Natasha Richardson Death – Not a Minor Brain Injury
The recent death of 45-year-old actress Natasha Richardson demonstrates the importance of getting a full medical check-up even if you’ve only been in a minor traffic accident or other incident in which you struck your head even slightly.
Richardson hit her head when she fell on the beginners’ slope of a ski resort while taking a ski lesson. According to news reports, there was no sign of blood or trauma. Two members of the ski patrol went to her aid and reported that she was conscious, smiling, and making jokes. An hour later, however, Richardson complained of a headache and was taken to a local hospital in an ambulance, still conscious. However, at some point she lost consciousness and was transferred to another hospital. Unfortunately, she died the next day of an epidural hematoma, a condition in which bleeding occurs from an artery in the brain.
Richardson’s condition is what emergency room doctors refer to as “walk and die” syndrome, in which the person who has suffered a minor blow to the head at first feels fine, but within an hour or two begins to feel symptoms that indicate the possibility of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that requires immediate treatment to prevent serious damage. The arteries in the brain are under high pressure, and blood can accumulate rapidly in the area, pushing the brain to one side and leaking blood down into the brainstem. There it can cause a change in mental status, including a coma that can result in the person’s death. This is why it is important that if you have hit your head in an automobile accident, a slip-and-fall, or any other type of incident in which you struck your head, you should always go to the emergency room to get checked out.
Note that it is not necessary to actually hit your head on something to suffer a serious TBI. For example, having your head snap violently back and forward in whiplash injury in a traffic accident or even while riding a roller coaster at an amusement park can result in damage to the brain.
Ideally, when a person goes to the emergency room after suffering a blow to the head, the best thing for doctors to do is admit the person for observation for 24 hours. Unfortunately this is not always feasible and the ER doctor must use his or her best judgment in deciding whether to admit a patient for observation. If the doctors do not admit you to the hospital, they will ordinarily discharge you with a “head sheet” telling you to return immediately to the emergency room if any of the symptoms on the head sheet occur. Some signs of a serious head or brain injury are:
- Headaches or neck pain that won’t go away
- Disturbances in your speech, such as slurring your words
- Disturbances in your vision, such as blurriness or double-vision
- Feeling nauseous
- Feeling tired and fatigued for no reason
If you have struck your head or suffered a whiplash-type injury and have any of the above symptoms, you should promptly seek emergency medical care.