Before the press conference began, the FSN commentators informed us that just Jiri Fischer and team physician Tony Colucci would make an appearance, noting that the absence of a team official such as GM Ken Holland was a counter to any speculation that Jiri would announce his retirement.
Someone, team media director John Hahn, I assume, introduced Colucci and Fischer, giving Jiri the floor for his opening statement.
Jiri started out pretty composed but very quickly became emotional and it's no wonder. He began by thanking everyone with a blanket statement of thanks and said Colucci must be "my guardian angel or something," noting just how lucky he was to survive that night. He was thankful for being where he was when it happened, mentioning Mackenzie Watts, the 15-year-old girl who died the same night of a seizure while at swim practice with full realization that the same could have happened to him had the Wings not had the AED at hand.
He began to thank some people by name and they were generally names I didn't recognize enough to write down. He said that he didn't want to leave anyone un-thanked but that those who were left unnamed know they have his thanks. He mentioned having received many letters in the mail from fans and was very appreciative.
The floor was then opened to the members of the media and of course the first question was about when he thought he could return. He jokingly replied, "The game is in three hours, right?" but followed that up by soberly saying that he wasn't going to be back for the Pens game, obviously. He left it that he wants to return.
The next question was about how his life has changed. He responded "I get up every day and I live."
When asked whether he would risk playing again, given his apparent new appreciation for life, Fischer replied that he hopes medical technology will advance quickly to help him get answers to his situation. He said that his case will help doctors make discoveries down this particular avenue of research. He mentioned that he doesn't see himself coming back in a few weeks but that he doesn't want hockey to be taken from him since it's what he knows.
He was asked about what he remembers from that night and he replied that he remembers being on the ice but does not remember going down or the life-saving efforts that went on on the bench. He doesn't remember the ambulance much and apparently, his memory picked up once he got to the hospital.
Someone asked him about his fiancee, Avery, and he got very emotional and had a lot of trouble speaking for some time. He eventually got it out that she's one of the best people he knows and that she was part of the group of unnamed people whose support he was immensely thankful for.
As for advice from the doctors, Jiri said he's just waiting on better answers and better solutions.
When asked about what treatment he has undergone since the incident, he said that he always watched what he ate very closely and that he has undergone many tests to discover what, if any, substances he may have ingested could have caused what happened. Nothing was found.
After that, Colucci had to field a question or two. He was asked to give an account of what happened: Jiri slumped over on to Brett Lebda's lap, at which point Lebda alerted Piet Van Zant, the team's athletic trainer. Van Zant called down Colucci and the other team doctors, who were sitting very near the bench, and they immediately began working on Jiri. Colucci credited the quick response of the various people involved and for their help in getting him the equipment he needed (such as the AED) with the haste required.
Jiri was asked the next question, this time about whether he has had to face the reality of life without hockey yet. He admitted that he will have to eventually but for now he is just waiting on the results of various tests. He wants to know why it happened, why then and not at some earlier stage in his career or at such an early stage in the game.
Colucci then had to answer (A) whether or not he would clear Jiri now, (B) whether or not he would clear Jiri ever and (C) what exactly happened to Jiri's heart that not. For the first two, he said he would not clear Jiri now and would not speculate on a timetable for anything in the future. As for the third, he said that Jiri's heart was in an irregular rhythm and that the AED (electricity) was required to get his heart out of it. Apparently, the AED's effect is analogous to holding down your computer's power button to force it to turn off. So, after the AED did its bit, Jiri's heart did stop and Colucci began CPR. He said Jiri's heart came back on its own after that.
Finally, Jiri was asked what it was like not to know what happened or why. He replied that it was a lot better than not being alive. He said he had been getting a lot of support from around the league, having received many phone calls from a number of players. He pointed out that he had always felt "perfectly fine," and that his blood pressure, for example, had always been "just about perfect."
With that, the conference ended.
Jiri mentioned a couple times that he felt as though he had been born twice and gotten a second life. He also mentioned a belief in "faith" (or "fate," couldn't quite tell), that he's always believed in some higher power, crediting this for his survival.
I came away from the press conference with mixed feelings. Jiri seemed to be doing well and that was great but the evasion of the career issue was pretty telling. I have the impression that Jiri has not been getting news he wants to hear from his doctors (ie. they are probably telling him he won't be able to return) and he is holding out hope that "medical advancements" will be made in the next few "months or years, maybe," that would allow him to return in spite of that. It seems he is merely waiting for someone to contradict everyone else and tell him he can play.
He certainly does not want to let go yet and I think it's very understandable. He needs to hold on to whatever hope he can but eventually, as he said, he very well may have to face a reality without hockey, despite it being all he knows.
It's hard for me to be optimistic after what was said, and more importantly, what was not said today.
Our thoughts and prayers are still with you, Jiri.
Update (13. Dec): The News put up some links to a few audio clips from the conference in Bob Wojnowski's column today:
On his desire to return to hockey
On his approach to life now
On looking for medical answers
On not knowing what triggered the arythmia
Red Wings team physician Dr. Anthony Colucci, on the possibility of Fischer's return
They are Windows Media Audio files.