My son, Tom has played contact rugby for three years and despite a raft of bruises, cuts and bumps I am generally able to put my worry of potentially more serious injuries to the back of my mind.

IMG_1094That was until last Saturday, when he played his usual school rugby match and was kneed in the head during a tackle. I was unable to go to the game but now know that Tom played on without informing coaches of the incident in fear of being taken off (that’s young boys for you!) The following day Tom played for his club and only after the match informed me of having blurred vision, dizziness and a headache. He told me about his injury from the previous day, and expressed pain when his forehead was touched. I didn’t know whether these symptoms were related or just a coincidence, but it did make me watch him very carefully for the rest of that day, and on the whole he did appear ok.

When Monday morning came round Tom still had some dizziness but said it had eased a little. I wrote a note to school pulling him out of games and told him to go to the school nurse if he felt worse. He did, and the nurse called me later that morning. With 15 years A&E experience behind her the nurse was adamant that Tom had concussion. She didn’t give it a level of severity but I gathered it must be mild as she was allowing him to remain in school but withdrawing him from all contact sport for three weeks.

Tom went into melt down and begged the nurse to review him in a week’s time, which she has agreed to do, but remained adamant that he should rest for at least a week and told him that he needed his head for life!

Things got interesting however when a couple of people thought the nurse had blown everything out of proportion and that Tom should be fine to play the following weekend – Tom was of course thrilled by this new opinion and thought it the better advise of course!

Feeling extremely unclear about protocol relating to concussion and feeling under pressure from other sources, I emailed Tom’s club coach for advise. His reply was well received, “Although the assessment criteria is subject to a lot of debate and subjectivity the actions following an assessment is clear. Any medical advice that suggests not playing will and must be followed. Bottom line is if a nurse suggests a break from contact rugby, then that will apply to club as well as school. 

I was totally reassured by his immediate response and assertion on the matter and then took to doing a little research of my own to put a case to a distraught Tom to help him see the reasoning of why I was standing firm by the nurse’s decision.

I came across the incredibly tragic story of Ben, a 14 year old boy who almost three years ago now collapsed one minute before the end of a school rugby match having sustained a head injury earlier in the game and after being allowed to play on despite being checked on three separate occasions by his coach.

Ben died two days later of concussion. His parents clearly believed and announced to the press that their son would still be with them if he had been removed from the game after the first concussion.

I then came across an article relating to the Pitch-Side concussion assessment unit, initiated last year, which now allows players to return to the field five minutes after a head injury as long as they have been cleared by medics. But to do so they must answer a number of questions- without getting any wrong- and pass a balance test.

Previously players had to take three weeks off – a period later reduced to one week- if they sustained a suspected concussion.

Tom seems fine but after reading more on concussion I am just pleased that he took the initiative to see the school nurse and that his school and club coaches, impressively, were all hugely supportive of him resting upon advise.

However, I remain unclear as to what the protocol actually is surrounding head injuries at school and club matches. It’s made me question whether there are medics, with an understanding of assessing an injured player for concussion required at games and if not what then?

I also think it would be beneficial to educate young rugby players about the dangers of concussion to ensure that they always tell a coach if they have sustained a head injury, which I don’t believe they all do, and for them to learn and understand why they have to take time out to recover. In this way they will perhaps be less inclined to exert pressure on coaches and parents to get back in the game.

The next question has to be….should it be compulsory for young players to wear skull caps? I personally think so, but know this is going to be another battle with my son!