Concussions are a growing concern in all sports, but to me personally, concussion problems in ice hockey hit home especially hard. Let me start this off by sharing my own story with you:
Senior year of high school, the Friday of February vacation, my team and I are finishing the regular season with a road game against Whitman-Hanson. The game matters, a win gets us the 4 seed in the South, a loss, the 5 seed. First period goes smoothly, I redirect a shot from the point off the post and into the back of the net, and we had an early 1-0 lead. Middle of the second, I chase a loose puck in our defensive zone, the puck is in the corner, almost on the goal line. I retrieve the puck, and that’s the last thing I can remember.
I was crushed from behind, right between the numbers, and I flew head first into the glass, where I laid motionless for several minutes. I vaguely remember getting helped off the ice, and I recall not being able to correctly answer the trainer’s questions on the bench. The ambulance arrived to get me to a hospital for further examination, and I felt weak, dizzy, nauseous, and afraid. I was lucky I wasn’t paralyzed by the hit, but I still experience massive headaches at random times to this day.
One concussion can open you up to many more. I cheated on my concussion baseline test to get myself back to playing hockey way sooner than I ever should have, but I did what I had to do. I got another concussion by someone simply bumping into me at a lacrosse practice two months later, and another by falling off the tube and into the water that summer. My headaches remind me constantly of those three occasions.
Why do we bring this up? Bryan Bickell of the Carolina Hurricanes, you may remember him from the Chicago Blackhawks, he was recently diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, popularly known as MS. MS is a demyelinating disease in which the insulating covers of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord are damaged. Some of the symptoms of MS include: double vision, blindness, sore muscles, lack of sensation, poor coordination, and a shortened life expectancy. The biggest issue regarding MS is there is no cure.
MS can be hereditary, or come from a viral infection that damages the central nervous and immune systems, but many doctors believe that trauma to the head can also lead to MS.
Josh Harding, goalie for the Minnesota Wild at one time was also diagnosed with MS during the height of his playing career, he no longer is in the league. I am not saying that every player that gets a concussion will get MS, but it is something we need to think about, not only in hockey, but in all sports.
Concussion protocols are fortunately becoming stricter to protect players from returning to their sport too soon, but we have seen too many players fall from depression. Did concussions make Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, and Steve Montador kill themselves? I can’t answer that, but the facts state that Montador had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). He knew he was going to die, he asked for his brain to be donated for research after his death, which is some very intense and scary stuff.
I am a person who has suffered concussions, and now later in life I am seeing some clear side effects due to my incidents, but I don’t worry about the future too much. I want to see changes in not only hockey but all sports, to better protect players with safer play and safer gear.
We pray for Bryan Bickell to have a long and healthy life, and we pray that we can finally see a day where concussions will no longer ruin a person’s life.