As a seasoned NHL player, Jeremy Roenick has experienced more than his fair share of concussions — at least 11 since he was 11-years-old — and he knows that they are no picnic in the park. He also knows that his next one could be his last.
He remembers one time when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks being knocked out during a game in Minnesota and waking up in the training room with no idea how he got there, and then playing the very next night.
“They let me play … within a 24-hour span without any question of how I felt,” recalls the 38-year-old Roenick. “Nowadays they sit you out for at least a week.”
Hockey has made great strides when it comes to diagnosing and treating concussions. But, as Roenick points out, there is still a long way to go.
It starts with changing the mindset that playing through the hazy pain of a concussion is the macho thing to do. Acting like the tough guy when it comes to concussions only makes the injury worse. As a tough guy himself, Roenick can attest that rest is the only way to combat the effects of a concussion.
“Just to relax and not to do anything for about seven to 10 days,” says Roenick, who is preparing for his 20th NHL season and second with the San Jose Sharks.
“Don’t do anything that could raise your blood pressure. You don’t want to have a situation where you’re going to have a lot of blood that’s rushing into your brain when you’ve had trauma like that. The least amount of activity that you can do after is good.”
With more than 1,300 NHL games under his belt, Roenick knows how tough it is to watch the game from the sidelines, but it’s better than living with the symptoms of a concussion.
“It’s amazing what your brain can do to your body when it gets injured,” he says. “As soon as your blood pressure gets going you become nauseous and start throwing up. It’s a terrible feeling to go through.”
While today’s equipment provides players with greater protection, the risk of injury remains in hockey, as it does with other contact sports. In the end, using your brain is still the best way of keeping it safe.
“The more you can do to prevent yourself from damage, from the protection of your helmet, wearing a mouthpiece and being very aware of what you’re doing on the ice, the better,” advises Roenick.
Educating players, parents and coaches about the serious effects of concussions remains a main goal for those involved in the sport. No longer are players told to shake it off and get back in the game. That old way of thinking not only jeopardizes a player’s career, but his life away from hockey as well.
“I think about it a lot. It’s always in the back of my mind,” Roenick says. “I am very cautious about where I put my body.
“Because with the number of head injuries that I’ve had, you never know when that next one might be the killer.”
Hit The Flu With Your Best Shot
By Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber
Coaches are always preaching the importance of teamwork. There is one pass, however, that you don’t want to make to a teammate, and that’s passing along the flu bug to the player sitting in the locker stall next to you.
It’s almost a sure bet that if one of your teammates comes down with the flu, others will pick it up like a loose puck in the neutral zone. Then, it will tear through your locker room like Jaromir Jagr stickhandling through a Squirt team.
Hockey and the flu have similar seasons. Both begin in October and last through the end of March, with tens of millions getting the virus, and more than 36,000 people dying from flu complications every year.
The flu is a virus and by the time you know one player is sick, the rest have most likely been exposed. It is possible to have player after player be out over a period of weeks, which can take its toll on your season.
The flu strikes quickly. You can wake up feeling OK and over the next few hours, you get a high fever, your face feels flushed and every muscle in your body aches. You get chills, headaches, nausea, fatigue, and occasionally, you will have dizziness and vomiting.
After those first few miserable days the body aches get better but the virus isn’t going away. It is just finding a place to settle. As it progresses, you start feeling the symptoms of a cold. Sore throat, earache, cough, runny nose, and the sneezing start up.
It usually runs its course in about two weeks, but the cough can hang on like an unwelcomed houseguest. It can take up to four weeks to get your strength back.
One way to make sure your team has the best possibility of winning is to make sure they all get the flu vaccine. This is one give-and-go you don’t want your team to practice.
Theresa Rohr-Kirchgraber is a hockey mom of three who is also an adolescent medicine physician at the Indiana University School of Medicine.
Photos - Getty Images, Illustration - Mike Curti