A sobering 15 pounds lighter, determined but realistic, Luol Deng on Thursday prepared to address a group of reporters for the first time since exiting the hospital following serious complications from a spinal tap.
Instead, he began coughing, showing at least his dry sense of humor is intact.
Deng is adamant he will play even five minutes if he is able. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, of course, calls Deng day to day. But the stark reality remains: It’s possible, if not likely, that Deng, who can’t even endure exertion without headaches, will miss the remainder of these Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat.
And if that’s not enough, Kirk Hinrich remains doubtful with his severely bruised left calf. Hinrich underwent treatment and did some rehabilitation work in a pool Thursday after undergoing a second MRI exam, which a source said showed similar damage to muscle fibers that the first test indicated.
“It’s just not progressing the way we had hoped,” Hinrich told the Tribune.
As for Deng, speaking on the first day he had spent fully outside his house or a hospital in a week, he used painstaking detail to describe the severity of his ordeal, which the Tribune and CSNChicago.com first reported last week involved a “blood patch” to stop spinal fluid leakage that was causing intense headaches and disorientation.
“I did the spinal tap and, after that, I just didn’t respond well,” Deng said. “I started having severe headaches, was struggling to walk. I started feeling really weak. I started throwing up, (had) constant diarrhea. I couldn’t control my body really. Because of that, I lost a lot of weight. And I still don’t feel right.
“I was really scared. I’ve never been through anything like that my whole life. It was scary for me, scary for everyone around me.”
Even on Thursday, eight days after the spinal tap, Deng said he felt unable to engage in basketball activity. He said is trying to hydrate and eat as much as possible to increase his stamina.
“I want to play, but I don’t know what I can do,” he said. “I haven’t done anything. It really sucks. I’m weak and I have headaches. When I’m moving around a lot, my headaches increase. I tried to shoot a little bit and I struggled. I couldn’t do it.”
Deng hasn’t played since Game 5 of the Nets series and said watching from afar in Chicago while his teammates split the first two games in Miami hurt him in a different manner.
“It’s hard, man,” Deng said. “We’ve had a long season. I’ve played with a lot of injuries. I’ve gone through the torn ligament in the wrist. I had a fractured thumb earlier this year. I played with it. I went through all that to be able to play. I didn’t think something besides an injury would keep me out. And that’s what makes it really hard. I don’t know what you can do.”
That’s the first time Deng revealed the thumb injury, which obviously pales in comparison to what he endured over the last week. Deng returned to the hospital twice after the spinal tap was performed on May 1, the first time for the blood patch procedure and then for a follow-up MRI.
The blood patch involved injecting some of Deng’s blood into the lower back so that it could heal the spinal puncture naturally.
“My white blood cells were so high that I had to stay in the hospital for almost a day and a half until my white blood cell count came back down to be able to go through that procedure,” Deng said. “Since I did, I’ve been feeling a little bit better.”
Deng explained his decision to use his Twitter account to defend himself from people questioning him for sitting out games.
“I just felt like everyone kept saying I was missing the game because of the flu,” Deng said. “I’ve been here for nine years. I’ve played games with the flu. I’ve come to the media and said, ‘I’ve had the flu.’ I don’t think the flu would make me miss a game. I might not play well. I might not play the minutes I play. But even if I had the flu, I would sit on the bench.
“It kind of bothered me a little bit that that’s what was being said when I had a totally different thing. It wasn’t just the flu.”
Deng remains stung by those who labeled him as soft for missing the Bulls’ first-round series against the Celtics in 2009 with what turned out to be a stress fracture in his right tibia. It will be intriguing to see how Deng responds to this incident.
Deng responded to the 2009 ordeal by becoming a two-time All-Star.
“They wanted to make sure I didn’t have meningitis, which I’m thankful for,” Deng said of the organization. “I never knew of a spinal tap before that. I didn’t know the reaction or the side effects of it.”
Unfortunately for Deng and the Bulls, he’s all too familiar now.