I’ve recently really gotten into Twitter. I’ve seen many interesting hockey conversations and it has been one of the first places where I’ve seen on trades. However, I saw a few tweets about a writer for The Hockey News tweet about a few concussions and players’ experiences. I posted my own accounts of concussions by confessing that during my 29 years, I’ve sustained 4 of them. Admittedly only 2 of these have been in hockey situation and two in non-related matters. I should’ve probably clarified that in my tweets. And despite popular belief, none of the hockey ones have been sustained whilst falling off the bench.
One thing that isn’t really discussed at lenght is how a player feels, so I’m trying to give accounts of my feelings after a concussion. By far the worst concussion I’ve had was when I was in middle school on 8th grade. I was playing shinny at a school PE lesson and back in those days, helmets were an unknown quantity and the only protection you had for your noggin was a beanie hat. As you might guess it was non checking.
What happened was a classic rookie mistake. I broke out of the d-zone and was ahead of the play and was waiting for a pass and then… BAM! I collided with another guy and our heads hit. We were both carrying quite a bit of speed at this and I can’t remember if I hit my head on the ice when I fell down. All I remember was that the impact was to the left temple as I was looking back. From then everything was really hazy. I was taken to the school nurse who called an ambulance for me and I was taken to the hospital for observation.
After I got back to school, I found it really difficult to concentrate. To be fair I was never a straight A student and my mind was always on something else than the lesson at hand, but this time it was different. It wasn’t like I was gazing out of the window or day dreaming. I felt like I wasn’t really present, and that I was like an empty shell. I found that different smells really got to me and I could not put up with Design tech at all. I was really iritable and even slightest of things set me off. To the point that I threw a pair of scissors at my brother’s friend because of something insignificant he did. Luckily my aim is as good as it is now and I missed. I kept snapping at small things, like TV adverts. I felt incredibly frustrated and for a while things like trading cards that I was really into did not interest me at all.
My mom still has the chopping board that I built in DT and it’s built sort of wrong. The curves of the wood should match but in mine they are all over the place, because I knew how it was supposed to be assembled, but I put it together thinking that I had done it right. After I got it back at the end of term (fully recovered by now) I saw that mine was all wrong compared to everyone elses’ symmetrical rather aesthetically pleasing chopping boards. I’ll never forget how the smell of glue and how that made me feel during my first lesson back.
As a result of the incident, the school made it compulsory to wear a helmet during hockey at PE. They even invested in a bunch of Bauer helmets. I guess something good came out of it.
Before that I had sustained a minor concussion playing king of the hill (during winter) with friends and lost my footing on the hill and fell and hit my head on a bloc of ice. Back then I only suffered from a slight head-ache and discomfort and I was so young that I can’t properly remember how that felt exactly or what the effects were.
The last two concussions happened during my time in Holland. I got a concussion when I was breaking down on the wing and I had just dumped the puck into the zone and I was in what is now referred to as a vulnerable position. I got hit and as far as I can remember the hit was clean, it was just that I flew into the boards with the back of my head first. You know in the cartoons like Tom & Jerry when one of the characters gets hit in the head and they see birds or stars? Well, I definitely saw stars after that.
This happened right in front of our bench, so at least I had a short trip to get off the ice. I managed to get off on my own wits, but the minute I sat down, I knew something wasn’t right. I slumped to the changing room and one of the players’ mothers who was a nurse came in and checked on me. As I laid on the massage bench, one of the most excruciating things was when she tested how I reacted to light. Whenever I saw the light for the first time it felt terrible.
I changed back to my clothes I saw that my helmet had paint off the boards on it (the rink had wooden boards). My dad drove me to the emergency room and I was faced with yet another wait in the emergency room, me wanting to do nothing else except sleep, not that I was tired, I felt really drowsy, as if someone had given me a sedative. The doctors’ told me that I had a concussion. I have no idea whether it was minor or severe. Again I had similar symptoms, except I was really tired. To the point that I would sleep every chance I had. If it was a lunch break or a break, I would find a place where I could doze off. Again I felt iritable, more than your usual teen angst and I found it difficult to concentrate again. I was working by this time, so I was as good as a dead shell at work. I was able to function, but I had a hard time focus on the tasks at hand, so I might as well not have been there. What didn’t help was that I was working a call centre job.
You know the one ‘mistake’ I made? I didn’t ask the doctor how long I should stay out of hockey. If I didn’t ask or the doctor didn’t say about sitting out, I was good to go in my books. Despite the headache, I went back the following week, but it didn’t feel right. I wasn’t going to the corners and I felt scared on the ice, but I wanted to persevere with it. But looking back on it, what would the doctor have said? Back then there was a lot of confusion about concussions and its effects on sports and so on. I remember the most common advice was that get back when you feel comfortable.
It wasn’t really like I was put through a test or anything to see what stage my symptoms and recovery were at.
Once I started to feel better and I was out with friends, I got head butted in a bar and I was down for the count again. That was the second consecutive concussion I had sustained, it was in 2002. And I have not have had one since.
The trouble is that concussions were really difficult to deal with and when the levels you play at you don’t really have a team doctor and back then you relied on the your own feelings. If you were able to skate, you were able to play, or at least that is how I felt. When I say that, I’m not saying that my team was negligent in letting me play. They asked me if I was good to go and I said yes, I’m good to go. The right thing to do would have been to sit out for a while, but when you love doing something, you don’t want to stay away from it.
What about the long term consequences? Maybe the hits to the noggin are a reason why I am really prone to depression, often severe and hellish bouts of it. It is really difficult to say what the long term consequences are, but I guess it is safe to say that I will not have a career in astro physics. Despite having a relatively high count in concussions I still play and I feel normal most the time. Whether I get another one remains to be seen, but for the past 8-9 years I’ve felt good.
The real shit thing about concussions is that to the outside you seem fine. It’s not like you’re holding your wrist or limping because you’ve got a bummed leg. You tend to get a lot of stick from teammates for it, because they don’t know what your head feels like and to the outside you seem fine. One of my teammates sustained a concussion not too long ago and he is already playing. He says he is fine, but every time he gets hit, I’m worried about him, because I know what the consequences are, but like said. It’s not like we have tests to check. Our coach is really good at really pressing guys about their injuries and making sure we don’t play if we are trying to push through something.
So what would my advice to kids or players with concussions be? Rest it and do something I have never done: LISTEN TO YOUR BODY! As long as you feel the effects of it, stay off things for as long as it takes. I know it’s hell but, you will not be helping your team and you wont do yourself favours in the long run. I know hockey is supposed to be a tough man’s game but when it comes to head injuries, the manly thing to do is to sit out till you feel 100%.
In that breath I wish all the players in the NHL and elsewhere suffering with concussions a quick and steady recovery.
I can’t come up with an appropriate ending of my own to this post, so I’ll quote the Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons: Concussions are the WORST…. INJURIES…EVER…