". . . right at the start of the third period. The puck went back to the point man of Minnesota; I'm a defenseman, so I was trying to push their forward out from in front of our goal so my goalie could see the shot -- that's when I got hit. I did'nt know who shot it; I didn't see it. Guess it came 55 feet, got me under my eye -- my head was scrambled, I did't know what I was doing there, but I never did go down. Somehow play was stopped though I don't think because of me because I was not bleeding that much . . ."
Last Friday, six days after a hockey puck traveling 75 miles per hour smashed into his face, breaking not only his jawbone but also the orbital bones underneath his right eye, Paul MacKinnon lay in a bed at Georgetown University Hospital watching "Wheel of Fortune," oblivious to the metaphoric irony. The right side of MacKinnon's face was swollen twice the size of the left side. His right eye, still partially closed two days after surgery, was reddish purple, the color of raw meet, and the stitches underneath the eye formed a slight curve resembling the inner loop of the Beltway. His nose was bandaged and there was metal wiring in his right nostril to secure the packing of his eye bones. His teeth also were covered with wires, which held his jaw closed. Unless you were auditioning for the title role in "The Phantom of the Opera," you probably wouldn't want to look like this.
MacKinnon did his best to smile. Hopefully, I'll be skating next week," the Capital defenseman said.
Had his upper lip not looked like a piece of calf's liver, it might have even been stiff as he spoke.
Does it hurt, he was asked.
"No. It's just aggravating having my jaw wired shut."
No pain now?
Now about when it happened? How bad was the pain then?
"Not bad. It did't hurt."
It didn't hurt at all? You took a puck smack in the face -- at 75 miles an hour -- that broke your jaw and broke the bones in your eye, broke them so badly that corrective surgery was necessary, and it did't hurt?
"Well, maybe a little."
Hockey players never say it hurts. "Hurt" just isn't in a hockey player's vocabulary, eh? Athletes as a group consider an admission of pain tantamount to the admission of weakness, but this unregenerate macho stance by hockey players is too much. You can imagine a hockey player with a severed leg, stuck in a wheelchair saying, "No, it doesn't hurt. It's just so frustrating sitting here, not being able to get back on the ice and help my teammates." Do what -- kill half a penalty?
Of course it hurt.
It hurt when it happened, and it hurts now, and after a while MacKinnon explained how much it hurt, but not before going through the usual hockey soft shoe: "Sometimes you get used to playing in pain, I guess. It's just there all the time. What normal people consider pain, athletes just shrug off; they're conditioned to accept it . . . I've played hockey a long time. I've had my share of injuries. It's all part of the game."
What kind of injuries?
"Separated my shoulder three years ago. Had a knee operation six years ago. Other than that I've been pretty fortunate. Got a few stitches."
How many is a few?
"Maybe 75 in my face. Lots under my chin -- I got a puck under the chin once -- some in the eyes, the nose . . ."
And did they hurt?
As much as this time?
"Nothing hurt as much as this."
So this really did hurt, huh?
So why didn't you say so in the first place?
"To some extent, I guess, I wouldn't want people to know."
Well, why don't you start from the beginning?
"It really didn't hurt much when it happened. I mean I never went unconscious.Maybe I was in shock for a while. But when I skated off the ice and climbed to the bench, I took a couple of steps and then lost my balance. They took me to the doctor's room in the Minneapolis arena and looked at my eye, you know, and it really started throbbing."
"Like boom, boom, boom."
Like a jackhammer?
"Yeah, just like a jackhammer. Boom, boom, boom. I closed my eyes, trying to shut it out. I started grabing the sides of the table, trying to block it out."
What color was the pain?
"I don't know. The blood? The pain associated with red? Pain like fire? The redness is so distinct. And the banging in my head. My head felt so big. Like a beach ball. I really hurt."
Did you scream?
"No. I guess maybe I should have."
Why didn't you scream?
"I guess I didn't want to show that much emotion."
What happened after that?
"The first diagnosis was that it wasn't anything serious, so I went back to the hotel in Minneapolis. Saturday night I must have been in shock. I had chills and heat spells, and I don't remember sleeping. I was rolling in the bed from side to side. I guess I dozed off from exhaustion once or twice, but not much. I swallowed a lot of blood -- it made my stomach nauseous, that was distressing, feeling so nauseous. Sunday morning I felt better, but I knew something was wrong. My eye had closed and my face was so swollen. So I went to the Capitals' doctor and they got a room for me here. After the second diagnosis, they did the surgery."
And does it still hurt?
"A little. It's a dull throb now, not like shooting pains and darting needles . . . Look, it's nothing to be ashamed about. You get hit like I did, it's gonna hurt, no matter who you are."
Agreed. And we're agreed that athletes have to play in pain. I was just wondering if you can get through one full day of professional hockey without having pain?
"Maybe a practice sometimes. Not a game."
On Friday there were two bouquets of flowers in Paul MacKinnon's hospital room and one basket of fruit. Unopened.
"The fruit's useless to me for a few weeks," he said. "All I can get through these wires is soup and juice. You know when they take the wires off I'm gonna get me a big steak, some potatoes, maybe some vegetables and some dessert -- maybe cheesecake."
MacKinnon spoke slowly. It is difficult to speak any way but slowly when your jaws are wired shut. He sounded like a truck in first gear. The grinding gourmet, eh?
One bouquet of flowers came from his parents back in Brantford, Ontario. MacKinnon is an only child. "I guess it's tough on my folks, me being here and them being back home, but I've spoken to them a few times and Max McNab (the Caps' general manager) is keeping them posted . . . No, I don't think they'd ask me to give up hockey. They know that injuries are part of the game. They've seen me play so long they've gotten conditioned to it."
The fruit and the other bouquet of flowers came from MacKinnon's teammates. They hadn't yet gotten around to visiting him, but he was sure they would. "They just got off a road trip," he said. By Friday MacKinnon had missed three games. All three were broadcast on radio, but he had listened only to the Winnipeg game, and only to a bit of it. "It's not that I don't want them to win. I want them to win every game. It's just so frustrating not being able to be down on the ice helping."
The days in the hospital were lone and boring. The television set was on almost all the time, and MacKinnon watched the moring game shows, the after soaps, particularly "All My Children," a favorite of pro athletes in all team sports, and the cartoons. After that he went to sleep and woke up for the evening and nighttime shows. One day blended into the next.
Last Tuesday, Paul MacKinnon was 21 years old, and the kids on the floor -- MacKinnon was in pediatrics because that's were the open bed was -- came into his room with balloons and a birthday cake.
They cut him a piece of cake, and he ate it.
"Crumb by crumb," a nurse said. "Crumb by crumb."
Paul MacKinnon, described by a Capital official as "a B-plus player," is expected to be out six weeks.