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What it feels like to get a concussion

With all the talk about the NFL and concussions this week -- including the news that Chris Cooley continued to play after suffering his concussion on Sunday -- I figured I'd ask someone from a different sport about a similar incident.

That would be Karl Alzner, the Caps defenseman, who was sidelined for more than two weeks during the 2008 AHL playoffs after suffering a minor concussion. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton forward Janne Pesonen was closing in on Alzner during Game 4 of the division finals, but his defensive partner had no other options, so the puck came to Alzner, who one-touched it to a winger. Then he got hit.

"You know when you get your picture taken right in front of your face with a big flash and you get that white light [in your eyes]?" Alzner explained. "It was like that. Just really strange. [The light] stayed for like 15 minutes or so, and then the headaches start to come on. It was kind of weird. I don't want that to happen again. Really scary."

Alzner's Hershey Bears were locked in a close game, and he had never had a concussion and didn't know that's what had happened, so he initially kept playing.

"I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know exactly what, and it was playoffs," he said. "We were making a good push, and I was like ok, I'll just play, try and see if we can get close. And then they scored again, so I was like all right, I think it's time to be smart here."

Alzner didn't have all of the major post-concussion symptoms, but he struggled with the headaches any time he exercised for days, and so he was a spectator as the Bears continued their march to the Calder Cup.

"The bad part about it is, you can't do anything," he said. "It's not like pain -- you can play through pain. You can't do it, and that's what's so frustrating. Jay Beagle's had a few, and I talked to him a ton about it. He said he would never wish that upon his worst enemy, and that's exactly the way it is. It's a terrible thing to have."

Alzner's concussion was minor, but he had experiences with more severe head injuries in junior hockey. Once, a teammate after the game found that he could hear just fine in the post-game dressing room, but was unable to speak, "and then all of the sudden he just started crying, couldn't help it," Alzner said.

Another time, he sat behind a teammate on the bus who had been hit in the head during a just-concluded game. The teammate found hockey cards in his pocket and asked where they came from; Alzner told him a fan had just handed them to him.

"That's so sick, I didn't know, that's awesome," the teammate said.

He then asked what happened in the game; he was told that their team had lost, but that he had scored.

"I scored? Yes!" the injured player said.

Then he looked at his cell phone and asked whose picture was saved on the screen; "That's your girlfriend," teammates said.

"I have a girlfriend? What's her name?" he asked.

"And he asked me all the same questions five minutes later, and then about three or four more times," Alzner said. "Pretty messed up stuff. That's why you don't want to play with them. It's tough to say no, it's tough to say no I don't want to practice, I don't want to play, but you have to."

By Dan Steinberg  | October 20, 2010; 2:13 PM ET
Categories:  Caps  
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Concussions are scary things. I gave myself one when I dropped the motorcycle I was learning to ride, and never got on another motorcycle again. I can't imagine trying to play hockey or anything else with one. I'm glad the NHL is starting to pay closer attention, but dang, any time the head's involved, there should be a battery of testing done. I have to admit that seeing Neuvirth take a puck off his face mask in Nashville, I was thinking concussion right there, the way he whipped his head around. Scary.

Posted by: irockthered | October 20, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

This is one of the best 'real-world' explanations of how a player experiences a concussion are like. No one ever asks the question 'what is it like?' Kudos to the Bog.

Posted by: SavedByZero | October 20, 2010 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Hershey players like Bourque, Pothier and Beagle caused them to miss a collective 147 games due to concussion in 08. Once fitted with a corrective mouth guard used by the N.E. Patriots, no games missed in 09, there championship season. CHUBB the workers comp provider for the NHL funded the program and has gotten the attention of Loyds of London, the Pentagon and the NFL., has much more on the issue of prevention.

Posted by: Mahercor061 | October 20, 2010 7:03 PM | Report abuse

The problem with asking the question is he should have asked more than one player. Concussions are different from player to player. I've had several concussions and never had headaches. Forgetfullness was in full swing, though. Passing out was scary, really scary. Just watching the world go by as if in you weren't really in it was odd.

The short term stuff is easy to get by. You just worry what you've done to affect your future.

Posted by: BigBubba1 | October 21, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

i got a concussion snowboarding once. no white light, it just knocked me clean out. i finished up the run and was sitting at the bottom of the mountain when my friends must have noticed something wrong with me. one asked, "do you remember how we got to the mountain today?" i said, "no, how?" and he said, "uh, you drove us here."

that was freaky.

Posted by: jay2s | October 21, 2010 3:39 AM | Report abuse

Concussions are no joke and I'm happy to hear that the NFL is beginning to take them seriously. Unfortunately, they're going to have to take a serious look at how the game is being played before they can seriously reduce the incidence of concussions in the league. I say this because as we all know, gridiron is a collision sport and in order to seriously reduce the amount of reported concussions, you would have to make headhunting (essentially what most NFL secondaries do) illegal. I recently retired after playing 14 years of rugby and getting my bell rung twice and I credit the rules of rugby with keeping the number of concussions I saw down. In order for the NFL to seriously lower the number of concussions, they will have to take a cue from rugby and mandate that in order for a tackle to be legal, you have to wrap the opposing player. Unfortunately, this isn't what people pay their money for and until this issue is addressed, player safety will always be an issue.

Posted by: Brendan_Carey | October 21, 2010 5:42 AM | Report abuse

From personal experience, I don't think you ever fully recover from a concussion.
Your mind is never as clear as it was before the concussion. I had two in my early twenties from street fights.

Posted by: COOLCHILLY | October 21, 2010 6:41 AM | Report abuse

soccer sounds much safer,at least for your head.

Posted by: 44fx2901 | October 21, 2010 7:30 AM | Report abuse

This is why professional athletes get paid excessive amounts of money to perform - like gladiators. Its their choice!

Posted by: kendog100 | October 21, 2010 8:02 AM | Report abuse

Dan: When I saw the headline on this, I assumed you'd taken one for the team and allowed someone to give YOU a concussion, kind of like that reporter who allowed himself to get waterboarded "just to see what it was like." C'mon, George Plimpton would have done it.

Posted by: scribbler | October 21, 2010 8:10 AM | Report abuse

soccer sounds much safer,at least for your head.

Posted by: 44fx2901

I wouldn't ask Alecko Eskandarian, Josh Gros or Bryan Namoff about how safe it is for their heads. All three DC United players got concussions which ultimately ended their careers.

Once fitted with a corrective mouth guard used by the N.E. Patriots, no games missed in 09,

Posted by: Mahercor061

Didn't seem to help Eric Lindros. Once you have that first concussion, the next is easier to get and the damages will multiply.



Posted by: jayrockers | October 21, 2010 9:13 AM | Report abuse

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