Deng's ailment puts basketball in perspective

Deng's ailment puts basketball in perspective
May 4, 2013, 5:15 pm
Share This Post

NEW YORK—Like Bulls teammates Nate Robinson and Taj Gibson, Luol Deng was also suffering from flu-like symptoms Wednesday.

That’s where the similarities end.

The All-Star small forward didn’t practice that day and after complaining of muscle pain, the team’s medical staff ran some basic tests, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

Blood was drawn from Deng and due to the symptoms he exhibited, a spinal tap was recommended to rule out that he had a form of meningitis due to an abnormal white blood cell count.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, a hole is punctured in the lumbar region of an individual’s spinal column and fluid is drained from both the area around the spinal column and brain, leading to side effects that include a debilitating headache, which impairs basic function, let alone playing professional basketball. 

Deng spent Wednesday night in the Rush University Medical Center emergency room and was given the procedure, after which he tested negative for meningitis.

Thursday, after trying to cope with the pain with painkillers, as well as plenty of fluids to fight his flu-like symptoms, he didn’t participate in the team’s morning shootaround Thursday at the Berto Center, but managed to make it to the United Center for Game 6.

There, the team’s medical staff ruled him out for the contest, and after being given four liters of IVs, was told, he was sent home, wobbling down the arena corridor in a clearly disoriented state.

While Gibson and Robinson were certainly valiant in playing through their illness—the latter could be seen vomiting on the sideline during the game—Deng’s situation vastly differed from theirs.

According to a source, the spinal tap exacerbated his condition, though Deng was diplomatic about the team’s medical staff opting to give him the procedure, as their decision to ensure that he didn’t have meningitis was certainly a medically ethical precautionary measure.

“I appreciate [the Bulls’ medical staff giving me the procedure],” a groggy Deng told from his hospital room. “Because I didn’t know what [the illness] was.”

However, the side effects put the league’s back-to-back minutes-per-game leader, a player celebrated for his toughness and durability, in a position where he couldn’t suit up for his team when they needed him the most, prompting him to take to Twitter to not only explain his absence, but inform critics that questioned him for not playing when Robinson and Gibson did.

"It really upsets me that everyone thinks I would miss a game [because] of the flu. I've played a lot of games [with] the flu in my career,” he said in part Friday. “As a result of the spinal tap I suffered the worst headache I've ever experienced and been the weakest I've ever felt.

“Now I'm back in the ER where I may have to spend the night,” Deng continued. “I want my teammates and Bulls fans to know I would NEVER miss a game [because] of flu.”

Deng was sharing his thoughts from the emergency room Friday and missed the Bulls’ practice, as well as the team’s flight to New York for Game 7 in Brooklyn.

Due to the precarious situation, a person privy to the proceedings said it was determined that a procedure called a “blood patch” would need to be done to help stop the puncture from leaking and help prevent Deng’s condition from worsening, but a wait of 12-24 hours was necessary for the flu-like symptoms to subside, in order not to spread any possible infection.

The procedure uses a patient’s own blood to seal the hole in the sac that surrounds and protects the brain and spinal cord, though it does, however, increase the pain and pressure on the nerves and muscles of the lower back.

Thus, while the Bulls were having morning shootaround Friday in Manhattan, their longest-tenured player was back in a Chicago hospital, having the procedure done.

The headaches are beginning to subside—though it resulted in some back pain, which can be expected with two procedures in the same part of the body in such a short amount of time—but a source told that Deng was leaking fluid, a scary thought indeed.

This isn’t a torn wrist ligament or a fractured tibia, prior injuries Deng has suffered; the first which occurred last season, was deemed controversial because he didn’t have surgery to repair it, while the second caused him to miss the 2009 postseason and somehow created a scenario in which some questioned his toughness, a laughable thought now.

Regardless, no matter the events that preceded his current dilemma, what happens to the Bullswhen he returns to the lineup, Deng’s present situation is a reminder that professional sports are entertainment and that health, whether it’s an injury that occurs while playing or a serious medical situation that everyday people can relate to, shouldn’t be taken for granted.

As of now, Deng is resting back in Chicago, and while the Bulls’ fate remains a concern—teammates and coaches have been in touch with him during the entire ordeal—what he’s been through, at the worst possible time, shows that games are games and life is life.