Sheffield Steelers star Rod Sarich has revealed that his kidney injury made him reflect on his future in ice hockey - and even ponder why he plays such a dangerous sport in the first place.
The 30-year-old Canadian said his nine-day hospital experience after the freak
on-ice wound was “scary” at times - but that he was helped through the ordeal by the excellence of NHS care and the warmth of fans and clubmates. He absolved of blame the Nottingham Panthers’ player who injured him although no-one from that club has been in
contact since his surgical proceedure and subsequent rehabilitation at home in Norton Lees. He talks to Bob Westerdale.
What happened on the ice against Nottingham Panthers that night on November 20?
I can’t remember who’d hit me, I think it might have been (Jordan) Fox. He usually finishes his checks. There were only couple of minutes left in the game, I’d got puck behind the net and thought I’d turn straight up the ice but then the guy came at me and turned into me. I tried to side-step him and left myself open a bit. I was a bit late with my decision, most of the time I’d hit a guy back and go right into them to neutralise them but I thought I could get around him, which I couldn’t! It wasn’t dirty. He’s smaller than me and got me on the ribs; it winded me but things like that happen - you maybe get winded once a month. I got back to the bench and doubled over. But I didn’t think it was beyond anything beyond what I’d experienced before.
Then I went out for another shift and my side felt a bit sore. I went out for another shift or two and the game ended.
What happened then?
I came off the ice and (club doctor) Dr Butcher examined me and we wondered if it was a spleen issue. He said ‘see how you feel in 10 minutes’, but then I saw some blood in my urine - a tell-tale sign something had gone wrong inside so we were straight off to the Northern General.
Did you stay there?
I waited for an hour for someone to see me; then an ambulance picked me up to take me to the Hallamshire with one or two big Steelers fans in the ambulance (as crew). Another had been on reception at A&E at the Northern General then at the Hallamshire another person who knew me said: “What are you doing here?”
It didn’t stop there. Every step of the way there was a Steelers fan! No wonder there aren’t so many fans at the games some nights, they are all working for the NHS ...
What proceedure did you undergo?
I had a bad first night and, although I was all morphined up, it was pretty painful.
They took me for my scan and said I was bleeding from a particular spot. Then they stick a dye in you to see where it’s coming out. They said they needed to do something about that right away.
They didn’t actually remove any of my kidney but they went in through the femeral artery in my thigh and got to my kidney from the inside.
It was really high-tech stuff. I was in a big scanner and there were flat-screen TVs showing 3D images of my organs. They were firing things up my artery to the area that was bleeding and put in some ‘screws’ to stop the blood flow.
If someone is bleeding on the outer edges of the kidney they can shut off at the furthest point, like at the end of a branch on a tree.
If they’d been forced to open me up I could have lost half or third of a kidney but they were able to go to outside edge right to the point of the injury and put screws there. The blood flow stops and then that part of my kidney ends up shrivelling like a prune and then dying. It doesn’t go anywhere, it just stays there for the rest of my life. I lost about 15 per cent of one kidney.
Were you frightened?
Lots of morphine helped. You are in a bit of shock really. Initially, the doc said it could be just a bruised kidney, which I’d had as a kid. Lots of players get hurt from a cross-check from behind; it’s serious but not career-threating, yet eight hours after the body-check they are telling me my kidney could go. Then you think ‘Jeez, that’s not very good.’
They explained I’d got another kidney and it was not a matter of life and death, necessarily.
But if I wanted to come back and play hockey again I’d need two kidneys because if it was to happen again there’s no back-up, that’s it.
It was somewhat frightening, but I felt confident in what they were telling me - how they could fix this and stop that. I was reassured by what they were telling me but at the same time you are lying in hospital and in a bit of pain ... I was thinking what would have happened in Edinburgh or somewhere. If I’d started to come home from a long trip away that’s where it could get pretty scary.
It is amazing that you go into Sunday night in strong shape and then the following day after the operation, you feel like a 90-year-old. The fitness ... it’s all gone.
Did the experience put you in touch with your mortality?
I didn’t think I was going to die but it does give you a pause where you start to think. It had been a heavy but not serious impact, nothing outside the norm playing hockey. Yet it amounted to something quite significant.
There are no future (health) issues that I know of. Now it’s two weeks of sitting on the couch, the clinic will check me out and the rest of my kidney should be fine. Right now, I’m pretty banged up and there’s quite a lot of blood inside me.
All my surrounding organs feel mashed and bruised up, it’s like I’ve been in a car crash.
What was the worst thing to cross mind?
I’ve had my share of injuries and breaks but you can sort of justify in your mind when a puck hits somewhere and fractures it. Being banged up inside is different and puts things into perspective. Is it worth playing ice hockey and sustaining these sort of blows?
I think about it a bit. I don’t think it’s put me off the game but it makes you question it. We’re not earning millions. I guess my conclusion is that I must really like playing hockey!
What sort of reaction have you had from fans and the club?
People have been fanstastic. Those at the hospital who shuttled me around, they were all great. I had a ton of flowers from fans and get-well cards and wishes on twitter and various places, lots of support.
Becky, my partner, was pretty stressed out at first. She was not hockey person originally so injuries have been a shock at times, but she’s coped pretty well.
My family (in North America) know the score. With my brother playing, they know what happens. They are upset they couldn’t pop over to see me right away but are planning on coming at the end of the month.
Is it your intention to eventually play on?
As it stands, yes. I always said I would play hockey until it felt I was holding everybody else down. Fingers crossed, everything goes well with the injury and if it does mean a season out so be it, I’ll have the summer to get going again,
Has there been any contact from Nottinghan Panthers?
No, no-one has said anything, I wouldn’t expect I’d call somebody up if I’d knocked somebody out of the game unless I knew them personally. So I don’t expect them to call me up.
Especially with our rivalry ... I don’t suppose they are too upset about it!