You were rushing to get home to start dinner, and another vehicle rolled into your car as you were leaving the parking lot. A small jolt occurred during the accident, but no one was injured. You apologize, shrug off the minor mishap and go your separates ways.

The next day, you notice some trouble breathing. Its allergy season, and you wonder if an allergy shot might help. Several days later, you develop a mild headache. You notice your balance is a bit off. The headaches turn into migraines. Your eyesight blurs so badly that you cannot read or watch television. Your daughter insists on driving you to the hospital.

Lack of pain does not mean an absence of injury

The ER doctor orders some diagnostic scans. The tests show you have a brain injury consistent with trauma. The doctor asks if you have had any accidents or falls. Thinking back, you mention the minor car collision. Your car did stop abruptly, but you did not feel any pain. The fact is, when you experience a sudden deceleration, such as in a car accident, your brain can strike against the inside of your skull. You may not feel pain for days or even weeks, but that does not mean your brain is fine. Traumatic brain injury can eventually cause lifelong disability, or even death. 

Sudden onset of symptoms can be danger signs

You ask the doctor if you could get an allergy shot at the hospital because you are having trouble breathing. The doctor asks how long you have had balance problems; he noticed your instability when you came in. The physician believes you may have twisted a little during the accident and damaged some nerves in your spine. You thought your balance was poor because of your blurry vision, and breathing was more effort due to allergies.

No accident is insignificant or minor

Your doctor admits you to the hospital for a series of tests and observation. He discovers other problems caused by the “minor” car accident. You may have a TBI and possible spinal cord damage. Your physician decides he should bring in a neurosurgeon. She reviews your history and decides you need brain surgery. She can isolate and stop a brain bleed. You are in the hospital for several weeks. What seemed like a minor vehicle mishap resulted in major medical expenses. You will also be on medications for life, and you will need follow-up neurological care and rehabilitation.  

If you experience an accident, no matter how benign, you should always get the other driver’s insurance and identification information, take pictures of the scene if you can, phone in a police report, call your insurance agent, and have someone drive you to the hospital for a thorough examination. If you are in pain, call an ambulance. If you develop symptoms days or weeks later, return to the hospital and report the setback to your insurance company.