Friday, July 19, 2013

Chapter 19: We Interrupt This Broadcast

We interrupt this broadcast.  I haven't had the drive to write this past week.  First there was the passing of Whitey Bensen which really affected me on a deep level.  Then my kid's hockey career ran into a roadblock.  For a few painful days I thought the jig was up. I thought my run as a hockey dad had ended..i.e, all roads lead to the beer leagues.  I won't go into detail at this point so as to build suspense and save it for the appropriate historical time in my account.  Suffice it to say that it looks like things got worked out and the journey and dream continues.  

Every hockey career must end.  Mine ended unexpectedly one late night soon after I graduated from college.  I've always dreaded the end of my son's career.  While I never had realistic hopes that he would go "pro", as he developed I began see him potentially having somewhat of a minor pro or European pro stint, ya never know.   That is unless he gets on track with a meaningful career in the meantime, which is the ultimate goal.  At any rate, I'll fill you in on this phase at a better time.

My so called hockey career, in the meantime was heading toward its ultimate demise. My second career, after coming back from my career ending back surgery peaked in the late 90s. It was pretty much all downhill from there. At the pinnacle, I was playing in two leagues, skating in multiple pick up sessions per week and I exercised like a maniac.   I lived three miles up the hill from my office at Merrill Lynch in downtown San Diego.  I would carpool or roller blade down the hill in the morning and then roller blade or run back up the hill to go home after work.  On non-game days I would meet a client in Balboa park after the stock market closed (1pm my time) and go for a five mile run. 

I had my next surgery in 2001 and there would be another four by the time I finally got the message and hung them up. 

I loved playing but it was frustrating for me, not to mention for my team mates. As my skills deteriorated my son's soared.  He played pick up hockey with me on Thursday nights.  Before long everyone wanted him on their team and not me.  I was so proud of him but heartbroken that I could no longer go. 

I played in lower level leagues. I reffed more.   It got harder and harder to put on my skates.  It got more and more frustrating to not be able to move the way I thought I should be able to move.  I watched my son play with my friends.  More and more of my friends were slowing down too.  Many of them continue to play and embarrass themselves.  I would if only I could!

There was a night in the early summer of 2006 where I was playing in an intermediate level senior league game.  It ended up being the last official game I would ever play.  It was pretty late on a Wednesday night.  I was playing defense.  I was tied up in front of the net with an opposing forward.  The defenseman took a shot from the blue line.  I saw the puck coming.  It was up on end, not flat.  Oh crap!

My business partner and I had taken a recruiting trip to New York a few months earlier.  By recruiting, I mean in the financial servcies business, nothing to to with hockey recruiting.  We had been sought after by competitors for years.  We were ready to make a move.  It's fairly common practice in my industry for firms to offer enormous incentives to successful advisors, or teams in my case, to jump ship and come work for them.  We had accepted an offer and were a few weeks away from making the  move when I saw this puck coming straight for my face.

Then, Bam!  Right upside the head.  I wore a helmet and half shield.  The puck was on edge when it slammed into the side of my bucket where the shield covers the ear piece.  It must have been slightly more than half way down the edge of the shield because it kept going underneath the plastic and made contact with my face.

It felt like someone took a full swing with a baseball bat and smashed me in the face. I felt the impact and everything went immediately black.  I fell like a sack of grain to the ice.  I couldn't see anything.  I didn't feel anything.  Not just that I didn't feel pain.  I felt nothing.  My face was numb.  I couldn't feel my teeth.   My initial thought was that this is what it's like to die.  My second thought was, there goes my bonus from the deal I'd just made to change firms.  My next fear was that I'd lost all my teeth.

Within seconds an EMT who happened to be at the rink was on the ice tending to me.  I was regaining my awareness and collecting my thoughts, self-assessing the damage.  I was bleeding.  I tasted the warm blood in my mouth. The impact from the puck's initial contact with my helmet cut my eyebrow area.  The continued trajectory of the puck as it went under the shield crushed my cheek bone and eye socket.   I lost no teeth.  I couldn't feel them because the puck had damaged a nerve in my face that provides signals to the teeth and gums.  This is the same nerve that is blocked when your dentist gives you Novocaine.   To this day, seven years later I still notice a loss of feeling in my cheek, lip and gums on the upper left side.

A friend was working the time clock.  She called my wife and had the conversation.  You know, the one that starts with:
"Steve is OK But......."   I forget how I  got to the emergency room but Kyle met me there.  Fortunately, and I suggest this to everyone, we had a good friend who is an ER doctor.  We called him and he cleared the way for me to get tended to right away.  Otherwise I would have sat in the emergency room for hours.  I can't tell you how many times we've benefited from this connection.  Highly recommended.

Kyle took the following picture and texted it to my business partner with the caption, "I'm Not Dead!".

It turns out I suffered a broken cheek bone and fractures in the orbital socket.  And this was just from a shot in a mid-level men's league game.  When I watch some of these plays in the NHL where Ian LaPerriere or some other player takes a slap shot to the face I cringe.  Given my experience, I'm surprised more people aren't killed from blocking shots with their face.  God Bless 'em.  I'll never understand why anyone would play without at least a half shield.

I went on to play pick up hockey for another year or so.  I wore a full cage.  I hated it.  I never got used to it.  But I never played another official hockey game.  I reffed for a few more years, but as the surgeries and back pain piled up, I eventually stopped reffing as well.  I continue to stay certified in the hope that one of these days I am able to get back to it, but it looks less and less likely.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't miss the thrill of skating, playing the game I love so much.  The most joy I get now is from watching my son play.  Thank goodness I still have that.  Of course his competitive career will end as well.  Grandkids!!!

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