This guest blog is by Eric Hodgson, chair of the USA Volleyball's Grassroot's Commission and full time Director of Outreach for the Arizona Region of USA Volleyball. Note: If going to the doctor and medical tv shows are not your cup of tea, you might have someone else preview this great story for you....
I just hit the floor.
The pain was so excruciating and unexpected my body told me in no uncertain terms it was my only option, so I obliged. I laid there for a minute and tried to get up but my body hadn’t changed my mind. I was at the moment a slave to the slicing pain I felt in my abdomen and now had no intention of angering it again.
My breaths got shallower and I looked at my skin sweating profusely and starting to turn a shade past pale.
I was in trouble. Appendicitis? Gall bladder? What the heck was happening?
Clutched in the fetal position on my office floor, I pulled my cell phone off my desk with my foot, and called 9-1-1. I could barely talk and surely didn’t want to upset my abdomen anymore so I stayed as still as I could. Minutes later I heard sirens get closer and people banging on my front door which was locked and pulling at a garage door on an opener. I closed my eyes.
I remember being tugged and pulled, a blood pressure cuff feeling like it would sever my arm it was so tight. I husky voice resonated in the background of a foggy mind…”His BP is 60 over 34; we got to get him out of here.”
I don’t remember much after that. Wearing only gym shorts, I felt the cool air hit my sweaty skin giving me an instant chill as I was gurneyed into Thunderbird Samaritan Hospital’s emergency room.
The next few hours were more of the same. Tests, more tests and I finally realized that I needed to call my wife. Something was amiss and as much as I didn’t want to worry her, she needed to be here.
A few hours later I was given a room in the I.C.U. A couple of different doctors came in and proclaimed I had a severe case of pancreatitis, inflammation of the pancreas. The tests showed the organ in distress and I felt relieved they knew what it was, but still wondering how to get my next pain shot quicker. It was still killing me. I could only lie on my side and every time I switched sides it was as if it all started again.
A little while later, the surgeon came in and sat down. He was going against the grain telling me he didn’t think it was pancreatitis since I didn’t fit the profile and that you needed 2 of 3 conditions to diagnose. We had one he said adding there’s nothing to show HOW you got this condition.
I later realized how in his own way, he used statistics to buck a popular theory and kept working to find another answer, something that as coaches we strive to do everyday with our teams.
The night was rough. Of course you can’t sleep in a hospital and an I.C.U. ward is even worse. Close your eyes and a bell, buzzer or light goes off. Nurses round the clock; taking blood, checking blood pressure, giving you shots, ordering more tests. It was a non stop parade of interruption but if whatever they did took this pain away, I was okay with it.
Around mid day next, my wife and Dad were in the room with me. My Dad is going through his own medical malady at the moment and was leaving his treatments to come see me. It made me sad that I had to burden him so much, but I was so glad he was there.
Suddenly a pain worse than the first lit me up inside and raised me up off the bed. “Go get a nurse” I yelled and rolled on my side. From there, I don’t remember much. According to my wife, a nurse came in and saw my eyes fluttering. She yelled for help and within 10 seconds 7 people were around me. “He’s crashing” was the only thing my wife heard as she watched this unfold. At one point, my blood pressure was 30 over 17.
The only thing I remember about it was a voice of an Asian doctor snapping his fingers in front of me and yelling, “Stay with us! Don’t go anywhere, stay here with us!!!” I couldn’t figure out what he was talking about.
I do now.
I recently watched an astonishing soul cleansing by a doctor named Brian Goldman on the TED network. His confession about how physicians aren’t perfect further solidified in me how much medicine, like so many other professions including coaching, isn’t black and white. Like coaching, through trial and error, years of experience, constantly looking for more and better information, you are still left with doing your best which at times still isn’t good enough. I was about to find out first hand that Doctors aren’t perfect and their diagnosis aren’t always spot on!
Later that night, answers became clearer. The surgeon, bucking the theory of the other doctors, had been right. Further tests showed a Splenetic Arterial Aneurism. The artery leading to my spleen had ruptured and was causing internal bleeding and the pancreatitis. They snaked a scope through my groin and attached a small slinky over the aneurism to seal it off. If the bleeding stopped, things were good to go!
I spent the next three days in I.C.U. and my life became all about numbers and stats and a need for ice chips. My wife never left my side and slept on the couch in my room, waking up whenever I rustled and keeping tabs on the numbers with the nurses. I was given two units of blood and told that my hemoglobin which is around 13 or 14 in a normal human should come up a point for each unit. After the two units, it fell. Another two units and it came up slightly.
On the third night, a terrific nurse and former high school volleyball player named Ashley came into my room. I had gotten a pain button that released morphine whenever I pressed it. She came in and told me in a most humorous way to stop being macho. That I couldn’t get better if I had to spend all my energy fighting the pain. Hit your pain button she told me, adding, “You know you really don’t look all that macho anyway!” and retreated from the room smiling ear to ear, almost as big a smile as mine.
It made me think of how important a sense of humor is and how valuable it can be in situations of pressure and self absorption. A well placed quip or comment can ease the burden and produce some amazing results.
For the rest of my stay, I hit that pain button every 20 minutes per her orders.
I was solemn knowing that I was missing my team’s first tournament. We were a 15’s team placed as the four seed in a four team pool in a 16’s tournament. But the texts I started getting from the Parents made my day fly by. We upset the # 2 seed in two sets, lost a tight one to the #1 seed and then beat the #3 seed in three! My two amazing assistants, who were in their first tournament without any help or guidance, stuck to their principals and the skill sets and game plans we worked on. As we talked about, they were going to make mistakes and they did, but they learned from them and pulled off a miracle day.
On the night of the 5th day, a proactive nurse who told me of her high school volleyball prowess in great detail, came in and said the numbers were still too low especially since they had hung two more units earlier in the evening. She called the Dr. who ordered a couple of tests. One was a contrast ultrasound where I had to drink a liter of this vile citrus flavored spew and I had to down the whole bottle in an hour before the test. Diligently I timed a glass every 10 minutes. Like clockwork I drank this down, gulp after horrid gulp. Down to my last half glass, the nurse peered around the corner. “You’re going to kill me.” She said. I looked up and cringed. “The Dr. just cancelled that test. You don’t have to drink anymore.”
I wasn’t going to get mad at the nurse, she was just following orders and in further thought, why get mad at all. There have been plenty of times as a coach I’ve made a bad call and a team of mine winds up executing a bad game plan or not executing because of my shortcomings as a coach. They didn’t get mad at me and it forced me to get better at what I do. Blame is a bad out for anyone, moving forward should be the focus.
The next morning the Surgeon came into my room. He sat down and said matter of factly, “We’re waiting for the numbers from last night but you’re still bleeding into your belly. I want to do a splenectomy.”
I was stunned but he exuded confidence. He had been right about the pancreatitis which gave him credibility. “Is there any other options?” I asked.
“Bleeding to death,” was his answer.
His confidence in not only his diagnosis but in the way he delivered it to me put me at ease. I often think about those coaches that ooze confidence with their players and other coaches, whether coaching 12’s or the Olympic team. It is a trait that is earned with hard work, education and expertise. His confidence led me to the operating room 75 minutes later.
After 2 ½ hours, I was spleen-less. The incision was 8 inches from belly button to sternum and it was accompanied by a gnarly drain that tubed out of my belly into a little reservoir to gather and dispose of all the blood product.
The next three days were about walking. “You have to get up and walk!” was the mantra from nurse after nurse. So walk I did. As I hear now from people that have had abdominal surgery, you don’t realize how much that part of your body is incorporated into every movement. I became fearful of the random cough, hiccups and shivering.
I was given a clear liquid diet which, just so you know, includes NOTHING that is clear. I became a 9 year old again asking for popsicles with every nurses visit. One of the night nurses proved again how small the volleyball world was. She had played in the State semifinals against my Daughter’s team 10 years before. We chatted about the girls on that team and where they were now. It was a nice diversion from walking and broth.
It had been 9 days since I had eaten and when I was given the green light to eat, nothing tasted good and my appetite resembled a bloated sparrow. Soup, a hamburger, salad…nothing tasted right. I was told this is a byproduct of the surgery.
I tried to get some work done. I had about 130 e-mails and started dissecting them for importance. Using my touch screen iPad, I quickly realized that morphine and touch screen is not a marriage made in heaven. I spend hours retyping only to twitch once again and delete what I had just written. Ugh! E-mails would wait a few more days!
The surgeon came in and proclaimed me ready to go home four days after surgery. I was ecstatic! I couldn’t wait to get out of the hospital despite the excellent care I had been given. Something about tossing and turning on your own bed and NOT being woken up by a blood pressure cuff or exhausted I.V. line.
A week ago I had 25 staples removed from my abdomen and a drain that in my mind was the length of the width of me, about a foot, turned out to be closer to 5 feet. That was exactly as unpleasant as it sounds.
I was used to doing 7 mile hikes almost daily in the Phoenix Mountain Preserves and now I walk around the block and need 10 minutes to rest up. I remember an old adage about the E.D.G.E. of pain: Every Day Gets Easier. It’s what I live by for the coming weeks.
I am set to be back to normal in 5 or 6 weeks. It’s a process, something the Dr. said a number of times to me and I smiled thinking how many times I’ve uttered that phrase to my teams and the coaches I help train. “It’s all part of the process.”
It’s humbling to flirt with physical disaster. It amplifies everything around you and makes you notice the littlest of things. I am forever taken with the Steve Jobs quote in his Stanford speech he gave seven years ago, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.” Now I have seen life’s change agent and it’s time to clear out the old and make way for the new. I thought about this point hard when, on my first walk in my neighborhood and put my iPod to my ears, selecting random on the song choice. Out of the 800 plus songs, one Steve Jobs may have picked personally fired up first.
“The End” by the Doors!
I smiled listening to it and then chuckled to myself when the next song randomly came up, even more fitting that its predecessor.
“With a Little Help from My Friends.”
Upon further research I found that the odds of a splenetic arterial aneurism are .02% with a mortality rate of over 10%. My surgeon said in 22 years of practicing medicine, this was the second one he had ever seen that wasn't induced by an accident.
In other words, a random occurrence.
I spend my coaching life talking to coaches and players and parents about the randomness of our sport and until three weeks ago, overlooked the big picture; how random life is. My wife ran through the litany of what ifs with me in the hospital. What if your cell phone was downstairs? What if you had been driving or hiking alone or had been at practice? What ifs are the speed bumps we use to slow down our lives but they can be more of a hindrance than a help. Once healthy I want to continue to teach this game, this amazing and random and wonderful game to any and all that will listen.
I thought about my team, not my club girls but my team; My Mom and Dad who set aside their own personal health issues to be there for their son. My wife who put her life on hold to make sure I had mine back, sleeping on couches and keeping herself up on everything having to do with my care. My daughter who despite being scared put on a smile and made the best of a tough situation. Even my grandson, all of 4 years old, came in to see me after the surgery and gave me a lesson on how hospital beds can raise and lower like an elevator while laying next to me. A carnival ride hidden under dingy linen sheets! The people I work with at the Arizona Region office that scrambled to cover my obligations and doubled up on things so I didn't have to worry. This is my team and I'm grateful for all of them.
Random is exciting and random can be scary but random also keeps us on our toes, alert and ready for anything.
After the past three weeks, I feel like I am ready for anything!