DISCLAIMER: Reading this will spoil your viewing experience if you haven’t watched the Netflix documentary about Aaron Hernandez.
A riveting docuseries. What a royally screwed up story. I am left profoundly somber.
Because I know Aaron was suffering inside long before the NFL. Before he was 16. Sexual orientation aside, since all the claims seem to not have any verification. Really Netflix? So many stories purporting Aaron’s meandering between sexual preferences, but no evidence beyond hearsay? Talk about working a story.
Treating many Traumatic Brian Injury, Concussion, and Stroke victims with success, I’m going to weigh in on Aaron’s documented CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). CTE is long-term brain degeneration believed to be caused by physical head trauma. CTE is quickly becoming an emotional topic in the media. It came to the forefront particularly after the movie Concussion came out in 2015 starring Will Smith. Concussion was a wonderful fear mongerer in all things contact sports.
Why does mass media love igniting fear in activities that are widely healthy? I see a bunch of food documentaries on Netflix promoting vegetarianism. It’s hard to swallow when maybe a handful of my patients get 100+ grams of protein a day. By the way, for older adults with many health issues, it is recommended that they consume even more protein a day… like 0.6g/pound of body weight. That’s 120 grams if they are 200 pounds.1 How does anyone do that eating like a ruminant?
Back to CTE. With any brain damage, there is inflammation. Did you know you’re damaging your brain right now? Not just because of my awful writing either! Because reading this is to some degree a stress to your brain. Stress causes damage. Damage releases inflammation. This inflammation is far more manageable than inflammation from a concussion, so please don’t sue me for giving you CTE.
*insert gif of Michael Scott hitting Meredith with his car*
More inflammation in the brain demands more recovery. If the inflammation persists without recovery, e.g. from a lack of blood flow, then the damage remains. If the inflammation is removed before recovery can take place, then the damage remains. When damage remains unhealed, that is considered degeneration. If you degenerate, that brain damage has caused your brain to shrink. If you recover, congratulations because your brain is now stronger due to healing from said inflammation. The process I just described is called NEUROPLASTICITY which science validated happens in the entire human brain only 20 years ago. It pretty much just means that the brain changes. Only as recently as the year 2000 could science explain that the brain heals, grows, and shrinks.2 So, the act of learning was witchcraft before 2000?
Aaron had some bouts with concussions. In high school, it was stated that he had a pretty major documented concussion during a football game. In the NFL, he had one documented concussion. Yes, emphasis on documented. Concussion is not well defined, and physicians and trainers have various opinions about concussion which murkies the water even more. To me, there needs to be at least 1 of 2 objective neurological findings to deem the ‘concussion’ label.
Plot twist: patients come in with these 2 neurological findings all the time with no recent history of head trauma. They don’t always have headaches. I can even get a dilated pupil when I’m stressed out with work. Any stress that overwhelms your brain can cause you to exhibit signs of a concussion. It doesn’t have to be a blow to your noggin. It could be learning the new software at the office. It could be an exposure to too many toxins. It could be an argument that you had with your significant other.
It’s about recovery, and Aaron Hernandez didn’t get that. Don’t blame him, because very few do get that. How much stress do you think he continued to experience his whole life from being sexually abused as a child? Do you think he ever recovered from that? How about the abuse he witnessed between his parents? Do you think he ever recovered from losing his father, with whom he was close, at the fragile age of 16? What about his noxious mother having an affair with Aaron’s cousin’s at-the-time husband when his dad died? Could you imagine being caught up in that?!
I couldn’t. Maybe I’d start numbing myself if that was my life too. Aaron didn’t recover, he coped with whatever he could find. He got away from his mother. He started smoking a lot of weed. He found a support system… unfortunately not one that lead him in a good direction. At some time later after high school he was not only heavily dependent on marijuana, but also on Toradol to play through his physical pain. Toradol is a powerful nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, only it was injected instead of swallowed (drugs’ effects are more powerful when injected). The FDA has highlighted NSAIDs’ detrimental role in heart attacks and strokes in recent years.3
Let’s connect our loose ends. Aaron’s brain had many traumatic events. Some physical, some psychological, some chemical. All end up causing damage to the brain. Which then releases inflammation which pressures the brain to heal from that damage. Guess what happens when Toradol is injected? The inflammation is swept away, healing doesn’t take place, and brain damage persists as degeneration. Did you know a single use of marijuana results in significantly less blood flow to the brain for TWO ENTIRE WEEKS?4 And Aaron reportedly chain smoked it. How can your brain recover without enough blood? It can’t, it would degenerate.
It’s not just chemical means that stopped Aaron’s recovery. To recover from damage, your brain needs to pay attention to that damage. Ignoring the abuse, burying the grief, hiding family skeletons… taking healthy counsel in friends and family that truly cared and loved him would have certainly led to a better life than playing the tough guy. Yes it was his choice, but you can’t deny the substantial cultural pressure there is to play tough in a situation like his. By the way, BEING a tough guy is having the courage to express your emotions, not bury them.
All the talk therapy in the world might not have saved Aaron. Ultimately, you don’t need to talk about something to get over it. You do need to overcome it internally though. If Aaron stayed well connected with himself over the years, that would have saved him from overwhelming anguish. This is where bodywork has its niche. Bodywork like chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture doesn’t spur recovery by relaxing muscles, putting bones back in place, or removing adhesions although those can be nice side effects. Bodywork—if done well—benefits the user by reconnecting themselves with areas that have been neglected. Bodily neglect is caused by stressful events that the body has difficulty coping with, so its ‘quick fix’ is to ignore.
Connection. We will never be able to solve our problems if we ignore them. Ignoring looks like pain killer dependency. Ignoring looks like weed addiction. Ignoring is never addressing destructive taboos. Ignoring is the healthcare propaganda labeling bodywork as ‘witchcraft.’ Just like learning was before 2000. Thanks ‘science’