An interesting discussion: Are O.J.’s problems all in his head?

Last evening I had an interesting conversation over dinner with a pathologist whom I had never met before. One topic on which we discussed was a news item that we discovered we both had recently seen on television concerning. O.J. Simpson. “The Juice” as he was known is, of course, the ex-professional football running back, who was acquitted of murdering his wife and her friend in what was called “The Trial of the Century.” Simpson, also an actor and car rental pitchman, is serving a prison sentence in Nevada for armed robbery.

I ate dinner at a place called BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse, a chain that started out as a pizza place in the Bay Area of California and has spread nationwide. This one is in Pearland, a suburb of Houston. Dinner was several blocks from my hotel in a nice little, walkable, shopping center. I was by myself and so I sat at a table for two,  which was joined by about three other tables for two. It was a subdued place despite the three large TV screens in the bar. It had equal, extensive menus for both food and drink, which as expected, offers many different labeled and crafted beers.

This fellow walked in and asked if anyone was sitting at the next table and we struck up a talk that lasted for more than half an hour. It turned out this guy is a pathologist. I think the profession has become widely known for the forensic pathologists you see on the CSI and NCIS television franchises. Actual pathologists are either specialized medical or osteopathic doctors. This gentleman said that while he had done autopsies in the past his time is spent nowadays at the Texas Medical Center, as he called it, taking “whatever body parts a doctor removes.” His specialization are the ones who examine the cell tissues and other items taken in biopsies and surgeries to determine if they are benign or malignant. Since I learned a little about medicine from the time I spent as an EMT and now that I feel as if I spend so much of my time going to doctors, it seemed he enjoyed talking to someone who appreciated the man’s job. He had no airs like people sometimes think doctors may have when, many times, the physician is trying to compartmentalize to determine what’s wrong with you.

I don’t know what we were talking about when the doctor mentioned the story about O.J. Simpson. I told him yes, I had heard it too and thought how the subject of O.J. Simpson seemed like a bad penny that wouldn’t go away. The most recent O.J. installment is that a renown neuropatholgist has perhaps staked his career on the possibility Simpson might be suffering from a disease known as “CTE,” which stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Dr. Bennet Omalu first published research about CTE while he worked as a forensic pathologist in Allegheny County, Pa. The Nigerian-American physician found this disease in football players who had sustained multiple concussions. The disease can only be diagnosed for now on dead people, thus Omalu has made a pretty bold pronouncement.

The research on CTE touched off numerous lawsuits filed by families of NFL players and has led to a nationwide discussion on the dangers of concussions, from Pop Warner leagues to the pros.

Omalu said in an interview with ESPN that he would “bet my medical license” that Simpson has the disease. Different personality changes such as violence and poor impulse control are signs that one might have CTE as are other factors, according to Omalu. The former medical examiner has said he had not spoken with Simpson.

My “dinner companion” said that he was just as shocked as anyone else that the disease has led to as many lawsuits as it has. And he raised an eyebrow on Omalu’s contention concerning Simpson. I think we both concluded that most people realize, or should, that having a blow to the head isn’t a good thing. I suppose that for so long people thought that helmets and other protective gears worn by football players would keep players from more serious injuries. That may have led to a false sense of security. In reality, a number of factors are cited why that is so, Among the reasons is the fact that players are bigger and stronger than before. Weight training for football players isn’t just for college and pros anymore. It’s like the reverse of the saw, “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” In reality, the bigger the are, the harder they hit.

I enjoyed my conversation with the doctor. It was an interesting way to spend a little time out of town, not to mention the pale lager and bison burger I consumed, “served with a side of tangy slaw tossed with Baja vinaigrette and topped with green onions,” according to the menu.