I bought a new helmet three months before I was injured. I’m glad I did. I never particularly liked that new helmet, but the purchase saved me having to wonder – did my concussion and subsequent post concussion syndrome happen because I was wearing a five year old helmet? One less thing to second guess myself about, one less thing to wonder.
As the months and years have passed, though, I do sometimes question that decision. I skated and played roller derby for five years. I had one probable concussion early in my career. It happened in my second bout ever (note to self: don’t let an experienced competitor goad me into doing anything rash again). The result? Basically, I had a bad headache for three weeks. That’s it. No impairment, no problem, and the headache went away completely. That one head injury happened early on. The rest of the time, all those years, I was fine. All the bouts, all the practices, all the scrimmages… and I didn’t hurt my brain.
I was hit a lot. I fell a lot. I bounced my head on the concrete a number of times. I was hit in the head occasionally – head butts, an accidental fist to the eye, a skate knocking against my helmet in a pileup. It is simply part of the game. All of that, and no concussions.
Roller derby. A sport that deserves a really good helmet.
During almost all of my roller derby tenure, I wore a Triple 8 Sweatsaver helmet. This is the classic roller derby helmet, the round ball dome helmet that is iconic to the sport. It has a hard smooth exterior, and an interior padded with about an inch of absorbent cushioning material. It lasted. I replaced the lining completely twice, washed the inside padding regularly, and decorated it like most skaters decorated their helmet at that time. With stickers. Lots of stickers.
When I finally decided to buy a new helmet, I looked around at my options. In truth, vanity guided me somewhat. I didn’t like how hockey helmets looked – nor their price point – so I wanted to stick with the traditional derby helmet look. I knew I wanted to get a quality helmet, though, one that would protect me. At that time, about five years ago, the Triple 8 Dual Certified helmet had just come on the market and I snatched that up. I figured more certifications equaled more safety. Yay, right?
I was sad to see my Sweatsaver helmet go. One, I don’t like change. Two, in the name of safety, the new helmet was hard inside. I mean, there was a thin layer of padding – maybe 1/4” – to help with the comfort, but it was nothing like the plush hilton of comfort I was use to from my Sweatsaver helmet.
Another unexpected effect of the helmet change was sweat. An uncomfortable, inconvenient amount of sweat. Sweat in my eyes, running down my face, dripping off my nose. Ugh. My previous helmet was called Sweatsaver for a reason, and I very much missed it’s absorbent properties. With some tolerance and a month or two, I finally adjusted. It’s safer, right? Worth the inconvenience.
That’s the thing that gets me, now. I thought it was safer. It definitely had more certifications. It was definitely newer, and therefore less likely to be compromised in some small unnoticeable way. It looked normal, too, like my previous helmet, and I covered it with a whole new theme of stickers quite happliy.
But the truth is, the reality is, that damn helmet didn’t protect me from concussion. Not at all.
It wasn’t until after I was injured, way after I was injured – and so actually really cared – that I learned that no helmet has been proven to help prevent concussion. The purpose of a helmet is not to prevent concussion. Not at all. Not even a little bit. The purpose of a helmet is to keep your head from breaking open like a raw egg dropped on the sidewalk. It is to prevent skull fractures and severe trauma (read, squishing) to the brain. It does not prevent the brain from being shaken a bit.
And here’s the thing. I think my new, pretty, dual certified helmet might be why I got my concussion. That hard shelled, unpadded thing might be why that time, the first time I got a really good knock on the head in my new helmet, I got a concussion. Because there was no longer an inch of foam padding around my head like there had been the first 5 years of skating. Perhaps that foam padding would have slowed the impact of my skull against the side of helmet just a tad, just enough, to keep me from concussion. Instead, all my head had to knock against was the inside of that barely-padded hard shelled helmet as I hit against a hard concrete surface.
I wonder. I really wonder if I had kept my old helmet, I would have had such a serious concussion. I wonder if instead of a life-changing injury, perhaps I would have just had a headache for a few weeks, or perhaps even nothing. Instead of my derby career ending, maybe I would have jumped up from that hit, like I had jumped up hundreds and thousands of times before, and just kept skating.
Can’t know. I will never know. Heck, if my old helmet would have really protected me better I never would have noticed. That is the funny thing about safety equipment. The whole point is to avoid the negative, to keep the bad thing from happening. We don’t notice when safety equipment works. And it is working all the time. We only notice when safety equipment doesn’t work.
I second guess myself a bit – mostly about the helmet. A bit about whether I should have gone to the scrimmage or not. Mary and I had just gotten back from a quick trip to Conneticut the day before for a funeral, so I was dog tired. Maybe that effected my reflexes. I also wonder whether my tumultuous conflicts with Mary over the previous several months – because we had just moved in together, and it was a rough transition – might have effected my mental flexibility and recovery. But that’s about it. That’s all the wondering I have.
Really, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I am injured. I am impaired. What am I going to do now, today, to manage that? What am I going to do this week, this month, to help make it different? That’s all that really matters. Now.