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nausea. I turned around and stumbled
back to the boat. I’d hardly made it aboard
when I was struck by an overwhelming
urge to sleep. Unable to think rationally,
I was certain I was coming down with
a severe cold or flu. I told Christie that
I wasn’t feeling well, dropped into my
berth, and passed out. I didn’t wake up for
the rest of that day or night.
The next day, I had the worst headache
of my life. I crawled out of my berth and
closed every blind in the boat – the light
made the pain worse. Christie became
extremely concerned and promptly got
me to a doctor. It turns out I didn’t have a
cold or flu; I’d suffered a concussion. The
doctor gave me a stern scolding for not
having sought medical help immediately.
My only defense: I truly hadn’t realized
how serious it was.
“But how could I have suffered a con-
cussion?” I asked. “I wasn’t knocked out.
I wasn’t bleeding from my eyes or ears.
Isn’t that what’s supposed to happen?”
Her answer was firm and emphatic. “No!”
she said. “You don’t have to be knocked
unconscious. Many people aren’t.”
It’s now been some three years since
my accident, and I’ve learned a lot about
concussions (see “Lessons learned the
hard way” above). I still get headaches
and spells of vertigo, brought on by
watching movies or television, but I’m
thankful to be alive. I’d choose the view
from my cockpit over television any day.
Now I have even more reason to gaze
across the water … and to share the les-
sons I’ve learned with others.
Brian Mistrot lives aboard Sea Mist IV, a
40-foot Catalina, with his wife, Christie,
and their two sons, Chase and Glen.
Lessons learned the hard way
Most people, especially if it’s a first concussion or not severe, will only suffer mild symptoms for a few weeks before returning to normal. Others may have to live with some of the effects permanently. Whether it’s a slippery deck, an untimely
jibe, or a seemingly simple accidental bump on the head, boaters are extremely vulnerable
to this potentially life-threatening injury. Often, we’re hours away from medical assistance
— or less inclined to rush to a doctor. This can make a concussion even more dangerous.
Remember: Even if a person has not blacked out, a possible concussion cannot be
ruled out. Signs and symptoms are not always immediate. The person affected may not
think rationally, including not realizing he or she has suffered a concussion.
According to Andrew Nathanson, M.D., a clinical professor of emergency medicine
at Brown University in Rhode Island, if the person has unequal or dilated pupils, profoundly altered level of consciousness, or is not easily woken, “chances are very high
that there is bleeding in the brain, which is obviously more severe than a just a concussion, and these folks should be evacuated immediately.” Boaters on blood thinners,
such as Coumadin, Plavix, or Pradaxa, are at high risk of bleeding in the brain with
even relatively minor head trauma.
“There is no accepted treatment for a concussion,” Nathanson says. “Those who’ve had
a concussion are more prone than the general population to have another one.” — B.M.
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