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The long road back
Question of the Day
He just wants to be a normal dad again.
That’s the toughest thing Brian Pothier has had to deal with since suffering a career-threatening concussion 11 months ago.
The effects of the fourth documented concussion in his professional hockey career - and second in less than 12 months - have proved debilitating. Eleven months removed from the injury, the Washington Capitals defenseman still can’t play catch with his 5-year-old son Jake or get on the swing set with his 3-year-old son Luke.
“You’ve got your 3-year-old son coming up to you saying, ‘Daddy, is the boo-boo on your head gone yet?’” Pothier said. “Every day he says that to me for like three months straight, and I’ve got to say, ‘No, buddy, not yet.’ It is kind of a smack in the face of reality.”
Pothier’s life changed course in an instant. It was a relatively routine play that can happen several times in any hockey game. He chased after a puck as it wrapped around the boards and into the corner of his team’s end against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 3.
Pothier sensed an oncoming forechecker, so he had a decision to make - expose his body by trying to reach out with his stick to chip the puck toward center ice or avoid the check and risk losing the battle. There isn’t much time to think in that situation, so it is often a move made out of instinct. Maybe another player would have recoiled and tried to regroup, but Pothier lunged for the puck.
It was a sacrifice that may end up costing him his career.
The opposing player was Milan Lucic - a 6-foot-4, 220-pound freight train on skates who has garnered a reputation as one of the hardest hitters in the sport. Lucic caught Pothier’s cheek with his shoulder, spinning him around. Pothier’s face hit the glass as his body contorted from the blow.
That was 11 months ago. While Pothier is working toward a return to the game he loves, it is far from his thoughts. He is still searching for a way back to his normal life.
“It is a long process that has gone through lots of twists and turns,” Pothier said. “It is kind of like we address one issue and try to fix it and deal with it - and then something else will pop up.”
For the first few months after the hit, the recovery process never began. Days turned into weeks and Pothier was confined to his couch, unable to handle changes in light, sound and movement.
Each time he progressed, a setback seemed imminent.
“I just couldn’t function,” said Pothier, who also suffered concussions in 2002, 2004 and 2007. “Then it progressed to where I could walk around and do stuff, but if I did something like run up the stairs or just quickly moved, the jarring would just be, ‘Boom!’ and the symptoms would fire right up again. I would be back trying to take a nap and make the symptoms settle down.”
Pothier sought help, first from the team neurologist and then a neurologist in Colorado, Dr. James Kelly. He spent time working with a vestibular system specialist focusing on inner-ear issues.
Eventually, Pothier started to progress and, by the end of the offseason, he was working out again; he even got back on his skates. He spent five minutes on the ice before “blowing up.” The ice surface wreaked havoc on his equilibrium, and he spent eight days trapped in his apartment - just like the time right after suffering the concussion.
About the Author
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