English III

2019-2020

Offshoot

by Jaeda Moyer

I sit daydreaming in class, praying for the day I can play basketball and perform my academic duties. Only a few weeks ago, everything was normal and my worst problems were fighting for playing time and receiving an A on a chemistry test. Like church bells releasing a bored congregation, the class bell would allow me to rush to the locker room. There, I would change into basketball clothes, eat a snack, fill my water bottle, corral my hair into a pony tail, align my mask over my nose, and lace up my customized Nike shoes. I'd sit on the bleachers and wait for my coach to putter into the gym. Giving the team the practice itinerary, he’d slap the ball to power up the energy in the room. The team dispersed and we set off, determined as race horses.

It's hard to comprehend that athletes nationwide struggle with brain trauma. Invisible now, I sit watching my teammates live their normal lives. People with concussions look completely normal. Spectators stare, puzzled at players who are sitting on a bench just watching their teammates play. Athletes are criticized for not playing, because their team is dependent on their skill. Negative remarks are thrown by teammates: "they're just milking that injury" or "she's faking it." Ordinary people don't realize how hard it is to watch a sport and not be able to play. Spectators act as if it is a choice to be injured, completely misunderstanding the challenges an injured player faces.

I have had two diagnosed concussions and one broken face that have all been basketball-related injuries. Approximately one quarter of the McCall-Donnelly girls' basketball team has had sports-related head trauma. With so many hits to the head, the best response would be to stop playing basketball, but the passion for the game overcomes the fear of getting injured.

When I was recovering from my latest concussion, I read novels exploring the conscious mind. Some delved into what trying to cut off subconscious thoughts can do to a person. Those fictional exercises are similar to the reality of concussed people. My mind feels lost in space -- unattached to anything. There is no escape; thoughts are trapped inside the damaged part of my body. When someone breaks a leg, there can be relief from the pain; but there is no relief from concussions. The brain can't take a break. There is no escaping the problem. The mind is forced to struggle through sorting its thoughts and attempting to remain aware of its surroundings.

My brain is constantly on alert for predators that might hurt it. Every object thrown in my direction creates a flinching reaction. I fear getting struck back into an endless void of loose thoughts. The concussed brain acts as if its cortex is on drugs: slowed reaction time, swayed vision, and lack of focus.

The one thing this concussed mind is good for is empathizing with others who have mental challenges. Until I received a concussion, I never tried to explore what someone with brain damage may be feeling. I thought people with brain damage were just spaced-out and had no connection to what was happening in the real world. I now know that brain injuries allow people to understand they aren't normal; they simply adapt to living in a cloud of haze. Brain trauma is similar to driving in the fog. The car functions, but poor visibility reduces safe, effective driving. When a doctor hands over a release slip for a cleared concussion, the athlete feels the fog lift. The car can travel to its destination in peace.

Being released from a concussion is the best feeling in the world. When I was cleared to play sports, I cried happy tears, because I felt like my freedom was handed back to me. After suffering for what felt like forever, I could fully appreciate being normal. My concussion made me realize how fortunate ordinary people are for living everyday, boring lives. The standard normal life is a gift that should not be taken for granted.


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