Note: The following is an open letter dictated by Kelly Buchanan to
her fellow hockey players, following a traumatic brain injury she received
while scrimmaging with her amateur hockey team.
Hey there everybody – I propose that we wear helmets, both for scrimmage and for BTSH. I’ve been meaning to address this for a while now, but these months have been a little difficult. All the same, I apologize for having put it off this long.
On March 9, I suffered TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) at Sunday scrimmage when I took a shot to my upper right forehead*. It has come to my attention that many of you have no idea that this happened, even those of you who were there that day (and there were a lot! We resorted to playing two-minute shifts). Additionally, I believe that the severity and significance of this injury is lost on those who do know about it, probably because my methods of coping involve cracking jokes, telling funny anecdotes, focusing on my improvements, and repeating only the positive news.
However, the reality is that my life will change because of that shot to my head. It is very likely that I have suffered permanent brain damage, that there will be lingering effects on my long-term health, and also, the economic ramifications of this injury are far-reaching. I personally believe things happen for a reason, and that ultimately, wherever this path leads me, my life will change for the better. That said, if I improve enough to play hockey again, I will wear a helmet. Cause while the silver centerpiece of all this will one day reveal itself, I will make every effort to avoid following this detour twice.
First off, you should know that doctors & nurses at Beth Israel marveled at me, saying I have a “guardian angel” and that I am “extremely lucky”. I later learned they put me through rush triage and cut me in front of dozens of patients and into the CT scan. They said the ball was traveling a minimum of 50-60mph at impact, equating the damage to my forehead to that of car crash victims who flew through the windshield head first at that speed. My brain should have hemorrhaged, and my chances of making a full recovery are exponentially greater because it did not. They gawked at how the ball struck me at precisely the thickest point of the human skull. A few inches to the right (above the ear) and it would have either killed me or caused severe permanent brain damage (do you have a living will?). The good news was that I got off with only a severe concussion w/ amnesia, swelling of the brain, and a dislodged balance crystal.
I wish this were enough to convince you. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s not. I was kinda surprised the other day when I finally made it out to a game and saw that not one person who has seen me since the accident was wearing a helmet. Am I handling this TOO well? I guess you’ve only seen me at the moments where I’m well enough to be social. So I’ve gone the extra mile, and I’ve spelled out my adventures-in-brain-damage, including the humiliating stuff, with the hope that no one else in this league will have to write the sequel. This is how that “extreme luck / guardian angel / good news” translates into daily life:
Unfortunately, my neurologist feels my lapses of amnesia and cognitive dysfunction are abnormally acute, and that I may have suffered permanent cognitive brain damage. This news is worsened by the fact that she made these observations in our routine checkups, without me sharing ANY of my fun stories. I will undergo a full neuropsychological evaluation come September, once all swelling should have subsided. This extensive testing will pinpoint the problem areas of the brain and determine whether I would benefit from cognitive remediation (training in how to manage cognitive brain damage in everyday life).
While I am not thrilled by this news, I am less thrilled by what it will mean to my family. Who should be responsible for me should I retain permanent brain damage? Should my parents gamble their retirement on my recovery? What makes this worse is that last fall, upon seeing the BTSH welts on my legs, my mother asked me to please please wear a helmet. And I LAUGHED at her. “It’s just a plastic ball, Momma, NOBODY wears a helmet.” And while my family is in no position to help me the way they’d like, I am in a financial crisis. I had a couple months’ expenses set aside as a rainy day fund, but I was not prepared for THIS. I have spent more money doing nothing than I ever have in this city, by ordering in every single meal, taking door to door car services every time I leave the house, and continuing to pay rent and bills while I have not worked for a day in months. My stepmom helped me file for disability through social security, but the application takes from six months to a year to process. Relations have volunteered to move me out of Brooklyn and take me in until I can work again – but my health insurance, HIP, will only pay for health treatment in New York City and I need to complete the TBI physical therapies if I want any shot at running again. And yes, that makes the PA ambulance out-of-pocket. Come fall, HIP will pay for neuropsychological evaluation, but the catch 22 is that if the damage is “permanent”, HIP won’t pay for the cognitive remediation as it not considered “curative”. I will still complete the evaluation to have a better understanding of what I’m up against.
On March 8, my world looked so different. My physical and mental health was at its’ best ever. I was supporting myself full time with a career in music. I had health insurance, a savings account, and the luxury of spending money on hair color and vintage clothes, and I had worked for years to get myself into that position. I was prepping to release a new CD in late April, had a pick of heavy-hitting lawyers to shop it, and an MTV team interested in creating a reality series around it. NY1 paid me to time their 15 year anniversary ads with my release – and then I dropped the ball on everything.
Please don’t misread me - woe is NOT me, all is NOT lost, things WILL work out for the better. “For the better” will simply be a little different than what I had planned for myself in 2008. And hey – I had no idea I even had so many phenomenal friends here in NYC and then poof they emerged from every corner- I just want to illustrate that things can change in a heartbeat, and that a helmet can prevent you from having your own March 8 vs. March 9 scenario, or even save your life.
This injury is indeed a kinda big deal, and yet, it is SO MUCH LESS than what it could have been. I only hope that one of us facing the prospect of permanent brain damage is enough to make all of us protect our heads – for our children, for our parents, for our spouses, for our friends, for ourselves.
Thanks for reading this far down, I genuinely put a lot of effort into writing you. As I am thick-skulled both for better and for worse, I’m sure that I’ll see you out at scrim/games soon enough. (I’ll be the one with a helmet!)
*Some have asked who shot the ball. Frankly that is irrelevant. Accidents are a part of every single game – both at scrimmage and at BTSH. The rules don’t need to change, the players don’t need to change, it’s our level of protection that needs to change.
To find out how to help Kelly with her recovery, visit www.kellybuchanan.com.