It’s likely there are a few people that can’t imagine why Chicago Blackhawks hockey player Marian Hossa is being forced to take a year off. The official statement by Hossa says that he is experiencing a “progressive” skin condition caused by an allergic reaction to his hockey gear.
I’ve known a few hockey parents over the years. They tell me there was a separate room in which to store the hockey gear when it came home from practice. The stuff stinks. Pads and sweaters, shinguards and skates. Stinky. Smelly. And infectious to some.
In the Old Days, hockey players called skin infections “the gunk.” That about describes it I’m sure. Gunk is awful. So is smegma. Athlete’s foot. Crotch rot. The list of ailments athletes get is lengthy, itchy and smelly. All at once.
Those of us who run, ride and swim learn the hard way that dirty gear can lead to itchy genitals, saddle sores and other nasty infections. One of the first priorities after a long ride is to get the heck out of your cycling shorts. Nothing good comes from hanging out with all that sweat, moisture and bacteria roiling around inside your shorts.
A cycling friend or two has had to have saddle sores medically treated, even lanced. They are so painful and so difficult to cure because the next session of abrasion just opens them back up. More bacteria invades the space and things get nasty insane.
Pain in the ass
Even hemorrhoids can get so bad they force you off the bike or to stop running. It’s hard to keep that region clean enough to prevent inflammation of those soft tissues around the rectum. So they flare and flare. One friend with a really large hemorrhoid called me to ask my opinion about his proposed treatment. “I have these really sharp arrows,” he suggested. “I’m going to cut this thing off.”
“That’s a very bad idea,” I told him. “I know what the pain is like. But don’t do it. Do not cut a hemorrhoid off your ass with a razor sharp arrow. You will bleed out and die.”
That’s a true story. I did not make that up. But conditions like hemorrhoids or anal fissures can become so bad it is almost impossible to function. Driving in your car? Your ass hurts like hell. Sitting at your work desk? Hurts like hell. Walking through a grocery store while your ass burns like a blowtorch? Hurts. Like. Hell.
The gal stuff
And as a guy, I don’t even know the discomfort of vaginal yeast infections or other problems unique to feminine biology. I have heard women complain about the soreness generated by hours of pressing their crotch against an unforgiving bike seat. I’ve seen the way they walk. That’s enough to know. That stuff hurts.
So we can only imagine the level of discomfort a very tough man such as Marian Hossa must be going through as a result of an allergic reaction to his hockey equipment. Even when washed daily, the problem is exacerbated by the sensitivity of the skin itself when bacterial infections or fungus build up on the surface. The skin is a barrier against all kinds of microbes. But when it is scraped open, it becomes an active breeding ground and all bets are off.
I’ve been through two threatening cases of skin infection in the last four years.
The first was the product of a sliver penetrating the middle finger of my left hand. An infection started that required surgery to lay open the finger, douse it with antibiotics and sew it back up. Then came weeks of antibiotics to fight migration of the infection to other parts of my body. I won’t even show you the photos of the stitches after the surgery, or pix of the pick line they put in my arm to pour antibiotics into my system. It was a lesson well-learned.
Because last summer our cat nipped my left hand, and that led to a case of cellulitis. This time around I noticed the redness and went straight to Urgent Care. They prescribed antibiotic treatment to combat that dangerous condition, but did not sufficiently warn that my gut bacteria might be thrown completely out of balance by the powerful medications designed to kill the cellulitis germs.
All the good stuff in my gut was dead, and the bad stuff know colloquially as C-Diff took over. I was sick for months with debilitating stomach cramps and chronic diarrhea. The only way to compete in races was to arm up with Immodium, drink more liquids than was humanly possible and hope I didn’t explode from the inside out.
And you know what one of the treatments for C-Diff can be? They someone else’s poop containing “good” bacteria and put it in your system to repropagate the intestines.
How delightful. We’re all walking time bombs when it comes to infectious diseases. The seriousness with which Marian Hossa is regarding his condition tells us that he has suffered in ways we cannot imagine. He’s literally going to have to give up his profession, at least temporarily, but likely forever, after 19 years as a professional hockey player. That reminds me of the lyrics from a Paul Simon song titled Allergies:
My hand can’t touch a guitar string
My fingers just burn and ache
My head intercedes with my bodily needs
And my body won’t give it a break
I think back to other bad skin days and feel fortunate that I was never one to have much acne. However a few cases of poison ivy over the years more than made up for that. One covered my entire left left leg and kept coming back until I figured out the oils were all over my boot laces. Duh.
But that pales in comparison to a college teammate named Cheryl who while training on a 20-miler with the men’s team stopped to urinate in a ditch, then wiped with the leaves of poison ivy. The oils moved up through her vagina to infect her whole body. She was forced to wear bandages on her hands and arms, the breakout was so bad. Even her scalp was infected.
Yet she kept training and placed third that fall in the Chicago Marathon. Among many tough women athletes that I have known, she is perhaps the toughest of them all.
So you might say I feel for Marian Hossa. The testimonials to his character and his abilities are rich and thorough in the newspapers and sports blogs today. The overall sense is that something is being stolen from the sports world if the perpetual greatness of Marian Hossa is cut down by skin infections. But it’s also the side effects of the medications he’s taking. And we don’t know much about that. All I can say is that side effects can sometimes be worse than the disease itself.
Allergies have laid low a great many over time. We try everything to combat them. But in the end its sometimes a matter of luck, time and resignation.
I go to a famous physician
I sleep in the local hotel
From what I can see of the people like me
We get better
But we never get well