It’s late summer, the last week of July. It’s mad hot outside. A fella gets out of bed to go to work. He’s got a slight grabbing pain in his lower back. “I must’ve slept funny,” he says to himself. After showering and getting dressed, the fella finds himself a little short of breath. “I must’ve smoked too many cigarettes last night. I’ll take it easier today.” As he does his work and the day goes on, the pain in the fella’s back gets worse and worse and he finds it’s getting harder and harder to breathe. In fact, he can’t take a full breath. It feels like there’s a ceiling half-way up his lung that’s blocking the intake of air. After a call to the workplace nurse, it was decided an ambulance was necessary. They strapped the fella to a stretcher and carted him to the nearest ER. After a battery of breath tests and ultra-sounds, it was determined that the fella had a blood clot in his lung. That accounted for the shortness of breath, the cutting off of air. Actually, the “official” diagnosis was “pleurisy caused by a pulmonary thrombosis” – wording that was thought to have left the lexicon at the end of World War I.
The fella was admitted to the hospital and spent 16 days on his back and on a Heparin – a clot-busting medicine – IV drip. Turned out he had multiple blood clots in his legs, from the ankle to the knee in one and from the ankle to the groin in the other. One got loose and floated into the fella’s lung. Upon his release, he was given a prescription for Coumadin, a powerful blood thinner usually given to recovering cardiac patients. “How long will I have to take this?” the fella asked his doctor. “The rest of your life,” the doctor replied without looking up from the fella’s chart. The fella later found out exactly how lucky he was. Seems a clot can travel one of three places: the lung, the heart or the brain. The clot this fella had went to the only non-fatal place. The fella left the hospital a brand new non-smoker, took his Coumadin, had his blood checked every six weeks and counted his blessings.
I know this whole story and I know it’s true, for this fella is me. The July, 1994 version of me.
Nearly twenty years on, I still have to get my blood checked regularly, still have to take my Coumadin every day. Healthy as a horse in every other way – BP, cholesterol, heart rate, etc. are all within optimal ranges – I still need to sit up and pay attention to pain in the low back or shortness of breath.
When I heard Dillon Gee had numbness in his fingers caused by a blood clot and saw the initial releases from the Mets, I thought, “OK, two weeks off to bust it up, a retroactive DL stint, he’ll miss one start.” Turns out I was pretty far wrong. See, the difference is that Gee’s clot is in the arterial system and in his shoulder, closer to the danger areas. Mine was a deep-vein thrombosis. And of course, mine did not require any surgery to repair any blood vessels. Gee will be on the shelf for at least the next six-to-eight weeks and – if you’re asking me right now – unlikely to pitch again this season. This sucks for the Mets, of course, but the paramount thing is Gee’s health and vitality. The Mets have to be very aware of the J.R. Richard story. If you don’t remember, in the summer of 1980, Richard was a dominant pitcher for Houston, possessor of a Nolan-Ryan-esque fastball and gaudy strikeout stats – and Richard and Ryan were teammates at the time. In the middle of the summer, Richard complained of fatigue and a vague “dead-arm” kind of feeling. This persisted for a number weeks, during which the Houston press leveled charges of gold-bricking – some of it blatantly racist (Richard is African-American). He was placed on the DL. While trying to loosen his dead-arm, he collapsed in a heap in the Astrodome bullpen. He had suffered a stroke, at 30 years old. The culprit? An undiagnosed blood clot in his right shoulder.
I think everyone involved this time realizes which is more important. And this fella wishes Dillon Gee a speedy recovery to life, not just to baseball.
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