Anatomy of an injury, recovery process

  • GREENFIELD (December 20, 2013) Greenfield High School vs Turners Falls High School hockey. TF #22 and GHS # 12. Photo by Beth Reynolds

    GREENFIELD (December 20, 2013) Greenfield High School vs Turners Falls High School hockey. TF #22 and GHS # 12. Photo by Beth Reynolds

  • GREENFIELD (December 20, 2013) Greenfield High School vs Turners Falls High School hockey. TF #22 and GHS # 12. Photo by Beth Reynolds

This is the third of a four-part series on concussions and their impact on youth sports in the area.

Jake Elwell remembers the hit he took while skating out of the defensive zone during his freshmen season. He doesn’t remember much immediately after that.

The Greenfield High School senior hockey player suffered a concussion as a result of the hit. He has since made a full recovery and played both football and hockey at GHS this season, but the period immediately after the concussion involved going through multiple stages of diagnosis and treatment for Elwell to get back onto the ice.

Elwell first began playing hockey when he was old enough to walk. He began skating before he was three and was a talented enough hockey player to get the nod as a first-line center during his freshman high school season. That left him playing against players much bigger than he was, and one Friday night he received an elbow to the side of his head that sent him flying.

“I was coming out of the defensive zone and I was only a freshman, so I was a lot smaller than a lot of the other guys on the first line,” he recalls.

“I came out of the zone and went to my backhand to make a pass and someone just elbowed me in the side of the head ... and my head replaced my feet.”

Elwell said he blacked out for what he thought was a few seconds and then got up and began skating to the bench. He was dizzy and the light hurt his eyes, but he finally made it to the bench where he nodded off a bit until an EMT came over to look at him.

“I remember it in stages,” he says.

“I remember the EMT examining me, and I remember looking at the ceiling of the rink when I was on the stretcher. I don’t really remember the ambulance ride, but I remember walking out with all of my sweaty, gross hockey gear that was stinking up the room.”

While Elwell had not previously taken the ImPACT Test — against which he could have been measured — there was still value in him taking it. He failed the test, and doctors decided that he did, in fact, have a concussion.

Elwell went home that night and went to bed. He did not throw up but was not feeling great. On top of that, he was upset that he would have to miss hockey.

The next day, he woke up with a headache and was still sensitive to light.

On Monday, two full days after he took the hit, he returned to school. The headaches went away and he was told by his doctor to try doing a physical activity for five minutes. If that didn’t trigger a headache, he was told, he could gradually continue to increase the workout.

Elwell said he felt well enough to try it out and on Monday or Tuesday afternoon, just two or three days after the hit, he helped stack firewood for his father, and he said he felt much better. He then resumed skating without pads, and shortly thereafter got back to participating fully.

Two weeks after the incident, he was back playing in a varsity game.

“My first game back, I don’t remember the game, but I came back fearless,” he said. “I remember our coach saying from his point of view, he felt like I came out even harder. I don’t know, maybe I was scared before and that’s why I got hurt. But I wasn’t scared after that.”

Jim Elwell, Jake’s father, said he was worried when Jake got hit and had to go to the hospital, but he was not concerned when Jake went back to playing.

One thing he was worried about was the rule that once a player is diagnosed with three concussions, he is no longer able to play. He said that too many times players get hit and think they have a concussion, and if they say they have a concussion even if they don’t, it can count against them because people err on the side of caution.

This can work against a player . Jim Elwell said that one player on the team that season was so worried about not coming clean after Jake missed time because he didn’t want to miss time himself, that he didn’t report when he got hit.

That player suffered a concussion, and spent an extended period of time throwing up and missing school. It echoes back to trying to determine just how cautious is too cautious. Jim Elwell said he would never want to put his son in a dangerous situation, and would not want Jake playing with a concussion, but argued that if administrators are too cautious, it can work against them.

“They are on the cautious side and that is good, but you also have the situation where no kid wanted to come clean after that because they didn’t want to miss time,” he explained.

“We talked to Jake a little bit. We wanted him to come clean if he was hurt, but you see a lot of kids that get hit and think they have a concussion and they lie down on the ice and then two shifts later they are right back out skating.”

Jake Elwell found himself in an unusual situation this fall when he decided to go out for the football team after having not previously played on a school team . Father and son said they were not so much worried about suffering another concussion, as much as they both did not want to see Jake hurt some other way that would have caused him to miss hockey, the sport he loves the most.

“My main concern was that I didn’t want to get hurt for hockey,” Jake said.

“But I didn’t want to regret not playing, either. And I’m glad I played, football was great.”

Jake said he does not suffer from any long-term effects from the concussion.

His father said he has no problem with his son playing contact sports, and if he had to do it all over again, he would still put his son in skates.

On top of that, he is proud that his son is playing sports, and said he feels that there are far more important things to worry yourself over than the possibility of your son getting hurt playing a sport he loves.

“ I think people should be more worried about what’s going on in the outside world than what happens on the ice,” Jim Elwell said.

“You hear about people breaking into homes, or some of the stories you hear about drugs at school. I’m more worried about those things than Jake getting hurt playing hockey.”

Monday: Should you let YOUR child play football?

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Series at a glance: Concussions

Monday, December 30, 2013

A four-part series on concussions and their impact on local youth sports: Part 1: Area sports officials are struggling to cope with the nation’s increased concerns about concussions. New rules and procedures are designed to protect youngsters from potentially disabling head trauma. Part 2: Dr. Darius Greenbacher, program director of sports medicine at Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, is …

The ImPACT test: A first-hand account

Friday, January 10, 2014

There is no sure-fire way to tell if someone has suffered a concussion. But the ImPACT Test gives doctors a chance to measure a potential victim against a baseline. Here’s how it works: Athletes take an online test of approximately 30 minutes to an hour. The program assesses neurocognitive function using a number of small tests. Later, someone suspected of … 0

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