a “drama king”, and sometimes a bit of a “whiner”. I didn’t want to be burdened with this misery, so I pushed some of the things he was saying to me out of my mind, sent him to school, made him do homework and in turn, I think I made his condition worse.
I don’t think I’m a bad mother, but I do think I should have been pushier, more demanding, and more proactive as soon as my son started having weird symptoms like eye swelling and leg/foot numbness. None of that was “normal”, and none of it was “OK”.
My son has been home all week, napping every day, and trying his best to get better so he can go back to school next week and he can feel “normal” again. He told me last night that he’s not even upset anymore, he’s just angry.
I’m still upset. I’m still feeling guilty, and I’m feeling a bit angry, too.
Hopefully there won’t be a next time, but if there is, I will make sure I’m a better advocate for my son. Doctors don’t always know everything, and they aren’t always as through as they should be.
But moms know. I should have followed that gut instinct I felt when I knew that something just wasn’t right. I should have trusted myself and my son.
Now I know better. Time to move on.