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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: A trip to the ER spurs memories of hockey and childhood friendships

In this 2016 photo, the Detroit Red Wings play the Ottawa Senators in an NHL hockey game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Red Wings have hoisted four of their 11 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded rafters where all-time greats such as Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman have their retired jerseys hanging. (Paul Sancya / AP)
In this 2016 photo, the Detroit Red Wings play the Ottawa Senators in an NHL hockey game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. The Red Wings have hoisted four of their 11 Stanley Cup banners to the crowded rafters where all-time greats such as Gordie Howe and Steve Yzerman have their retired jerseys hanging. (Paul Sancya / AP)

It’s funny what goes through your mind when waiting to be seen in the emergency room.

An avalanche of disconnected thoughts tumbled in my head Sunday as my wife and I waited to hear my name called at Sacred Heart. Some were serious, of course, and perhaps predictable. Others were oddly random. They included thinking this wasn’t the way I’d planned on spending our thirty-first anniversary eve.

For instance, it occurred to me that if it was curtains for moose and squirrel (and yours truly), I would not get to put my hand on the plaque marking the site of the long-gone Olympia Stadium when we move to Michigan next month to be near Carol’s family.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back up a week.

Last Tuesday morning I did what I do every Tuesday. (My exercise routine seldom varies.)

I rode my bike down to the Corbin Art Center on Seventh Avenue. Then, after locking up my bike, I started to climb this steep, rock-steps path known as the Tiger Trail. It’s right next to the Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens.

But I did not get far before realizing I didn’t feel right. Must be coming down with something, I thought.

So I turned around and got back on my bike. That didn’t go so great either.

Several times during my slow climb up the South Hill, I had to stop and get off my bike. I was dizzy.

What was wrong? I hadn’t had to stop and rest on that stretch since shortly after I started riding in 2008.

When I got home, I was so woozy it was all I could do to keep from falling in the shower.

But I figured out my problem. Or thought I did.

I must have mistakenly taken two blood pressure pills with my morning meds instead of one. This seemed like a reasonable guess as that prescription had recently started coming in different shaped tablets. It would have been easy to take one of the old pills along with one of the new ones that look exactly like another pill I take at the same time.

When I took my blood pressure, it was ridiculously low. That seemed to confirm my diagnosis.

A few days went by and I became aware of a heavy feeling in my chest, mixed with an odd, fluttering sensation. The blood pressure tester started displaying red lights.

I ignored them as long as I could. After all, both my parents had lived into their 90s. I’m only 64.

On Sunday morning I determined I would go see my internist in Spokane Valley on Monday.

But the disquieting feeling in my chest was not easing off. So Carol and I went to a walk-in medical clinic just off Regal.

They hooked me up to a heart monitor and quickly concluded that I needed to go the emergency room. Like immediately. And, the doctor stressed, Carol should do the driving.

Turns out I have an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation. It’s pretty common. Though serious, it’s not the worst thing that can happen.

Anyway, at one point Sunday during our five or six hours at Sacred Heart, I found myself thinking about my hockey teammates in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, when I was about 15.

They were a rather rough-and-ready lot, some of them sons of men who worked on the freighters plying the big lakes. That was Edmund Fitzgerald country.

I was the only kid in our hockey league who lived on the Air Force base 20 miles away.

Our team was sponsored by the Ojibway Hotel, there in the Soo. In my first year, we finished near the bottom of the standings. But the next season, we tore through the league and won the championship.

The owner or manager of the hotel – I was never sure which he was – came to our games, and was so pumped up when we won the playoffs he promised to take us all to a Detroit Red Wings game as a reward.

Now that was quite an offer. Detroit was 300 miles away. And school was in session. So that would be a considerable undertaking.

But we believed him. And for some of the boys, an overnight trip like that simply wasn’t something their families could have afforded. But in this case, the Ojibway Hotel guy would be picking up the tab. All we had to do was sit back and wait to hear when we would be going downstate to cheer in person for Gordie Howe & Company at the Olympia Stadium.

Of course, we never heard another word about any such trip. Turns out you can’t always believe what adults say.

As it happens, I’ve been to several Red Wings home games over the years. First at Joe Louis Arena and then, last November, at Little Caesars Arena. But I never did see a game at the Olympia. I suspect most of my 1969-70 teammates never did either.

So not long after Carol and I decided to move to Michigan to be near her family, I cooked up a plan. It was a story pitch, really. You know, for one or two Detroit publications I had in mind.

I would head out from our new home in the heart of the leafy suburbs and make my way to the old site of the Olympia. I’m not sure precisely where in Detroit it is. (Asking those I encountered for directions could be part of the story.) But for the purposes of the piece, the scarier the part of town the better.

Hung on the angle of a 50-year journey to the Olympia Stadium, mostly my story would be recollections of those Great Lakes boys who accepted an outsider into their midst.

I came across a picture of that team not long ago. And it’s funny. I tend to remember those guys as hard-edged, flinty characters. But when you look at the photo, you can see. They were just children. We were just children.

Frozen in time.

Columnist Paul Turner can be reached at

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