Last week Eric Lindros announced he’d be playing in the Winter Classic alumni game, and in doing so kicked off another round of criticism about his… Everything. Say what you will about his attitude, management, whatever, the fact remains he was a tremendous hockey player. He was also injured. A lot.
Knee injuries, wrist and shoulder problems, at least 8 concussions, and every minor injury you can think of. Let’s walk through Lindros’ (many) injuries, with a special stop at the one that almost killed him.
In 1992 Lindros tore the MCL (medial collateral ligament) in his left knee. In 1993, he did the same thing to his right knee. The tears weren’t bad enough to warrant surgery, but he did play the rest of his career in knee braces. The ligaments in the knee are there to keep things stable, and the MCL (which is on the inside of the knee and connects the femur above to the tibia below) keeps your knees from bending in too far.
In 1995 Lindros fired a slapshot off Jeff Beukeboom’s butt into his own eye. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up. The shot caused a cut below his eye and bleeding into the eye itself. Although Lindros felt he was ready to start the playoff series against Buffalo, eye doctors wanted him to stay out, citing worries that a blow to the head could dislodge the clot from the healing area of the eye. Being the shy, retiring type, Lindros stated “I’m worried about myself going out and hitting too many people and knocking it off. I’m not worried about them.” He ended up missing a total of only four games.
In October of 1996, Lindros pulled his right groin. The groin is a fickle mistress*, and an injury there can mean something as simple as some ice and rest, or in Lindros’ case, 23 games. A serious groin pull may actually mean torn muscles on the inner thigh, and these are notoriously difficult to heal and prone to reoccurrence.
*This may be the nastiest phrase I’ve ever written, and I’m sorry.
Lindros’ first (documented) concussion happened in a game against Pittsburgh in March of 1998. He crossed the blue line with his head down after losing a pass in his skates and for his troubles he got Darius Kasparaitis’ shoulder in his face. Lindros was knocked down, his helmet was knocked off, and he spent several sickening minutes trying to get up with Flyers trainer John Worley attempting to help him. Of note, congratulations were exchanged between Kasparaitis and the Pittsburgh bench while Lindros struggled (classy move, guys). He ended up missing 18 games. The next season Lindros received his second concussion (from Calgary’s Jason Weimer), but only missed two games. No word on whether there was any partying on the Flames bench after the hit.
Lindros’ next injury, and arguably his scariest, was also one that brought the conflict between his father Carl and the medical, coaching and management staff of the Flyers solidly to the forefront. Carl Lindros accused the Flyers of trying to kill his son, and Lindros’ own criticism of the team’s medical staff led to him being stripped of his captaincy the next season. The injury in question was a hemothorax leading to a collapsed lung. Translation: Lindros’ chest filled with blood to the point that it shoved his lung out of the way.
It’s hard to say exactly what happened to Lindros in the April 1, 1999 game against the Nashville Predators. He was checked several times in the game, but also fell on his own stick in the first period. He was told he was bruised, finished the game, went out for dinner afterwards, and went back to the hotel early (since his chest was still sore).
Sometime that night, Lindros’ roommate Keith Jones found him in the bathtub in pain. He called trainer John Worley but couldn’t reach him, as he was at the hospital with the concussed Mark Recchi. In the morning Jones tried calling Worley again, after waking to find Lindros apparently still in the tub – still in pain, short of breath, and now pale and tachycardic as well. These are signs of shock, which makes what happened next even more incredible.
Worley evaluated Lindros, and decided with Flyers’ orthopedic physician Arthur Bartolozzi that they would fly him back to Philadelphia for further evaluation. Jones refused to let that happen, EMS was called, and Lindros was taken to Nashville’s Baptist Hospital several hours after Jones first tried to get help.
Did you catch what happened there? Keith Jones (a hockey player) was so concerned for Lindros that he overruled Worley (an athletic trainer) and Bartolozzi (a doctor) and made absolutely the right call. Lindros was obviously in shock, which can kill you. Delaying treatment in order to put Lindros on a plane and take him back to Philadelphia would have been a potentially fatal mistake.
Shock (from Medline): Hypovolemic shock is an emergency condition in which severe blood and fluid loss makes the heart unable to pump enough blood to the body.
Pale? Not enough blood. Tachycardic? Heart is speeding up to try to pump more blood. Short of breath? Probably because a lung contusion (bruise) had caused Lindros’ chest to fill with blood. Some reports claim it was 3 liters of blood. When you consider someone Lindros’ size has about 6 litres total, you can see why he might have felt and looked pretty crappy.
What Lindros had (aside from pretty obvious shock) was a pulmonary contusion (lung bruise), which caused bleeding of the lung tissue. A pulmonary contusion is a big deal (obviously), because it can lead to pneumonia, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome, which suffice it to say is just incredibly bad lung awfulness that can kill you), hemothorax (chest full of blood), and death. The tricky thing about pulmonary contusions is they frequently don’t show any signs for a few hours. The non-tricky thing about Lindros’ contusion is that by the time medical staff got to him he was already in shock from blood loss – a condition that needs to be fixed now.
When Lindros arrived at the ER, he was quickly treated with one of the more painful procedures emergency physicians perform – a chest tube. Also known as a thoracostomy tube, this is a plastic tube slightly smaller than a garden hose that the doc shoves between the ribs under your arm to drain blood/air/pus out of your pleural cavity (the space your lung lives in). This is generally done under a local anesthetic, but as you can well imagine a little bit of freezing isn’t going to alter the fact that someone is cutting open your chest and shoving their fingers (and then a tube) in there. If you’re lucky you may get sedated first, but it usually doesn’t happen like that. Is it awful? Yes. Will you forgive the doc later on when you’re not dead from a chest full of something other than lung? Maybe.
The tube is then attached to a special fancy suction device called a water seal. This drains the blood out of the chest without allowing any air back into the pleural space, which allows the lung to reinflate.
A week after the injury, Lindros was well enough to fly back to Philadelphia, but continued having difficulty breathing. It turned out he had a pretty hefty blood clot that was keeping his lung from reexpanding enough. Surgeons evacuated the clot using the awesomely-named VATS (video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery) – basically sticking several small instruments (including a camera and a suction device) through small holes in the chest instead of cracking the ribs wide open.
Lindros had a tough recovery from the injury, ending up with back pain caused by a change in his stride from weakened chest and abdominal muscles. Tougher still is the fact that many fans blamed Lindros for the fact that the Flyers’ season ended in the first round against Toronto.
The next season Lindros suffered several more concussions, including one from a collision with Francis Lessard while rehabbing with the Philadelphia Phantoms. <smart remarks withheld – this one is just too easy> He returned for the post-season just in time to take a crushing Scott Stevens hit that kept him out of action for the next year (actually, the concussion kept him out half the year, contract squabbles with the Flyers took care of the rest of it).
Lindros was traded to the Rangers, and managed one injury-free year (2002-03). After yet another concussion shortened the 2003-04 season by half and the lockout took care of 2004-05, Lindros was signed by the Leafs. He then injured his wrist in December and missed 27 games. Depending on who you ask, Lindros either chose not to have surgery or was advised that he didn’t need it. He returned to the lineup for three games before re-injuring the wrist. Surgery wasn’t optional the second time around, and revealed extensive damage to the joint.
Lindros signed with the Dallas Stars for 2006-07, and then retired in November of 2007 at the age of 34. There’s still speculation about what Lindros could have been had he not had so many injuries over the course of his prematurely shortened career. There is no speculation (in my mind, at least) that Keith Jones is absolutely the man, and saved Lindros’ life.