James Neal’s Diagnosis Reversed. Are Initial Examinations Too Hasty?

What a difference a couple days make. In the case of James Neal, a couple days was the difference between having a broken foot (as we commented on in a recent article on the injuries mounting in Pittsburgh) and being able to play against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night.

I’m not sure which is more bizarre, Neal’s changing diagnosis or the bizarre Dustin Penner pancake story (We favor the pancakes). Still, while Neal’s miraculous recovery doesn’t involve any breakfast foods, it is pretty astonishing and comes at a time where the Penguins could use all the positive news they can get. 

Neal’s shifting diagnosis isn’t the first one we have seen in the NHL this year. As a result, the question must be asked – are initial exams/diagnoses too hasty? 

James Neal is clearly Wolverine, or at least some sort of superhero that has quick healing ability. Unfortunately, the real truth behind Neal’s recovery lies with a faulty initial diagnosis that stated he had a broken foot and would be unable to play for the next several weeks. Evidently, the first scans and tests revealed a fracture in the bone. The follow-up examination revealed a nothing more than a bone bruise. As a result, Neal will suit up to take on the Senators with his team Tuesday night.

At the very least, this story is enough for us to take every injury report that initially breaks (no pun intended) with a grain of salt. If you follow the St. Louis Blues, this sort of story might sound pretty familiar, though the diagnoses were revered. 

Blues defenseman Kent Huskins was reported to have fractured his ankle in a late October game against Calgary. Just three days later, the diagnosis was changed, saying that Huskins didn’t have a break and simply had a bone bruise. Unfortunately, two weeks later the diagnosis changed yet again, this time back to the original fracture. It’s possible that Huskins’ condition evolved over those two weeks, but it’s also easy to believe that there was a break in the bone all along, as pointed out by his first evaluation. 

Keep your fingers crossed that Neal is truly fit to play and that sending him out isn’t a poor decision. Personally, I’m surprised the Penguins haven’t given him tonight’s game off, regardless of whether he says he is fit or not. Pittsburgh has been ravished by the injury bug in recent weeks and one would think they’d be cautious when a star goes from break to bruise in a matter of days before placing him back in the lineup. 

On a broader note, I’ll be interested to see just how many more cases of misdiagnosis we have in 2011-12. With modern medicine, I’d assume that the initial diagnosis should be the right one but as of late we’ve seen two cases where the results of the first exam greatly differed with those from the second – or in Huskins’ case, third. 

Are NHL teams rushing with their initial examinations/diagnoses? It may be a bit of a stretch, but the cases surrounding Neal and Huskins don’t make the initial screening process look to favorable. Given all the recent talk and issues with concussions, should we be concerned that those initial screenings could be flawed as well? It’s one thing to determine a guy has a broken bone only to later change the results to a bruise, but it’s quite another to label a guy as concussion free only to find out he has one later after you sent him back out to play. 

Keep an eye on these types of stories as the year progresses. The NHL has made it their goal to cut down on concussions and hits to the head by focusing their attention on the action on the ice. Perhaps we need to keep improving/adjusting how teams respond to such injuries off the ice. 

About David Rogers

Editor for The Comeback and Contributing Editor for Awful Announcing. Lover of hockey, soccer and all things pop culture.