“How’s your head. Did you go to the docter?” An inquiry tonight from Krazy Kevin. Of course. As colorful on IM as he is in real life. (Obviously I like clean grammar, but I also like writing that captures energy and individual personality, and in this sense, Kevin is an exceptional writer.)
“Nah, if anything is shaky tomorrow, I’ll go, but I think it’s getting better.”
“When you came of the ice you gave me that look! I saw you on your ass but I didnt c what happened!”
“Haha what look? Fucking tall guy cut into the slot as I was crashing to get his rebound. Tried to avoid him but he turned the same way I did. Landed on my shoulder blades and hit my head on the ice.”
“That look like I just got shmucked and your not gonna say anything or that shouldve been a penalty! Ya that look! Whiplash!!”
“Hah, part of it was also that I got shmucked by my own teammate. I must have been looking at you to commiserate.”
Yeah, what with all the sports and my own brand of awkward agility, I’ve hit my head plenty in my life, and had my bell rung enough, I’m sure, to rattle the already unsteady foundation of my cognitive abilities. But this was a good ‘un.
Falling backwards on the ice usually means something’s amiss. Either someone hit you but good or slew-footed you or slipped you a mickey. (Hi, 1920s, so nice of you to make an appearance in my vocabulary.) That, or you’re still Bambi-ing around on your skates, and fortunately, I at least grew out of that a while back. Every once in a while you’ll catch an edge transitioning backwards—and you will undoubtedly be 20 feet from any other skater, probably during warm-ups—and you’ll find yourself with what seems like five or 10 seconds to contemplate how you wound up horizontal with neither foot available to catch your fall. And then you will land squarely on a single ass cheek.
So, as you’ve gathered, mine was Friendly Fire—a teammate zigging as I zagged in a perfect mirror image, and boom: The Violent Dance of the D League. And even if they’ve got 80 pounds on you, sometimes guys are shaky enough on their skates that they’ll get the worst of it. But this guy was tall enough that instead of hitting him up high, which is a great balance-fucker on shaky skates, I landed square in his center of gravity.
It must’ve been a good one, too, ‘cause the ref (among the most competent ones available) blew the whistle—basically a “hey, some fool’s incapacitated” stoppage of play.
Of course, I didn’t know that this had happened until I got to my feet, trying to give a reassuring fist bump to the poor guy who seemed to be repeating, “I’m so sorry—I didn’t see you. I’m so sorry.” I just knew my head had snapped back and hit the ice—not unfamiliar in my hockey career, and one of those things that I usually think looks worse than it is. The helmet means it doesn’t hurt; the weight of it just means you’ll have whiplash later. As I was shaking out cobwebs, the ref’s voice came into focus: “You gotta go to the bench for a sec, ‘cause I stopped it.”
At which point, apparently, I glared at Kevin.
I started figuring it was worse as the day wore on: The back of my head actually did hurt a little—the phantom feeling of a bump. And my shoulder blades hurt; I must not have landed on my ass at all. Landing on your ass hurts like hell, but not landing on it suggests a pretty good collision, and an especially bad landing for the head and neck. Worst of all, my teeth hurt. Well, they hurt like my head hurt—not hurt, but I was more aware of them than I should have been.
It took me a long time to realize that, aside from sports like boxing and pro hockey (where the teeth really are at serious risk), mouthpieces are solely for preventing concussions. And to be fair, it probably took me so long to realize that because I used to remove my mandatory high school soccer mouthpiece and stick it in my sock.
But it wasn’t until Monday night, more than 24 hours after the fall, when I got a stabbing pain behind my left eyebrow that made my left eye weep like a faucet, that I really considered the seriousness of concussions in general, and this one in particular.
I do think concussion-related degenerative brain disorders, of pro athletes especially, are a real and scary issue. Although part of the reason I know they’re an issue is that I know what it’s like, at least a little. Injuries in sports are to be triumphed over, and concussions are almost always not about pain in the present moment. They don’t feel serious firsthand—either at the time or cumulatively. I didn’t even miss a shift on Sunday. (And, see, I really am bragging about that.) I don’t want to stop playing, and I’m not even getting paid for it.
So this is why it’s good to have a lot of well-meaning people around you, hounding you to go to the doctor. I’m feeling better now, but I know a nasty bump to the noggin and three straight days of headaches are good reasons to see a medical professional. But I think I’m-a be OK.
I will say I’m considering wearing a mouthpiece now. But I will also say that I probably won’t, at least not right away. Brain damage, indeed.