[Ed.'s Note: In the latest issue of The Mag, senior writer Peter Keating examines the dangers of concussions for female athletes, who are 68% more likely to be concussed than their male counterparts. Here, Katrina Majewski gives the third in a series of five personal accounts from women who have suffered concussions on the field of play.]
I love everything about field hockey. I was always the kind of athlete who ran through shin splints and ended up in a wheelchair -- I broke a lot of bones.
Injuries didn't stop me. They challenged me to see how tough I could be. I thought that was what coaches looked for. I was invincible as far as I was concerned.
Right before one of our first scrimmages during my freshman year at Rutgers, one of my teammates drove the ball down the field. It was a really hard shot, and it was on turf, so it flew. Somebody went to accept the pass and put their stick down and the ball deflected off and hit me in the temple.
I remember I got really confused. It was the first time I felt the effects of concussion. I knew I got hit in the head, but I had no idea where I was. I knew my coach was yelling at me, "Katrina, get off the field, move, move, move!" And I started getting really emotional, I had no idea why she was yelling at me or who these people were. Finally, I managed to get off the field, but I walked to the side opposite my team.
The pain came later that night. I couldn't open or close my mouth, let alone chew food. Later, I found out that I had fractured my jaw. And the next day, bad headaches started to come. I went to see the university athletic physician the next day. He said I probably sustained a mild concussion and told me to rest for two weeks. I did, but I still trained on my own. I was climbing the field tower to film the games and I was the ball girl, so I was running around.
I was just about to move into school my freshman year. I didn't know anybody on my team or any of the doctors, I didn't know anybody in my dorm. There was a Katrina who was there before I was hit with the ball and a Katrina that was there after being hit with the ball. And nobody was there to compare the two to see how different I actually was.
I couldn't pay attention in my classes, nor could I stay awake. I couldn't drive at all. I had an attention span of maybe five minutes. I remember sitting in a meeting with my team and biting my tongue and pinching my arm to stay awake.
I think the most severe issue, besides the headaches, was an emotional one. I became really depressed freshman year. I thought that I was just not a good college student, that I was flunking out of my classes, that I needed more sleep, that I didn't like my roommates. But none of that was actually applicable to me.
At my lowest point, I didn't want to live anymore. Not being able to play field hockey, a huge part of my identity, had something to do with it. But more so, it was the physical effects the concussion had. The depression was terrible.
I began connecting the dots when I started talking with my neuropsychologist. I didn't want to go see a doctor. I didn't think anything was wrong. And I definitely didn't want to see a psychologist. But I went, and it turned things around for me.
Knowing what I know now, I would proceed with much more caution after receiving a concussion. I don't necessarily think you should stop playing sports or be scared of playing sports because you have sustained a concussion or two. But if you sustain a concussion during play, it's important to rest and not hit your head during the following weeks.
I had to reorganize my whole life, but not necessarily in a bad way. Ever since my first concussion, I've become more susceptible to them and have suffered 17 total. I have to be careful at concerts. I really can't be around crowds or elbows. Getting in and out of cars, opening doors -- it's amazing how many times you bump your head. A non-concussed person wouldn't necessarily sustain a concussion in those situations, but I have to be careful with everything that I do.
I don't think concussions are the cost of doing business in an athletic culture. I think it is the athlete's responsibility to cherish your body, especially your brain. It's going to drive everything in your entire life. But I think in youth sports it's the coaches' responsibility to know the signs of concussion and to take them seriously. To know that it's not just a bump on the head -- permanent damage can be done.
Katrina Majewski, 24, is a 2007 graduate of Rutgers University.