"It was the most agony I've ever been in."
Nearly two months have passed, but Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler still remembers the gruesome details from the night he took a slap shot to the face that required multiple plates and 10 screws to fix. It happened on November 12 in a home game against the Nashville Predators. With three minutes remaining in regulation, Predators forward Craig Smith unloaded a slap shot that deflected off Fowler's stick and caught him up high. Fowler immediately fell to the ice, his hands clutching his face as blood poured from his nose.
He knew something was wrong, but didn't know the extent of the damage. "I thought maybe I just had a broken nose," he said, in true hockey player fashion. Except, it wasn't his nose. It was far worse. A CT scan revealed a complex right facial fracture involving the orbital bone, cheekbone and upper jaw bone. The injury was serious, and it required surgery - a first for the 27-year-old blueliner.
His recovery was lengthy. It required a lot of time doing nothing, which, for an active individual - let alone a professional hockey player - can be difficult to accept. Fowler admits it wasn't easy - the injury and the recovery process - and he couldn't have done it without the unwavering love and support from his fiancée, Jasmine, and his friends and family.
After missing 23 consecutive games, Fowler made his long-awaited return to the lineup on Sunday night against the Edmonton Oilers, picking up where he left off by finishing among the team's leaders in ice time. He finished the game with 22:01 TOI, second only to Hampus Lindholm.
Fowler reflected Monday morning on that night and the days that followed.
Let's go back to the night of the injury. You're defending Smith and he winds up for a slap shot. You're trying to get a stick on the shot, but the puck rides up and catches you in the face. What went through your mind at that moment?
Your first reaction is to check your face. I put my glove up to my face and I was bleeding out of my nose. I thought maybe I just had a broken nose. Shock kind of sets in right away, so you're not really sure what the injury is, but I was able to get off the ice. As soon as I got back there, I started feeling this throbbing pain in my face. Got into the doctor's room and that's when I knew something was wrong because the doctors started making some phone calls talking about possibly having immediate surgery. That's when I knew it was pretty serious.
What do you remember about being in the medical room?
I don't know if scared is the right word. Concerned, obviously. It's a little room and there are a lot of people in there. I was basically in a doctor's chair. I just wanted to get comfortable, and I couldn't. It was the most agony I've ever been in. That kind of took my mind off everything. I was so uncomfortable. They ended up telling my fiancée, Jasmine, to come down, so she came down and sat there with me while all the commotion happened around me. That helped out a lot.
As much pain as you were in, it must have been tough for her, too.
I feel for her. Her and my mom. Any time something like that happens, I immediately think about them. Even though she has to see me there struggling and in pain, it's better to have her there than to not know what's going on and being left in the dark. I'm thankful for Dr. [Bao-Thy] Grant and the people there to have the presence of mind to get Jasmine down there so she could be with me. It doesn't always work out that way, but with this injury, they handled it properly.
You went to the hospital after that. Was that for precautionary reasons?
It had to be done. Anything they had here wasn't strong enough to get me feeling comfortable, so I took an ambulance to Hoag. I was able to take off my hockey equipment, so I was in a Ducks tracksuit. Even the stuff in the ambulance wasn't strong enough to get me comfortable. The guy was asking how I was feeling, and I told him I felt exactly the same. Whatever they had wasn't strong enough. Dr. Grant made some phone calls so I didn't really have to go through all the paperwork and stuff. I just went to the hospital, got checked in and got to a bed. Within 5-10 minutes, I had medicine that was able to ease the pain.
Can you put into words the kind of discomfort you were experiencing?
You can't compare it to anything. Imagine if someone were to put all their body weight and press on your cheek constantly. If they put all their weight onto your face, that's how it felt. With other injuries, you have the initial pain and it settles down. You have the injury, but you get ice on it or whatever. But with this, I had absolutely no relief at all until I got to the hospital. I broke four bones. It was just one of those things, but the amount of pain I was in was really surprising. As an athlete, we deal with pain all the time. But I was so uncomfortable this time around, so that part was really hard.
Was it tough to hear the news you needed surgery?
I knew it was something I needed to have done. Dr. Grant is fantastic. I have all the trust in the world in her. She was working with another surgeon because part of my eye was exposed, and that's a little bit out of her expertise. Just building the relationships with the people who were going to take care of me helped out a lot. I knew it was something I had to do to get better. There was no option. The injury happened on Monday, and I had surgery the following Friday. All those days leading up to it I was okay. When I woke up Friday morning, my stomach was a little uneasy. I was probably just nervous. I'm sure that's normal for everybody.
What were the initial post-operative days like?
Those first five days were brutal. I didn't have the same pain and discomfort I felt when I had the injury, but I was still really uncomfortable. They had to go through my eye for surgery, so basically any time I opened my eye, it felt like I was getting stung by a bee in my eye. I was most comfortable when I just kept my eye closed. You just feel gross because you don't look the same and you can't really eat. It was just really hard.
Was it frustrating not being able to do much?
The first four or five days were rough, and obviously I needed those days to recover. But around 10 days to two weeks, I started feeling back to normal, or at least feeling ready to go out and do stuff. At three weeks, I still couldn't really do anything. I couldn't even get my heart rate up. I could take the dog for a walk, but that was the max. That was it. I was confined to being at home. Even going to the mall or something, just walking around. I had my family here for Thanksgiving. We would go to, say, Laguna Beach for lunch or something, and afterward I'd be shot. It took a lot out of me just to be out and about. I was a couch potato. As an athlete who's used to practicing and playing games every day, that part was rough.
At what point in your recovery did you start to feel normal again?
Around the four-week mark.
After going through this, did you learn anything new about yourself?
The main thing I learned was how grateful I am to have the people I have around me. What Jasmine went through for all of this, to take care of me every day, making sure I had my eye drops, being there every step of the way and having to see me in pain. It was just as hard on her as it was on me. Just the supporting cast I have around me, my family and friends, I can't even tell you the amount of people that reached out to me. It felt really good, and it helped me through all of it. As a professional athlete, you just go through injuries. It's just a part of it. So I don't know if anything specifically with me came through, but it was really the people around me that shined brightest. Hundreds of messages, phone calls, just people reaching out. Take hockey aside, just making sure, as a person, you're okay.