My fight against injuries-what young athletes should consider before having a surgical operation.
As I busted off the half wall in a beer league, Labor Day roller hockey tournament, I looked off my wingers, faked a full stop, then a pass and found myself on a breakaway with the goaltender. My eyes lit up in that moment, I was the best player in the tournament, and I knew I was lucky to be healthy.
I picked up my head, and right before I could take a shot or burn the goalie with a fake, an opposing player back checked hard, lifted my stick, between my hands (a clear minor hooking penalty, no call) dislocating my left shoulder as I never got a shot off.
Young athletes are not always mature enough to handle the consequences of an orthopedic surgery that requires rehabilitation. Orthopedic surgeons should never forget to say three things before concluding that surgery is a viable option.
First, you will rehab this injury for the rest of your life. Second, you will need to rehab until that muscle or ligament is stronger than it ever has been, EVER, before you can resume playing sport. Finally, you have a strong possibility of developing arthritis in that area.
I think my doctors said all of those things, my favorite family physician just says “Fred, why don’t you quit already.” Too bad young people are cocky assholes. At least I was.
I remember my first shoulder surgery like it was yesterday. Surgery, confined to a bed, 4 months rehab, skate for two months, game-time, hip check, flip, midair, dislocation, can’t pop shoulder back in myself, emergency room, doctors can’t pop shoulder back in, I cry, YouTube video (seriously), doctor says lie on your back (that’s the trick), shoulder clicks back in its socket and I smile. My dad says he’s never seen my face go from pure agony to a smile so abruptly.
I felt like my shoulder was pinned on by nuts, bolts and a few rubber bands. So let’s try another surgery, except my orthopedist decides to open me up this time.
Post op I walk into his office one month later and he grabs a colleague to proclaim, “one month after a latarjet, look at that mobility!”
Hockey was coming. And so were more dislocations, this time both my shoulders.
If I want to play I need three hard months of rehab work on my shoulders alone and then at least three weeks of conditioning. But I’ve come up with some first-rate work out routines and my shoulders are adequately durable today, I use the term “adequately durable” quite loosely. I just need to ice and rehab 5 times a week. If I don’t my scapula’s will be on fire and my shoulders will dislocate as I cuddle my pillow dreaming about scoring goals, not joking about the night-time dislocations. Talk about nightmares.
Injury will make you do the unthinkable, the unimaginable, but quitting hockey? I’ve never quit in my mind even though I don’t play often. It’s hard for me to explain to my old hockey buddies that I can’t play anymore, yeah not even beer league. I think my passion speaks for itself and I have nothing left to prove out on the ice, at least that’s what I tell myself. But it’s tough to believe it, and even tougher to go months and months without playing.
I don’t think I’m better then beer league hockey, I’d kill to be healthy. I’d kill to be playing beer league hockey! That’s why I can’t sleep; I’m dreaming about playing the damn game every night. In hockey, if you play with pace and intensity (and you can skate of course) you’re fuckin’ moving out there. I can’t play that way with my injuries so I don’t bother playing at all. There is something beautiful about reckless abandonment and creativity and strategy that makes hockey such a fascinating game. It’s a just a game though, right? Well you know my answer.
What’s my plan of attack? Rehab, condition and rehab. Build the muscle up around my shoulders and hope. Hope is a dangerous thing when you’re talking about playing with old injuries. You get really strong, you condition, and finally you come back and dominate. It’s pure euphoria that I’ve felt since 18. Until you injure yourself again. It’s not a matter of how but when.
I’d love another crack at more surgeries but I know I’d be better off rehabbing and hitting golf balls with all the other washed-up, has been hockey players.
When I was younger I couldn’t handle my injuries emotionally. I didn’t understand that patience and acceptance are major factors in managing ones injuries with maturity. Everybody gets injured.
I don’t want to leave the game but my playing days ARE over. To all the young hockey players out there if you love the game truly then you’ll break bad habits. I was a bad sport, I was cocky and I didn’t know any better. I needed to have hockey taken away from me to understand that.