In 2009, Austin Collie, a wide receiver, signed with the Indianapolis Colts. He quickly became Charlie's favorite player. In fact, when we ordered Charlie a Collie jersey for Christmas that year, I had to special order one because he was too new and not proven enough in the NFL to justify an inventory of jerseys bearing the name "Collie."
In 2010, Austin Collie suffered two bell-ringer concussions. During a 2012 preseason game, he got clocked again and recorded his third concussion in 3 seasons. A lot of people, me included, thought Collie should hang up the pigskin. But he was determined to play. It was during the third game of the 2012 season that Collie suffered a season-ending knee injury. I was pretty vocal to the people that I kibbutz about football with that the injury was probably divine intervention, delivered as a loud and clear message that Austin Collie should not be playing football.
I argued that he should quit for the benefit of his wife and kids, although I wasn't entirely sure (and still am not) he has a wife and kids. I said that surely he had enough money and all the money in the world wasn't worth living with a jello brain. I just could not understand why he would even consider getting back on the field.
Then 3 weeks ago, Charlie got a concussion playing soccer. I wasn't there when it happened and was a little skeptical when the coach told me that Charlie couldn't tell them his address or phone number when he came off the field. Still, after calls from two parents and the coach, I opted to take him to urgent care to be checked out. From an emergent standpoint, he was ok, but our pediatrician told us to take him to the sports medicine doc for ImPACT testing the next day.
The neurological exam the sports med doc gave him was pretty interesting. He asked him to remember a list of six words and then would randomly ask him to recall the list during the appointment. He gave Charlie a string of numbers 1-9-3-8-2-7-4 and asked Charlie to repeat those backwards. (At that point, I was beginning to think I was concussed, as I don't think I could have done it.) Say the months of the year backwards.
It was the balance exercises that really shocked me. He asked Charlie to stand with his feet together and close his eyes. With his eyes open, he was a little wobbly. With his eyes closed, Charlie couldn't stand up straight for more than a few seconds.
The Rx for concussion: brain rest. I listened as the doc told Charlie, "If you wake up and you have a headache, dizziness or nausea, you can't go to school. If you are at school and you start to get a headache, dizziness, or nauseated, you have to go home." There were also limitations to note taking and homework as well.
As Charlie tried to contain his smile, I was shooting daggers at the doctor. Seriously, please don't tell my kid all that. I was envisioning him home from school for a week. Then it was my turn to smile...in addition to all the "good" things (in Charlie's mind), the doctor also said no TV, video games, computers or texting and no physical activity for a week. I could see it on Charlie's face. Suddenly, this concussion wasn't such a sweet deal.
Truthfully, the restrictions weren't too hard for Charlie. His collision happened on a Sunday. It wasn't until the following Saturday that the fog seemed to lift from his brain and his personality. We could just tell he was a half-step behind and he slept...a lot.
But the next two weeks were harder. Each week, we took Charlie back to the doctor for the neuro exam and for the computerized IMPACT testing. Each week, his scores on the IMPACT test were not high enough to be considered "recovered."
Meanwhile -- and this is where I'm finally getting back to Austin Collie -- Charlie's team's soccer season was marching on. He was resigned to the fact that he wouldn't make it back to the field in time for any of the remaining regular season games, but he was -- and Mike, I and the coach were -- hopeful he'd be cleared in time for the tournament.
Charlie was feeling better and not having any concussion symptoms. He was following the graduated physical activities the doctor had prescribed. He. was. READY. Except he wasn't. At least not as far as that darn IMPACT test was concerned.
The morning of the first tournament game, Charlie pleaded with us. "Please. Call the doctor. Tell him I don't have symptoms. Tell him to clear me."
"Charlie, if you get hurt again, you will miss basketball tryouts and probably the whole basketball season."
He wasn't happy, but he took his lumps.
The next day, his team was geared up for the two final tournament games. The first game was a slugfest. Charlie dutifully sat on the bench in street clothes, cheering his team on. I sat with the other parents and made mental notes of places where Charlie could have made plays. Finally, the ref blew the final whistle and Charlie's team had won 5-4. On to the championships!
The championship game was against the Lightning's league rivals, the team that always wins the tournament. I thought to myself that I wished I'd put Charlie's soccer uniform and gear in the car, that maybe he could have played just a few minutes.
It was a very physical game. Our team played good defense, but had a hard time mounting a coordinated offense. I would glance from time to time at Charlie sitting on the bench, symptom-free, and think of what he could have brought to the field. I'm not trying to overestimate Charlie's skills, but last season he did score twice in one game on this team's goalie, a kid who had only given up six goals all season.
I daydreamed a little about telling the coach that Charlie was ok to go in. That he was symptom-free and the doctor was being too conservative. That's when I began to understand Austin Collie just a little bit better. I was having these thoughts about a kid's soccer game, when all that was at stake was a cheap plastic trophy and my 14-year-old's immediate gratification over getting a chance to play.
Collie had a decision to make -- to play or not to play -- from the vantage point of looking out over his career, his livelihood, not just over some rec league game. Ultimately, I know we made the right decision in keeping Charlie on the bench. And I still think Collie would have served his body and his family better if he'd bowed out of the NFL. But at least now I understand the wide receiver a little bit better.
(Note: Austin Collie no longer plays for the Indianapolis Colts. He was signed this season to the New England Pat......" )