Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Fischer's Plight Brings Back Bad Memories In Detroit
It started with Chuck Hughes’ horrifying death on the field as a Lion in 1971, continued with Mike Utley’s paralysis in 1991, and added another notch with Reggie Brown’s near-death experience in 1997. All were Lions, and all were felled at home, in front of Detroit’s frenzied fans.
But last night, the venue was Joe Louis Arena, the player was a Red Wing, and even though the location and sport changed, it didn’t do a damn thing to change how we reacted, whether if you were at the Joe, or watching on television.
Jiri Fischer, the big defenseman, was down. But not on the ice, although that would have been bad enough, considering the distress he was in. Instead, there was commotion near the Red Wings bench, and it was soon evident there was trouble, big time. Fischer was being worked on, at the end of the bench, having collapsed for no apparent reason. Doctors arrived. CPR was administered. A defibrillator was used. The stretcher was wheeled across the ice. Fischer’s fiancee was helped to the scene by Robert Lang and Brendan Shanahan.
Joe Louis Arena fell silent.
Jiri Fischer, the behemoth defenseman. Jiri, the redwood who could hit like a freight train. Jiri, only 25 yet an elder statesman of sorts on the Red Wings’ blueline. And now he was down, being attended to like a heart attack victim? In front of 20,000+ stunned fans and hundreds of thousands watching on TV?
If we all knew then what we know now -- that Fischer suffered a seizure of some sort and is now resting comfortably in the hospital, being alert and even jovial with doctors, nurses and teammates. For now, the situation doesn’t appear to be life threatening.
But we didn’t know that then. All we knew was that we didn’t want to watch, yet couldn’t stop ourselves. We didn’t want to know what was wrong, yet couldn’t find out soon enough. We didn’t know what we were witnessing before us, yet at the same time we knew -- we knew it was very bad.
Why, oh why, are we subjected to this in Detroit more than any other city? It’s not like it gets easier the more often it occurs. But there we were again, our hearts in our throats, watching another local sports hero being wheeled away toward a waiting ambulance.
Fischer’s situation may have been made worse by the fact that he wasn’t on the playing surface when it happened. There was no big hit, no collision. He was sitting on the bench. At least if he had been on the ice and had been hit or had been checked into the boards, we could have reasoned away an explanation of his plight. But when a seemingly healthy player collapses on the bench, away from the action and for no apparent reason, it invites the worst of thoughts.
Heart attack. Stroke. Aneurysm.
None of that was the case, of course, but who knew? Who could have ruled anything out when a player is carted away, his jersey torn away and his bare chest visible after having his heart shocked back into function?
Fischer is going to be okay, it is presumed, although "okay" might be a relative term. Whether there is any hockey left in his 25 year-old body, maybe nobody knows. Maybe it is too soon to tell. But for now, "okay" means he is alive. "Okay" means his condition isn’t life threatening. "Okay" means we can breathe again. And that’s okay with me.
But if we never have to experience one of these horrifying things again in Detroit, it’ll be too soon. Enough already.