[Ed-S: We asked SBW to cover one of the best teams in Michigan sports history. Previously: Postseason primer]
All photos from Bryan Fuller
The Ann Arbor regional featured one of the more noteworthy upsets of the opening weekend of the NCAA softball tournament. Fortunately for Michigan, it didn’t happen to us. The Maize & Blue marched through the regional with relative ease, not quite hitting on all cylinders, but never seriously threatened either. Before looking ahead to the upcoming super-regional showdown with the Missouri Tigers, let’s take a quick look back at how Michigan became one of 16 teams in the nation lucky enough to go to practice this week.
The Wolverines started the weekend off against a Valparaiso team still trying to figure out just how they found their way into the tournament in the first place. With a record well below .500, the Horizon League tournament champions were one of the strangest sights in regional play in years. Michigan didn’t wait long to get on the board, with senior super-star Sierra Romero lining what’s known in Ann Arbor as a “Rom-Bomb” over the wall in the first inning. In addition to giving Michigan an early lead, the solo shot gave Romero her 300th career RBI. The Wolverines added a couple more in the 2nd, but were not able to fully solve Valpo’s pitching until the 5th inning, when all Hell broke loose. 5 singles earned Michigan 3 runs and brought about a pitching change. The change didn’t help, as the relief pitcher walked the next three batters on only 14 pitches to drive in the game-ending runs. Megan Betsa was majestic in the circle, ceding just one hit and one walk while piling up 9 Ks in the 8-0 run-rule walkover.
On Saturday, Michigan was expecting a tougher challenge, and they got one from an unexpected source. Instead of the presumptive challenger Notre Dame, the Maize & Blue had to square off against Miami (NTM), who had upset the Irish with a controversial 3-2 win on Friday. Betsa was again phenomenal, but the story of the early part of the game was Redhawks hurler Amber Logemann, who didn’t allow a hit until the 4th inning. In the 4th, though, Michigan showed a tendency familiar to anyone who watched the 2015 NCAA tournament. A good pitcher can get through Michigan’s order once, maybe twice. After that, though, the offense starts to lock in on tendencies & weaknesses, and the runs can come in bunches. 2 runs in the 4th led to 4 more in the 6th, and Michigan finally had the breathing room they wanted. Hutch took advantage of the extra cushion, resting ace Megan Betsa for the rest of the game. After a wobbly start put runners on 2nd and 3rd with no outs, Driesenga retired the next 6 batters she faced on 6 consecutive ground-outs, securing a 6-0 win.
To no one’s surprise, the Irish shook off their Friday funk and emerged from the losers’ bracket to face Michigan in the regional final on Sunday. The Irish have seen their season end in Ann Arbor again and again in recent years, and would need to take 2 in a row from #2 Michigan to avoid the same fate in 2016. Sierra Romero sent a message early on that the “luck of the Irish” wasn’t going to apply in Ann Arbor, getting her money’s worth on her 300th career hit, launching a first-inning long ball for the 2nd time on the weekend (the blast was also good for her 299th career run scored, extending her own NCAA record). Another Sierra home run, this one from Sierra Lawrence, put Michigan up 2-0, but an unexpected blast from Irish lead-off hitter Karley Wester trimmed the lead back down to 1. Again it took a few innings for Michigan’s bats to acquire target-lock, but when the Irish gifted Romero 1st base on an error to start the 5th, the Wolverines were determined to take advantage. A bunt single & a walk loaded the bases, and singles from Aidan Falk and Lindsay Montemarano stretched the lead to 6-1. The Irish would get one back in the 6th, but never seriously threatened to catch up to the heavy favorites.
On the weekend, Michigan outscored their opponents a combined 20-2. On a historical note, Sierra Romero joined the extremely exclusive 300/300 club (hits & RBIs), and moved to just one run away from creating an entirely new 300/300/300 club (hits, RBIs, & runs-scored). For a team of Michigan’s caliber, the victories were expected, and celebrations were moderate compared to scenes around the country. The Wolverines will not be satisfied with anything less than a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series, and they know that just one team stands between them and that goal.
[Hit THE JUMP for a Super-regional preview]
[Bryan Fuller. They all are. Also he bugged us all to get this done.]
A Fast Start That Felt Slow. Michigan softball came into the 2016 season riding a tremendous wave of momentum from their phenomenal 2015 performance that saw them fall just one game short of reaching the sport’s highest glory. The newfound momentum was a mixed blessing however, as it brought with it raised expectations and the pressure that comes hand in hand with success. The 2015 team was able to play free and have fun at every stage, in large part because they were supposed to be good, but not that kind of good. Their record-shattering performances were as much of a surprise to the players as to the fans, and we all went on the crazy ride together. In 2016, by contrast, Michigan came in bearing all the pressure that comes with a #2 pre-season ranking.
Even with all the pressure, if you focus on the win/loss column, Michigan blazed through the non-conference schedule with scarcely a bump in the road. Losses to #1 Florida and to then-top-ten Washington (now #13) are simply things that happen, while the Wolverines piled up plenty of signature Ws, including a pair at the home turf of a now-top-ten Florida State squad and a 16-9 slugfest triumph over Oklahoma that doubled as a Romero-family grudge match. An 8-6 thriller on the home turf of UCLA, the ultimate softball blue-blood, and a merciless 13-0 blasting of Missouri rounded out Michigan’s marquee victories.
Despite the glittering 22-2 record and persistent #2 national ranking, the mood in the softball fanbase was tending towards the restless side. The offense was effective, but had not been able to recapture the free-wheeling, long-bombing swagger of 2015’s “Year of the Pizza” unit. Meanwhile, injuries and official “points of emphasis” combined to hamper Michigan’s top two pitchers. Unquestioned ace Megan Betsa has always been queen of the rise ball, but a renewed emphasis on call high rises balls sent her walks through the roof early on, while Sara Driesenga took some time to get back up to speed after missing almost all of 2015 due to injury. Even more concerning was the fact that the loss to Florida was not just a loss, but an 8-0 5 inning mercy-rule shellacking that left many Wolverine fans questioning whether the Maize & Blue would ever be able to challenge the Gators’ national dominance. Worries persisted even into the early stages of the Big Ten season, as the Wolverines opened Big Ten play with a dismal defensive performance, dropping a 13-12 contest to a solid but unremarkable Northwestern squad.
In addition to the quantifiable problems, there was an intangible sense that the 2016 team hadn’t really come together quite yet. Hutch talked in interviews about how the team wasn’t responding well at the beginning of spring practice, and only locked in over time. The pizza-making passion of 2015 had not yet been replaced by any new charming quirks or wacky antics. Even many of the wins felt simply dutiful, rather than joyful. A 3-1 W over a mediocre Virginia Tech team or a 1-0 squeaker over an Illinois State team that would go on to post a losing record in the Missouri Valley Conference felt more ho-hum than hail, hail. The team were still strong favorites to win the Big Ten and even to retain a super-regional (top-8) seed, but there was a clear need for something more.
[Hit THE JUMP for The Team The Team The Team, The Enemy, The Enemy, The Enemy, and The Hutch The Hutch The Hutch.]
NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Preview
So, one day Michigan will be in the field of 18 Division 1 teams in the NCAA tournament. But that day is not today. Sadly, five years into their D-1 tenure, they are nowhere near this stage. In fact, they seem to be going backwards: after winning five games last season, they only won three in 2016. In an Inside Lacrosse preview of Michigan’s tilt with archrival Ohio State earlier this year, analyst and broadcaster Quint Kessenich put it perfectly:
Michigan (3-7) lacrosse has found the Division I landscape to be tough terrain. Hail to the victors has no marquee wins. The Wolverines are (0-25) all-time against the Top 20 and (15-52) after five seasons. The sport would benefit greatly if Michigan was a Top 10 team.
I hate to agree with Quint Kessenich but he’s right. I think if Michigan was kicking ass at this point they would likely be attracting the attention of mgobloggers and casual fans alike.
Alas - one day they’ll be in it - but who knows when that will be. Until then, we can only try to enjoy a Michigan-less NCAA tournament. So, for all the mgoblog lacrosse nerds on here and all those who are curious about the sport, here’s a preview of this year’s tournament:
The Division 1 tournament is in its 46th year and there are a lot of new, or at least seldom-seen, faces in the field. Here’s the bracket. It all starts this Saturday and Sunday with the Round of 16 and all games are televised on the ESPN family of networks, including the Final 4 and National Championship Game which are played over Memorial Day weekend. The tournament’s winner’s circle is a freaking impregnable citadel of traditional powers that has proven notoriously difficult for outside programs to penetrate. The previous 45 national championships have been won by a total of ten teams. And it’s rare that teams outside of this group even make it to the Final 4. But, 2016 could be different: the game was defined by parity this year and hopefully someone new like Air Force or Albany can crash the party. I’m not crazy about the matchups, though, and it’s very possible we could end up with a Syracuse-Hopkins-Duke-ND Final 4 which would make me very sad.
The Maryland Terrapins come into the postseason as the #1 overall seed, riding an insane 13 game winning streak. They haven’t lost a game since March 5th and the closest they came to a loss was, ironically, an 8-7 win at Michigan in a snowy Big House last month. The Terps, who are Big Ten champs, frequently make the Final 4 and even the championship game but end up getting wiped out, essentially making them the Buffalo Bills of the college lacrosse world. They haven’t won it all since 1975, which is crazy when you stop and think about it. The Terps are coached by the brilliant John Tillman and as always they have a great goalie and defense. A championship would be a first for the Big Ten.
Notre Dame spent much of the season as the #1 team in the country and with good reason. They have a tremendous defense and have two offensive superstars: humongous Sergio Perkovic and pint-sized Matt Kavanagh. And they’re one of only two teams to beat Maryland this year. Despite tons of recent success, though, the Irish haven’t cracked that national championship winner’s circle yet. But this could be their year.
Defending national champs Denver are a huge threat to win it again. The Pioneers are coached by legend Bill Tierney who led Princeton to six national titles in the 1990s and early 2000s. Last year, Denver became the first team west of the Mississippi and outside of the sport’s traditional areas to take home a national championship. Denver took care of most of its schedule fairly easily this year, including a solid W over the #1 Irish in March. Unlike his Princeton teams, however, Tierney’s Denver squads are much more fun to watch thanks to a number of Canadians on offense and an unbelievable face-off man.
Brown and Yale suddenly found themselves heated rivals atop the Ivy League this year. They are both programs on the rise but with contrasting styles. Brown leads the country in scoring offense - posting more than 16 goals a game, while Yale is #6 in scoring defense. While Brown had a penchant for sprinting away from its opponents (including a 22-8 pasting of Michigan), Yale often had to claw its way back for victories. Last month, Brown edged Yale 14-12 in a highly-anticipated and exciting regular season game. Unfortunately, the two are in adjacent brackets and will likely play each other in the second round with a spot in the semis on the line. Whoever gets through could take the whole thing.
Traditional powers Syracuse, Hopkins and Duke still lurk in the background. They had relatively down seasons but are always dangerous in the tournament. Syracuse snuck up to win the ACC and finish #4 in the country but got stuck with a #8 seed. I would like to see these teams get bounced early, especially because they seem to have made it over more deserving squads and were blessed with favorable first round matchups. Thank God Virginia didn’t make it at least. And if you need a reason to root against Hopkins, Coach Dave Pietramala is close buddies with human creep Bill Belichick.
UNC has a good chance to make its long-awaited return this year. They crushed Michigan in the first game of the season and finished 8-6 with wins over Denver and Hopkins. While UNC is considered a blue-blood, I wouldn’t mind seeing them in the Final 4 for a change. They haven’t been in a while and they have a big fan base and nationwide appeal. Despite winning multiple championships in the 80s and 90s, the Heels haven’t been back to championship weekend since 1993.
Albany. When I did this preview last year, I said to root against the game’s blue bloods (i.e. Syracuse, Hopkins, etc.) and pull for fun “new” teams like Albany. Although the supremely talented Thompson Trio, two brothers and a cousin from the Iroquois Nation, graduated, the Great Danes don’t seem to have lost a step. They were downright red hot down the stretch this year, taking out top-10 teams like Yale and Stony Brook, before falling to Hartford in their conference tournament. But, for all their hard work the selection committee rewarded them with a first round matchup against big brother Syracuse, a team that beat them in the season opener. I always pull for Albany because they have Canadians, Native Americans and tons of New York State public school kids and they’re all ballers. The Great Danes are fun as hell to watch and I would LOVE to see them in the championship in Philly on Memorial Day. Same goes for any team that hasn’t won a title before - Air Force, Navy, Towson, Quinnipiac. Even Marquette.
Marquette. The Golden Eagles are a relatively new program and occupy the exact position that Michigan should be in. They beat a bunch of good teams this year and finished 11-4 and somehow got themselves a #6(!) seed and a first round matchup with UNC. I would kill for this to be Michigan instead.
Players to Watch:
M Sergio Perkovic & A Matt Kavanagh, Notre Dame. Perkovic and Kavanagh are ND’s version of thunder and lightning. Perkovic is a Detroit native and former football star at Brother Rice who can run over people and shoot. Long Islander Matt Kavanagh (from my hometown!) is a quick little dude who can run circles around defenders and is living proof you don’t have to be big to be a star in lacrosse. The duo combined for a total of 73 points this year.
G Blaze Riorden, Albany. Riorden is one of the top goalies in the country, stopping an average of 12.67 shots per game. He plays for offense for the Akwesasne Tribe’s indoor team and his skills were on display in this amazing Fat Guy Goalie goal in the NCAA tournament last year.
F/O Trevor Baptiste, Denver. Baptiste was on this list last year and he’ll be on it for the next two years. He’s a phenomenal face-off man, ranking #4 in the nation in percentage and #1 in the nation in GBs, sucking up more than 10 loose balls per game. He is an incredible advantage for the Pioneers.
A Dylan Molloy, A Kylo Bellistri, LSM, Larken Kemp, Brown. Molloy and Bellistri pace Brown’s scoring machine and this year they put in 56 and 55 goals respectively, making them #3 and #4 in the nation. Molloy also added 50 dimes, making him the country’s assist leader. Larken Kemp is among the nation’s leaders in ground balls and forced turnovers (my kind of player!) and he is key to Brown’s lightning-fast transition game.
Others: A Ryan Brown Hopkins, A Shack Stanwick, Hopkins, F/O Ben Williams, Syracuse, D Chris Keating, Yale, M Myles Jones, Duke, D Matt Rees, Navy, A Connor Cannizzaro Denver, G Kyle Bernlohr, Maryland, D Matt Landis Notre Dame, A Ben Reeves, Yale.
Should be an interesting tournament. Enjoy! One day I’ll previewing Michigan - Go Blue!
May 1 – Monday
The NFL draft happened over the past week and apparently the ‘M’ blogosphere is in a panic because only three players were taken, especially in comparison to many Buckeyes drafted. Brian says don’t worry about this; be rational. This could be a good mission statement for the blog:
This space strives to be reasonably balanced about all things largely because relentless neg- or pos-itivity is almost always irrational and therefore infuriating; I find this desire places me in the 95th percentile of Michigan (Internet) fans on the Pollyanna scale. I find this extraordinarily annoying.
May 2 – Tuesday
This appears to the first use of the MGoMailbag. This edition addresses the use of Carlos Brown. Will he play on defense or offense?
Ah Michigan football in 2006, when our biggest concern could be laughing at ridiculous, middle-aged, Notre Dame fans dancing during a tailgate. I think we’ve lost some innocence since then.
May 3 – Wednesday
Hello from Martell Webb. Reported that he wants to be a WR.
Here is a look back at Rivals top 50 from 2002. Brian rates each player based on college performance and determines that their rankings were fairly accurate. Top 5 were: Vince Young, Haloti Ngata, Lorenzo Booker, Ben Olson, and Reggie McNeal.
May 4 – Thursday
Recruiting Board Update. Brandon Saine has likely committed to the Buckeyes. This is surprising news.
May 8 – Monday
Hello from Epke Udoh. This is sort of prophetic:
Oklahoma post Epke Udoh has committed to Tommy Amaker and the star-crossed Michigan basketball program. Normally this would be grounds for massive skepticism and cynical jokes about his decommit ETA, but he's actually signed a letter of intent so the chances of that are slim.
May 9 – Tuesday
Ben Huff died. If I knew this at the time, I didn’t remember it. I mainly remember Huff for being one of those players who seemed like he was around forever (I think this was due to getting a 6th year, but I could be wrong).
A round up of hockey news. Trevor Lewis continues to impress.
May 10 – Wednesday
The Pistons are up 2-0 on the Cavs, and Brian is losing his mind. Looking back, I think of these as the frustrating years after the championship, but I forget how good this team continued to be. I guess they were frustrating because they were so good, but couldn’t get to the finals again. Also, Brian loves the TNT studio show (which is amazingly still going 10 years later):
More Barkley: "I took some good players over to Europe to play, and he [Dirk Nowitski] dropped 50 on us.... so I ask him 'How old are you' and he says '19' so I tell him 'I'll give you any amount of money in the world if you go to Auburn"
Kenny Smith: "Isn't that cheating?"
Charles Barkley: "We're in the SEC, if you aren't cheatin, you ain't tryin. We got Alabama, Georgia, Florida..."
May 11 – Thursday
Unverified Voracity: Hockey Drinking looks at how the new NHL is doing in the playoffs, specifically the Oilers-Sharks series. Also, there are plans to expand the student section, move the band back into the student section, and possibly…add microphones on the band so it can be heard throughout the stadium.
Recruiting Board Update with a Boubacar Cissko mention!
May 12 – Friday
Jerimy Finch says ‘M’ is his school of choice, and he looks like a great prospect to pick up.
Unverified Voracity: My Name is Bill Rock features the results of a caption contest of a no-longer-existing picture of Bill Laimbeer and Kid Rock. Also, Finch did indeed commit, though he’s going to take other visits and there is a small chance the commitment won’t stick (spoiler: it doesn’t).
May 15 – Monday
Unverified Voracity: links to a MSU preview. The prediction is 6-5, like normal.
May 16 – Tuesday
After winning the first two games, the Pistons have lost two in Cleveland. Defense isn’t a problem, but the offense is struggling.
May 17 – Wednesday
Brian will be gone to NYC.
May 22 – Monday
The Pistons finish off the Cavs, holding them to only 61 points.
· I continue to insist that Tayshaun Prince is one of the most underrated players in the league. He was probably the best player the Pistons had over the course of the series; in game seven he was killing the Cavs everywhere he went. Flip Murray couldn't check toast and got abused; Lebron ate a few layups, and whatever Prince missed he rebounded. Carmelo? Whatever.
I know the Darko pick will forever be seen as one of the worst ever, but that pick in light of what Dumars knew he had in Prince (and the faith in him), makes sense. I wouldn’t trade the ’04 championship and the following conference title round run for several years of a malcontent Carmelo (tough in hindsight I would have traded that 3rd pick for parts that could have furthered the run).
May 23 – Tuesday
Brian recaps all he’s missed the in the last week or so. Of note ten years later, the regents have approved Bill Martin’s plan for stadium renovation.
May 24 - Wednesday
May 25 – Thursday
Posts mainly about videos that longer work ten years later are mysterious.
May 26 – Friday
Bullets from the Pistons’ game, though no mention of what the score was. And yes this was written ten years ago, not three months ago after a certain ‘M’ basketball game.
· We all know ESPN is violent death as a sports broadcast, but really, that awful camera angle with the sliding camera that's way too close to see the corners and at an angle in which you can't understand anyone's movement is beyond even my expectations for their stupidity. As King Kaufman always says, "show the game."
May 29 – Monday
The Pistons lost to the Heat and are now down 2-1 in the Conference Finals. Interesting ideas about judgement over knowledge in making good decisions. Brian sides with judgement.
Prince struggles against Walker like he does against most players who are 50 pounds heavier than him. None of this makes any sense. Gladwell sounds the bell for the sports fan who can't believe how... why... aaargh:
The point is that knowledge and the ability to make a good decision correlate only sporadically, and there are plenty of times when knowledge gets in the way of judgement.
It's a cold comfort.
May 30 – Tuesday
I hate this losing stuff on a variety of levels, but since people actually started reading this thing the worst part is having to sit down and not call for assassinations. I try to keep an artificially even keel when things are in progress but going badly; when the need for a post-mortem arises one shall be given. This is not that time. Yet.
Unfortunately, Brian would be able to hone his skill of writing post-mortems in the coming years.
May 31 – Wednesday
The second half of Brian’s answers from a roundtable with Burnt Orange Nation.
Your head coach comes down with a mystery illness and has to step aside. You get to hand pick the replacement for the 2006 season. Who gets your vote?
Spurrier. Not only would Spurrier bring his frenetic offensive game, hilarious comments directed at opposing coaches, and visor, but he would probably cause noted anti-luxury-box crusader John Pollack's head to explode, Total Recall-style. I have nearly as much of a mancrush on Spurrier as the lads at EDSBS, and seeing phosphorus and water get together could be... wait for it... explosive. H!IKM*
All the high profile prospects for '16 are already signed (with a few exceptions UM has no contact with). It stands to reason that anyone Michigan adds to the '16 class will be a multi-year project or a low-upside role player.
Or does it? Let's look at Beilein's late spring recruits* to see what we might expect (assuming the two available scholarships aren't used by grad transfers or walk-ons).
- Max Bielfeldt (committed 3/6/11) - Stolen from various mid-majors (and eventually, after Michigan offered, Illinois), Max was a 6'7 C who took 2-3 years of development before becoming a useful bench player. Ended up the primary option at C (due to attrition) by his senior year on a bad team before excelling as a bench player (at Indiana). Still a great success on the part of Beilein to turn an undersized mid-major talent into a valuable rotation player in the Big Ten.
- Spike Albrecht (committed 4/6/12) - prep schooler stolen from App State (revenge is ours!) was added during the panic to replace Trey Burke (before Burke decided to come back) thanks in part to his AAU connections (McGary, Robinson, Bielfeldt) in Indiana. Turned into a charismatic and unflappable fan favorite. Like Bielfeldt, he ended up starting on a bad team but was better suited to be a backup. Highly effective in that role and, assuming health, seems destined for success in a grad year situation that better fits what he offers.
- Caris Levert (committed 5/11/12) - young 6'4 late bloomer stolen from Ohio blossomed into a 1st round NBA pick. Developed faster and further than anyone could have hoped. Early intentions for a red-shirt were scrapped once Caris proved to be better than more veteran bench players. Beilein's ultimate "diamond in the rough".
- Muhammed Ali Abdur-Rahkman (committed 4/17/14) - prep schooler stolen from mid majors. Scouting report praised his driving skills but noted limited perimeter skills. Despite the uptick in 3% and reduced turnovers that view has largely held true. Yet MAAR's already an excellent role player and improvement from freshman to sophomore year is encouring for his future. Clearly a success for Beilein as MAAR's proven to be a valuable starter on an NCAA tournament team.
- Aubrey Dawkins (committed 4/28/14) - prep schooler stolen from Dayton after he couldn't get into Stanford. Considered a 3&D wing player who lacked guard skills beyond shooting and dunking. Surpassed expectations in some ways (occasional starter as a freshman turned into a 6th man who had the best 3-point shooting on the team in Big Ten play over the last 2 years) and disappointed in others (D was awful even for an underclassmen). Didn't reach his substantial potential at Michigan, but will still be playing college ball in 2019(!).
Beilein has had fantastic success and production from his late additions. That's reason for optimism. None came with any accolodes. All were overlooked by major programs. All became valuable contributors in one way or another. From the scrap heap Beilein's gotten an excellent backup PG, a scoring SG, an impact 2-way wing, and 3-point shooting specialist. All in their freshman year. Beilein's used older prep school kids capable of contributing immediately and he's grabbed young (for their class) projects with upside.
Whoever Beilein gets, they'll probably be a solid contributor, at worst, and they may very well help right away. I'd rather get a grad transfer for '16-17 if given the choice, but have to respect to the track record.
*Novak, Horford**, Wilson and Wagner were added pretty late in the cycle too (recruiting began in Fall or Winter) but there's a significant difference between committing late and beginning your recruitment in Spring, only weeks before graduation. Robin Benzig was another Spring signing but he was supposed to sit a year. All of them also panned out in one way or another (pending whatever Wilson will do), though not always for Michigan.
**The examples of Horford and Bielfeldt (not to mention Donnal) should be all you need to be patient with Wagner, Wilson, Teske, and Davis. Beilein's bigs tend to be a lot better as upperclassmen, if they make it that far.
EDIT: I forgot Colton Christian. Adjust Beilein's Spring "batting average" to 5/6.
LOOKING BACK ON MY “EPISODE”
This is not a sports-related diary per se, but I am posting this because it was a sports blog that helped me get through what might be termed my first official “health scare” back in December, and it occurred to me that I never properly thanked everyone for the kindness and support that was shown during what was a rather rough and eye-opening week in my life.
If you’re interested in the details, feel free to continue reading. The basic lesson that I will throw out there is this – if it isn’t going away, you probably need to see someone about it (i.e., a medical professional) as soon as humanly possible.
I developed a rather nasty cold sometime in the last half of October last year, and like most colds, it persisted for a week or so and then went on its way. Well, not completely on its way – the cough persisted, but I am in my late 30s and still on the cusp of athlete shape most everywhere on me, so I didn’t even consider that to be a problem…yet.
In early November, I went to the urgent care in Canton for the first time – they gave me a cough suppressant, wrote it off as bronchitis and told me that I should probably see improvement in 10-14 days. This was after an hour or so of waiting and exams, so I walked out of there with a prescription and, for a time, the cough got better, but of course that wasn’t the problem now.
A few days before Thanksgiving, the cough came back in force, this time with pink eye and a runny nose, the former being something I had not had since fourth grade even with a house full of kids that had conjunctivitis recently. That was rather strange, but I soldiered through this. By now, however, I was sleeping with my upper torso elevated because it was the only way I was getting relief. Still, I had hopes that this was just a cough.
In the early part of December, I started to notice some swelling in my feet, swelling that I could not associate with the chronic inflammation of tendons that I experience down there anyway. We’re six weeks into this by now and this might have been the first time I was truly flummoxed. Edema – class 2 edema – will do that at my age, because it shouldn’t even be a thing at my age. My primary care physician prescribes a diuretic and a BP med, which again help for a while.
As December wore on, however, I start actually listening to what people are saying about me – mainly about my loss of weight (15 pounds from about Halloween at that juncture) and my ashen appearance, which I think I might have been in denial about. Yes, the cough persisted, and was getting steadily worse. The weekend before Christmas is when this all came crashing down on me.
I was at a family party on the 19th of December, where I made it memorable by hacking up enough fluid to build a lung and then hacking up everything that I had eaten in the driveway. That came before the night of exactly zero sleep, where my coughing actually led to a noise complaint at the Dundee Quality Inn. At 10:30 AM on Sunday, December 20th, my wife – who was tired of me trying to bargain with myself that this was something I could conquer alone – basically threw me into the car and carted me to St. Joseph Mercy in Ann Arbor.
It was in that emergency room that I first began to realize that, no, it wasn’t a cough. More to the point, it might have been a cough, but it was now something very different. I got the feeling I might be in for an adventure when I was carted right to the acute rooms after a brief look at my vitals. On to the monitors I went, and if the tachycardia and ultra-high blood pressure weren’t jarring enough, the chest x-ray, the left side of which was opaque, was downright frightening.
“This is not normal.”, said the ER physician.
A very frightened me said, “Yes, I get that.”
My right lung was about ¾ full of….something. I also had a heart which was now a smidge larger than it should have been. Both bad, of course.
More tests. CT scans and what seemed like 100 blood panels. Nothing else terribly amiss other than the heart and lung. In the haze of talk and machines, I may have missed a detail here and there, but at about 3:00 PM, they came in with the equipment to basically drain me. So that is what I signed off on, eh? I can’ remember. Whatever.
For those that have not had the pleasure of having a tube inserted into a lung, it is relatively minor and painless thanks to the very powerful local that they give you. Being just loopy enough to be aware of your surroundings is an interesting experience too. A little pressure and a poke and you are now hooked to a plastic box with a liter or so of capacity.
My right lung began draining almost immediately – a brown, sometimes reddish fluid. A good thing in the sense that it gave them the impression that my immune system had won, but at a rather significant cost. Anyway, one liter…then two….then three. It took about five minutes to get three liters of this shit out of me. They stopped it intentionally, in fact, with a valve down at the top of the container. More than enough to test.
It was pretty evident I was going to be spending some time in the hospital at this point, of course. About an hour after that rather horrific look inside me, I was in a room watching TV and waiting for doctors to tell me what my next few days would be like.
From my days when I was heavy into neuropsychology, I gained some – a tiny bit – of medical knowledge out of necessity. So when they began to throw “cardiomyopathy” and “pleural effusion” around, I got the message rather clearly and began to feel a combination of relief and anger – anger at myself. Just a cough indeed, Lorne. A few more days and this was an ICU-worthy offense, if you will. They were very clear about that part.
My life in the short term changed right then and there – the hospital diet was a low-sodium diet, the thoracic and cardio specialists came in shifts to talk treatment and future. Among some of the more interesting things that were done to me in the name of eliminating causes were a catheterization, which yielded nothing but compliments about the clear nature of my arteries, a procedure where I got shot up with something to accelerate the drainage of fluid from my lung and got turned like a rotisserie chicken in the process and an echo of my legs, which yielded the startling finding that my veins are of a healthy size.
Furosimide took care of the edema at this point, which all but vanished inside a few days. One thing about that – peeing became a temporary hobby. A good sign, but extremely inconvenient. The potassium pills were as close to literal horse pill as you can get too. Take them with food? They are food unto themselves. By the third day in the hospital, I was free of equipment and able to walk without having to give a nurse 15 minutes warning. I walked around that ward – Floor 2 East – and saw people much worse off than I. The feeling was one of humility and thankfulness, or rather, I was humbled by the notion that some of these cases could have been me, but thankful that the one thing that might have saved me from more serious problems is being 38 and fit.
I was finally able to go home at about 10:30 AM on Christmas Day. For the first time in my entire life, I had spent Christmas Eve alone. Worse, I spent it in a hospital room surrounded by people who, in one or two cases, might not even leave that hospital alive, or so I gathered from the chatter I could hear. The most I could do was turn on the single strand of lights that my mother-in-law put up and watch “A Christmas Story” on the grainy reception of Room 231.
I went back to work two followup appointments later – on January 20th. I spent a month basically tooling around my house in a rather depressed state, but somehow a wiser one. I still suffer from the effects of all this, at least a little bit – my wife lords over my physical activity like a hawk to this day and I am on some of the medications right now. I have another followup in June and one more echocardiogram. My ejection fraction is still a bit south of normal, so no booze and the diet remains for the time being. I have experienced what for a younger person is a radical life shift, even if it is ultimately temporary. I felt everything – fear, self-hatred, relief and so on – sometimes in the span of hours.
That brings me to what I wanted to say here – one thing that did get me through this was MGoBlog. I may not have been terribly active on it for about a week or so there, but I was reading and laughing and shaking my fist in anger at various threads right along with everyone else. The thread about my hospitalization – which was unprompted – was a very touching display of support, one I printed out and still have on the wall of my home office. In a time when I was despairing a bit, this place helped me out.
It is a bit belated, but I did want to thank everyone for that. I like you, even if your thread makes me want to put my head through the fucking wall.