Precedence for quick NHL appendectomy recovery

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper talks about the possibility of playing without forward Ryan Callahan who had appendectomy surgery and the hole he leaves in the lineup.

TAMPA, Fla. — Hours after his appendectomy, Jonathan Ericsson had a doctor drive him to Joe Louis Arena, where he rode in on a wheelchair to watch his Detroit Red Wings teammates win the Western Conference title. Three days later, the defenceman was back in the lineup for Game 1 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final.

“We had really good doctors and they told me I could play, nothing worse was going to happen if I played,” Ericsson said. “It was just going to hurt. And it did hurt.”

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Ericsson’s rapid recovery may serve as inspiration for Ryan Callahan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had an emergency appendectomy Monday night. Coach Jon Cooper said he “wouldn’t rule anything out” about when Callahan could return, and several recent examples show it’s not impossible for an NHL player to be back on the ice soon after that operation.

Montreal Canadiens forward Max Pacioretty missed four games and returned eight days after his appendectomy in January 2013. Dallas Stars winger Jamie Benn missed five games and was back within two weeks of his procedure in January 2012.

So when Cooper said Tuesday he’d put Callahan’s return “closer to the days than the weeks,” there’s precedent.

“I think it’s going to be a pain tolerance thing,” Cooper said. “I think it’s something that just because of the way medical practices are today, it’s much easier to come back from than I think in the past.”

Ericsson knows that well. Before his surgery he imagined a big, 10-centimetre scar and a long recovery period, but instead doctors made three small cuts to keep the scarring to a minimum.

It hurt him to walk around without anaesthesia, but once Ericsson got that and returned to the ice two days after the appendectomy, skating was somewhat of a relief because he could make smooth strides. His body got a break from the impact caused by walking.

Any time he stretched he felt the pain, but he trusted doctors when they said he couldn’t make the problem worse by playing.

“It was just a matter of discomfort and there was only a couple of games left,” Ericsson said in a phone interview Tuesday. “There wasn’t really anything to think about.”

The same was true for Brad Richardson in April 2012 when he missed three Los Angeles Kings playoff games before coming back nine days later. Nick Schultz missed five Minnesota Wild playoff games in 2008 and came back 12 days later.

Hall of Fame goaltender Patrick Roy missed a 1994 playoff game with appendicitis before returning to play four more games. He didn’t have his appendix removed until the Canadiens were eliminated.

Because his appendectomy happened mid-season, Benn didn’t have the urgency of getting back for a playoff game. But after a short hospital stint and a few days of pain he was ready to play again.

“Whenever anyone has surgery, they’ve got a lot of drive to get back in the game and to get back pretty quick,” Benn said in a phone interview Tuesday. “It was just something I’d never really felt before. It was definitely nice to get back on the ice and feel like you’re moving in a different way other than just walking around and kind of being stiff all day.”

Pacioretty skated on the Canadiens’ top line with David Desharnais and Erik Cole in his first game back from his appendectomy. He said at the time he let his linemates do “the heavy lifting early on” but had an assist and played like he didn’t miss a step.

Those comebacks could give Callahan hope of doing the same even later this week, but Ericsson cautioned that it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation.

“It worked out for me, but it’s probably different for everyone’s that doing it,” he said. “Everyone’s probably not feeling exactly the same things.”

Cooper said doctors removed Callahan’s appendix before it ruptured, just like with Ericsson and Benn. It would have been a more serious situation had that not happened.

Callahan was released from a Tampa hospital on Tuesday and was feeling “really good,” according to Cooper. It’s playoff time, so there’s no return that would seem too soon.

“If he can get back in a few days, that would be pretty impressive,” Benn said. “It’s that time of year and he’s a big part of that team over there. It’s the playoffs and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back, I’m sure.”

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