A few years ago, I watched the 1998 Disney film The Parent Trap. I especially enjoyed the performance by celebrated actress Natasha Richardson, who played the mother of the twin girls at the center of the story. Richardson died in March 2009 at age 45 after falling during a ski lesson. Her injury was a classic example of “talk and die” syndrome.

A person who suffers serious brain trauma can have a lucid interval with no apparent symptoms. During this period, injured blood vessels in the brain can cause internal bleeding, leading to catastrophic pressure and eventually death. After her fall, Richardson was lucid and refused medical attention for several hours. The delay turned out to be fatal. After this highly publicized accident, skiers and snowboarders started wearing helmets in greater numbers.

As I read about Ms. Richardson and her accident, I learned a little about the CT scan, an advanced type of X-ray that can provide cross-section images of anatomical structures. A CT scan of the head can detect bleeding, bruising, or the beginning of swelling in the brain. The challenge for anyone who may be injured is to get the scan done immediately. According to Dr. Edward Aulisi, neurosurgery chief at Washington Hospital Center, “If there’s any question in your mind whatsoever, you get a head CT scan. It’s the best 20 seconds you ever spent in your life.”

In July 2010, I went to a party and passed out after vaping some strong marijuana. I fell onto a hardwood floor, bumped my head, and started bleeding from a cut over my left eye (I still have a scar). My friends called 911 and I was taken to a local hospital. The emergency room doctor ordered a head scan and stitched up my wound. I remember thinking that the scan was a waste of time and money because I felt fine. As it turned out, I was lucky – the scan detected no signs of brain injury. I’m glad I didn’t complain to the ER team, who were following an important medical protocol.

Natasha Richardson was the daughter of Vanessa Redgrave and was married to the Irish actor Liam Neeson. Her obituary published in The New York Times gives a good account of her public life and legacy.