Injuries and sports go hand and hand but no matter how many games you watch or play… nothing can tone down, or prepare you for the feeling that sets in when an athlete lies motionless with a suspected neck injury.
It’s terrifying, the consequences are permanent and life changing.
So when Bishop’s university football player Joe Fortin was placed on a spinal board at Percival Molson stadium on Friday night the reaction, the outpouring of concern, the fear of the worst case scenario was all understandable.
The stadium held its breath… and waited for help to arrive.
It took a while.
It was 27 minutes before an ambulance showed up. An unacceptable delay which was swiftly criticized on twitter by those watching this young man wait for help.
Bishop’s graduate and Sportsnet reporter Arash Madani was one of the most vocal, “Emergency protocols must be instituted IMMEDIATELY at all arenas/stadiums for amateur sport. Initial moments after major trauma is critical” he tweeted.
Madani is right. But the sad part is… in the CIS changes are LONG overdue.
In 2004 I was a defensive back for the Mount Allison Mounties. Playing in Halifax against Saint Mary’s University, the quarterback scrambled on a broken play and I rallied down to make a tackle. I didn’t quite make it. My linebacker caught the quarterback from behind, as he fell forward I jumped to avoid him. But at the same time my teammate was blocked from behind and fell head first into the into the collision area. As I jumped my left leg was caught between my teammate’s helmet and the quarterback’s helmet. It snapped like a twig about six inches above the ankle.
Just like Joe Fortin on Friday night, I had to wait nearly 30 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. After team trainers wrapped my leg in whatever was available, I was dragged to the sideline, given a piece of foam to bite down on, and told help was on the way.
I was lucky it was a clean break and the delay didn’t cause permanent nerve damage to my leg. But i’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. I can only imagine what Fortin was thinking as he waited 27 minutes strapped to a spinal board.
In the end Fortin was not paralyzed, but the fact that ten years after my injury CIS football players are still left to revel in pain on the sideline without immediate top end medical care is shocking.
Football is a violent game where serious injuries to players is probable at all times. But still some universities choose not to pay for an ambulance to be on site during games.
On Saturday, McGill athletic director Drew Love told the CBC’s Tanya Brikbeck that the university is going to rethink its policy on providing an ambulance for games. My question is… what is there to think about? This should be a no brainer.
Right now (as it was in 2004) schools are left to decide on their own if they want to pay to have an ambulance on site. As a result, I’ve found that schools in the downtown core of a cities tend not to take the same precautions as schools which are located further away from a hospital emergency room.
McGill is next door to the Royal Victoria Hospital but Love said that construction on the streets near the stadium may have delayed the ambulance’s arrival.
When you’re dealing with a high collision sport like football any delay in treating a serious injury can make a significant difference to the long term health of the athlete. Top end on field care should not be optional. The players in these games are strapping on the university logo and putting everything on the line when they step on the field. Any delay is unacceptable. The players in these games deserve better.
It’s time for the CIS and the RSEQ to make on field ambulances mandatory at football games. This incident once again serves as an example that when you let institutions police themselves… they often don’t. And when services aren’t offered at the expensive of a player’s safety, it’s simply unacceptable.