national hospital league

Goalie gurney: Terry Sawchuk on his way to elbow surgery at Detroit’s Osteopathic Hospital in April of 1952. (Photo: Ray Glonka)

We’re getting to know their names now, all the doctors of hockey, they’re in the news as much as their patients. Dr. Micky Collins was the concussion specialist who spoke first at Sidney Crosby’s famous state-of-the-skull address back in September. He talked about fog and Ferraris, boogeymen, herding cows back into the barn. He cited deficits and impacts, and introduced us to the word vestibular.

Dr. Ted Carrick was there, too: he was the one who talked about small perturbations and great perturbations. He’s the one who’s stayed in the news, too, having loaded Crosby into a whole-body gyroscope and turned him all around. At the news conference he’s the one who announced that when all was said and done, Sid’s brain would be even better than it was before.

Dr. Joseph Maroon also treated Crosby, and with Dr. Collins he was advising Philadelphia’s Chris Pronger this week to rest his shaken brain for the rest of the season. Toronto neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Cusimano is the guy who told The Toronto Star this week that the NHL isn’t doing enough to protect its players. Earlier in the fall, he and Dr. Paul Echlin from London, Ont., unveiled a study of two junior teams that found that 25 per cent of the players suffered concussions. Dr. Charles Tator is the news every other day, it seems: recently he was questioning the spin-cycle Dr. Carrick put Crosby through. “Totally unproven,” he told The Star. “It could even do harm.”

Remember Dr. Ann McKee from Boston’s University Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy? She’s the one who’s been studying Derek Boogaard’s brain. Oh, and then there’s Dr. Ruben Echemendia, who serves as director of the concussion working group that answers to the NHL and the NHLPA. He’s the one who, like league commissioner Gary Bettman, isn’t sure about the whole supposed connection between brain damage and hits to hockey heads.

“I think it’s an opinion based on limited data,” he was saying in The New York Times recently. “My perspective is, we should not make wholesale changes until we have more than opinion and speculation.”

Hockey has always had doctors, of course, it’s just that their names tend to fade once their patients are discharged. Maybe do they deserve a commemorative gurney to represent them in a corner of Toronto’s Hockey Hall of Fame?

You could engrave Dr. J.W. Rush’s name on it, the Leafs’ doctor who in 1938 told Charlie Conacher to retire on account of a kidney problem.

And Dr. Carter Rowe’s, too. I don’t have an exact number on how many of Bobby Orr’s 14 knee operations he performed so we’ll just say, for now, a plurality.

Dr. Henry O. Clauss treated the New York Americans’ left winger Shorty Green in 1927. If you don’t recognize that second name, he’s in the non-medical section of the Hall. He was known as one of the lightest men in professional hockey, at just 136 pounds, or approximately one-half Zdeno Chara. Also, it was said that Green was one of the game’s most aggressive players and also one of its gamest. He’d served with the Canadian Army at Vimy Ridge, survived that, was later gassed, came through that, and then on this night in ’27 he got into a “mix-up” during a game against the crosstown Rangers and had his left kidney dislocated.

Dr. B.A. Sinclair at New York’s Polyclinic Hospital was the one who removed it, after a priest had prepared the patient for the procedure by giving him the last rites. Green couldn’t play any more hockey after that, but he did go on to coach the Americans.

Dr. Clauss was the one who told Rangers’ defenceman Ching Johnson in 1930 that his broken jaw would keep him out of the playoffs. Johnson said — murmurously, I suppose — he’s supposed to have said, quote, “My ankles and shoulders are all right, and they’re the important things in hockey. Your jaw doesn’t count. What if I can’t open my teeth? You’re not allowed to bite in this game.” Dr. Clauss said, “I guess his brain is gone. He won’t be able to chew his meat until next August.” Ching: “We’ll see.”

Hard to say whether Gordie Howe holds the mark for most career doctors attending, but it’s a good bet, given his longevity. Several of them: Dr. Frederic Schreiber, the neurosurgeon who bored into Howe’s head in 1950, an emergency hole two inches in front of his right ear to drain fluid after the 22-year-old star fell into the boards with or without the aid of Toronto’s Ted Kennedy; Dr. Charles Karibo, the Red Wings’ team doctor, who examined Howe in 1961 at Osteopathic Hospital after he’d collided with Toronto’s Eddie Shack; Dr. Philip Huber, the specialist Dr. Karibo called in, who’d actually assisted at the  head-boring 11 years earlier;  and Dr. Vincent J. Turco who, 30 years after Dr. Schreiber, was the man a 52-year-old Howe consulted after suffering dizzy spells during the New England Whalers training camp: “like a drunk without the beer,”  is how Howe described it. He said, “I’m no doctor, but I figure it’s related to blood sugars.”

Dr. Turco said he wouldn’t be held responsible if Howe continued to play. Which he did.

Dr. G. Lynde Gately was on duty one night in 1933 at what was then still the Boston Madison Square Garden. It was just this time of the year, with the Maple Leafs in town to play the Bruins. The New York Times: “Both teams were guilty of almost every crime in the hockey code during the slam-bang first session.” Then, in the second, the Bruins’ Eddie Shore skated in behind the Ace Bailey of the Leafs, and “jamming his knee in behind Ace’s leg, and at the same time putting his elbow across his forehead, turned him upside down.”

The rumpus, The Globe called it. Other contemporary accounts, some of them, preferred the smashup. Dr. Gately was treating a Garden ticket agent who’d been punched in the chin by a ticket speculator. “I had just finished with him when a police officer was brought in with a finger some one had tried to chew off. I sewed him up and just then the Leafs appeared carrying Bailey and the Bruins were carrying Shore, both out cold.” (Toronto’s Red Horner had knocked Shore down.)

The Bruins’ team doctor was working on Shore, Dr. Martin Crotty, so Dr. Gately looked after Bailey. He was the one whose diagnosis was lacerated brain. (Later what he told the papers was cerebral concussion with convulsions.)

When Bailey woke up, Dr. Gately asked him what team he played for.

“The Cubs,” he said.

Later, asked again, Bailey had a better answer: “The Maple Leafs.”

Who’s your captain?

“Day,” Bailey said. He wanted to go back to the ice.

When Shore came in, he said, “I’m awfully sorry. I didn’t mean it.” Bailey looked up. This is Dr. Gately remembering all this. He said Bailey said, “It’s all in the game, Eddie.”

That’s when the convulsions started. Drs. Gately and Crotty both rode in the ambulance that took Bailey to Audubon Hospital.

Dr. Donald Munro was the one who trepanned Bailey’s brain, twice, over the next few days.

Once a trepan was a military siege engine, for boring holes in stubborn walls. In the hands of non-medieval surgeons it’s a crown-saw. A trephine is an improved version, with a transverse handle as well as a sharp steel centre-pin which is fixed on the bone to steady the movement in operating. Some accounts of the Bailey case say trepan, some trephine. Either way, Dr. Munro tapped Bailey’s spine first, on December 14, to drain fluid. Then he went into the skull, removing damaged tissue and tied up bleeding vessels.

On the 17th Dr. Munro operated again. Afterwards he  said that Bailey’s brain had been more seriously damaged on the left side than the right even though the skull fracture was on the right. Also, he said, the intra-ventricular hemorrhage that Bailey had suffered on the ice, usually he would have expected that to have proven fatal.

Other than that, he didn’t know what to say: it would be touch and go for a few days.

That lasted until December 22, when the patient was declared out of danger and also, more important, his four-year-old daughter, Joan, was allowed to visit.

On Christmas Day, Time wondered whether hockey was getting too violent.

By the new year, Bailey had been released from all dietary restrictions: his doctors said he could even have a steak, if he wanted.

Toronto manager Conn Smythe complained that the Leafs had spent $2,500 on medical bills, including one for the silver plate that was inserted into Bailey’s skull.

January 2 was when Bailey sat up for the first time.

A week or so later Smythe, who was back in Toronto, got a letter from Mrs. Bailey in Boston. She said that Dr. Munro had told her husband that he wouldn’t be playing any more hockey. On the bright side, Ace was shaving for himself again.