“That’s life for you!” Being humbled by Jay Bouwmeester’s collapse

*Originally seen in the Feb. 15th edition of the St. Louis Game Time newspaper.

Often in life, people who we don’t know personally are the ones who snap us out of our doldrums.

Think about when Kobe Bryant died. If you were around his age or even stretching your legs out in your 30’s, something inside you screamed, “get your shit together and make it count.” I didn’t know Bryant, and basketball isn’t even my fourth favorite sport, but seeing a 41-year-old global superstar crash into a mountain woke something up in me.

And then last Tuesday, Jay Bouwmeester collapsed on the bench. The video doesn’t get any easier to watch, even with Bouwmeester’s condition vastly improving since. He basically sunk into the bench, disappearing underneath before his teammates screamed for help. For once, they couldn’t just go shove another player away or hand him his stick back after a scrap. Vince Dunn and Alex Pietrangelo were helpless, waiting for trainers and medical personnel to swoop in and save the day.

You don’t have to be a hockey player or even a moderately skilled athlete to feel the brunt of that event all the way at your home over 1,820 miles away. You sit back, registering the fact that it’s real, waiting for a diagnosis to make a match with your life, and then you move on. It was shocking. Bouwmeester had over 1,300 NHL games under his belt and was near the end of his playing days but was one of the most physically fit Blues. If Pat Maroon looked like a guy who wandered off Field #6 at Forest Park onto a hockey rink last year, Bouwmeester always came off as a professor of science who also happened to be a fitness buff. He’d be the last guy to suffer a cardiac incident aka heart attack at age 36, right?

Wrong. Shit can happen to anyone, superior athlete or insurance agent who lives in Tower Grove South.

Whenever an athlete or celebrity/actor dies, I have the same message. Assess your own life, don’t waste any more time, and hug your loved ones a lot. Here, I’ll do you one better and just say go get checked out. Don’t skip a doctor’s appointment or checkup because you hate the smell of clinics, pharmacies, and hospitals. Trust me when I tell you the smell of death is much worse. Having parents in the medical field and spending too much time in them with my son, I can swear to you that the actual smell and feeling of seeing a life cut short is instantly shattering.

Get the heart checked out. I was fascinated by the fact that Bouwmeester’s former team doctor told KSDK’s Brandon Merano that if it had happened at his home, the defenseman may have died. If he hadn’t been around ten medical officials and trainers, Bouwmeester may be gone. You don’t have to ask too many St. Louis sports fans about athletes dying in hotels before their eye quivers. Darryl Kile died in his hotel room of a heart-related ailment back in 2002. His heart was enlarged and being alone in a hotel room can spell the end. He was younger than Bouwmeester. It’s the weirdest thing to think a sudden attack in public at your VERY PUBLIC job can save your life instead of cost you it. Now, Bouwmeester’s life will never be the same.

Having a small battery-powered defibrillator in your chest should be a fierce reminder. For the rest of his days, Bouwmeester will operate with a device in his chest that if the heart comes under attack again, it can send a small or rather large shock to his heart to kick it back into rhythm. It’s like having an OnStar on your person. For years, Bouwmeester has been referred to as an Iron Man of sorts, due to his ability to stay off the Injured Reserve and not miss too much time. Now, he can literally classify himself as … Iron Man.

Think about it. A week ago, Bouwmeester was preparing for the Dallas Stars game. He was just making his way around St. Louis like it was any other Friday night. Maybe he likes Bread Company and stopped in for a tuna salad sandwich and unsweetened iced tea. Jay Bo seems like a tuna guy, but I bet he’d wrap that sammie up in some whole wheat instead of the focaccia delight it comes in. Everything in his life was normal, the same it had been for the past 20 years or so. Tonight, he’s lying in a hospital bed with a device in his chest.

That’s life for you. It’s not waiting on a clock to expire or people to throw it into motion. It’s not as simple as getting on the ice, sending an outlet pass up the wing, and covering your guy in the defensive zone. You don’t have a clear set of orders to obey by and work with. Life comes at your like a hammer, and you bet your stubborn ass that it likes to slice across instead of just slam straight down. If you’re not ready, it won’t mess your life up; it’ll just take it outright.

So, do yourself a fucking favor and go see your doctor. Have your heart checked out. See if there’s a monster waiting ahead in the closet to ambush you. If not for yourself, then for your family and loved ones. Sudden death overtime is cool; sudden death surely is not.

Thanks for reading and please, save me some bourbon. This Blues season is suddenly becoming turbulent.

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