By Fernando Pisani
Hockey players often take their health for granted. That all changed for me in 2005 when I started feeling sick.
I knew something was wrong with me, but I was kind of embarrassed to see somebody about it. As time went on and I began to feel worse, I knew I needed to get well and had to see a doctor. I finally did and that’s when I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis.
I was able to continue playing, but last July all the symptoms started coming back, only worse this time. I was going to the bathroom 20-30 times a day, losing a lot of blood and a lot of weight.
I was trying to stay in shape at the same time, but I couldn’t do anything. I was too tired and I had no energy at all. I lost about six pints of blood and I even developed diabetes temporarily because of all the medication I was taking. It was awful.
I could barely leave the house and when I did, I had to know where the nearest bathroom was. Just walking up and down stairs was exhausting for me.
In the back of my mind I was thinking about hockey and what was going to happen to my career. I was in touch with our trainer, telling him how I was really not feeling well, but they didn’t know much about my situation and what we could do to make it better.
Eventually, when I was feeling my very worst, hockey became the furthest thing from my mind. I was 40 pounds lighter than normal and it was pretty scary. I normally play at 205 pounds, but I got down to around 165.
Every time I looked at myself in the mirror, I was just skin and bones. I can joke about it a little now, but it was like I was staring at Mr. Burns.
All I wanted to do was get healthy again. You play 80-100 hockey games a year with pre-season and the playoffs and you start to feel invincible, then something like this comes along and knocks you out.
My doctor decided to put me on a drug called Remicade and that’s when things finally started taking a turn for the better. I started to notice small changes and it was the first positive sign I had seen in such a long time. I started getting better and better. It was such a relief.
I was finally able to eat food and drink again. It had gotten to the point where I didn’t even want to eat or drink because everything I put inside my body went right through me.
Once I started feeling better, my thoughts turned back to hockey. Of course in terms of training, I had to start from scratch.
I went from lifting a lot of weights – bench-pressing 230 pounds – to just using the bar (45 pounds). It was a little frustrating at first, but I had to start somewhere. I had to take baby steps. I didn’t want to push myself too hard in case it had a negative affect. I felt stronger with each passing week.
I started taking Remicade in September and I was back on the ice in December. I look back now and it was remarkable the changes my body went through.
My first game back was against Anaheim. I wanted my return to be on the road. I was so nervous; it reminded me of my first NHL game. I just wanted to get out there and get it over with. The guys in the room were having fun with me, asking if I was nervous. I said, “Yeah, absolutely!” It was great to be back.
Today everything has stabilized. I go in for treatment every eight weeks and my weight is back to normal. Everything is positive.
Selected in the eighth round of the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, Fernando Pisani has played his entire NHL career with the Edmonton Oilers. The 31-year-old, who led the NHL playoffs in goals with 14 in 2006, missed 26 games during the 2007-08 season while battling ulcerative colitis.