It's been an interesting few months for me to say the least.
It all started with a routine hit in practice on a normal play. Just a hard bump. In fact, the play was so common that I sort of just brushed it off without thinking much of it.
But in the ensuing days, my mood began to change. I didn't notice, but the people around me did. By the time we were playing our game against Florida on March 27, I had been having trouble sleeping for a couple of days already. My senses for some reason were worsening with each passing day. I thought I was just overtired.
That game against Florida would end up being my last of the season.
By the time that game was over, I had no appetite. I realized I was beginning to lose weight. Still, I got on the plane to Columbus with the mindset that I would play the following night.
When things only got worse the next day, I spoke with coach and made the decision to sit that one out. I thought some rest and time off would do the trick. But even then, things didn't improve. I went to the hospital hoping that they could find a way for me to get some sleep.
The medications they gave me to sleep caused a negative reaction in my body. I still couldn't sleep, and the weight loss continued at an alarming rate. At one point, I weighed less than 200 pounds. I haven't weighed that little since I was 17. Now, the initial thought was a possible concussion.
Intensive care is a scary place to be, but I needed a place where I could be stabilized. My doctors felt that the Neuro Surgical ICU at Buffalo General was the best place for that to happen. I can't thank the doctors, nurses and staff at Buffalo General enough. The people there that took care of me were exceptional. It's impossible for me to overstate my support for them and for everything that they do.
And, for as trying as that period was, I can't begin to explain how special the outpouring of support I received during that time was for me.
When I turned my phone on, I had 500 messages waiting for me. Current players, former players, former coaches - everyone reached out. Even now, fans see me in Minnesota or Buffalo and say, 'I'm just really glad you're doing OK.' It's overwhelming, and it makes me proud to be a part of the hockey community. We're a tight-knit group and we stick together. Thinking about your support brings a tear to my eye.
The messages from my Sabres teammates meant a lot in particular. I've only played with those guys for one year, with Matt Moulson being the exception, and we didn't have the type of season that we wanted. The fact that all of them were so supportive through this shows that the bond between teammates really does transcend what happens on the ice.
Dealing with an injury like this can change your perspective on life. It makes you evaluate what's truly important. Hockey, of course, is extremely important to me. It's my job, and it's what I've done my whole life. But in saying that, I also don't want hockey to define me as a person. I want to be somebody who is known as a good person first and foremost.
That begins with prioritizing family, because when the glitz and glam of playing in the NHL subsides, they are what you have. I have two healthy children and I've been married to my wife, Danielle, for five years now. They're the most important thing in my life. I always knew that, but this experience reaffirmed it. I want to be a good husband and I want to be the best dad I can.
So, when I was released from the hospital, all I wanted to do was spend time with my family. I wanted to hang out at home. I wanted to take my daughter to the movies, take my children to the park, do all of the things that you do with your family. It was refreshing for me to get back into the routine of just being a dad. I appreciate everyone for respecting my privacy during that time.
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In the meantime, I've worked with a lot of different people - concussion experts and people who have dealt with concussions themselves - and I feel confident in the fact that I can play hockey again. In fact, I know I can play again.
I know I can play and not worry about hitting my head, which is a major hurdle for someone who's dealt with this. If I didn't feel 100 percent right now, that probably wouldn't be the case.
I began the process last week, playing in a summer league with other NHL players in Minnesota. It was amazing to drive in and see the parking lot packed with people who were excited to watch hockey in July. It's a lot like Buffalo in that way.
The first game itself was not good. We got whacked, 10-3. But I've come a long way since March and April, so it was nice to just play hockey again. I'm healthy and feel great!
I've already spoken with Phil Housley and Jason Botterill about the future. Phil coached me before with Team USA, so we have some history. (He's also a Minnesota guy, which ups him a few notches in my book.) He had a special team in Nashville last year and his playing resume speaks for itself, so I think I speak for my teammates when I say that we can't wait to get started with him as our head coach.
The most important trait I see in Jason is that he comes from a winning culture. Pittsburgh has two Stanley Cups in the last two years and three in the last eight, and I know that he was a big part of that. I think it's going to be instrumental to our success for us to have someone at the helm who has a winning pedigree and knows what it takes to win.
Winning here is something that I want badly. I said at my opening press conference that I came to the Sabres because I think we have a chance to win the Stanley Cup, and I really believe that. I think Jason and Phil are going to be a big part of it. I can't wait to be back with the boys next month to get this going.
Thank you for all the well wishes, prayers and support! It has meant more than you will ever know!
- Kyle Okposo