Sean McDonough’s days as the television voice of the Red Sox are nearly a decade behind him, and his place in the current sports broadcasting consciousness is enviable, with prominent gigs calling college basketball and football as well as “Monday Night Baseball’’ for ESPN.
Still, because his play-by-play in calling the Red Sox from 1988-2004 offered an uncommon mix of skill, humor, and candor, the usual temptation upon beginning a conversation is to ask him for his thoughts on the state of the Sox.
Usually, and surely again. But not Thursday. Instead, as McDonough recuperates from Nov. 30 surgery to address his diagnosis nine months prior of superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS), an ailment with maddening, torturous symptoms, the first question upon reaching McDonough on the telephone had nothing to do with sports:
How are you doing?
“I’m getting there, a work in progress, but getting out pretty regularly,’’ said McDonough, who was in the operating room at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for more than four hours as Dr. Daniel Lee repaired a hole in the bone near McDonough’s left ear that separates it from the brain. “I still have fluid in the left ear, and my hearing is low in that ear. I have sensitivity to loud noise and some dizziness. But they’re pretty common effects during recovery. They just take a while to resolve themselves.’’
The immediate and most likely temporary post-surgery effects are easier to tolerate than what he has endured since his diagnosis in February. McDonough began having symptoms after he was tapped on the head by a golf club, though that wasn’t the cause of the SCDS. “It’s just a byproduct of that bone in your head being abnormally thin,’’ he said. “I could have sneezed and it could have happened.’’
What did happen was both terrifying and bizarre. Each step he took made a banging sound inside his skull, to the point that it would drown out the music on his iPod. Loud noises were agonizing, which is not exactly tenable for someone who works in raucous sports arenas. At times he could hear his heartbeat in his left ear. And perhaps most jarringly, he could hear his eyeballs moving.
Consider the symptoms for a moment, and another question for McDonough comes to mind: Why did you wait nine months for the surgery?
“It was a long time to live with it, but the surgery is major, and it’s very invasive,’’ said McDonough, who was originally scheduled to have the surgery Aug. 7 but put it off until a time when his schedule was lighter and the weather wasn’t as good. “They have to cut a hole in your skull and move your brain and have to lift your brain off the bone that they’re fixing. It’s daunting, it’s scary, and I really had to weigh, which I did for a long time, the pluses and minuses of the surgery.
“The symptoms were awful, to the point of almost being debilitating. But you can live with them, and you have to make that decision. I realized they can get worse over time, you risk the onset of vertigo, and a lot of people try to live with it, go back to the surgeon one, two, three, or five years later, and say I can’t live with it anymore. And you’re left asking why didn’t I just do this four or five years ago? I just figured I don’t want to live with this. Plus, I’m hoping the titanium in my head gives me 10 more yards off the tee.”
McDonough’s sarcastic wit is clearly still intact even in the recovery stage. “I blame Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery, because their nonstop talking is what I think caused the hole in the first place,’’ he said of his good friends and college basketball broadcast partners.
And his friends are giving it right back to him, the camaraderie wrapped in a punch line serving as an important part of an enormous outpouring of reassurance and support. “Oh, I’ve heard all the jokes,’’ McDonough said. “How’d they find your brain? If they had to move your brain, there must have been plenty of room. Are you going to have hair-transplant surgery while you’re in there? Let’s see, what else? There’s a lot of them. Jim Boeheim texted me and said, ‘Don’t worry about the scar. Neither one of us is doing what we’re doing because we look good.’ ”
McDonough is aiming to be back in the booth for the Alamo Bowl Dec. 29 and the Sugar Bowl Jan. 2, but he needs to be able to commit in the next couple of days. A big test arrives Friday when he will attend the Celtics game, which isn’t exactly a subdued crowd. He’s hoping for significant progress from a couple of weeks ago, when he couldn’t make it through the first quarter of the Patriots-Texans game at Gillette Stadium.
“It sounded like the entire crowd was on the inside of my head. So I took a cab home in the middle of the first quarter,’’ he said. “It’s getting better, gradually, and I’d love to see Dr. Lee Friday and tell him it’s all better, maybe as the crowd is roaring for further proof.”
Parker out 30 days
ESPN announced Thursday that Rob Parker has been suspended for 30 days for his controversial comments about Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III last week.
Parker, a commentator on “First Take,” had been suspended indefinitely since last Friday, a day after he had suggested that Griffin, who like Parker is African-American, was a “cornball brother’’ who is “not really down with the cause. He’s not one of us.’’
Parker’s 30-day suspension is retroactive to last Friday.
ESPN announced the length of the suspension in a statement by vice president of production Marcia Keegan.
“Inappropriate content was aired and then re-aired without editing,” Keegan said. “Both were errors on our part. We have enhanced the editorial oversight of the show and have taken appropriate disciplinary measures with the personnel responsible for these failures.”
The name of Dr. Daniel Lee was mistakenly referred to as Dr. David Lee in a previous version.