By Jay Fraga
We take a number of things for granted.
I used to take my vocabulary for granted.
I used to take my memory for granted.
I used to take getting out of bed in the morning without a scorching headache for granted.
I used to take having my days free from nausea that rivaled the worst sea sickness that you have ever had for granted.
I used to take not having depression brought on by hits to the head for granted.
I would have never imagined a scenario in which I would have prayed for my death to come as quickly as possible – so that I could be delivered from the daily agony that I felt from my multiple concussions. But, I found myself doing just that. That’s unconscionable for a guy who considers himself a fighter- someone who can persevere through any obstacle. It’s unconscionable for a guy who loves his wife and kids with every fabric of his being; a guy who loves life, period. And it should be unconscionable for anyone else, regardless of circumstances.
On May 2nd, 2012, I was on the Mass Pike and driving home with my wife after she had a procedure at one of the Boston-Area hospitals. She was resting comfortably in the passenger seat and I was driving, absent-mindedly listening to Boston sports radio when a breaking news bulletin came over: Junior Seau had been found dead in his home of an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound. No more information was known.
It felt as if Floyd Mayweather had just punched me as hard as he could in the gut.
As of that day, I was roughly a full year into living with diagnosed post-concussion syndrome. It’s a hell that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The symptoms reduce you to a barely-functioning subhuman. Life with PCS is literally pure agony and thoughts of suicide are fairly common for people who suffer from it.
As I digested the news, I knew with every fabric of my being that Seau finally succumbed to the agony of living with too many head injuries. I was positive. I reached over to my sleeping wife, gently squeezed her arm, and said, “Junior Seau killed himself”. She stirred and said, “What?” I repeated it, and then said, “Damn it, it’s got to be the concussions. Just wait- if we hear that he didn’t shoot himself in the head, that’s all I need to know.”
Ten minutes later, the next bulletin came over with more information, and this time, mentioned that Junior had shot himself in the chest.
I had to pull over because I couldn’t see through the tears.
I mourned for the man; a man that I had grown to dislike when he played for the San Diego Chargers. I was a Patriots fan, and their natural rivalry with the Chargers often left me cursing as Seau would break through the line time and time again and deposit our quarterbacks on their asses. I respected him as a warrior, however, and I marveled at his toughness. He was unstoppable. Of course, I just about danced a jig when the Patriots signed him, and all of his previous transgressions were quickly forgotten by me in short order. I mourned for all three variants of the man that I was familiar with. And, I began to mourn for myself. What did this mean for me? As someone who suffered from multiple concussions and undoubtedly suffered daily misery from their effects, would this be my fate?
My thoughts raged as I sat on the side of the Massachusetts Turnpike, cried, and cars passed me at 85 miles per hour.
This morning, one of my friends notified me immediately that researchers affiliated with the National Institute of Health found CTE in Junior’s brain tissue. CTE can only be found post-mortem, and it is indicative of damage brought on from too many hits to the head. It’s a final monument to the dangers of ignoring concussions.
I don’t know how to focus the correct message on dealing with concussions appropriately, but I do know that I am going to double down on the volume of my participation.
Rest in Peace, #55.