Hockey can be a funny game. Not funny-ha-ha, but funny-odd. Well, it can be funny-ha-ha too, but that’s not what I’m thinking here.
I’ve mentioned before that one of the first signs of autumn are the warnings and reports on the radio — cautionary tales about (mostly) middle-aged hockey players who dust off their equipment, maybe air it out a bit, head to the rink, play a shift or two then have a heart attack.
I am not a doctor (well, technically I guess I am, just not that kind) but the reasons for this are not too hard to understand. Hockey is, after all, mostly an anaerobic sport with short bursts of intense activity that cause wild swings in heart rate. Combined with otherwise sedentary middle-aged men, this can spell trouble. In 2000 there was an interesting study done in Nova Scotia that confirms this; it can be found in the journal of the Canadian Medical Association here. There’s a story about it on (what else) the CBC here.
Caveat: It’s not always anaerobic so the conclusions almost certainly don’t always hold. For example, I remember a ‘game’ (it was pick-up which sometimes strains the definition of a game somewhat) on the Sunday night of a long weekend. We had eleven skaters and two goalies and we played for 90 minutes. The single ‘sub’ changed sides at the halfway mark so each side had one forty-five minute shift. As I understand it, that’s a wee bit long to be considered anaerobic. Not to mention shinny at the corner rink in winter which is often just one long shift until you have to leave to eat dinner.
And so on.
But there’s a recognition that this is an issue; I suspect that recognition has contributed to the installation of defibrillators in arenas and other venues — they’ve been appearing in many places in the last few years.
Now, I’ve never had a problem (touch wood) but I know or have met two people who have had heart attacks while playing hockey. This story is sort of about one of them. Well, it’s about me, but he appears in it.
I played hockey with a one group for almost twenty years until they tore down the arena that we played in. This group played on Friday afternoons and was composed of (mostly) university faculty, staff, spouses and friends. The skill range was quite large, from me at the bottom to some folks that were really quite good. And the age range was even larger, from grad students to a few retired faculty, two of whom played until, well, until they were octogenarians. I knew one of them moderately well; after all I had played hockey with him one to three times a week every winter for twenty-five-odd years. Or so. He’s a good man. That Day, though, in the shower after the game he looked gray and unsteady. Eventually, he collapsed.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a doctor but the diagnosis “heart attack” seemed likely. I caught him so he didn’t fall and yelled for someone in the change room to call 911. I wasn’t sure what one should do but I made sure his breathing was ok, kept him warm. Stuff that couldn’t make things worse.
The first person to arrive was the arena attendant who had rather more first aid training than I did. The next people to arrive — almost as quickly — were the paramedic team. Three of them. All three were young ladies approximately half my age. Understandably, they were all completely clothed. Also understandably (recall that this happened in the shower) I, um, wasn’t. And my towel was being used as a blanket. I wanted to beat a retreat to the change room and, um, change but they needed to talk to me. (Why was the patient unresponsive? He’s not — he can’t hear you. His hearing aid is in the next room. And so on.)
… the danger of nudeship (‘the natural one-downness of the unclothed’) …
Trust me — with three women paramedics, it’s even worse.
Oh, and he recovered completely, but took this as a sign to retire from hockey.