This story originally ran on The Players’ Tribune
By Marc Savard, Retired NHL Player
here’s one thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It’s not the head shot I took. I can barely remember that part. It’s not even the pain and anxiety that I went through after the hit.
The thing that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy is the moment when you know that it’s all over. Everything you’ve worked for since you were a kid … it’s really over, and you can’t fool yourself anymore.
For me, that moment came in Colorado on January 22, 2011.
More than anything, I was feeling a lot of anxiety. It felt like I had this weight on my chest. My mind would race and I would feel sick.
I was coming down the wing at full speed. Matt Hunwick leaned in and hit me clean. Unfortunately, he caught me just right, and my head whiplashed off the glass. Back then, Colorado’s glass was seamless. It was notoriously unforgiving.
I immediately dropped to my knees. I had my eyes wide open, and I couldn’t see anything. Everything was black. I shut my eyes, and then opened them again. All black.
That’s when I started to panic. Because I knew it was over. I just knew. I remember hearing the voice of our trainer, Don DelNegro, asking me what I felt.
And I just kept saying, “Why me? I don’t understand, Donny. Why me?”
My teammates escorted me to the dressing room, and I had a tough couple of minutes in there. I was sobbing. I remember my coach, Claude Julien, coming in and trying to console me. But I couldn’t be consoled. I knew I had just played my last game in the NHL. I kept thinking: “I have kids. I have a family to worry about. I’m only 33. What am I going to do? I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t go through these dark days. Again.”
I knew the kind of hell I was in for, because I had experienced it all the year before.
March 7, 2010. We were in Pittsburgh. Playoffs about to start. Feeling good.
I wish I could give you my perspective on the hit that changed my life, but I don’t have a perspective. I have no memory of the actual event. Anything I tell you would just be me going off of the same YouTube clip that everybody else has seen. Even when I watch the video now, it’s like the hit is happening to a different person.
I was in the middle of the ice, taking a routine shot on net, and then Matt Cooke did what he did. I don’t think I have to say too much about it. Anybody can watch it and draw their own conclusions.
I was out cold for 29 seconds. Or at least that’s what my trainer told me when I came to and asked him what had happened. My head hurt, bad. My vision was cloudy.
The only only memory I have is of being taken off the ice on a stretcher, and then realizing that my kids were at home watching the game. So I put my hand up to let them know that dad was O.K.
I wasn’t O.K.
I had experienced three or four minor concussions before, but nothing like this.
That was the start of some really dark days. It’s a part of my life that I don’t really like revisiting too often, but I’m telling my story today for anyone who might be going through a similar kind of hell.
The trainers knew my injury was serious, so they kept me in Pittsburgh overnight for observation. Usually after games, your heart is racing for hours and you’re wired. But I was dead. Totally exhausted. Even the next day, when we got on the plane to Boston, I was still so drowsy.
You know that feeling of getting on a really early flight, when you’re so tired and irritable, and you just keep thinking, “Alright, at least once I get on this plane, I’ll pass out, and then I’ll wake up and be myself again.”
(Hockey players on long road trips definitely know the feeling.)
Well, imagine waking up and still feeling completely exhausted. Imagine that feeling lingering for almost two months. No matter how much you rest, you never feel like yourself. There’s no relief. You’re just exhausted and pissed off and confused.
For two months, I was a zombie.
Read the rest of the story on The Players’ Tribune.