A Two-Minute Minor Penalty Changed My Life

It is a hard truth that we don’t truly realize how good we had it or just how grateful we are for certain things or moments in our lives until something tragic happens. I would like to think that I am a self-aware person and notice and am grateful for the little things in life. Even though I feel like I appreciate these moments in my life, I didn’t fully understand how important they were to me until a tragic event happened and changed everything. 

The start of the hockey season was like the feeling of Christmas morning. There was so much excitement and anticipatory jitters. I never thought that something that shaped me into who I am could also tear me apart. 

October 13, 2018. There was a lot of excitement leading up to this day. These would be some of the first scrimmages of the season. It was hard for me to even be able to play this day. I had to make three different shift trades at work to get this day off. Once I finally made all the changes and discovered I could make the games this day, I was elated. It was the best feeling ever. This meant I had to miss our annual hockey fundraiser the night before because I had to work a shift, but it was worth missing that to play with my teammates this Saturday. 

It didn’t cross my mind that this game would result in a life-changing event. 

The chill, the smell of the arena, that initial sound of your skate crunching into the ice after the ice cut. That accompanied by the best teammates, some whom would retire after this season and so I knew I had to really hold on to these moments with them. I thought I would have another game with my team though. 

Unfortunately, this was my last game of ice hockey. I would have tried to ingrain all of those sights, scents, and feelings into my memory and nerves a bit harder if I had known. 

The injury did not occur until the third period, with only about three minutes left. The details were made clearer to me after watching the video footage of it. The video makes me feel sick. I am suddenly flooded with emotions and my heart starts to pound. The sound of my head slamming the ice is a gut punch. 

It was a typical play; a defenseman dumped the puck in the zone. The puck was in the corner, nowhere near me. I turned and all of a sudden there was a stick to my chest and I jolted straight back. Suddenly the back of my head smacked the ice. The player received a two-minute minor penalty.

I heard a crack and then ringing. Everything was black. Everything was ringing. It was like the aftermath of a bomb in a movie – fog and ringing. Uncontrollable tears dripping down the sides of my face onto the ice. While lying on the ice, my eyes were open but all I could see was black. I thought if I closed them and squeezed them tight enough that my vision would come back. I did this several times and it was still black. 

Suddenly there were blurry faces hovering over me – their mouths were moving but I couldn’t hear anything except for the ringing in my ears. I kept desperately squeezing my eyes closed to open them up again and see clearly. It never became clear. Tears continued to pour. 

I couldn’t open my mouth to form words. I cannot remember anything else after other than stumbling to the locker room, being unable to see much. I felt like I was out on a boat on very rough waters reaching out to hold on to anything to keep me up. The walls seemed to be moving and my vision kept tunneling.

I made it to the locker room and removed my equipment with assistance. My Dad drove me home but kept insisting on going to the emergency department. I declined an ED visit. We made it home and I put ice on my neck, took some Tylenol and thought I could just “sleep it off.” I refrained from taking any type of blood thinner in the event I did sustain a brain bleed. 

In typical fashion I tried to minimize and “play through my injury,” in the form of working. I attempted to work a shift in the ED the next morning at 0600 am. It was a huge blur. I remember having to run to the staff bathroom to vomit and dry heave over the toilet. Everything was spinning and the words seemed to be moving on the computer screen. The lights were blinding. The beeps of the monitors sounded like tornado sirens. 

I thought I’d be viewed as weak if taking time off for the injury. Returning to work and pushing through the injury was not smart. I wonder if I had just rested those first crucial 48 hours after the injury if that would have made a difference today. Thankfully, I was sent home from work about half way through the shift. 

My first thought the day after the concussion was to research the best helmet on the market for concussion prevention (even though no helmet can truly prevent a concussion). I had my mind set on playing again. This would just go away. I found myself in denial regarding this head injury, a similar melody that occurred back in college. Was this bargaining? Was I just postponing the inevitable sadness and confusion?

It wasn’t until a couple days later that I started panicking. I took my dog (Walley) out for a walk and could not read the street signs because they were so blurry. I started seeing double. Again, I would squeeze my eyes tight just to open them again and see clearly but it didn’t work. Cars would drive by and I would be completely startled and feel like I was going to pass out. 

Still, I thought I would just need mental rest for a week or two and I’d be back on the ice and back at work. After all, that’s what you are supposed to do for a concussion, right?

My initial symptoms following the injury were dizziness, headache, neck pain, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), blurry and double vision. As days passed more symptoms emerged. It seemed like layer after layer was building and I could do nothing to stop it.

As I was trying to push through it as much as I could there was so much going on underneath the surface that I didn’t realize – a cascade of events that would catch up to me. And they did. It was like a little, isolated fire in my brain and body that quickly erupted into a forest fire. I didn’t realize it but I was slowly falling apart and this would continue for over two years to this day. 

I didn’t realize that the darkest days of my life were brewing.

4 thoughts on “A Two-Minute Minor Penalty Changed My Life

  1. Powerful words Drew. I know your parents and your brother Mark. I have prayed for you since your accident. I hope someday to meet you. Glad you are writing and hope someday to see a book and maybe conferences that you will lead through out the country. I continue to pray for you.

  2. Drew,
    I love how brave you are. I love how honest you are. They way you have always shared your vulnerability, passion, mistakes and learning allows the rest of us to come to important realizations. Thanks for writing this, and being an amazing person who definitely helped me when I needed it most. I’m your fan.

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