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Not Just a Headache This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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Starting something new always comes at a price. My decision to play football came only hours after the last time I kicked a soccer ball. After yet another afternoon of excruciating laps around the track in the scalding August heat, I came home and announced to my mom that I was done with soccer. My brother Rob is captain of our school's football team. He was always badgering me about how much the team needed me and how good I would be. Having spent dozens of hours tossing the football with me in the backyard, my dad instantly seconded my brother's sentiments. Despite my mom's concerns that I would get hurt, I chose to give it a shot.

As the days went by, I gradually understood the game more and gained a new respect for it. Unfortunately, we were forced to forfeit a few times due to many of my teammates sustaining injuries. None were as bad as Rob's though. In the final minute of the game against Montclair Immaculate, we were down 0-38. As my brother made a tackle, I heard a loud pop from a few feet away, followed by my six-foot-two, 230-pound brother crying out in pain while clutching his right knee. From my years watching professional football, I knew right away: torn ACL.

This injury rattled our family, and my mom grew even more fearful that I would get hurt too. When she begged me not to play, I would reply, “I've never gotten injured, and I'm not going to now.” I refused to sit on the sidelines for our Homecoming game just because my mom was afraid I would get hurt.

The first quarter of the Homecoming game versus Sussex Tech the score was close, and Coach made the call for me to play defensive tackle, a position usually filled by the biggest player on the team. Despite my small stature, I was having a great game. The opposing quarterback fumbled the ball as it was snapped to him. My instincts kicked in and I dove for the football, but it was recovered by my teammate. As I was getting up, one of the biggest players on the other team fell on me. My helmet smacked against the unforgiving earth.

I was immediately dazed, and an immense pain radiated from my forehead. Not realizing the severity of my injury, I played the rest of the game. That night, thinking my headache was just from wearing my heavy helmet for hours, I went to the Homecoming dance and the party that followed. As the music blared and the lights strobed, my headache spiked.

I woke up the next day with a piercing headache. My dad assumed I was faking because of my math test, which I had pushed off studying for. But my mom's instincts convinced her to rush me to the emergency room.

Sure enough, I had a concussion. The biggest danger with a concussion is the possibility of a subdural hematoma, or bleeding in the brain due to a tear in the cerebral bridging veins. Listening to the doctor explain this risk terrified me. I knew my mom was right – I shouldn't have continued playing. I immediately underwent a CT scan. Thankfully the results came back negative for a brain bleed.

In the coming days as my headache grew, so did my boredom. I mostly sat in the dark, only leaving the house for doctor's appointments. Everything hurt. The unending headache worsened instantly when I stepped outside or even listened to the radio at a low volume.

During the many hours I spent sitting in the dark with extra strength Tylenol coursing through my veins, I came to the realization that not only was my mom right that I should not have played, she's right about a lot of things. I finally understood the value of her advice. Had I listened to my mom in the first place, I would never have had to endure all that pain. After playing soccer for eight years without any significant issue, my first season of football was halted by a serious injury.

I also learned that most people struggle to understand an injury they can't see. This became apparent when I observed the sympathy my brother received limping around in his disabled state. Yet most people brushed off my concussion as merely a headache, saying “You're fine. I get those all the time.” The week I spent at home incapacitated by pain was seen by some as a week off. They expected to hear that I spent my time playing Xbox and watching TV, two of the worst things you can do when concussed. Outwardly it didn't appear that anything was wrong with me, so my peers didn't understand the constant and agonizing pain I endured. Having my suffering belittled taught me to never underestimate someone's pain simply because I cannot see it.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the April 2014 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.




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Lilianna8642 said...
Sep. 1 at 3:06 pm:
Great story and a beautiful message.
 
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davidcruz1000 said...
Apr. 7 at 2:24 pm:
good story
 
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