Ten Feet. That is all that stood between a broken up airplane and the Caribbean Sea. 154 people on board that American Airlines Boeing 737 came that close to one more risk of life as the plane stopped just short of the ultimate mess. Yet looking at the photos of what is left of American Airlines flight 331 the first thing that came to my mind was concussion and whether in the mess of wreckage, treatment for broken bones and back pain, anyone was giving these survivors of this miracle the kind of head injury evaluation a quarterback would get in the NFL.
One of my first guides as I began my career in brain injury advocacy was a consensus statement on Mild Traumatic Brain Injury by the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine (the “ACRM”). That statement can be found at http://www.tbilaw.com/RehabDefinitionPage.php
I have discussed the many aspects of this definition of Mild Traumatic Brain Injury but one of the best parts of that definition is something said in the Comments to the definition:
“Mild traumatic brain injury may also be overlooked in the face of more dramatic physical injury (e.g., orthopedic or spinal cord injury).”
An airplane crash, a near miss catastrophe, broken bones, smell of fuel, panic and real risk of PTSD. Concussion might be the last thing in the differential diagnosis. But the force that can break a bone, can easily injure the brain. The forces that tore that plane apart, can easily injure the brain. The deceleration, the twisting of the fuselage as it broke apart, all risk injury to the neural networks. Remember, the seatbelt in an airplane is no where near as safe as the combination of a shoulder/lap belt and airbags in a modern car.
We are thankful that no one died. We also express our Holiday prayer that anyone suffering from concussion, gets proper diagnosis. As said by the ACRM:
“Some patients may not become aware of, or admit, the extent of their symptoms until they attempt to return to normal functioning.”
Lets hope that with all the attention these survivors are getting, their brains get some attention too.
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