12 October 2012
Dale Earnhardt Jr. talks about concussion
"I went a couple days wondering how my body would react and sort of waiting for it to process what was happening," he continued. "I started having headaches and stuff immediately after the wreck, and then into the next day and into Tuesday, and I thought, man, this is pretty soon after the other accident in Kansas. I should probably take this really seriously and seek some professional opinions on this ... I contacted my sister, and we talked about seeing a neurosurgeon, and we ended up getting steered toward Dr Petty."
Dr Jerry Petty is a neurosurgeon who works extensively with NASCAR and with the NFL. He ran tests on Earnhardt that included an MRI scan to check for a more serious cerebral haemorrhage a contusion, and everything came back looking clear.
"I was really honest with him about how I felt and honest with him about the whole process from Kansas all the way on," Earnhardt added. "He spent the night thinking about what we discussed and everything that we did on Wednesday and couldn't, in good faith, couldn't clear me to race this weekend.
"I trust his opinion," said Earnhardt of Dr Petty. "That's why I went to see him. He's been a good friend of mine for a long time and has helped me through a lot of injuries before, so I believe when he tells me I don't need to be in the car and I need to take a couple weeks off that that's what I need to do."
Dr Petty was also present, at the press conference at Charlotte on Thursday, and agreed with Earnhardt' account.
"I couldn't give you a better history than he just did," said the neurosurgeon. "He had no amnesia on either side of either of the incidents, which is very important.
"What he has is really called a diffuse axonal injury, and it's something that does not show on scans, and we don't have test that will show that other than symptoms and signs," Dr Petty continued. "Sometimes there will be some residual signs left over, but Dale had none of those. His eyes did what they were supposed to do; his balance tests and so forth are perfect."
However, that didn't mean that Earnhardt's concussion wasn't genuine or potentially serious. "By and large it's the history that the patient gives is the thing that tells you that they've had a concussion. A concussion can be seeing stars; a concussion can be just being addled for a minute. Any time the brain is not doing what it's supposed to be doing after an acceleration or deceleration, that's a concussion.
"The one symptom that is more important than all the tests is headache. As long as there's any headache the brain is not healed, and until that's healed and had some time to rest and then you provoke it again and can't make it happen again - it's then you feel like you're on the road to recovery.
"What we'll do now is we want him to have four or five days after he has no headache, and then we'll give him some sort of test like to get his pulse rate up, see if we can provoke a headache, and then if we can't, we'll let him go out and drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race."
Dr Petty's approach to Earnhardt's situation has been informed by his work in the NFL, where a concussion automatically means that a player has to sit out a week on the bench.
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