As Athletic Trainers, our entire education and clinical experience is designed to prepare us for "the worst case scenario" in hopes that when an emergency does happen, our instincts will kick in. In more cases than not, a situation will not warrant the title "worse case scenario", but they do happen and the question is "will you be ready?"
Everything seemed to be going normally until 2:59 minutes left in the first period of a hockey game between Northern Michigan and Miami University (OH). After a MU defenseman had routinely checked one of the Northern Michigan players into the boards, both players lost their balance and fell to the ice, with the skate of the Northern Michigan player finding the weak spot in the “armor” of the Miami defenseman, his neck.
After some of the longest moments witnessed in this arena, the Miami player had enough sense to get up and skate over to the bench where he knew and trusted that his Athletic Trainer would be and know exactly what to do. Before the ATC could even determine the extent of the damage done to the left side of his player’s neck, his instincts kicked in and took the Gatorade towel, that he holds every game, and shoved it in the wound. The actions that followed to insure the well-being of the athlete were extremely efficient and quick. By the time the ice was cleaned, the athlete and ATC had met up with the EMS squad that was waiting for them at one end of the arena, taken him to the local hospital where Life Flight met them, and was then transported to the University of Cincinnati hospital, where he underwent emergency surgery.
By the end of the game, news that the defenseman was out of surgery and was stable, relieved everyone. Information was released that he had nicked a branch of the carotid artery and severed part of his trapizius and sternocleidomastoid muscles and required 100 stitches and 15 staples to close the wound. To everyone’s surprise, 20 days and only 4 games after the accident, Miami got their starting defenseman back and he returned to a standing ovation. He has since graduated from Miami and has been signed to the Columbus Blue Jackets of the NHL.
In this situation, the athlete was very lucky to have the outcome he did because not all "worst case scenarios" end as well as this one and that can be equated to the fast response and instinct of the entire medical staff. This is where education, training, and review of emergency action plans are important in the profession of athletic training.
After probably the longest night of the Miami athletic departments’ lives, the medical staff met and had a debriefing session discussing what was done well, what could have been done different, and changes that needed to be made to the emergency action plan. One of the things that the Athletic Trainer admitted to was that before every game, he imagines different scenarios that he could encounter and he visualizes the steps that need to be taken to handle the situation. This is a great habit to get into because sometimes as Athletic Trainers, we get into a rhythm and routine and there is almost a feeling of "invincibility" to traumatic and life threatening injuries. This simple technique can help you remain sharp and focused, in the event of an emergency situation. .
Another important topic brought up in this meeting was the importance of a good emergency action plan. A well organized and thoroughly thought out emergency action plan can be the difference between the life or death. Everyone should have a job and should know exactly what is expected of them for things to go smoothly. Locations of AED’s, emergency supplies, and EMS entry points need to be identified. Roles for all responders should be clearly defined, as should the roles of the coaching staff and the administration. No detail should be left to chance and the EAP should be posted at the site and practiced often.
By far the, though, most beneficial thing to come from the Miami Hockey player’s injury is the awareness of the importance to having EMS at hockey games (all contact/collision sports for that matter). Without the presences of EMS at the game, things may not have turned out quite as well due to time of response. A big push has been made for the Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) to require EMS to be present at all games and it has even inspired Northern Michigan to change it’s policy to have an ambulance at every home hockey game. These minor changes can make a big difference to not only the conference, but also to collegiate hockey and the NCAA as a whole.
NATA Official Statement re: EAP discussions before contests. http://www.nata.org/sites/default/files/TimeOut.pdf
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