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Spagnola: This Surgery Stuff Definitely No Joke


FROM HOME, Texas – For five days, this constantly went running through my mind, certainly causing my blood pressure to rise. Creating these momentary hot flashes. Anxiety like never having experienced.

I'm going to have surgery, the first ever.

The anesthesiologist is going to put me out, or as he cleverly said as they were wheeling me to the OR, "Just gave you your margarita." Sure did, now giving yourself over to someone else.

Surgery now. Not some epidural to relieve back pain. Not some routine colonoscopy after you turn 50. This is the real deal.

Thought of that night before my dad, at 83, had open-heart surgery, telling the doc, "Now you get a good night's sleep."

Understood his sentiments.

But those five days pre-op provided me with a crystal clear perspective of what these Dallas Cowboys players must go through facing surgeries to continue their careers, and in part for quality of life after football. Not just the physical part, but the mental anguish of surgery they, too, must go through. Come on, they can't be much different from me and you in regards to surgery, right?

My thoughts immediately went back to this past season, my conversation with Tyrone Crawford. A couple of them. First, when he was trying all he could to rehab those hips of his, and trying to play through pain, trying to convince himself he could do this.

Second, when he finally resigned himself that surgery was necessary, not only if he even decided to play football again but for quality of life thereafter. Like if he wanted to be able to play with his kids. And this is a tough guy, big and strong. But I could see the pain in his eyes, the shear dread.

He knew.

In 2013, Crawford tore his Achilles during a non-contact pad drill the first day of training camp. Surgery. In 2015, he played through an early-season rotator cuff injury, though knowing he was facing the postseason surgery he eventually had. And in 2017, early in training camp, could hear Crawford scream out in anguish, grabbing his foot and being carted off, fearing the worst, another torn Achilles, though turning out to be a significant lateral ankle sprain.

Now this. The hips. He was questioning deep down if he even wanted to play again after another round of surgeries.

And this hip stuff would not be a one-time deal, doctors to surgically repair the one side, and then approximately six weeks later repair the other side so he wasn't totally incapacitated all at once. Serious stuff to him, but thankfully he's claiming to be on track for whenever the Cowboys get back to playing football. He wants to play.

Then there was Byron Jones this past offseason. He, too, suffering hip problems. Kept trying treatment and rehab. But relented to hip surgery at the end of March. Remember someone asking me why didn't he have the surgery immediately after the season so he'd be 100 percent by training camp.

My response being, "Hey, it's surgery, you know." Do all you possibly can to avoid. It's a last resort, nothing to be rushed into cavalierly if there is any reasonable alternative to first attempt.

Always thought we all take these player surgeries with nonchalance. Like, well, no big deal. Just routine. All they're going to do is reconstruct my knee. Yeah, seriously.

In fact, saw someone classify Leighton Vander Esch's surgery this past season as "minor neck surgery." Minor my you know what. Anytime someone goes messin' around with your neck, removing a ruptured disk and plugging up the vacated space between vertebrae that close to the spinal cord, that ain't no nothing minor, no exaggeration with the triple-negative.

As I've learned over all these years, the only minor surgery out there is surgery to someone else.

From the start of training camp last year until now, the Cowboys have totaled 17 players undergoing 20 surgeries. That's right, some twice, like Crawford and then rookie free agent wide receiver Jon'Vea Johnson (both shoulders). The list includes the likes of Connor Williams (ACL), Anthony Brown (torn triceps) Antwaun Woods (hip), Zack Martin (ankle), Luke Gifford (fracture forearm), Noah Brown (knee) and Xavier Su'a-Filo (fractured fibula).

Then comes the after-care, the rehab, keeping the

Cowboys training staff of Jim Maurer, Britt Brown, Greg Gaither and Hanson Yang busy 12 months a year. While the NFL had closed team facilities for nearly the past two months, and still players and coaches have yet to return, those guys were allowed in to do what they do, in conjunction with the weight and conditioning staff, too, all working to get these guys back on the field in a timely manner.

Even the previous year, guys such as Travis Frederick (shoulder, abdominal), La'el Collins (shoulder), Woods (rotator cuff), DeMarcus Lawrence (shoulder), Allen Hurns (fibula/ankle) and Jameill Showers(ACL) all had surgeries.

And none of that takes into account football staff members undergoing surgeries, like receivers coach Sanjay Lal, then special teams coach Keith O'Quinn and vice president of player personnel Will McClay.

Now me, though not quite as essential to the football operation as all those guys.

Mine was surgery to repair a torn Achilles. Had been riding my bike for exercise during these times of isolation. Made a bad decision trying to cross a four-lane divided highway with the stop lights red in all directions. Light turned green about two seconds too soon. Got hit by a pickup truck just taking off. Didn't see me. My left foot didn't release from the pedal stirrup while going sliding to the road.

Thought I was OK. A little foot pain. A little blood from my elbow scraping the road. Just hobbled off to the side of the road. But my sports writing medical degree caused me to grab the back of my lower leg, down where the pain was above my heel. Then as the docs do, grabbed the good one to see what it's supposed to feel like. Lord I knew, but remained in denial for a couple of days.

Cowboys team physician and orthopedic surgeon Dr. Dan Cooper got me in to The Carrell Clinic as soon as he could. X-rays were negative, but when he grabbed the back of my foot, he knew what I feared. Torn Achilles. So did foot specialist Dr. Gene Curry. When I asked if there was any alternative to surgery, was told could be in a boot for several months, the tendon would reattach on its own, but I'd limp for the rest of my life and any athletic activity likely was out.

No alternative then. And that's when you have to come to grips with surgery. That's when you beat yourself up for all those would've, could've decisions that led to that moment of the accident, leaving you facing surgery.

Now, I'm sure many of you guys have undergone surgeries, and guessing we all react differently. But this one was my first, short of having my impacted wisdom teeth and tonsils removed, that back when maybe 5 years old and thought it was great afterward when told could eat all the popsicles I wanted.

Surgery a week ago this past Monday, May 11, with Dr. Curry was, as they normally say after player surgeries, "successful." Now it's me and my walking boot brace and one of those kneel-down, four-wheel scooters you push away with your good foot for the coming months. Then the rehab, and as Britt told me, remember, you are not trying to get back in time to start a season. Be patient, not normally one of my better qualities. But lucky to have such great medical care and advice.

So guess being mandated to work from home during these trying times never came at a better time … for me, anyway. Won't much be going anywhere anytime soon.

But you know what? In retrospect, when sitting out back, seems the birds are chirping louder these days, the rain smells fresher and my tomato plants are growing greener and faster than usual. I think I can smell the roses, too.

Maybe surgery really does have a cause and effect.