Life can change in a blink of an eye. It’s a phrase you hear often and never really “get” until it happens. One day my nine-year old was walking, reading Harry Potter novels repeatedly, running after her friends and swimming like a fish and it all ceased within the seconds that passed when she slipped on wet leaves, fell forward onto a wooden beam on the ground and injured her head. We have both gone through the difficult phases of grief and as a parent it’s just natural to wonder if there was something I could have done differently or sooner to help her heal. What I’ve learned with the help of my dear friends (and some strangers) who allowed me to release my fears and frustrations into their ears was that I had no control over this accident nor could I change the way I navigated my way through the health care matrix to find the appropriate care for her. What I can do however, is share my experience so that another parent is better informed about brain injury in children than I was when this accident occurred so here goes…
6 Things I wish I knew before my child’s head injury:
Keep them home from school the following day.
Luckily her accident happened the day before a holiday and she was able to rest for three days before she returned to school. Some of her concussion symptoms did not present themselves until close to a week later but if I was aware of the protocol for children who fell and hit their head I would have taken her to the doctor the next day.
Get an incident report
In my daughter’s case no one saw her fall and I was at work and unable to see her until an hour or so after the incident. We all had to take her word for what happened. It’s best for insurance documentation to get an incident report from the school (or organization if your child is at day care, summer camp or sports). Most child care organizations are required to fill out a report and should give you a copy. If they don’t, ask for it.
Even if your child has only one symptom, take him/her to the pediatrician for evaluation
Refer to #1 above for the list of concussion signs and symptoms from the Center for Disease Control. I’ve learned that not every child exhibits symptoms in the same time frame and severity and it’s best to proceed on the side of caution and take them to the pediatrician for evaluation even if they complain of only a headache. Your doctor may tell you that protocol is to wait a week but I would insist on having your child seen anyway.
Seek out a pediatric concussion specialist in your area.
Not every neurologist or hospital ER has a wealth of experience with every age range and not every pediatrician specializes in brain medicine. It took almost a month of going to doctors and emergency rooms before I found a doctor that best suited my daughter’s needs. I am not sure why but her first doctor did not seem to have compassion for her and her immediate needs. I asked neighbors and friends in the medical field until I received a few referrals for her specialty. My next step was to check to see which were covered under our insurance which narrowed the list down further. We are located in Pennsylvania, but the Brain Injury Association in your area can provide a list of service providers. I have also learned that sometimes to connect with the right doctor, you have to be willing travel. Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion. Our second doctor was the best fit for her.
Contact your school district and county for resources
It wasn’t until I sought out a second opinion, six weeks post injury that I was informed there was a school re-entry program specifically for children with brain injury. This consulting division of our county’s Intermediary Unit serves as a liaison between the school and families and provides you with the resources and support you need to transition your child back to school. Brainsteps, the consulting program in Pennsylvania is fully funded by the state. My daughter’s case manager has visited our home and provided such encouragement for my daughter and myself!
Make self-care a priority; ask for help and don’t be too proud to accept it!
I had no idea how exhausting and stressful it would be mentally and physically to manage a household, business (I’m self-employed) and my daughter’s care after her brain injury. Luckily I have a “village” of friends who knew it would drain me and immediately offered to help. I didn’t want to bother anyone because I knew they all had families to support but my friend reminded me that there’s enough compassion in this world for everyone. She asked if she could set up a meal train which allows neighbors to sign up and bring home cooked meals to your family. I didn’t realize how much time I spent on preparing and cooking our meals until I didn’t have to! Other friends have come to visit, helped with laundry and housecleaning or sat with my children so I could go out to the movies or just sit still with a cup of coffee or have a glass of wine with a good friend. You have to find time for yourself away from the stress and strain where you can relax and release. The help is available but you have to ask for and allow yourself to receive the help. Genuine help is there ; you are better able to care for your child when you take the time to care for yourself.
You may have experienced brain injury, be a medical professional or have a young child who may one day be diagnosed with a concussion; either way I hope this has been helpful to you.
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