What the Doctors Had to Say
Jeff had a family doctor that he went to see when he started having the problems that we will outline later on and he spent hours and hours researching and he told Jeff that he had so many concussions that it had softened the gel that surrounds the brain and it could no longer protect it from bruising.
It had gotten to the point that it was the brain hitting the inside of the skull that was causing the concussions. Dr. David Liscow was Jeff's physician through this process of figuring out what was wrong with him. Jeff wanted to thank him and to acknowledge his efforts in educating himself and Jeff about this syndrome. This brings up an important subject, how little the medical community in general knows about the head injuries that will be discussed soon.
I asked Jeff what his prognosis was and what his future is going to be like? I was unnerved by his answer. "After Dr. Liscow's studies, I'm looking at 7 to 10 years to regain some sort of a quality of life. I'll never be able to be normal. I spend most of my time sitting here in the living room, I have drapes that block out all of the light, I can't stand bright lights. I can't stand noises. I sit here in the living room in the dark most of the time.
"If I go out, I have to wear ear plugs and sunglasses. I used to be outgoing and happy and now I have a hard time talking to people. I see why these football players commit suicide, because if it wasn't for my children. . .(he pauses for a moment). With the post concussion syndrome, I feel like I have the flu all of the time, except I have no fever. You're sick to your stomach and you have a headache. That's how these concussions feel."
Those are tough words to repeat, but I need to get across what has happened to Jeff and just how serious it is. To describe his condition now, in those details, might move us to be more careful.
How Were the Signs Missed?
We could look at Jeff's situation and say now that there were indications that his condition was getting worse and that something needed to be done, but he did visit his doctors early on when the symptoms got worse.
I asked what were the early symptoms of concussion? He said he felt like he had the flu and was sick for several days after a serious wreck. He would go to a family doctor and be told he had a 24- or 48-hour virus and to go home and get rest. Then after a few days, the symptoms would go away and he would feel fine. Nobody knew that the real cause of the sickness was his concussions.
Then later on, there was a more telling symptom. "Early on, you don't really notice the concussions, but one of the early signs that they are affecting you, if I took a hard hit on Friday or Saturday night and I was feeling sick, I would sleep all day Sunday, Sunday night, and all day Monday. That was one of the early signs."
The very early symptoms are feeling sick like the flu, but not having a fever, and the big one is the sleep. Normally, Jeff would always unload and work on the car on Sunday mornings after a weekend of racing. He would then spend time with his family in the afternoon if all went well with the racing and there were no wrecks. But after the concussions, he would forgo any family activity and sleep through for 48 hours or so.
"As it got worse, you'd get the flu like symptoms, you get sick to your stomach, and I guess a little dizziness in the head. Early in my career, I don't think they bothered me at all (the concussions). Then 10 years ago they started bothering me to where I'd have these sleepy days and I'd start calling in sick to work and the doctors were not able to pinpoint what was wrong with me.
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"Then they started lasting longer. Originally it was only two or three days, but then it got to the point where I would be sick for a couple of weeks. I then finally got to the point a couple of years ago where the symptoms just never went away.
"The last four or five years, I was trying to find the reason why I was sick and I was wrecking more and more. I was still winning races, but I was winning less and crashing more. I was making all the wrong judgments and with the concussions, I started to lose my eyesight too. That's something else that came with it."
He started wearing glasses thinking it was old age, but thinking about it now, it was due to the continued concussions. Some of these symptoms are hard to identify with concussions.
I asked Jeff if there was a defining moment when things changed. "Yes, I got in a big wreck. I got T-boned at about a hundred miles per hour. I had another wreck a few weeks later where I T-boned another car going full speed. I remember getting out of the car and the safety crew was talking to me, but I couldn't hear them. After that I was always sick." It was then that his doctor told him he had Post Concussion Disorder.
He would try to go to work, but he couldn't work full days. That was in 2010. I asked Jeff, "Do you think you are improving now that it's been two years since you quit?" "No, I am actually getting worse," he said.