In September 2012, Erica Bergman’s team was at their regular Thursday evening practice at the Gloucester Synchro Club in Ottawa, ON. The team was working on their lifts and throws, the “Oh-wow-moments,” as Erica describes.
There was a slip, and one of her athletes hit their head on another athlete. “It appeared to be an innocent little bump,” said Erica. “The lifeguard came over, gave us ice, and she applied it to her head.”
Two days later (Saturday) at the next practice, Erica noticed this athlete just didn’t look quite right. “I told her she looked grey, and she was not focusing well. I passed it over, because she had just recovered from the flu, and she was willing to go into the water, so I thought everything was fine.”
But everything was not fine. The following day, the athlete’s mom called Erica to say her daughter was just not right , most noticeably that she seemed to have problems focusing and that she was taking her to see a doctor. “I think they took her to a GP and she diagnosed a concussion. She prescribed complete rest – no screens, no reading, nothing interactive. No school.”
After a week of no change, an appointment was made with a specialist, but unfortunately, nothing was available until November, almost two months after the accident. At that time, the specialist confirmed a rotational concussion and that the athlete was also suffering from whiplash.
“Once they started treating the whiplash, some of the symptoms started to go away,” recalls Erica. The athlete returned to the pool in December, but then she began to suffer from anxiety. “The family was a little bit resistant to anxiety medication. Then she got the flu, which is apparently one of the worst things you can get with a concussion.”
Between the concussion, the flu and the anxiety, both the family and the synchro team were left with a lot of uncertainty.
Finally, in January, the athlete began to take anxiety medication. “Once she was on the medication, you could really start to see the signs of the concussion,” describes Erica. “Before, it really wasn’t clear if her symptoms were due to anxiety, or to the actual concussion.”
As a coach for a team sport, Erica describes the difficulty she faces when an athlete suffers from a concussion: “there is so much uncertainty – it’s really hard to set goals for the team when you don’t know if that person will be involved or not. Practice goals are fine, but it’s the long-term goals that are difficult. We kept saying ‘We’ll push it until she comes back.’ But when is that?”
Erica eventually had to make a hard decision for the best interests of her team. “We finally decided to swim without her. If she came back full-time then great, but we couldn’t risk the rest of the team’s success because of one person. That’s what’s difficult about this happening in a team sport.”
As Erica reflected on her story, she describes some of her biggest lessons. “You should treat the whiplash associated with the concussion – not just the concussion. Also, concussions are so individual – what hurts one person, may not hurt another. I’ve been coaching with this club for 15 years, and this is my third concussion. They do happen, not very often, but they do happen.”
Erica Bergman – Level 3 NCCP certified Synchro coach