Scary. Frightening. Life-changing.
What things go through your mind when you’re experiencing bleeding around your brain?
Red Sox hitting coach Greg Colbrunn was in uniform Monday, less than a month after he suffered a brain hemorrhage in Cleveland while on his way to the ballpark.
Colbrunn, 44, has always been one of Boston’s more youthful looking coaches, in top shape. Why the hemorrhage happened remains a mystery. As Colbrunn pointed out after his search for answers, it just happens.
Colbrunn is easing back into his job. He’s been watching his hitters from home in Charleston, S.C., talking to assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez on a daily basis.
He’s been as frustrated as anyone else about Boston’s hitting woes.
Last season everything went right for the offense. This season it’s been a struggle. It was a struggle when Colbrunn was working. It was a struggle in his absence. But taking two out of three against the Yankees and now coming home for a long homestand has given Colbrunn hope.
Colbrunn was eager to get reacquainted with his hitters Monday. He’s talked to some of them over the phone the last few weeks, but the conversations were more the players being concerned for him.
He remembers part of that fateful day, June 4. There were about 72 hours that went blank.
“It was 12:15 [p.m.] and we’re getting ready to go [to the ballpark] in the cab. I had a bad headache. It was kind of radiating down my neck. My neck was kind of locking up on me. I started sweating and had a bad headache. I was in the cab with the trainer and he was trying to relax my muscles,” he said.
Once Colbrunn got to Progressive Field, “I remember going to get [in uniform], and at about 1 o’clock on, I didn’t recall anything for two or three days.”
He said the headache was the worst he’s ever had.
“It’s called a thunderclap headache, worst headache you’ve ever had,” he said. “Thank God I was where I was and had the people around me who knew what they were doing. It was 1 o’clock on Wednesday the last I remember, and then probably Friday afternoon and Friday night is when I started to have memory and remember. So for 2½ days I couldn’t remember.”
Although Colbrunn has been cleared for activity by his medical team, he knows the road ahead will have challenges.
“They’re [headaches] still coming back, but that’s part of the recovery,” he said. “I’m working every day to increase stamina and focus, things like that.”
After leaving the Cleveland Clinic after two weeks, he returned to Charleston to rest for about 12 days and also to seek answers.
“Talking and finding out more about it and talking to neurosurgeons and doctors, they told me go home and rest but once you’re starting to feel better, maybe you can get back doing what you normally do and the quicker the recovery will be,” he said. “[The doctors said] you’re going to have repercussions. You’re going to have headaches. You’re going to have mental fatigue. You’ll be lethargic on certain days, but the quicker you can get back into your normal life, the better off you’ll be.”
He said he heard from people around baseball. He said he spent an hour speaking to Hall of Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons, who survived a brain aneurysm.
He understood how lucky he was. If he hadn’t received prompt medical attention, he might not have survived.
“It was good to be with the team and around the trainers because what happens is people die from it because they don’t get to a hospital,” he said.
He had no other symptoms until that afternoon. There were no real warning signs. He said he had a tube in his head for almost two weeks to relieve the pressure.
“Little scary when you look back at it,” Colbrunn said. “The Red Sox have been unbelievable, how they’ve taken care of me and my family, I can’t thank them enough. I can’t say enough.”
“When I started remembering that Friday night, I never thought I was going to die,” he added. “I had my wits about me. I could walk around. I seemed pretty good once they relieved the pressure in my head. I had a tube sticking out of my head for two weeks. But that was part of the recovery process.”
Doctors have told him they don’t see any long-term issues as a result of his brain injury.
“Not really,” he said. “I need to build up my stamina and focus. It’s almost like coming back from a concussion. Take one day at a time.”
Returning as a full-fledged hitting coach may take more time. The rigors of the job are above and beyond those faced by other coaches. There’s constant video work, working in the cages with every hitter.
“Right now I’m just talking to people and going to meetings,” he said. “Mentally and physically build up to it. There’s no certain time frame.”
Colbrunn said, “the club has struggled, but that’s baseball. [Sunday] night was a good sign. Good ABs. A lot of good things happened. I talk to Victor a lot every day and the coaching staff. I’m not coaching from 2,000 miles away. They were there on a hands-on basis.
“They’re all doing the right things, getting their work in, trust in the process and trust in the procedure. I know we’ve struggled the last month, but a lot of good things have happened.”
The best of which is that Colbrunn is back with the Sox.Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.