DWTS: Melissa Gilbert and conquering concussions

When it was first reported that Melissa Gilbert suffered a mild concussion, Gilbert and Maksim Chmerkovskiy’s performance of the paso doble was examined. At first people indicated that it was during one of her dips that her head hit the floor, but now it looks like it was during that full body spin (something that several teams are doing, including Jaleel White who turned the tables since it’s usually the woman/follower who is spun and not the man/leader).

During a full body spin, the follower has to be aware of where the leader is and places herself carefully and then may have to tuck to avoid hitting the partner. Gilbert might not have understood the mechanics of the move well enough to place herself and depended too much on Maksim Chmerkovskiy.

Monday night (9 April 2012), Melissa Gilbert was taken to the hospital after her dance because she was feeling dizzy. She later tweeted: “I’m alright. Mild concussion and whiplash. Very soon I will be safely home resting and being taken care of.”

Concussions are a traumatic brain injury that can be caused by a blow to the head or body, a fall or even another injury “that jars or shakes the brain inside the skull” according to WebMD.com. That means you don’t have to hit your head and there may be no cuts or bruises. PubMed Health  agrees that a concussion can result from jarring in any direction.

When you suffer a concussion, you don’t necessarily lose consciousness. Most people do not lose consciousness although the amount of time one is unconscious can indicate the severity of the injury.

The word concussion derives from the Latin concutere which actually means to shake violently or the Latin concussus which means the action of striking together. The more technical terms are mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI) or mild head injury (MHI) or minor head trauma.

The symptoms from a concussion vary and may go away after a few weeks, but if they persist there can be complications. For this reason, treatment usually is monitoring and rest. Repeated concussions, such as those suffered by boxers and football players, can results in cumulative brain damage such as dementia pugilistica or second-impact syndrome.

Dementia Pugilistica (DP) is more commonly known as punch-drunk syndrome. It develops progressively and becomes most evident after about a decade of regular boxing and is thought to affect from 15 to 20 percent of professional boxers. This isn’t Gilbert’s problem however.

Second-impact syndrome (SIS) occurs when a person suffers a second concussion before recovering from the first concussion. This condition is rare, but can results in death or severe disability. SIS is more likely to occur in young people (under 20) except for boxing and commonly occurs in football. That’s why rest is highly recommended and that old school of thought to shake it off and get back up and “into the game” is a dangerous practice.

A concussion differs from a cerebral contusion in that a contusion is a traumatic brain injury that involves a bruise to the brain tissue. Bruises are the bleeding of small blood vessels. A contusion may result in enough bleeding as to be life-threatening.

  • Thinking and remembering
    • Not thinking clearly
    • Feeling slowed down
    • Not being able to concentrate
    • Not being able to remember new information
  • Physical
  • Emotional and mood
    • Easily upset or angered
    • Sad
    • Nervous or anxious
    • More emotional
  • Sleep
    • Sleeping more than usual
    • Sleeping less than usual
    • Having a hard time falling asleep

Treatment may include (PubMed Health):

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for a headache. Do NOT use aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin or Advil), naproxen, or similar drugs.
  • Eating a light diet.
  • Avoiding exercise, weight lifting, or heavy activities. Light activity around the home is okay. You do not need to stay in bed.
  • Avoiding alcohol until you have completely recovered.

From TexasHealth.org, some interesting additional suggestions about what NOT to do include:

  • Do not drive.
  • Do not use a computer.
  • Do not send text messages.
  • Do not watch TV for long periods of time.
  • Do not listen to loud music or conversations.
  • Do not attend dances, parties or music concerts or anywhere there are loud noises and light stimulation.
  • Do not take hot baths.
  • Do not engage in heated or emotional discussions.

PubMed Health also advises:

An adult should stay with you for the first 12 – 24 hours after the concussion. Going to sleep is okay. However, someone should wake you up every 2 or 3 hours for the at least the first 12 hours. They can ask a simple question, such as your name, and then look for any changes in the way you look or act.

Special care should be taken in younger and older people who experience concussions.

Signs that you need help immediately include:

  • A headache that gets worse or does not go away.
  • Weakness, numbness, or decreased coordination.
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Extreme drowsiness or you cannot wake them.
  • One pupil that is larger than the other.
  • Convulsions or seizures.
  • A problem recognizing people or places.
  • Increasing confusion, restlessness, or agitation.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • In children: Will not stop crying.
  • In children: Will not nurse or eat.

For parents, if you’re thinking about entering your child into a sports program, watch and see if the coach is old school (stop crying and get back into the game) or understands the 3 Rs advised by TexasHealth.org:

  1. Remove players with concussion symptoms from athletics and competitive sports
  2. Restrict athletes from competition until symptoms completely resolve
  3. Return to play gradually when you are without symptoms

What this all means for Gilbert is that she might not be able to practice as much as the other uninjured contestants this week. Gilbert can expect to be in pain and she also might suffer from dizziness which would make controlling her turns problematic. Because Gilbert’s concussion and whiplash is considered mild, we expect her to return to the dance floor, but suspect that the injury will only add to the stiffness that her dancing already suffers from.


About Jana J. Monji

I've written for the Rafu Shimpo, LA Weekly, LA Times, Examiner.com and, more recently, the Pasadena Weekly and RogerEbert.com. I formerly worked for a dot-com more interested in yodeling than its customers.

Posted on April 11, 2012, in Dancing with the Stars Season 14, Melissa Gilbert and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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