In our morning skate away at Skellefteå I took a puck in the face while racing for a loose puck in a PP/PK drill to end the practice. David Gilbert made it there first causing the puck to ramp my stick and hit me right in on the mouth. I went down like a sack of potatoes and was bleeding. Head ringing, jaw in tact, and a mustard yellow stained clear mouth guard now red: top lip: ground beef. Teeth: we’ll see.
I made it back to the bench and my teeth were in tact, though a little dislodged. My bite isn’t quite what it was before. I didn’t play that night and was able to get two stitches and go forward with the appropriate “baseline” concussion testing.
Here’s the kicker: David Gilbert, who I assured not to sweat it as “shit happens”, did go on to play that night.In the 1st period of that game he too saw a puck ride his stick and hit him right in the mouth. This saw him briefly leave the game so that he too would get himself two stitches to match.
That’s hockey, baby.
I'm still not quite sure what the hell I was doing running that power play...
On Oct 11 I was concussed. Recovery went… well?
I was quick back at it. Previous protocols saw around a 6 week recovery. Emotions high. Headache. “Pressure in the head.” The new lights at the SSE saw those practice days as full days in bed. I’ll never forget the day they were put in and the guy who installed them came into the dressing room looking for feedback.
I go “can you put them higher?” I mean, fuck, it looked to me that they could. They’re not on the roof. Putting them up would be the difference between morning eastbound travel and afternoon travel of any type.
He laughed, pointed at me in my stall, and said “HA! I like his idea.” and walked away.
Anyway. Enough about the lights. And I won’t go on to share how stupid he made me feel, or how enraged I became, or how I went looking for him to tell him everything I wished I said. I won’t go on to tell you about how being made to look stupid is likely one of my biggest fears.
Protocol continued but this time was both approached and experienced differently than any other concussion I’d ever had. Previous protocols would see that we would await a symptom free day before commencing with the return to play process. The process typically goes something like: await for symptoms to subside, get on the bike at an easy pace, up the pace, push the pace, get into the gym, get onto the ice, contact skate, and finally: a return to action.
Now, thankfully in this case: we opted to manage symptoms rather than awaiting their departure to commence protocol. The plan was to manage the symptoms in what I describe as a “keeping it below a 3 on the one to ten scale”. AWESOME. This saw I was able to make gains while being mindful that whatever I did, didn’t see my symptoms reach the point where they were detrimental throughout the rest of my day. This created a bit of a balancing act. It saw that I was able to find where I was comfortable at every phase with the goal of achieving a little better every day. A chance at embodying the Personal Best mindset in my recovery.
It went well -- but created an unexpected issue that brought about new challenges. I was now a "head nod" away from being injected back into the lineup having had zero symptom free days. Worse yet: the thing that most identifies my playing style was what I was unable to achieve.
I would go through a contact skate, having felt negative effects from body contact, and then be asked how I was doing. I didn’t quite have an answer. I didn’t leave the skate the same as I felt going in. I wasn’t quite right. Simple bumps left me feeling like I’d feel after serious collisions. I describe the feeling as feeling fragile.
What was it about this concussion that was different? Have they added up? Is this my new normal? While I skated about, feeling great, looking great, and even adding to my “lesser skill sets”: I was now faced with how to navigate between my symptoms, the pressures felt to return, and the consideration for my long term health. Is this my new normal -- I think I’ve already asked that.
Frustration sets in when things don’t go according to plan. With every successful day brought a new forecast and a date of return. With every “I don’t feel quite right” saw a skepticism I would sense around my teammates and management. This is created, for the most part in my own mind, but with every injured player looking to return and skating about looking his best: is a player experiencing his own reality.
Mine was that I was comparing my previous level of baseline health to what I was currently experiencing -- and it was this last 5%, and my confidence I would need to play my highly physical game, that saw I was challenged in how I was to proceed. Do I give in?
“ Fuck it, I’m good,”
“I’m not there yet.”
As a competitor and hockey player the factors at play in this decision are that of the individual. I had a choice, one that a previous version of myself might have considered differently, to enter the lineup despite my doubts or to remain out of the lineup.
I had every reason to give Keefer a nod and tell him I was good. I’d be relieved of “managing perceptions” and having all the doctor conversations, management conversations, coaches conversations, teammate conversations, and fan conversations that left me feeling like I was letting people down around me. Who was I letting down by putting myself into the lineup. The answer: myself.
It’s unlike other injuries in this sense, and it’s spoken of whenever a concussion is the case. Only those experiencing them have the greatest understanding -- as those around either trust, doubt, tap their foot, or simply become irritated as the injured player goes about their recovery.
Having spent weeks at the finish line of my protocol, having felt every temptation to simply step across the line, I am most proud of the fact that I remained truthful to myself about my own experience in that I was not ready to play. The conversations seemed to go in circles. I both offered reassurance of my dedication to the club as well as received this assurance from all parties. Every chance to speak to my teammates on the matter reaffirmed that the boys had my back. Every chance to speak to management saw that they too trusted that I wasn’t simply mailing it in.
Despite all this -- progress is of utmost importance. The show must go on, and efforts to get me across the finish line would persist. This saw my recovery take a twist that would change the landscape.
His baselines are good. His numbers are great. He’s flying around at practice. Where do we go from here? What more can we do? What will get him across the line?
I have to imagine this was the conversation had by those onlooking, those responsible for my rehabilitation and the success of the club. I feel this is a perfect time to acknowledge and give credit to the amazing care of: management, coaches, teammates, Dr. Mark McCrory, Mark Matthews, Barb Reynolds, Finn Carmichael, Robbie Mc Connell, and Austin Benson. Their care and diligence saw me to this point: but it was time to bring in added support.
It was time for both a meeting with a sports psychologist and a brain scan. I was open and grateful for both opportunities. Both were the appropriate next step and a new level of accessible support that would put a new light on my recovery.
The meeting with the psychologist brought about the fear that those around me had even the slightest inclination to suggest that what I was feeling was a product of my mental state. In our exploration and diligence I was open to this. The mind is powerful. I look to the example of playing hooky, or in simpler terms “faking sick to stay home from school”, as I myself know that on the days mom allowed me to take the day off: I was able to manifest the symptoms I’d described to her in the morning throughout the rest of the day.
I was welcome to the thought that a psychologist could get me over the line -- though I had a deeper trust and understanding in my awareness that would see my first sitting with the psychologist was also my last. Onto the brain scans.
“Now Kevin, in these instances these scans can either relieve -- or reveal. I’m 99% sure that this will bring relief.”
I would go on to get an MRI of the brain as per the recommendation of Dr. Mano Shanmuganathan. The brain scans would reveal a spot in the brain that saw need for another MRI scan of both the brain and spine, as well as a CT scan of the brain to rule whether or not the spot was a mass or a bleed. We were able to confirm after two days worth of scans that I had a bleed over 4 weeks old in the caudate nucleus of my brain.
The scan that would “relieve or reveal” was one that revealed a bleed. One that if found in the brain of a boxer: would see his license pulled and his inability to compete in combat sports. The circumstance has created a situation where if I were to go against the doctors advice, it would be the doctors as well as the organization who would intervene. With my health and their duty of care in mind: I would not be able to play. It is on the recommendation of medical professionals around me that I am forced to step away from playing professional hockey as I announce that I have medically retired.
“Breeding blain” as it’s now referred to between Hope and I when I do something silly.
As for what's next? Stay tuned..