A metallic, hospital-efficient voice delivers the singular phrase impersonally: "Patient's condition fair."
For 27 days, Normand Leveille, a second-year forward for the National Hockey League's Boston Bruins, has lain mostly unconscious in a Vancouver hospital after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He had taken a simple body check during the first period of a game against the Canucks. Now, he is fighting for his life.
Apparently, Leveille was born with a rare congenital condition known as an arterio-venous malformation, which could not have been detected without a brain scan. "A malformed blood vessel between the arteries and veins that carries blood back to the head," is how Boston General Manager Harry Sinden described it.
With such a condition, a hermorrhage could have been triggered by even a cough or a sneeze, not to mention a shove from a swift-skating opponent.
"The doctors said if we had been alerted by something we might have explored it," said Sinden. "But CAT scans and other tests are very abnormal procedures, and even the doctors said a CAT scan might not have shown it."
Sinden said he questioned Leveille's teammates later, but none could recall any incidents of his feeling faint or dizzy. Leveille, 19, was hit into the boards at the Pacific Coliseum by Marc Crawford, but went on playing in the Oct. 23 game. He was Boston's leading scorer at that point, with three goals and six assists.
Between the first and second periods, Leveille told Jean Ratelle, an assistant coach, that he felt dizzy. "I sent him to see the therapist (Bruins physical therapist Jimmy Kausek)," said Ratelle. "Then, all of a sudden he was standing by the (examination) table and he started to make kind of a laughing noise. A seizure, I guess. He was about to fall over, so we sat him down. You could see his right side seemed paralyzed."
Ratelle then asked Leveille if he could speak. "He couldn't say a word. He could respond by a nod of the head but he couldn't speak." Ross Davidson, Vancouver's team doctor, took one look at Leveille and called an ambulance.
Ratelle accompanied Leveille to Vancouver General Hospital and said, "He didn't seem too bad in the ambulance, but once we got there and they took X-rays, he vomited, he had another seizure and they rushed him for a CAT scan."
Ratelle said Leveille's superb physical strength saved his life on the operating table. "The doctors knew there was bleeding in his brain and weren't sure how he would make it through the operation," he said. "His heart was beating 20 times a minute. You have to be in awfully good condition to get through (under such circumstances). An old person, someone out of shape, couldn't survive to the operating table."
Leveille went through nearly seven hours of surgery and was put on a respirator, although the device wasn't being used to support his life. "The doctors made it clear he could breathe without it," said Sinden. "But they put him on it because they wanted to reduce the possibility of swelling (in the brain) and wanted his breathing as close to normal as possible." Leveille recently was removed from the respirator and, only Thursday, had his condition upgraded from "poor" to "fair."
However, "there appears to be extensive damage," Sinden said. "There was quite a bit of bleeding (to begin with), and then the operation itself to remove the malformation. And it's the dominant hemisphere of the brain, which is not ideal. It might be better if it were on the other side."
Sinden began questioning the team of neurosurgeons almost immediately after the operation. "I've tried to get answers, but I can't because they don't have any," he said.
But Sinden was told by neurosurgeon W. Barrie Woodhurst that the condition is so rare that Vancouver General, a sizable facility, deals with no more than eight or 10 such cases a year. "He said he's had almost normal recovery in some cases, and in most others it's instantaneous death if the rupture isn't caught," he said.
Woodhurst, who has treated Leveille throughout, will not speak with members of the media about his patient. "He just refuses, because he has other patients who are just as sick," Ratelle said.
Ratelle is in contact with the hospital daily. "I try to get news, if there is any."
He also checks with Bruin scout Bart Bradley, who visits Leveille and sends back first-hand reports. "We couldn't leave him there without someone from the organization," said Sinden, who, along with Ratelle, waited at the hospital for a week.
Little can be done now except to wait. "The condition of his heart, lungs and his age probably saved his life to this point," Sinden said. "But, unfortunately, it doesn't have much effect when it comes to the brain. The hospital thought he'd wake up right after the operation, and then they'd know something."
In the last week, however, Leveille has shown some sensitivity to pain in his arms and legs, a tentative sign of progress.
His parents returned to Vancouver from Montreal this week, and there are plans to shift Leveille to a Montreal hospital.
No doctor will take a verbal gamble on Leveille's prospects.
"His parents asked the doctor what were his chances to come back and play, and he told them it would take a small miracle," Ratelle said.
Sinden will settle for less. "Right now, I'm hoping he can reach the point of recovery where he has emotions and can enjoy watching a hockey game, if not playing one," he said. "Right now, that would be enough."