The Superbus's Thoughtpad

Posts Tagged ‘injuries’


Posted by Chris Bowen on December 7, 2014

When someone asks me what a concussion’s after effects feel like, I ask them if they’ve ever seen a cartoon character get stuck inside a bell that another character hits with a hammer. If yes, that’s life with concussion symptoms.

Take that, mix in uncertainty and depression, and welcome to the last months of my life. It’s OK, though. I’ve been down this road so many times that I know all the curves.

I wish I’d have just gotten hit in the face.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve had two shots to the head that could be considered concussions. The first wasn’t even that hard; a mid-tier U14 player – at a level where most of the players will be lucky to get a regular shift in a decent high school league before they go play men’s league – a kid carried his stick high and clunked me in the head. It shouldn’t have hurt me because I didn’t get hit that hard – though my friend figures that might just come from my adrenaline kicking in, “crazy motherfucker that (I) am”1 – but it did, and I spent most of the following week groggy and dizzy, the telltale signs of a concussion. I ended up dropping all of my games that weekend, which I despise doing, pissing off one of my assignors in the process.

The next weekend, I had a 1PM game at one rink close to my home, then a 9PM in New Jersey, over two hours from that first game. The first game was smooth and easy, and yet I still didn’t feel right afterwards; my head hurt, I was having trouble focusing, and I wasn’t confident. I still made the two hour plus drive to New Jersey to work a college game with my assignor. During the game, on a face-off, one player – a shit head on a team loaded with shit heads – got spun around, and swung his stick, hitting me in the visor hard. “Why did he do this”, I’ve been asked since, and the best answer I can give is “why not?”. This isn’t the type of player who respects anyone enough to not swing his stick violently in an attempt to keep his balance, so if someone mentioned that he hit me in the face, he’d probably say I got hit because I was fat or something equally noxious.

It should be noted that just about everywhere now, referees and linesmen are required to wear visors. USA Hockey made the practice mandatory last season, and before that, I worked for college assignors who mandated it, mainly out of a desire to not be sued, but the first one to force it that I know of, Paul Stewart, has a supervisor on his staff, Pat Dapuzzo, who was cut by a skate blade, which ended his career. Dapuzzo swears he’d have been alright had he been wearing a visor.

I, on the other hand, swear I would have been better had I not. The stick went into my visor, and rocked my head hard. Unfortunately, that meant that the vibration of the helmet hurt me even worse; my ears rang for the rest of the game, and for days afterwards. Had I not been wearing the visor, I probably would have – at a minimum – had my nose broken, but I wouldn’t have had the rocking or shaking that the visor caused. Picture boxing with gloves; there’s a mistaken belief that the gloves protect the fighter from the blunt trauma of a fist, but in reality, that large pillow makes brain injuries worse, with the side effect being that the glove’s protection of the hand – which would likely be broken in an old bare-knuckle scrap as a wayward punch would hit bone instead of a nose – makes punching to the head more palatable. When people argue that the advancements in equipment actually hurt players because it makes them feel invincible, it’s the reality of my getting hit that they fear.

I finished the game, which ended in a tie with overtime. Of course I did. After that, I pulled my assignor aside and told him I was turning everything back. I was done for the year. I knew what was coming.

It’s strange that I can remember the last game I worked – before and after getting hit in the face with a wild stick – but don’t remember much after that. I don’t remember much about the drive home from New Jersey to my office in Norwalk, which I had decided to sleep in before the game because I figured it would be easier to just get into the office and relax before work the next day at 8 than to go home, go to sleep for three hours, and then get up at 6 to fight traffic. I don’t remember much about that work day except the fact that I was really, really hyper. Beyond that, everything from that week is a blur. I know I went home Wednesday because – as I would find out later – I was wholly useless, and actively snapping at coworkers. Overall, I missed three and a half work days due to my concussion, and beyond this week, I don’t remember much of any of it.

There are other things, some overt and some blindingly obvious. My short term memory is completely shot. I can’t remember conversations I had a few hours ago in some cases, and other times, the day prior or the day prior to that. I remember getting actually hit in the head with a hockey stick, but I couldn’t tell my boss what I was asked to do earlier in the day. Also, my night vision has been bad, once getting to the point where I drove over a curb. There are other issues – I get odd sensations of vertigo that come and go – but those are the big ones.

Of course, those are also just the physical issues. Vertigo and other ways of adjusting are not altogether difficult so long as one isn’t incapacitated. The mental issues are even worse. Being unable to do what I want to do is depressing enough, but then one adds in having depression as it is, and the cocktail becomes a real issue. I’ve been going through a roller coaster of emotions, most of which are that I’m broken, and useless, and not tough enough, which extrapolates to being a bad human being. It’s taken a lot of support from the people close to me to get through this one, and I hate leaning on support.

Since I ran my car off the road, I’ve been to the Veterans’ Affairs hospital and am being seen by the Traumatic Brain Injury guys. This is actually the worst part of everything: the waiting period to determine how jacked up I really am. Years of baseball, hockey, boxing, rugby, falling off of aircraft carriers – oh yeah, I fell 30ft. off of a fucking aircraft carrier and landed on another boat2 – and just living a dangerous lifestyle have finally caught up with me. I’m thirty-four years old and have had more than ten concussions at a bare minimum. If every concussion makes subsequent ones that much easier, at this point, I’m going to get knocked silly by a firm kiss.

I’m now forced to go through a battery of tests, pictures and who knows what just to see where I’m at. That wait is going to be awful. College is a wash, but will I be ready to go in time for the playoffs? Will I be ready to go for next season? Am I done, unless I decide to risk my future well being? Who knows! If I could have an answer on this, I’d be able to begin the process of moving on without hockey. That’s a luxury I don’t have for months.

Until then, I celebrate the small achievements. I celebrate that a few days ago, I got through a very minor workout – fifteen minutes on the bike, fifteen minutes on the weights – without falling over from being dizzy. I celebrate being able to drive at night again. I celebrate the vertigo, the dizzy spells, and the headaches not being quite as bad as they were weeks ago. Division 1 hockey? Right now, I’ll settle for running a mile and a half.

Hopefully, I’ll never have to celebrate these pitiful, minor victories again. Until then, I’ll settle for celebrating twenty-four hours without needing Excedrin.

1 – My first fear in writing about this is that I’ll be perceived as soft, particularly among peers in the hockey community. But this is a good time to mention that the man calling me a “crazy motherfucker” has seen me literally skate a shift with a nosebleed with a towel held to my nose, saw me finish a game despite literally not knowing where I was on multiple occasions, and remembers the years of my youth when I dove into fights – both as a peacekeeper and a participant – head first. When he calls me a “crazy motherfucker”, it’s because I’ve demonstrated proof of that throughout twenty years of his knowing me.

2 – If you’re saying “you obviously weren’t stupid enough to go back to work the very next day against doctor’s orders, were you?”, you didn’t know me when I was twenty.

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Breaking Down Bad: The Subtle Changes of the Ageing Athlete

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 14, 2013

I’ve been involved in competitive athletics for my entire life. Be it hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer, boxing or even rugby, I’ve been athletic in some way, shape or form. I even spent my senior year as a male cheerleader1. This has been routine for me; I’m far from being a fitness warrior, but despite my weight – a shade under 260 these days, and fluctuating between 225 and 235 before getting injured recently – I have the ability to move quickly, gain speed, and have the endurance to referee multiple hockey games at a high level, one after another. Basically, at 260, I look like I’m 220, move like I’m 210, and would not look out of place on a small college’s defensive line.

However, I fear that those days are coming to an end. Not necessarily because I’m heavy – though that certainly doesn’t help my case – but just because of the creeping presence of Father Time. In athletic terms, I’m getting old, and the adjustment to that new reality is gradual enough to the point where I am constantly surprised at how the things that came easy for me in the past are coming harder now.

Since I hit adulthood, I have known my body pretty well. Not just the “stats” – how much can I lift, how far and fast can I run, what are my times in skating drills – but how my body reacts to and recovers from a serious workout. It’s hard to quantify into words, but it’s a give and take; I know generally how my body’s going to react to so much stimuli, depending on how much I’d been giving it prior. The less I’ve done for, say, a week, the more I’m going to feel it the next day after I give it a good rutting.

The only problem with that is that as I hit my mid-30s, the old rules don’t work anymore. I first noticed changes last hockey season. My feet were heavier, even if my overall weight wasn’t. My speed was down. I wasn’t getting from point A to point B as quickly. Sure, I *felt* like I was, but I felt like I had to sprint more to get to point B than I had in the past. As for agility issues such as getting out of a tight spot, forget it; there was a delay between my brain telling my body to move and my body finally getting around to it; the best athletic parallel would be to a baseball player’s bat speed slowing down, forcing him to anticipate pitches more. Needless to say, I got caught on my front foot, so to speak, more often than I was comfortable with last year. It became especially notable on a basketball court, where holes that I was used to hitting were closing a lot faster than I was used to. Are kids – I mostly play with and against teenagers or college students – getting faster, or is it me? I’ve always been big, but last year was the first one where I noticed it.

Furthermore, recovery was a problem. After a long weekend of games, I would go home baked, and would be almost useless the next day as well. I’m used to being tired, but not drop-dead exhausted. My energy reserves weren’t what they were. The obvious answer to many people is simply to drop weight, but even that takes more work than it did even a few years ago. With almost no changes to my diet except dropping soda, I was able to drop 30 pounds years ago by simply adding some cardio to my workout. Now, I can do all the cardio I want, and I might drop 5 pounds in a month, tops. Serious changes will have to happen to my diet – my entire lifestyle – in order to facilitate what are ultimately diminishing results.

Then, I hurt my ankle. First, I sprained the right one; then, I did something to the left one while favouring the right. The resulting pain from both cost me a week’s worth of work and essentially a month off of most physical activity. Immediately, I gained almost 20 pounds, just to start. Then, the rehabilitation started, and it was brutal. I don’t stretch as well as I used to, for one, and when I started getting more into cardio-based workouts, I wasn’t getting stronger, as quickly, as before, and my ability to move, while easy to come back from before, was now seriously hampered.

If all of these symptoms hit me at once, I think I’d have an easier time adjusting, but this has come on gradually. I’ve always said in the past “I’m not as ______ as I used to be” – fast, strong, agile – but it isn’t until recently when I looked around and noticed that this was a trend and not a blip. Of course, it’s natural for this to happen; in some sports, I would be well washed up even as a professional by now. Tennis players are usually done or getting there by the time they hit 33 – Roger Federer, probably the greatest tennis player I’ve ever seen2, is on the downswing of his career at 32 – and most soccer players are winding down at this age as well. Football players that aren’t kickers or quarterbacks are almost surely finished at this age. Basketball players start to trend downward by the time they hit 30; at 33, they’re usually well into their downswing. None of this softens the blow, mind you; you never know Father Time is near you until he taps you on the shoulder and says hello.

If one could apply the five stages of grief to my realization of my athletic mortality, I would just be getting past depression and into acceptance. During the season, I denied that I was slowing down; I just need to sleep more, do this, eat that, etc. Then I got angry (“why am I having struggles keeping up!?”), and bargained my way around it (“maybe if I try this instead, or take that pill in the morning…”). The depression’s the worst; the fear that the peak of a very real, and very severe, part of life has passed and it’s all downhill from here. The fear that though we’re slowing down now, that’s going to continue, against everything we do to slow down that process, until we become too old to reasonably perform at whatever it is we’re doing. Imagine doing something for your entire life, and then losing that thing, years before you even hit what people would consider “old age”; that’s what we go through as we hit the latter half of our life, and the mere thought of it is daunting, let alone actually experiencing it.

In the meantime, all I can do is keep working. Keep trying to eat better. Keep trying to beat times from my younger days that will become farther and farther from my reach as if they were being washed out on low tide. As my body continues to show the effects of wear, tear and youthful mistakes, I’ll need to not only learn, but accept that the journey will have to become more of a joy than the destination ever was.

1 – Don’t laugh. I had more fun doing cheerleading than I’ve had in any other “real” sport.

2 – Sorry, Sampras.

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The Price Of Misguided Bravery

Posted by Chris Bowen on August 7, 2013

It’s amazing the things that will stem from a joke.

A friend from work linked me to a piece about former Patriots star Teddy Bruschi performing Rush hist. Bruschi – who I don’t care for since his whole post-career path has been to talk bad about other players on the radio – singing Rush hits is so screwed up that my next joke was as easy as it was kind of cruel: “CTE is a cruel mistress”1; a bit of a cruel joke considering the effects it has on people, but maybe a bit more authentic coming from someone who has suffered ten recorded – recorded concussions, and who knows how many more that weren’t documented. It was his next statement that got my attention: “Bruschi has a stroke, and played damn near the next day”.

For some reason, apropos of nothing we had been talking about, a light bulb went on in my head. It illuminated, like a neon Eat At Joe’s sign, something that I hadn’t said in the past, and will come across as hypocritical for those who know me best:

What a fucking idiot.

As noted above, this is a curious statement from me. I did not receive ten recorded concussions by accident. A lifetime of athletics and a few timely accidents while in the Navy were enough for me, and on a couple of occasions – particularly one incident in 2004 – I came away much worse for wear, suffering from Post Concussion Syndrome, a fate I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy.

However, it’s not the concussions so much as it is the reaction to them. Each and every time I was able to, I either got up and finished what I was doing or attempted to. When I fell 30′ off an aircraft carrier onto a small boat so hard that I cracked a bulletproof windshield, I went on watch the very next morning. Every time except 2004 that I’ve received a concussion, I’ve finished the game, or slogged through it; the last one, I finished the tournament, the only exceptions being times when medical personnel have stepped in and intervened. Ultimately, I’ve always come back too quick, or never left a game or job when I should have, and this is notwithstanding other times I’ve had serious injuries, including a badly sprained ankles – plural – that had me trying to walk around work despite the fact that I literally could not walk. And I work a desk job.

Why would I go against my own body so many times? Blame machismo, or the fear of looking weak. That fear – of being fundamentally inferior to people around you who might or might not be tougher, and working through more, and destroying your usefulness as a human being by simply being more – has driven people to do desperate things for millennia. Ultimately, no one cares if you’re injured; dispose of the weak. All that matters is performance.

Any doubts as to this are quickly shuttered when hearing a fan talk about a famous athlete who’s injured. “What? I have to get up every morning and go to work, get that asshole on the field!” Oftentimes, being called soft is one of the worst insults you can give someone, weather in athletics or outside of it. So we do whatever we can to avoid that. Take Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins for example, who was almost legally dead by the time game 6 ended. For those who didn’t click through, he had, by the end of game 6, cracked ribs, a separated shoulder, and a PUNCTURED LUNG. He needed two nerve blocks to get through it… and yet, during the last shift of the season, the last minute and a half, the most important shift the Bruins have had in any of our lifetimes, he was trying to get the tying goal.

His opposite, also in Boston, is Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been injured a bit lately, and even Dr. James Andrews is suggesting that his issues aren’t 100% physical. Due to this, the pitcher with the sub-2.00 ERA is being subjected to calls that he needs to be weeded out by the local blowhards on the radio, blowhards who say he doesn’t “fight”.

When I was younger, I would have called Bergeron a hero and Buchholz a sissy. I’m not so sure anymore.

Buchholz is basically being slammed for not pitching through pain – with a quirky motion that requires every part of his body to be working in concert, mind you – in the months of July and August. He’s actually said it’s not “do or die”, so it’s not a big deal, which doesn’t fly in Boston. And yet, isn’t Boston the last place the late Junior Seau played? That same Junior Seau who was so jacked up by concussions throughout his career with the Chargers and Patriots that he shot himself in the heart to preserve his brain? Seau was tough. Seau showed “fight”. And Seau, like Dave Duerson, Bob Probert and Chris Benoit behind them, are all dead, early, as a result of that toughness.

Answer me this, Bruins fans: is that what you want for Patrice Bergeron? Do you care if his injuries that he plays through now – and he’s had a few concussions already – come back to him in his 50s?

I’m glad that there’s finally pushback against this Neanderthal’s mindset. Writing for Yahoo!, Nick Cotsonika asked if Bergeron went too far in playing, and if the Bruins went too far in letting him on the ice, a viewpoint that is starting to see traction. While the usual jock sniffers in the Boston media were praying to the Bergeron altar, I was too chastened by the damaging effects of the “warrior” mentality – an utterly laughable idea for anyone who isn’t actually in a war where lives are at stake – to really think of Bergeron and his caretakers as anything other than fools and buffoons.

Yet having said all of that, the conditioning is very hard to eliminate. When I think back at all the times I either did myself harm, or could have, by hanging in there, including the time I finished that tournament on a concussion, when I think of doing anything differently, I flinch. The mere notion of appearing weak is stomach-turning, and even with the pain I endured, and the pain I will endure later in life, I can’t imagine going back and pulling myself from that tournament, or not going back on watch after falling off of an aircraft carrier. Even now, with hindsight being 20/20, I still have enough courage to endure tremendous amounts of pain and potentially crippling injury, but not enough courage to endure the possibility of a couple of simpletons questioning some vague notion of manliness.

I already live with the consequences of so many concussions, and so many other injuries. My time as a hockey player ended at 24 with a blown out ligament in my ankle that I never got properly fixed. My head injuries are already taking a slight toll on my life in minor ways that I have a feeling are going to add up over the years. Ultimately, I’m just a lower-level college official, in no way a professional level athlete. These guys are, and though they gain adulation and worship by people paying good money to watch them, I think it’s time we start asking if the price is totally worth it.

I’d love to ask Junior Seau if it is, but…

1 – CTE is short for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is basically a degenerative condition where the brain, after suffering repeat trauma, becomes more and more damaged, causing severe behavioural changes in people suffering from it. Picture a smokers’ lungs; that’s what CTE does to the human brain.

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