Dealing with head injuries

Taken from The Real McCaw: The Autobiography - it's 2005 and Richie is playing for the Crusaders:

Stretchered off, Richie McCaw after his close encounter with Bands.

Richie McCaw stretchered off after close encounter with Richard Bands (Getty Images)

I got knocked unconscious at Loftus in a front-on tackle of Richard Bands, part Springbok prop, part Brahma bull. That was easier to deal with. I recovered pretty quickly and after a week or so I was pretty good again. I just took it really easy to make sure I was right and stayed on the sideline for about a month. But it was a pretty spectacular hit and I was carried off on a stretcher, still out to it, so there was a lot of media attention, a fair bit of it urging me to give the game away, given my problems the year before. Things weren’t helped later that year, on the 2005 end-of-year tour, when I get a head knock against Ireland and withdrew from the English test. It was a worry at the time, and you hope that you won’t get any more majors, but it does mean that I’m very careful with any head knocks.

So when I got the bang against the Chiefs, I did the conservative thing and took a week off, even though by the Sunday I felt okay.

That’s the thing. I’ll never play if I have symptoms. People might say, “But you passed the test.” Okay, that’s the first stage, all the psychometric and the other testing that the team doctor will carry out, and that of course is terribly important, not least because the team doctor is always there and knows everything about me. He or she will have a comprehensive medical profile of every player for comparison purposes, particularly a player like me, who’s been around for a while. The team doctor also has access to the huge research that has gone into head injuries from contact sport. There’ve been two big global conferences with leading people from all around the world getting together to share knowledge and experience about how best to manage this area. So I’ve got the benefit of all that. But even if I’ve passed the tests and my brain function and everything is fine, it doesn’t mean I’m going to play - not if I still don’t feel quite right.

That’s what I’ve learnt: I know when I’m right. It becomes clear. You get that moment every time you get a knock. You might feel a bit funny for a day or so, then bang, you’re good again. Although “bang” might not be the best word.

Resting the brain - not reading or watching television - is definitely tougher than resting a knee.

The rehab goes well and by Round 10, I’m ready to come back against the Sharks.

Start again.


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