This column is my first since Sept. 29, a month to the day before the Charlotte Hornets opened their season. Several readers have emailed to ask where I’ve been, and many said they hoped I’d return.
I have, and I’ve been told repeatedly by three doctors and two nurses how lucky I am. I don’t want to make this more than it is, but each caregiver said I could have suffered paralysis or died.
Yet, it’s difficult to call myself lucky. I grew up in a Catholic neighborhood in which everybody had five to 13 kids and we knocked each other around in ice and snow, on football fields, baseball diamonds and basketball courts. Fortunately, I don’t think concussions had been invented.
On Sept. 27, the day before the Carolina Panthers played the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, I was walking Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The weather was perfect, the view stunning, and when the surface of the path changed from smooth to rocky I chose not to notice.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
I caught a foot on a rock and went flying. As I remember it, I came down with my left side up and my right side angled toward the ground. I stuck out my right arm to break the fall. My hand missed the rocks but my head didn't.
I was dazed but conscious and, despite numerous wrong turns, followed the water back to my hotel. I woke Sunday with a miserable headache. Friends and co-workers Joe Person and Jonathan Jones, who had stayed in a better hotel, which is no big deal, picked me up and drove me to the game.
Later, Baltimore’s team doctor gave me a quick post-game examination, albeit in front of Steve Smith’s locker. I can't remember how that came about.
I woke up Monday and my brain was broken.
I made my flight, landed at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport and drove straight to the office of my long-time doctor. I had tried to call but couldn’t make my cell phone work.
I figured Dr. Phillip Hanrahan would fit me in. He’d do that for any patient. Heck, he gives out his cell number, and doesn’t get mad when you text or call.
He does have one annoying habit – he’s always right. After our examination, he sent me to a nearby building for an MRI, which is a picture of my brain. He added: “Don’t be surprised if you leave in an ambulance.”
Ha! Dr. Hanrahan finally was wrong. I left in a wheelchair.
The wheelchair took me to the ambulance and the ambulance to Presbyterian Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
I felt like a fraud; all this because I tripped.
I wasn’t. I had a concussion, intracranial hemorrhage and cerebral venous thrombosis. The latter two mean big-time blood on the brain.
Except for the courtesy and professionalism of the staff, I don’t remember much about my stay. My buddy Chuck Sullivan, a fine writer who played basketball for Al McGuire at Belmont Abbey, walked in and I thought: “My doctor looks like Chuck.”
My wife, despite having a small business to run, drove to the hospital at least twice a day. I tried to tell Sharon she’d been a regular Florence Nightingale. These are the words that came out: “You’ve been a regular Helen Keller.”
I wasn’t trying to be funny, and my brain isn’t allowed to attempt humor without my consent. One of us laughed.
After five days in ICU and seven in the hospital I went home.
I soon met with neurologist Dr. Jodi Dodds, who patiently answered every question Sharon and I could generate.
I’m not gratuitously giving doctors and nurses a plug. They were exceptional. How often do we get to say that?
October and most of November were rough. When I got to a curb I had to pause and consider whether to raise or lower my foot. When I talked to multiple people simultaneously I’d invariably lose the thread. My head often hurt. I couldn’t read. And computers usually were too busy and too annoying.
Yet the prognosis was for a full recovery, and finally I’m almost there.
My new favorite Panther is Matt Blanchard, the fourth-team quarterback who missed almost four months with a concussion. See, it’s not just me. I have your back, Matt.
Readers had mine. Many of you have been supportive and kind. So have executives and coaches, an owner and an athletic director, I often write about. Your support has been invaluable.
I rarely get nervous about writing. But I was nervous about this one. I had hoped writing would be like riding a bike. But I’m not allowed to ride my bike.
For some reason, the column came easily. I didn’t get tired, I didn’t get a headache and I spelled hemorrhage without asking for help.