The time I had my own “flu game”

Empty Protection Rules
May 14, 2020

Every athlete has their “flu game.” A game where you’re sick, whether from the flu, food poisoning, illness, etc… A game where you must play even though you’d prefer to be in bed. Michael Jordan has the most famous flu game, during Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals. He said in “The Last Dance” documentary it was food poisoning, but nonetheless, Jordan was sick. Jordan still scored 38 points and the Bulls won the game. 

I had my own flu game, one that was quite the opposite of Jordan’s. It was also the last game of my career.

By the start of the 2015 season, my body was beat up. I’d had three surgeries from August 2011 to August 2012. I struggled through my 2012 season in Minnesota, only to get healthy in 2013 with the Chiefs. My healthy season paid off with a “second contract” to the New York Giants in 2014. I immediately dislocated my big toe in the preseason and then broke my ankle after only five quarters when I returned to action in November. Ugh …

When the 2015 season started, I was determined to stay healthy. I did my best. I  had started the first 10 games of the season and headed into the Week 11 bye healthy. I was looking forward to the break. We went to the Bahamas, and I had an awesome time relaxing with my family. But early in the week, my wife noticed I had a red spot on my elbow. We monitored it during the week and when I landed back in the States on Sunday, the red spot had grown considerably. My wife told me to head to the local hospital to get my elbow looked at. I was diagnosed with a small infection and was given a large dose of IV antibiotics and also oral antibiotics to take home. Easy enough, right?

I felt awesome early that game week. I was moving to left guard for the week as we got ready to play at Washington. Both our center and left guard were out, and I was asked to help our rookie left tackle. I was preparing like usual, and then my stomach started to feel weird on Wednesday. And Thursday and Friday. I could not stop going to the bathroom. My wife, a registered nurse, told me on Thursday she suspected I had Clostridioides difficile, also known as C. diff. C. diff is a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening inflammation of the colon. In simple terms, the heavy dose of antibiotics had wiped out my good gut bacteria, and my gut was attacked by C. diff. 

By Friday, I told the Giants’ athletic trainers about my condition, and they told me to wait another day to see if it got worse. It did. By Saturday morning, nothing had changed. Then the Giants called in their gastrointestinal doctor so I could be tested. I gave him a sample (gross) and the doctor ordered me a prescription for the drug to help stop the C. diff, suspecting I had enough symptoms of the bacterium. I started taking the medicine, and we flew to Washington to play the Redskins. I remember gameday specifically, for many reasons.

I woke up at 4 a.m. on gameday, a departure from my usual 7:30 a.m. wake up. From 4 a.m. until I arrived at the stadium around 11 a.m., I was in the bathroom every 10-15 minutes. Sunday morning was the worst of the ordeal. I arrived at the stadium, malnourished and severely dehydrated. I asked for an IV, which can be standard before games. The team doctors attempted to find a vein in my dehydrated arms but could not. They called in the EMT, who managed to find a vein. Combined with multiple tablets of Imodium and two bags of fluid, I was ready to try to play. The only reason I suited up was the injury situation on the offensive line. Otherwise, I’d have sat out. 

We entered the field for warmups and I was moving like a slug, trying to conserve energy. I remember my coach encouraging me to move faster and prepare for the game. I was already cramping a bit, and I didn’t figure I’d play long in the game. I was right about that.

Even though our first two drives both ended in interceptions, I was doing OK. I wasn’t very good at left guard but was playing average. While I knew that I couldn’t exert any extra energy to finish blocks, I was staying in front of my defender. Then came the fourth play of the third drive. 

I was blocking my defender on an angle to the left. The running back was supposed to run to the right. He cut back and a defender tried to tackle him. Instead, he tackled my left leg. I heard a loud pop and originally thought it was my MCL, as I got hit on the side of the knee. The trainers came out and I limped off. We punted the following play, and while the trainers determined my knee was fine, my calf was sore was getting worse. I attempted to walk it off and get ready for the next drive. The lower leg didn’t feel right, so I told the trainers I thought something was wrong. Then we went to get an X-ray.

That loud pop I heard? It was my fibula, the non-weight-bearing bone in the lower leg, breaking above the plate that was inserted from the first break. Ironically, it was 364 days from the first break. My season was finished. So was my career.

The day before I went for surgery to remove the plate and clean up some issues on the inside of my ankle, I received a call from one of the team doctors telling me that I did in fact have C. diff. I’ll always remember the call because the doctor (the doctor was associated with the team but not a “team doctor” per se) kind of snickered when I was told about the test being positive. They didn’t believe me when I told them I had C. diff. Luckily, my wife pushed me to demand a test and get on medicine to control the issues. 

After the 2015 season, I was released by the Giants, signed with the Lions and eventually released in training camp, never to see the field again. So that’s my “flu game.” I wish the story was cool, but it’s fitting for my career: Playing through a poop attack only to break my leg.