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Heward is Healing, Hopefully

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
Veteran Caps defenseman Jamie Heward has played more than 1,000 regular season and playoff games in juniors, the minors, the NHL and in Europe. During that 20-year period of time he has had his share of injuries, but nothing like the spate of freaky, fluky things that have happened to him in the past several weeks.

On Nov. 6 against Ottawa at Verizon Center, Heward sustained a seemingly innocuous injury to his elbow, but it is one that he describes thusly: “as painful an ordeal as I have ever had.” The ordeal was bad, as you’ll read below, but Heward only missed one game.

On the last day of the same month, the 35-year-old defenseman took a Mike Modano skate to the face, suffering a grisly facial laceration that required well over 100 stitches and several hours of plastic surgery to close. It left a hockey stick-shaped scar across the bridge of his nose and his left cheek. In his first game back in action after that difficult ordeal, Heward took a puck to the chin, a wound that required a relatively meager 10 stitches to close.

Recently, Heward took the time to discuss the series of freak injuries with us.

This is your 20th season, including your years in junior hockey. Have you ever had a run of injuries like this?

I’ve had stuff happen to me where you get three or four little injuries in a row, but nothing along the lines of what I have had [recently]. You mix in the elbow, which seems insignificant, but it was pretty major. And then the face obviously is something that you’re always concerned about. That’s as major as it gets for me. I don’t think there is anything that I could think of that would be any worse. And then you get another 10 stitches in the bottom of the chin.

There is just something about the face. It always seems that if you get hit in the face it is worse than a shot in the foot, or a broken bone or something along those lines. It always seems worse when you get hit in the face.

Does it feel like you’re an injury magnet?

[Laughter.]  It does. You never want to think that things happen in threes or those kind of things, because they will happen to you in threes. I am starting to believe that I am hopefully past the point where I have had three things happen to me, and I am done now.

When I had the elbow injury, I didn’t think about it. I went back and played. You get hit in the face, you don’t think about it – you try not to – and you come back and get hit again. You never want to think about it because it will certainly come back.

Tell us what happened with the elbow.

It was in the Ottawa game. My elbow pad just shifted for some reason. I got pushed back in a hit, kind of a harmless hit. My elbow pad moved and I hit my elbow on the ice. It was more of a pressure cut than anything else. Because it hit so hard, it ruptured the bursa sac inside. The doctors decided that they had to remove that sac because it wouldn’t regenerate properly. It was just one of those things where because they had to dig in so deeply and do more internal stuff than most, it was a lot more painful than it probably had to be or would have been if I just got stitches.

Because it was so close to the bone and a lot of the stuff they were detaching was on the bone or close to it, the freezing just doesn’t go that deep. It was probably as painful an ordeal as I have ever gone through in hockey, mainly because I could not only feel it, but I could hear it as well. The cutting of stuff – I don’t know, it was just a weird situation for me. My arm was hanging over the table. The doctors said, ‘Listen, we’ll try to be as quick as we can.’

It was like the old days in the wild west where you bite on a stick while they’re digging out a bullet. That’s kind of what it felt like. It was just one of thosalte things where I was absolutely and totally uncomfortable. It was as painful an ordeal as I have ever had. It’s not something I would wish on anyone, that’s for sure.

Talk about the incident with Mike Modano’s skate.

It was just one of those things. I’ve seen guys get cut as they fall on the ice and they’re down, somebody comes in and hits another guy, he falls and the skate comes up about a foot off the ice. I am 6-foot-4 on skates, and I was standing probably six feet away, and that’s where he hit me. So to kick that high is pretty freaky. I’ve tried to analyze it, and I don’t even bother anymore. It happened, and I tried to move on even the next day.

It still does bother me to a point. It’s more the sound of what it actually did on the impact. The slicing part of it really still kind of bothers me. When I do think about it, that gives me chills. It’s a bad analogy, but it’s really like cutting into a raw steak. I know people are going to cringe when you say that, but that’s really the only way that I can describe what happened. It gives you shivers to think about sharp objects and skin. It’s just one of those things you never want to have to go through.

It is just something I had never thought about happening in my career. You’ve seen it happen to other people. The game is so fast and so hard, but you never think that is going to happen. You know you’re going to get hit with pucks and sticks and that sort of thing, but you never think anything like this is going to happen. Especially in the situation I was in. It wasn’t like I fell; I was still standing. But it happened and I am just trying to deal with it as best as I can.

I’m sure your family was watching the game. What were they thinking?

My wife never actually saw it. She just saw me go off the ice.

The organization handled it with the most professionalism I have ever seen. I think it’s because [vice-president and general manager] George [McPhee] is an ex-player and his family was around when he played and he had injuries and all those kinds of things.

My wife wanted to come in and see me and make sure that I was okay. It was the last thing in the world that I wanted. I am bleeding all over the place and I don’t know what’s going on. I still don’t know if there is any damage to my eye. There are a lot of things I am going through. George met her out in the hall, and made sure that he went down and talked to her. That was probably the biggest thing for me. That was the first thing I said, ‘Just make sure that somebody goes and talks to my wife and tells her that I’m okay and things would be okay.’

First and foremost, George and the entire staff handled it with the best professionalism that I have ever seen. Once my family was taken care of, once my wife knew what was going on, then she could relay messages to my mom and my grandma and everybody who was watching the game. For me, it was a little bit of a relief going through it to know everybody [else] was being taken care of. I had my uncle in town, so my wife could go home with the kids. He stuck around to make sure that I was okay.

Right from the time it happened, family was a concern. But the trainers, George, the doctors and everybody handled it as professionally as I could have wanted them too.

What was that experience like, getting stitched up?

They obviously gave me lots of numbing [agents]. It took a long time because it is not an easy process. First of all, they’ve got to stop the bleeding. Then they’ve got to make sure that it is clean. It took them a good half hour just to clean it out, make sure there is no debris in there, stuff from skates. Ice is as dirty as it gets. So they did that. It just took a long time to make sure that they did the right job.

It’s not the easiest place in the world to stitch. Across the nose was probably the biggest problem. The bridge of my nose I think was the toughest part for them. And then right at the end of the cut there is a little jagged edge that they had a little bit of trouble with at the start. I can’t even imagine being anywhere else and having this happen. Our doctors did an unbelievable job of getting me to a point where it was stitched up right away and I had the best opportunity to heal. And then obviously I go in to see the plastic surgeon the next day, and he makes his assessment.

Give us an idea of what that procedure was like, the five and a half hours of plastic surgery.

I went in and saw him and he said everything was good. Just by looking at it, his first analysis was it was good. He asked me what I wanted to do. I’m a hockey player. We’ve got a game Saturday and a game Wednesday. I got hurt on Thursday. It was the day after and I wanted to get back on the ice. So I said, “We’re waiting till the end of the season. I’ll throw a mask on and I’ll play.” That was my thought process.

He basically told me that he thought we should go in and have a look at it, just to make sure everything was okay. He generally said he thought it wouldn’t be that big of a procedure, it shouldn’t take any time at all, maybe 45 minutes to an hour. You’re in and you’re out.

I remember going in about 2:00 or 2:30 and waking up at 8:30, 9:00. I looked at the clock, I’m still dazed and I don’t know where I am and I went through a lot of trouble. My wife said, “You just went through five and a half hours of surgery to repair everything,” and I was just in shock. It was a good thing I was dazed and confused because I didn’t really quite understand what was going on.

There were some nerves that were cut, there was a blood vessel that needed to be tied off and there were things that he needed to do that weren’t visible to the naked eye.

I’m just happy that I went in and saw him because I could have had really big complications in the future.

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