NAVAL HOSPITAL PENSACOLA, Fla. – Working as a neurologist has its
challenges, but I have found that sometimes the real challenge lies at
home with my own children and their attitudes towards protecting their
brains or “grapes” as I like to call them .
As my children have grown older, it has become harder to convince them
of the importance of wearing helmets when biking, skate boarding or doing
other activities that can lead to head injuries.
The brain is a fascinating organ when it is working at its full capacity.
However, just a small injury to the brain can change a person’s
interaction and behaviors and make them almost unrecognizable. An injury
to the prefrontal cortex, the motor planning center, can make a lifelong
musician forget how to play piano. More devastating injuries, like those
that occur in head trauma, can cause a disability in patients to the extent
that they may no longer be able to care for themselves independently.
I have found it is often difficult to translate this medical-speak into
teenager-speak. Regardless of the “worst case scenarios” that
parents can paint, or the examples that can be presented, teenagers often
ignore the cautions of their own parents. This even occurs at my own home
despite my level of education and experience. It becomes a struggle, even
for a neurologist, to enforce helmets to teenage boys trying to fit in
with their skateboarding buddies or girls not wanting to mess up their
hair with a helmet while riding a bike with their friends.
Like many parents, I was reluctant to wear a helmet as well growing up.
It was a different time when helmet safety was not promoted like it is
today, and it was before I saw firsthand the devastating head injuries
that occur with just a simple fall from a bicycle or skateboard. It doesn’t
take a lot of force to cause an injury to the brain. Simply falling off
of a bicycle at slow speeds can cause a serious injury to the head if
a helmet is not worn.
As parents grow older and get more experience, we begin to realize the
nature of the business of being alive and how fortunate many of us are
to have survived our own youth, especially those of us in the medical
field. As a neurologist, I understand more than anyone the devastating
consequences of children and adults not wearing helmets while snowboarding,
skateboarding, bicycling or riding a motorcycle.
I am proud to say I bought my first real bike helmet while in neurology
residency. I was resistant at first to riding with a helmet, but I couldn’t
expect my children to ride with a helmet when their neurologist dad didn’t
wear one. I could enforce them wearing a helmet when they were young,
but not when they turned into irascible and often antagonistic teenagers.
I’ll be the first to admit I can’t protect my children from
everything, but at a minimum, I can provide a good role model for them
and hope that something sticks.
As parents, let’s set a good example and educate our children at
an early age on the importance of wearing a helmet. Please ensure as well
that the helmet fits properly and that it is worn correctly. A helmet
with the strap not connected won’t help during a fall. We may only
have one chance to protect our “grape” or our children's
Lieutenant Joseph Cahill is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin's
Neurology Residency Program and is a board certified Neurologist. He graduated from La
Universidad Autonoma de Guadalajara international school of medicine in 2009 and completed his final year
of medical school at New York Medical College. Cahill is also an award
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