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Ulmer: My Concussion Experience

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs

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I remember leaving to play non-contact hockey Sunday night.

I remember my first couple of shifts.

Then, any and all thoughts ended. They were replaced by a voice drifting in from the perimeter of my consciousness.

“We should call an ambulance,” the voice said.

I didn’t think that was a good idea. Then, I blinked.

Like magic, I was looking into the face of an ambulance attendant.

The attendant asked me a lot of questions.

Where was my wife? I didn’t know.

What was my telephone number? I wasn’t sure.

I don’t know who took off my skates, gloves or helmet. I don’t know how I got to the ambulance. Friends who were playing have since told me there was a minor collision and I fell. One of my teammates, a doctor, said that I had been unconscious about two minutes and that I had a concussion.

I’m in the club. Just like that.

“The first concussion isn’t that big,” the doctor who saw me in emerg told me. “The second one can kill you.”

I cannot tell you much about post-concussion syndrome. I have suffered no ill effects. The bizarre nature of concussions dictates that I still might. A friend described frequent jags of nauseating vertigo that plague him two years after he was hit in the head. The symptoms began a month after his initial injury.

There are ghosts of concussion stories past. I was in Philadelphia the night Scott Stevens nearly killed Eric Lindros. Stevens knew Lindros had returned from injuries to be the Flyers’ best player. Hitting him was within the rules and mores of the game, then and probably now, but the game lost because Lindros was never able to shake the specter of head injuries. Most profoundly Lindros now speaks ruefully about the effect of repeated blows to the head.

Thirty-three. That’s how many concussions have been visited upon NHL players this season.

Sidney Crosby, of course, owns one, maybe two of those.

Leafs GM Brian Burke pointed out quite rightly that the media interest would be sheared away had the victim been plugger Mike Brown instead of the game’s brightest light. No question, either, that the NHL and the rest of the major leagues are coming to terms with the problem.

“Back then they just gave you smelling salts and said, ‘Are you feeling all right? Can you get back out there?’ former Leafs’ star Lanny McDonald was saying the other day.

“I remember playing shifts or even an entire period where you just played on instinct and then all of a sudden you start to come around. It’s like, ‘Holy god, I missed the whole second period,’ yet you played. Thank God you didn’t get hurt worse than you did.”

Unlike Crosby I was not hit by a rock hard elbow at incomprehensible speed or hit from behind into the glass. Unlike the Bruins’ four-time concussed Marc Savard I was not devastated by a reckless hit to the head.

I have been spared all of it, but for the waking up part, all but the moment where they bring your kids into your room part so you can set their mind at ease.

I now know what it’s like to be suddenly and absolutely dependant on a stranger, this guy asking me my wife’s name, or the nurse who peeled off my shin guards or the faceless person who went over my CT scan.

But for those suffering the debilitating effects of post-concussion syndrome, the depression, the nausea, the lethargy and the loneliness are catastrophic.

I walked through the front door to Neverland for two minutes, checked my passport and was ushered back out. I know of at least 33 people who spent far more time there.

God help them.
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