Next week marks the one-year anniversary of Sandra Gurr's decision to go to a hockey game in the Salt Palace.
Unfortunately, it's also the anniversary of the last time she was able to eat solid food or enjoy a day at work.Gurr, a 33-year-old US West operator who lives in Bountiful, happened to be looking the wrong way during the third period of that game on Jan. 30, 1990. She was trying to see the Phoenix Roadrunners' goalie who had given her tickets. Had she been looking the other way, she might have seen the puck that careened off the ice and smashed into the left side of her face at what probably was more than 100 mph, fracturing her jaw and several other bones.
Hockey pucks, made of solid rubber, are frozen before games to make them easier to move along the ice. That also makes them harder and more dangerous. A nurse told Gurr she would have died if the puck had hit a few inches higher.
"I remember sitting there having an instant ringing in my ears," she said. "I heard a person behind me say she could see blood running down my head. I had an immediate headache and I heard many cracks when it hit my face."
Gurr was in shock and didn't realize how seriously she was hurt. Despite fragments of teeth falling from her mouth, she told first-aid workers she could drive herself to the hospital. They called her girlfriend who drove her instead.
"I didn't want to be any trouble to anyone," she said.
Now, Gurr has filed a lawsuit against Salt Lake County, which owns and operates the Salt Palace. The suit charges she was hit because county workers failed to properly install the plexiglass around the ice rink.
County Salt Palace and Fine Arts Director John Rosenthal said it is unusual for people to be so seriously hurt at a hockey game. "This is the first time in my time here over the past four years or so that I've had something brought to my attention like this," he said.
Announcers at the Salt Palace caution spectators to watch the game at all times because of the danger of flying pucks. Gurr said she is not a hockey fan and came late to the game because she wasn't sure she wanted to go alone.
"I finally decided to go since I already had taken time off work," she said.
Gurr and her attorney declined to discuss the lawsuit. But Gurr described the past year as one of pain and frustration. She has undergone six surgeries and has to wear an uncomfortable head brace three times a day. The brace has an electric motor that forces her mouth open, a painful therapy that is necessary if Gurr ever is to have full use of her mouth again.
She has missed eight months of work on medical leave. When she was at work, she often had to leave during the day because of headaches. The work itself was painful because she had to talk on the telephone. Now on medical leave, she is earning only 50 percent of her normal salary.
Headaches are the biggest problem. Gurr said they have lasted as long as nine days at a time.
"I've laid on the kitchen floor many times just trying to stay still," she said. "I used to lift weights and swim. I just don't do anything any more. I've become a hermit. My daughter's getting married Saturday, and I'm so afraid I'll be too sick to go."
A specialist examined her recently and said she never would have a complete recovery of her mouth. She has been able to eat only soft food for the past year, and the specialist said she never will be able to eat a steak again.
"The fun part about food is chewing. I've learned that," she said. "There are certain foods I never will be able to eat, but they told me the other day I now can have tuna fish sandwiches."