My Head Hurts – A Look at the Rise of Concussions

| February 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When I was 12 (almost 25 years ago) we were playing a provincial championship playoff game on Valentines day up in Gimli. The winner of the game would get to go to the Provincial “C” tournament. We had taken the first game of a best of three series and could lock up our birth win a win that snowy night.

The dreaded Gimli Vikings came out strong and got a commanding two goal lead going into the 3rd period. After they cleaned the ice it was a different game. The first shift out there we tied the game up and looked like we would start to walk away with it. I was on fire having set up both goals.

My next shift out there we were killing a penalty. Some nights it seems like you can do no wrong and thats what I felt like. I had the puck in our own zone, dinked around one of their players and dumped it in just outside of their blue line. I turned to make the change and out of the corner of my eye saw a giant brute of a kid coming at me. Even though we were only 12 this kid easily weighed close to 200lbs.

I couldn’t escape the hit and was driven from behind into the boards. Thankfully I was able to get my arm up and  cushion a bit of the crash or I would most likely be having to be parking in handicapped stalls. I went into the boards hard and was knocked out cold.

For 5 minutes I lay unconscious on the ice. A medic came and administered smelling salts to wake me up. I arose in a jolt and made it to the bench. I tried to talk but my jaw was dislocated and couldn’t move my right arm. My whole right side felt numb and I felt like I was in a thick dark cloud.

The coach hit my chin putting my jaw back in place and a bit of the fog lifted. He then told me to look into the stands for my Mom since she would be worried about me. I turned my head to try and find her and he grabbed my shoulder and forcibly put my arm back into its socket. I have never felt pain like that.

He put my stick in my hand and told me to get out there and get that “fat $%#” who hit me. In a daze I went out on the ice with one goal, getting revenge. I got my chance off of the ensuing face off when I was able to cross check the guy who hit me and thus freeing one of our players for a breakaway. I remember skating down the ice causally as my friend went in all alone. He took a shot and fired it over the net. By the time I made it to the other end the puck had bounced out infront of the net and with all my strength I batted the puck over the goalies shoulder for the game winning goal.

It was and will remain on of the most enduring memories of my childhood. My Mom still has the puck from that game in her house. The aftermath of that hit still haunts me. To this day I have shoulder and jaw problems. I also have to careful that I don’t get another concussion since I am now in a high risk group.

Yet that moment should have never happend and most definitely wouldn’t happen today. I was knocked out, I had a jaw injury and a really bad dislocated shoulder that was evident to everyone in attendance. I probably should have been sent to the hospital not given my stick and told to get the kid who hit me.

I don’t blame the coach, it was a different time. I wanted to go back out there, I wanted to play. Concussions and head injuries were misunderstood back then. It was known as getting your bell rung and the best thing you could do is just skate it off. Thankfully now we know better.

The NHL has a problem with concussions. Some of the top players have been sidelined most notably Sidney Crosby. He missed half of the season last year and has only played a handful of games this year with no timetable for his return. It was revealed this week that Evander Kane has probably been playing with a concussion since Dec 20th.

Some say fighting is to blame. While others say it is due to equipment and the pace of the game. The truth is that neither one of them is the reason for the rash of recent concussion. We are just noticing them more now. Players and teams are more ware of head injuries and are making sure that players are properly examined.

The NHL has set up strict rules governing concussions. Each player in the league is given a baseline test at the beginning of training camp. As soon as a head injury is suspected that baseline test is administered again and if there is an deviation from the original test the player is pulled for action and is examined by an independent doctor. There is no more skating it off, the player and the coach are taken out of the equation and the players return is based purely on medical evidence.

Due to these rules it seems that concussions are on the rise when the reality is that we are just paying attention now. Kane came in complaining of a headache and was given the baseline test which revealed a problem. No one knew he had been playing for almost a month with a head injury. Players think that they should just “play through the pain” and that is attributed to the tough guy culture of hockey.

If a guy hurts his knee or his shoulder you can see the results on a MRI. A head injury is a little more tricky to diagnose. Sometimes there are no physical symptoms. Sometimes the player just doesn’t “feel right”. It can be very tough to figure out and there is no real treatment. Massage and physical therapy  can work for some but mostly it  just takes time. Its that lack of knowing which is very scary for the players and frustrating for the fans.

The media likes to go on and on about the concussion problem in the NHL yet they are light years ahead of what the NFL and other leagues are doing when it comes to concussion protocols. 10 years ago Sidney Crosby probably would be back on the ice by now and therefore at higher risk for injury down the road. Its because of the NHL’s rules that we are noticing more head injuries these days and that more players are sitting out.

While they are not perfect I think the NHL is on the right track. I would like to see mandatory weekly baseline testing so that injuries like Kane’s can’t slip through the cracks.

Hockey is a tough sport and guys are going to get hurt. All we can do is try and understand these injuries a little better and try and give the players as much protection and information as possible.

Now with that being said I’m still glad my coach put my stick back in my hand.

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