Marc Savard opens up about ‘dark days’ of concussions

In this March 7, 2010, file photo, Boston Bruins lean over teammate Marc Savard during an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins after a hit from Matt Cooke. (Keith Srakocic/AP)

Marc Savard didn’t get to decide when his hockey career was over — that was decided for him in January 2011, when a hard hit from Colorado’s Matt Hunwick resulted in his second major concussion in less than a year and spelled the end of his playing days.

It’s a difficult topic for the former Boston Bruins forward to discuss, but Savard told his story via The Players Tribune on Tuesday in an honest piece that breaks down what it’s like to suffer from a concussion — and just how difficult the aftermath can be.

“It’s a part of my life that I don’t really like revisiting too often, but I’m telling my story today for anyone who might be going through a similar kind of hell,” wrote Savard.

Here are some excerpts from the piece:

On how he felt after his first major concussion, suffered in March 2010 from a high hit from Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke:
For two months, I was a zombie.

I had these terrible headaches, and any loud noise or bright light was … I mean, it’s almost indescribable. If you’ve never had a concussion, I don’t know if words can do the feeling justice. Every little noise is like nails on a chalkboard, and you feel this dread so deep down inside your body.

On mental health and the importance of getting help:
I would recommend therapy to any player suffering from postconcussion syndrome, because I really needed someone to talk to about how I was feeling. It got pretty bad.

I never actually had thoughts of taking my own life, but psychologists have a rating system that they use to track your mental state, and at one point, my symptoms were so serious that I was considered suicidal.

I don’t say that to be dramatic, or to make anyone feel sorry for me. It’s simply the truth. I was in a very dark place, and I think it’s a place that a lot of people struggling with postconcussion syndrome get to.

On the hit that ended his career on Jan. 22, 2011:
My teammates escorted me to the dressing room, and I had a tough couple of minutes in there. I was sobbing. I remember my coach, Claude Julien, coming in and trying to console me. But I couldn’t be consoled. I knew I had just played my last game in the NHL. I kept thinking: “I have kids. I have a family to worry about. I’m only 33. What am I going to do? I can’t go through this pain again. I can’t go through these dark days. Again.”

On the aftermath, and spreading awareness:
Yes, I am glad the hit I took led to some positive changes regarding player safety. Hopefully at some point those hits will be totally out of the game. But the mental aspect of what I went through after the hit was just as brutal as the hit itself.

The anguish of not knowing what was going to become of my life, and my identity, was worse than all the terrible headaches. The crushing anxiety that I experienced was worse than any broken bone.

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