Dying To Play: Pascal Dupuis and Men’s Health
I know it’s deadline day, and you’re expecting analysis of trades.. however, I put this together in response to Pascal Dupuis’ article in the Players Tribune . You may or may not like it very much.
You may or may not have read “In My Blood”, the recent article by Pittsburgh Penguin Pascal Dupuis in The Players Tribune. It’s an honest and utterly horrifying read. In it, the 35 year old Dupuis (who has only played 11 games since January 2014 due to recurring blood-clot complications following a major leg injury) tells the tale of that injury and the various setbacks that followed as he attempted to mount a comeback. It’s a tale of bravery and determination and will, of dedication to the game of hockey and the sacrifices that have to be made to play at the highest level.
It’s also a tale of utter, utter stupidity.
The constant, recurring theme throughout the narrative is Dupuis refusing to acknowledge his own vulnerability and harm. This is a man who attempts to skate off the ice with a torn ACL, MCL and PCL or, in laymans terms, a disintegrated knee. He does this because
“My father had a rule about that when I was a kid: unless both of your legs are broken, you never lay on the ice. You skate off on the good one. So that’s what I did.”
Later, when working out ahead of surgery, he experiences severe chest pain. Despite this being a common and extremely dangerous warning of cardiac trouble, he assumes it’s a broken rib (pah, nothing!) and finishes the workout. A few days on, he develops coughing fits, yet refuses to seek medical attention despite the pleas of his wife. Finally he, in his own words “Breaks down” and calls in his chiropractor (not, note, his MD), who rapidly escalates the situation to where they need Dupuis to go immediately to the ER for tests. Despite being told not to, he drives himself there, where he discovers that he’s had a pulmonary embolism as a result of blood clots in his legs and a near-brush with death. Six months of treatment with blood thinners follow, with Dupuis determined all the time to get back on the ice. He does, and starts the season back on the top line of the Pens. However, 11 games into the campaign, he experiences sharp stabbing pains in his chest while on the ice for practice in Winnipeg. Despite wondering if he’s having a heart attack, he pretends to his team-mates that he’s pulled a muscle and finishes practice. Then, in his own words
“I would not recommend this to anyone but the truth is that I played five more NHL games without ⅓ of a lung. My knee was genuinely sore, so I asked for some anti-inflammatories, which helped with the pain a little bit. My training was so overboard that the blood clot didn’t affect my conditioning.”
Finally, Dupuis approaches a trainer ahead of a trip to Montreal to say he “might” have “felt something” and “maybe” should get it checked out. The medical staff, correctly, refuse to let him travel without being checked. Another clot is found in his lungs and he’s not played since. He’s determined to make a comeback, though and is working hard toward that end.
Incredibly, it seems that some people are applauding this story as a tale of grit and heart and determination and all those other things that make hockey great, etc. The words “Hockey Tough” are being thrown around. Some racist idiots even made favourable comparisons with NBA players and their attitude to injury. What utter bullshit.
This is a married man, a father of small children, who has ignored major warnings from his own body, has hidden his condition from medical staff and also ignored their advice, even after coming close to dying, and who had to be forced to get checked out for the recurrence of the condition that could have killed him. The utter asinine stupidity is mind boggling. Dupuis sort-of acknowledges this, but mostly in a “Gee-shucks, we hockey players are just plain crazy” sort of way.
Now, this is not meant to pick on Dupuis in particular: he’s candid and honest about his complicity in his setbacks. This attitude is probably shared by a large proportion of hockey players, coaches and , indeed, fans.
Even after Rich Peverley nearly died after suffering a heart attack on the bench in Columbus last year, never mind all the deaths of former players in recent years, this macho image of “Hockey Tough” is still all-pervasive. Gregory Campbell is cheered as a hero for playing with a broken leg, instead of being considered a dolt who could have ended his career right there. These highly paid, highly valuable assets who have a battalion of trainers, coaches and medical practitioners at their disposal, put their careers, their health and their lives at risk out of a misguided notion of “Manliness” and “Fortitude”.
This is by no means isolated to hockey players. Worldwide, men in general live shorter lives and have shittier health than women. There’s no concrete biological reason for this, it’s mostly to do with men’s attitude to their own health and their tendency to indulge in riskier behaviours. Take Prostate Cancer testing: mention it to a group of men and they’ll all laugh and make jokes about fingers up asses… and then still won’t go and get themselves checked. Women do not behave this way about Cervical Smear Tests, guys. This sort of stubborn refusal to engage with our own health is even more pronounced in a hyper-masculinized environment like Hockey.
I think it’s telling that Dupuis cites his father when refusing to get on a stretcher. I’m sure Dupuis pere loves his son and wouldn’t wish him any harm in the world but look at what that ludicrous sort of macho bullshit (which many fathers pass on, as it was passed to them) leads to. I’m sure there are those who would suggest that it’s impossible to make it to the NHL without this sort of merciless disregard for your own health, that you’ve got to be tough and impervious to pain etc etc. Nonsense. Being tough and strong does not have to equal being stupid. Sure, maybe some knuckle-dragger in the locker room might make jokes about sicknotes and boo-boos but so what? Compare that to having a long and fruitful career. Compare that to not leaving a widow raising children. Compare that to being around long enough to enjoy a healthy, happy retirement as a reward for a lifetime of hard work.
Dupuis is a brave and determined man and I wish him all the best in his recovery. I genuinely hope we see him back on the ice soon. But please, let’s treat his experience as a cautionary horror tale rather than something we should be encouraging others or, indeed, our sons to aspire to. And go get that prostate checked, asshole.
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