The Story

We met at the golf course at 5:30 in the afternoon.  John and Shawn work there, and Nick too but he was just along to watch.  That left enough time to wait for those who were always late, figure out who was driving, and get to Wentzville in time to dress for the game.  Kevin drove with Todd.

This was the third straight game we had played against this team.  Lost one, won one, and now it was the playoffs.  It seemed a little unfair because the other team had secured a different goaltender, one who, rumor had it, had played for the St. Louis Blues.  Hmmm… as one goalie and an ex-pro as the other.  Seemed somehow not quite even.  At the end of the first period we were down 1-0.  I let in a goal that I shouldn’t have and the other goalie stopped many shots he shouldn’t have.  Naturally.

Halfway through the second period, I saw Kevin raise his stick indicating to the guys on the bench that he was tired and wanted to come off.  I paid little attention because it was perfectly normal and I was supposed to be following the puck anyway.  About 15 seconds later the whistle blew.  As I looked around I noticed one of our players down on the ice.  He was on his knees with his hands to his head and his head on the ice–Not a particularly unusual posture in a hockey game, particularly when a guy catches a stick or puck in the face.  I hoped he hadn’t been cut too badly or not too close to his eye.  However, he stayed down longer than expected and players started gathering around him.  I came out of my net to find out how he was doing.

As I got near him, I heard a couple of players shouting that his mouthpiece was blocking his airway.  Mark straightened out his legs.  The players around him were concerned that he wasn’t breathing.  They rolled him over and he was blue.  It’s disturning when you see something like that–something that you have heard happens but really can’t imagine.  Turns blue?  Are you sure?  Now I am sure; you turn blue.

The activity around him was getting more frenzied as it became clearer that this was serious.  Mark and Todd began CPR.  Garvin’s mom was in the stands and she was a nurse.  She came down and started helping with the CPR.

Groups of players were scattered around the ice; some close, trying to see what was happening, some farther away, as if they were trying to get away from what was happening. Maybe if they got far enough away this wouldn’t be happening at all, and Kevin would just get up.  From the stands it must have looked like someone had litered the ice with players.  Standing, kneeling, sitting alone, in pairs, groups.  Randomly around the ice.

When the paramedics arrived, a couple of players on the other team helped them across the ice so they could get to Kevin as quickly as possible. They took over CPR and did other normal paramedic things.  That is, things that paramedics on TV do.  By now there were five people working around him, forming a little circle around his head and chest area.  I was about 15 feet away and could only see Kevin’s legs.

Twice, the paramedics rotated around Kevin when they needed to alternate the exhausting work of chest compressions and rescue breathing.  The image that I saw both times will stay with me for the rest of my life.  I saw Kevin’s face and upper body.  His head was laid to one side and his arms were straight out from his sides.  I had the same thought each time,  “Oh my god, he’s gone.”

How would I know though?  I have never seen anyone die.  I saw my mom after she had died, but not until hours later.  With Kevin there was no reason to suspect he was gone.  And I was fifteen feet away.  I hardly had the best position to judge.  But anyone who has been in a similar situation knows what I am talking about.  He was dead and I knew it.

After the paramedics had worked on Kevin for awhile they transported him to the hospital.  Shawn went in the ambulance.  We went to the dressing room and changed as quickly as we could.  Joe offered to take Kevin’s stuff, and John took Shawn’s.  The hospital was only a few minutes away, something we thought was fortunate.  As it turned out, it didn’t matter.

Everyone showed up at the hospital.  The receptionist must have been surprised when we all descended on the waiting room.  We filled it and then some.  Players from the other team showed up (including the goalie who used to play for the Blues).  Helping the paramedics across the ice, showing up at the hospital–decent guys.

After about an hour a man walked through the emergency room.  I thought he might be a doctor they had called in.  Later I learned that he was a priest.  John told me later that he knew it was over when he saw him walk through because he noticed the man was carrying a bible.

Kevin’s wife Kathi arrived, driven from Columbia by a friend.  She had been told that he was in the hospital but I don’t think she really knew what was going on.  Their 17-year old son Turner was with her.  It took a while for them to locate and contact Kevin’s daughter who lived in St. Louis.  Eventually she arrived, as did Kevin’s sister.

At 10:15 Shawn came out of the waiting room along with the priest.  He said, “Umm…Kevin died.” I think so few of us had had any experience with something like this that we couldn’t really believe it.  He died?  How could that be?  How could that happen to someone we know?  Someone on our team?  He was fine two hours ago.  He was young.  He was in good shape.  He was a nice guy.  I had thought that Shawn was going to tell us that Kevin would be okay.  It was a recreational hockey game in a non-contact league.  No one dies in professional hockey games, let alone in our league.  Hardly anyone even gets seriously hurt.

As we learned more about what had happened to Kevin, it became clear that his death had nothing to do with playing hockey.  It had to do with some larger plan.  It had to do with this being Kevin’s time to go.  Pulmonary embolism.  Kevin’s body created a blood clot that went to his heart.  We heard that when his sister found out she said, “Sounds like what happened to dad.”  Kevin’s dad died of the same thing when he was 47.  Kevin was 40.

We talked a lot about what had happened, how it could have happened.  Joe was on the bench when Kevin attempted to come to the bench for a rest.  He said that Kevin stepped up to get off the ice.  His body went all limp, his eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell back onto the ice.

The doctors say that if the embolism had occurred in the hospital itself, he still would have died.  It was a matter of time.  He happened to be playing hockey.  He could have been barbecuing in his backyard.  He could have been reading a magazine in his easy chair.  Did the physical exertion play a role?  Probably, but Kevin’s death is more about his time to go than it is about anything else.

Somewhere there is a clock.  We each have one.  And it’s ticking.  Somewhere someone knows a secret we don’t.  They look at each of our lives and they whisper. “It’s today.  Today is the day.” “What time?” “About 8:15 pm. Give or take a few minutes.  It depends on whether he skates hard at the beginning of the game.  Whether he gets back every time to play defense.  It depends on whether he carries the puck up the ice or passes it. ”

Because Kevin didn’t know that this would be his time he had a normal day.  Normal day.  Can the day you die ever be said to be a normal day?  Normal up to then I suppose, kind of like asking “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” But what happens later makes us reflect back on what we did earlier.  Every small decision becomes huge.  Every minute becomes precious.  Every activity the last of it’s kind.  What would he have changed if he had known that 8:15 was his time to go?

But we do not get to make these decisions.  And because we do not it seems like our goal should be to make every day special.  Kevin was lucky.  His wife and family were lucky.  He had spent his last day pleasantly.  That makes him very lucky.  Lucky because in the real world not every day is special.  Not every day is memorable or remarkable.  And try as we might not every day is a good day.

Is it worth the effort to try to make every day special?  Probably. Is it worth the effort to fight all those people who seem to be doing their best to ruin your day?  Probably.  It often feels like a fight.  But hopefully it feels like the good fight.

Posted on by alan Posted in The Story

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