Checking dictionaries and medical books for the meaning of the word skull yields all sorts of interesting facts. My dictionary defines it as “a bone framework enclosing the brain of a vertebrate” (Soanes & Stevenson, 2004). From my medical books, I learned that the cranium is the domed back, top and sides of the skull comprised of eight bones. The facial section consists of fourteen smaller bones that protect the eyes, ears and nose. The entire skull rests on the uppermost vertebra known as the atlas and allows for the nodding motion. The atlas in combination with the second vertebra (or axis) permits side-to-side movement. My Concise Gray’s Anatomy (Leonard & Gray, 1997) even offers dissection hints for heads and necks. That’s a little more information than I needed!
Further research reveals information about possible head injuries as a result of falls, blows to the head, or motor vehicle collisions. Open or closed fractures, concussions, bleeding, temporary or permanent damage are all possible consequences. Brain injury groups work hard to raise awareness of this invisible condition and its consequences. A colleague in the art group to which I belong to lives with a brain injury as a result of a beating by a previous boyfriend. Though lucky to survive the incident, she lives with its results every day. Gillian must deal with various challenges including a lack of memory capacity, shortness of attention span, and difficulty with reading comprehension, particularly in regards to reading numbers.
Why this sudden interest in skulls and brains you may ask? In the course of a totally preventable accident, I suffered a blow to the head. I was outside painting the first of two large wooden cupboards. While sitting on a stool to reach the lowest compartment, a gust of wind blew the second one over striking me on the upper-left back part of my head. Shocked and scared, the first thing I did was to retrieve my glasses and start crying. It seemed like an appropriate response.
From my days as an EMT (emergency medical technician), I knew a concussion was a real possibility. I had the presence of mind to check my pupils for reactivity, knew I didn’t have a discharge from my ears, knew I hadn’t lost consciousness, I wasn’t dizzy or confused, I didn’t have blurry vision, I wasn’t nauseated or sleepy, and I had no bump or bleeding. I also worried about the impact to my neck and shoulders. I was fortunate. I wondered just how thick a skull and other body parts have to be to sustain a blow like that and not suffer from a lasting impact. I couldn’t believe my luck. Especially when I remembered that people as myopic as I am are at risk for retinal detachment because of a fall or blow to the head.
Just as a precaution I called Health Link (a local health resource providing access to nursing advice and health information), visited an emergency room, and ten days later saw an optometrist. An alignment by a chiropractor is still to be done.
I am struck by the thought of how my life could have ended or changed forever in an instant. I’m grateful that I have a thick skull to protect my brain. I’m reminded of the precious gift of my body’s construction. I will try to take better care of it, from where I sit.
Calgary Health Region (2005). Health Link [web site]. June 30/05, http://www.calgaryhealthregion.ca/healthlink/
Leonard, H.L. & Gray, H. (1997). The Concise Gray’s Anatomy. Wordsworth Collection. NTC/Contemporary Publishing
Soanes, C. & Stevenson, A., eds. (2004). Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. June 30/05, http://0-www.oxfordreference.com.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca:80/views/ENTRY.html?subview=Main&entry=t23.e52611
*Reprinted with permission