Updated: Feb 23, 2021
I have this scar on the side of my head. I think it looks pretty cool, it’s a sort of crescent moon shape, and when my hair is short enough it’s pretty visible, like, hard to miss. So, I get asked about it a lot. The easiest answer is “I had brain surgery.” I really don’t want to lie about it, and I will spend most of this article explaining why, calling it “brain surgery” is totally truthful, but certainly undersells the actual reality of it. I was shaken as a baby. They call it shaken baby “syndrome”, which is really a catch term for all the different types of damage shaking a baby can cause. In doing some research to make sure I get my terminologies correct I came across this gem on Healthline.com “It can result from as little as five seconds of shaking.” Do me a favor, shake your own head vigorously for 5 full “Mississippi” seconds. Might make you a little dizzy, your neck kinda sore-ish, as hard as you could do it to yourself for that long it’s certainly not pleasant, but you might think “eh, I could do it for ten.” Except you're not shaking your own head, a grown man is shaking your entire body, for well over five seconds, I would imagine until I stopped crying. Which is why he was shaking me because he didn’t know any other way to stop me from crying. Or, you know, thought he didn’t know.
As of writing this, I can’t recall in the retellings of what happened next what he told everyone happened, I can’t imagine any story seeming plausible in hindsight (Oh what a year). As the story goes, the doctors said “if I lived, I would be blind and retarded”. (Sadly I do think they used the “r” word 30 years ago). I have previously joked in my own retellings “At least I’m not blind.” Which, you know, is not a great joke, but it is usually after I’ve explained, because they asked, why I had brain surgery. “Well, I was shaken as a baby and burst a blood vessel behind my right eye, and all that blood was filling up around my brain, so they had to cut open my little baby skull, put a tube in it that goes all the way to my belly.” I point first to the scar on my head, then the visible tube in my neck, and then about an inch above my belly button. When I was younger and less hairy I would just lift up my shirt and show people the second scar as well. (I’m less prone to taking my shirt off at random, but it is still known to happen on occasion.)
Hey, guess what everybody! I lived! What’s this “if” shit. And we’ve established I’m not blind and in no official capacity have I ever been diagnosed as intellectually disabled. So, yay me, I guess, I mean given that the prognosis for shaken baby syndrome is pretty bleak, from the American Association of Neurological Surgeons:
The prognosis for victims of shaken baby syndrome varies with the severity of injury but generally is poor. Many cases are fatal or lead to severe neurological deficits. Death is usually caused by uncontrollable increased intracranial pressure from cerebral edema, bleeding within the brain or tears in the brain tissue. However, even babies with injuries that appear to be mild may show developmental difficulties. Typically, surviving babies with this syndrome may develop any of the following disabilities: Cerebral palsy, Paralysis, Vision loss or blindness, Mental retardation, Epilepsy, Seizures
To put it mildly, I beat the odds to appear completely “normal” to anyone who never asks about my scar. It’s quite intentional that I make my scar visible. I have “forgiven” that man. That is to say, I looked him in his eyes and said “I forgive you.” and I meant it sincerely, but that scar is so, so much more than skin deep, literally and figuratively (literally...cause, like, there’s still a tube in my skull?) I haven’t been diagnosed with anything, depression on a few occasions, but nothing else. Hell, my twin brother started talking before me, but by the time we were in middle school I was well ahead of him academically, when he was diagnosed dyslexic. This is all to say, I’m fucking lucky, y’all. I’m lucky as shit. That I didn’t die while he was throttling me for being uncomfortable to him. From the New York State Department of Health: “One in four children who is shaken dies from their injuries.” What would you stake on one in four odds?
New York, huh, I wonder how they’re doing right now? I imagine about as well as the rest of the country, which doesn’t seem great, to me, if I’m being honest. Anyway, what’s the point of all this? Well, despite my injury being on my mind a lot, literally and figuratively (tube, get it? Oh I’m hilarious...) I see this: Serious Cases of Brain Damage Are Linked to COVID-19, New Research Shows and this: White House Stumbles Over How Best To Reopen Schools, As Trump Blasts CDC Guidance and I can’t help to feel like I’m witnessing the entire nation is collectively throttling our children because we uncomfortable with the notion of trying to do things differently. The man who hurt me was unprepared for an inevitable, truly uncomfortable, but certainly manageable “crisis” (if that helps clear up the analogy). You know, a crisis that plenty of other people seemed to have handled better. America as a nation dug itself into a capital-driven hell hole, and now we are seriously discussing ignoring the guidelines of the CDC when applied to our CHILDREN. On the chance that they might not get sick. The brain damage study is super small, so I’d be uncomfortable declaring it a firm number, but that small number was one in four...I don’t like those numbers. The average class size in California is 25, one whole classroom for every four. 25 out of a hundred kids...if those odds hold up. Maybe it’s 1 percent and not 25...1 out of a hundred kids? Does that make it better?
I’ve been tired since I was twelve...I could list dozens of symptoms that may or may not be tied to that specific trauma (there’s plenty of others, so who’s to say for certain). But that man, who was in charge of my well being, gambled with my life because he was frustrated, and I bear the consequences for that for the rest of it. I hope he took my forgiveness sincerely, cause I don’t think two people need to carry that weight, he has another family I hope he did better for. Still doesn’t change what happened, and how objectively awful it was. It should be a thing we uncategorically reject as humanly acceptable. (I’d like to go into detail to say that means increased mental health support, not punishment, but this article is long enough).
This country continues to remove the agency of its most vulnerable citizens, like an abusive father, deflecting and lying to “keep the family together”. I honestly don’t know what to do about it. I mean, I’ll probably send a modified version of this to my elected officials...although the last impassioned plea I sent to an elected about the virus was met with “now let’s not be unreasonable”, I just kinda rolled my eyes when it was mostly about adults. Now it’s about kids and I legitimately do not think I could handle a “laissez faire” attitude when discussing children and the possibility of brain damage. Cause it’s really close to me. Literally and...well, you get it.