Concussion: A Testament to the Power of Reason

When I talk about what draws me to medicine and infectious disease in particular, it is the solving of puzzles with real-life import that is always at the top of my list. Because of that attraction, I am drawn to any and all puzzle-solving stories in medicine, even outside my field. 

I recently saw the movie Concussion which details the discovery of a new brain disease, Chronic Tramautic Encephalopathy (CTE) which develops as the result of multiple blows to the head. This type of trauma is exemplified by the head trauma experienced by football players. This movie was excellent in its portrayal of Dr. Bennet Omalu's relentless quest to understand the inexplicable deaths of several professional football players. 

That the movie and Dr. Omalu's pioneering work occurred in my hometown of Pittsburgh made the film all the more engrossing as I recognized not only buildings, but the names of Pittsburgh medical royalty such as former Allegheny County Corner and Medical Examiner Dr. Cyril Wecht as well as Dr. Joseph Maroon (whose portrayal, I hope, was the result of cinematic hyperbole). 

I also found a kinship to the movie for other more superficial reasons including working (at the time, as a resident) at the hospital legendary Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Webster died at, taking Tae Kwon Do as a child with Pittsburgh Steeler Terry Long, having a pivotal scene filmed at the restaurant in which I am a limited partner, and also being a Carnegie Mellon University alumunus like Dr. Omalu.

The best aspects of the movie are that it continually emphasizes the American nature of Omalu's quest, his desire to be the best version of himself, and his affinity for the world class pathologist Dr. Wecht--all very admirable traits in anyone. His intransigent pursuit of the scientific truth, no matter the consequences, is something all physicians should emulate even if they do not possess the genius, the courage, the independence, or the ability to make the inductive and deductive conclusions on the scale of Dr. Omalu. 

The movie is a great inspiration that provides emotional fuel. It's theme concretizes something a great philosopher once wrote:  "America is the land of the uncommon man. It is the land where man is free to develop his genius—and to get its just rewards." 

The world--and Pittsburgh--owes Dr. Omalu thanks for identifying a heretofore unknown disease and showing how the inexplicable is no match for the faculty of reason.