Thursday, November 22, 2012

When Hockey Hurts

    It feels as if I have just been flattened by a giant Zamboni. We had really been looking forward to this upcoming season; Joe's glorious senior year!  We were so looking forward to hearing his name announced as a starting defensemen, being one of the team's leaders and role models for the younger team members.  I was also really looking forward to senior night and that red carpet moment on the ice, when moms are called down from the stands, given flowers and sons are given the microphone to share a letter they've penned to you on how much they appreciate what it took to get them there. Moms can't help but tearfully look at their  grown up hockey players and have flashbacks of those first wobbly attempts on the ice with tiny skates, wooden sticks and bundles of determination.  All those years of hard work and sacrifice are shared and treasured by your second family. A night you tuck away in your special memory bank.
      I was also convinced this was going to be the best year yet for Joe.  But wrist, collar bone, a hip fracture and foot injuries and surgery this year have taken their toll, to the point where it hurts too much to play.  Rather than risk a permanent disability and be in a cast for the fifth consecutive year, Joe made the very tough decision  to hang up his skates.  I know how much he enjoys the feel of the ice and the comradery of being on a team. But as Joe said to me, "Mom, it would be easier if I just went out there and risked it.  If I played and took the chance. But if I get hurt again, I will let the team down....again.   The harder thing is not to play.  And honestly mom,  I'm tired of hurting all the time."
    This boy of mine is wise beyond his 17 years. He's had a good attitude about all of this and has decided to focus his energy right now on finding a college that will be a good fit.  There's also more time for him to guide the little sister, now a Pee Wee hockey player.  It was when Joe was a Pee Wee, on the travel team, that he suffered his first injury.  Back when there was checking, his wrist snapped during a tournament game.   I just happened to come across the essay he was required to write for gym class on how he got hurt and all the impressive research he did on the fracture.  It was helpful to me back then, and I thought this could be helpful to others now,  to read what it's like from the perspective of a 12- year old,  who had to watch his team from the sidelines and be out for key weeks of the season. This is how it all began and sadly, what would eventually end his hockey career much sooner than he had hoped.   


This past October I suffered a very bad wrist fracture during a hockey game. As I discovered during my research, the injury, called a Salter Harris II is very common among hockey players my age. We’ll begin by explaining how I got hurt.

My Pee Wee travel team was doing really well in the Columbus Weekend Tournament in Niagara Falls, New York. The first game we won 16-0! I was doing great with one goal and three assists. The next day we were all a bit tired and had a very early game. When the game started I felt good and again my team was leading on the scoreboard. Toward the middle of the second period, we had two penalties, thus being down two men. The coaches sent me back out to “kill the penalty.” Now, let me first tell you, checking is legal, which means you can knock down the player has the puck to gain possession. I went behind the net to get the man who had the puck, and checked him. I got the puck and that’s when my arm went into the boards straight on. My wrist snapped. I was in a lot of pain, but I kept on skating to kill off the penalty. I knew something was wrong, so I shot the puck to the other end and skated off the ice. When I got to the bench, everyone was patting my back because of the big “hit.” Even the coach said, “That shook the boards!” Then I told him about the pain. They rushed me to the locker room where an on-staff E.M.T. examined my wrist. When I pulled my glove off, I knew it was bad. The paramedic put a splint on my wrist and told my mom and dad we needed to go an emergency room for treatment. Instead of telling me my wrist was broken, his words were “ I want to be the first one to sign your cast.” The rest of my day involved doctors, needles, meds, a cast and a sharpie.

It was at the Buffalo Children’s Hospital I learned what type of injury I suffered and what my treatment would be. The doctor explained I had a Salter-Harris II, one of the most common fractures and it was a fracture of my left radius. While it was common, the concern was the fact it was a growth plate fracture. The growth plate is an area of developing tissue and it is the weakest area of the growing skeleton. It is near the end of the long bones in children and it determines the future length and even the shape of the adult bone. As the doctor would explain, my facture meant my bones had to be put back into place and immobilized for normal grown to continue. My injury did require X-rays to determine the fracture and decide on a treatment plan. The Buffalo doctor was an orthopedic surgeon, a doctor who specializes in bone and joint problems in children. He explained I would need to continue seeing an orthopedic surgeon in Syracuse.

After the X-Ray and diagnosis, the surgeon decided to reset the wrist. He began with long needles right where the break was and numbed the area. I still felt it when he snapped the wrist back in place. The pain was excruciating. Then he began with putting my affected limb in a full arm cast. It went from my knuckle to above my elbow to limit any movement and prevent me from moving the radius. I was told to limit all physical activity. I had to apply ice for several days to reduce the swelling.

The wrist and hand are made up of 27 bones and many ligaments, tendons and muscles. There are eight carpal bones that serve as a link between forearm and hand and that allows for motion of the wrist. My hockey gear does not completely cover my wrist and hand area and therefore was exposed and vulnerable to injury. A study by the Mayo Clinic in Rochester on hockey injuries finds this to be a fairly common injury. See Figure 2 diagram, and it shows 29 percent of the injuries observed during a hockey season for the study were fractures. The study observed injuries for my level of play, Pee Wee, and observed four fractures including two exactly like the kind I suffered. Interesting to note, the body sites most often injures were the shoulder and the arm . When a patient enters the emergency room with a broken wrist doctors have several options on how to treat the particular injury. They could put it in a cast, reset it, surgically repair it (which is very rare), or even leave it to heal on its own. This all of course depends on the seriousness of the break, and the type of break. When the cast is put on you obviously can’t move these muscles. Over time when you don’t use certain muscles they deteriorate, this is called atrophy . Smell and dead skin will also start to form, as I now know all to well. Following is a picture of the actual X-Ray; this shows a fracture of my left radius. The break was right along the developing tissue. I have had 3 different casts, a full arm hard cast (put on first day), I’ve had a short hard cast (put on 3 weeks after injury), and a short soft cast (made of an almost rubber substance. The doctors explained normally they would keep someone in a hard cast for the entire time but since I was healing so well he felt I didn’t need it. Through this entire experience everyone has been really great to me, my parents still being them corny selves, the doctors making jokes, and everyone else just seeing if I need help with anything. It has also made me very thankful for all the things I took advantage of being able to do before, like sports, video games, even eating with my left hand. All these things became difficult with the break and I am really thankful I will be able to do them again. There are some people who won’t and now that I know what it feels like I am truly sorry. I hope more people could experience this true recognition without the pain of breaking a bone. The kind side of people, I found really comes out when they saw me in a cast. They would immediately ask what happened and hoped I would feel better, and the best part was I could tell they meant every word. I have also gotten to see super heroes at work. No I don’t mean super man or bat man, I mean true super heroes, doctors and Nurses giving hope and caring for those who really need them. I hope someday I can make that kind of difference in someone’s life. Making them smile even in a hospital, that is what real heroes are like. I have also met a lot of nice people through all of this, whether they are doctors, nurses, coaches, or just concerned and kind strangers. This experience has also gave me hope, hope that people will still ask how I’m doing cast or no cast. Now of course I am trying to prevent another injury and I found that staying fit, stretching and wearing protective clothing GREATLY decreases the risk of injury. You must also avoid any physical contact when in pain because it could just result in a more severe injury. Always warm up before playing maybe jog, or do push ups. In all sports there is a risk of injury so if you are terribly afraid of being injured, maybe sports aren’t the thing for you. When you do get injured you have to be extremely careful and remember you can’t be aggressive you just have to take your time and let it heal. You almost have you have a certain mental toughness to prevent from just getting out there and playing. Although if you have a giant cast on your arm you're not going to be that tempted to play anyway. Hopefully people can learn from past mistakes and be more careful. In hockey as size increases so do injuries, which goes to show people need to be careful on what they are doing. Just because they’re 6 foot 4 doesn’t mean they have to play like an animal. I hope something has come out of reading this paper. Whether it is now you will be more careful next time, or you will just tip your hat to someone walking down the street, I just hope it puts things in perspective.

By Joey Burns
Age 12

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