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Back in the Day: Having a Head for Football

June 1st, 2020 · 1 Comment · Back in the Day, Football, Journalism, Newspapers, Sports Journalism, The Sun

First printed in the San Bernardino Sun, November 3, 2002.

Twice in my life I have gone to a hospital emergency room as a patient.

On both occasions it was after suffering a head injury on a kickoff at a high-school football game.

And you thought freeway driving was dangerous.

From where we sit, it’s kickoffs that can ruin your Friday night.

In the last game I played in, in 1970, I fielded an onside kickoff and was knocked cold by a teammate who was trying to jump over me — to block — and instead kicked me in the back of the head. Whiplash.

It was a severe concussion; I had headaches and near-blackouts for months.

In the most recent game I covered, Redlands East Valley versus Redlands, I had just gone down to field level and was 3-5 yards out of bounds … when I was “trucked,” as the kids say.

The next seven hours, Friday night into Saturday morning, were a learning experience.

With 7:31 left in the game, REV kicked off after its only touchdown in a 47-6 loss to Redlands. I was out of bounds and about 5 yards from the goal-line. The play began about 10 yards to my left, where the Redlands return man was having trouble securing the ball.

I looked down for a moment, and from nowhere a REV defender sliced through the scattering civilians there on the sideline, stumbling as he was ridden out of bounds, and by the time he reached me his head was about three feet off the ground. Just like mine.

His helmet struck me between the eyes. I had maybe a nanosecond to not prepare for the jolting blow.

I believe the kid flew over me, and I tumbled backward from the violence of the collision. I remember thinking “am I dead?” and “am I knocked out?” before I rolled back and realized I was neither.

I put my hand to my forehead where I felt an ache. Someone said, “Are you OK?” As I looked at my blood-covered palm I said, “No.”

Now, the first instinct of a reporter, even when bleeding from a head wound, is to get back to the game. “Gotta track this next play. Complete stats. Deadline in an hour.”

But the folks around me, on the Redlands sideline, seemed unanimous in the opinion that ignoring the wound was not a viable option: I had no idea how I looked, but I could see my blood spattering on the grass.

Terriers team doctor Lauren Simon and school nurse Mary Lou Cabral materialized with a wet rag to stanch the flow of blood. Someone asked me what day it was, and where I was. I told them.

Someone handed me my glasses; knocked off my face but not broken, remarkably. Someone else had my tape recorder (the cassette had been knocked out on impact) and my notebook. My pen was still in my hand.

I asked for a butterfly bandage to stop the bleeding. So I could finish covering the game, which was my prime concern, since I wasn’t dead.

Dr. Simon said I needed stitches, and should go to an emergency room. I said I had to write first. She didn’t like the sound of that. She said I probably needed a tetanus shot, too, seeing as how most helmets are not sterilized surgical instruments.

Anyway, they applied a soapy substance to my head and patched me up with a butterfly, fast and skillfully, and gave me sound advice. Not their fault I didn’t quite follow it. I got back to the game, which ended a few minutes later.

I probably shouldn’t have made the 12-mile freeway drive to the office, given that I felt a little cobwebby, but reporters file first, collapse later. I got to the newspaper without incident, did the boxscore and the story, felt light-headed once or twice, but not in particular pain. A colleague said my story was as unremarkable as ever. Good sign!

Then I went to Redlands Community Hospital. I got there at 1 a.m., about 3.5 hours after the collision. Till then, I had no sense of the severity of the thing; I wasn’t in great pain and there were those big adhesive strips covering the wound.

I got to a treatment room and EMT Greg Tiegs (second-cousin of the supermodel Cheryl, he said) asked who won the game as he peeled off Dr. Simon’s hasty work. Then he said, “Uh, yeah. You’ll need stitches. It’s about an inch-and-a-half.” He then complemented me on my clotting ability.

Now, I’ve get a big forehead, and it’s growing by the year, but an inch-and-a-half gash is not quite a scratch. I asked if I could go look at it, and when I did I was impressed, in an adolescent way, at the ugliness of the wound — a deep V-shaped thing running north/south above my nose. I had no idea it was that imposing, probably because it did not hurt all that much.

Nurse Ivor Sheppard, one of those upbeat guys who make emergency rooms bearable, asked when I had last received a tetanus shot. I said I had no idea. “Then you’re getting one tonight,” he said cheerfully. “Good for five years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.”

I asked if my future as an aging male model might be compromised and both Tiegs and Sheppard said, of course not, because I had the supreme luck of having my forehead laid open on a night when Dr. Stephen Lazarus was on duty. “He’s the best at stitches,” Tiegs said.

After dealing with a few more pressing cases of life and death, as opposed to the unobservant sports writer with good clotting skills, Dr. Lazarus came in and got busy, about 3 a.m.

He further numbed my forehead while we talked about crossword puzzles, the importance of reading and how four years of Latin probably led to his knowledge of the literal meaning of “galea” (helmet), a membrane which surrounds the brain.

I had no skin between the air and my skull, but the galea was unharmed, so I was right as rain. He then did his sewing.

Tiegs and Sheppard came by to admire Lazarus’s work. “Oh, he’s so good,” one of them said. I asked them to count the stitches. They came up with 10, then they found out Dr. Lazarus had done four beneath the skin, as well. Fourteen! Till that hour, I had never taken a stitch in my life. I was overdue.

They all were cheerful and, it seemed to me, extremely competent, and I thanked them for their help. I left a bit before 4 a.m., carrying instructions about the care of facial lacerations and admonitions to have someone wake me every few hours to make sure I didn’t have brain damage from what was almost certainly a concussion.

It wasn’t until I got home and looked in the mirror that I was really impressed. At that moment, I looked like a Frankesteinian work in progress. Scare-the-kids ugly. Also, the cross-hatched stitching of my forehead, which was raised by swelling, reminded me of the seams of a football. Like if you were to pick up my head and throw it, you’d want your fingers right on the stitches.

Many people suffer far more dire emergencies every day than I did, but for me it was a fresh experience — since I have no memory of that other one in 1970.

I suppose the point here is, you can work around an ugly and maybe serious injury if you’ve got some competent medical help before and after … and your average reporter isn’t going anywhere till the story is filed.


1 response so far ↓

  • 1 BEN BOLCH // Jun 3, 2020 at 10:36 PM

    It’s true that as a journalist, nothing comes before filing your story–not your health or any other personal crisis short of being incapacitated. It’s to our own detriment at times, I’m sure, but admirable nevertheless. We feel a duty to our readers and will stop at nothing to deliver our stories. I’m glad you got through this without any lifelong impairment. Thanks for sharing.

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