January 11, 2011
I cringed when I heard the news about Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart's(notes) broken jaw, an injury that'll see him get a 6-8 week vacation courtesy of Tom Kostopoulos(notes). I had a similar reaction to seeing the wire brackets being removed from Washington Capitals forward Mike Knuble's(notes) teeth in "24/7" -- I've been there, and it's not exactly a party.
The good news for them is, they're taken care of a little differently than a patient off the street.
Most teams employ a few quality medical folk, but aren't equipped to handle the more serious stuff like digging out tooth roots and reattaching limbs, so it takes a team of outside personnel to help rebuild broken humans into functional hockey players. You know it's not good when your trainer goes, "Hold on, I'll go get the doc."
Soooo, taping it up is out of the question?
For the injured, your wait time to get a procedure is usually somewhere in the neighbourhood of the time it takes to make a bag of popcorn.
You need an MRI? Sure, let me check the schedule.... is now OK? I'll just tell this gent to go home.
Teams generally seek out doctors and dentists that are also hockey fans, and work an exchange to have them come to the games and work with the players throughout the course of the night. The health professionals essentially get season tickets in exchange for their in-game service, and since they're allowed to add names to the ticket wish list like the players, it's more like getting two or three season tickets.
On top of that, the team pays them for any procedure outside of giving in-game advice, so it's a pretty good set-up for all involved: The players are well looked after, and the doctors inherit a recurring, frequently damaged patient base.
The only problem with this, is if these guys and gals really are hockey fans, they know about hockey players' toughness and desire to return to action. This means they tend to give players a lot of credit, trust their word ("I'm fine doc, seriously, almost no pain"), and green light guys in situations they would normally never tell people "you're cleared to have people and things run into your body at extreme speeds."
Players have it pretty good when it comes to getting treated. For one, the country you're in doesn't matter. They just get you where you need to be by working with the other team's medical personnel and nothing changes for you.
Honestly, it's amazing how little thinking you have to do when it comes to getting healthcare, in general. Trainers do the bulk of the paperwork, and half the time you just get an appointment card with an address and a time, you show up, and stuff gets taken care of. The time and place and finances and medical info is all arranged by someone else.
It makes going to the doctor as a non-hockey player frustrating, because you know how quick and easy a lot of this stuff can be when you don't have to jump through any hoops. You're never really forced to grow up or experience the real world, which probably has a lot to do with why these guys are the way they are. But that's another story for another time.
To me, the most impressive part of the hockey doctor's ability to treat has to be the poker face they develop. I've seen some horrible stuff that they've grown hardened to and treat without flinching. When the sides of my jaw were moving separately (it split right down the middle), the Doc said, "OK, well, hop in the shower, we'll head to the hospital and take care of that."
MY FACE IS IN PIECES.
You have an army of intelligent people spread throughout the city that you get to know and become friends with, and they go out of their way to help you. Given the circumstances of a hockey life, and the rarity of finding yourself with much down time, you get to experience the glorious flipside of an interaction we've all been on the wrong side of far too many times:
Doc, the patient is ready to see you now.