‘I was hunched over and panting, like I had been winded’
With his no-nonsense delivery, Tom Wood sounds like he’s describing a routine injury rather than a pulmonary embolism that left the Northampton flanker unable to lie down for five days and his wife having her life insurance checked.
Pulmonary embolism is the result of a blocked blood vessel in your lungs, which can be life-threatening if not caught early enough. It is commonly associated with smokers, long-haul air travelers, and those who lead a sedentary lifestyle. Wood does not fit into any of these categories. The 33-year-old came out of lockdown in great shape and posted pictures of himself lifting homemade wooden barbel.
So there was no hint of a warning sign a month ago when he went to bed on a Tuesday night. Wood, who was soundly asleep, woke up at 5am with a burning chest pain that he couldn’t move. Another thing to note about Wood is that he is known even in rugby circles for having a ridiculously high pain threshold that has allowed him to make 200+ appearances for Northampton and in a 13 year professional career To collect 50 international matches in England. He broke more bones in his body than many people knew they existed.
So when he says that the pain he experienced that day was “right up there,” it can be assumed that it is the purest form of agony. “The symptom was really severe chest pain,” said Wood. “I couldn’t stand up straight. It folded me in half. I was hunched over and gasped like I’d been churned. I couldn’t sit up straight and open my chest. ”
Wood was taken to Northampton General Hospital and subjected to a series of tests. “It took them until about 2pm to find the problem and by then I felt like a cheat sitting there and feeling good on the morphine, but all the tests came back negative,” said Wood. “I thought ‘blimey, I wasted everyone’s time and made a big fuss about nothing’. Then they did a contrast CT scan, where they injected you with contrast material, and found the clot straight away. It wasn’t a scary big enough, but decent enough that they found it and put me on blood thinners right away. “
A clot from his calf had lodged in his lungs in what was known as a “heart attack.” Since it was otherwise healthy, he was released that afternoon, also because he was next to the Covid ward. However, he soon found that the pain medication prescribed for him was insufficient to contain his discomfort. “I don’t think it touched the sides,” said Wood. “I could probably have taken double or triple. I couldn’t lie on my back and sleep. I was in too much pain. I had to work incredibly hard to control my breathing. I couldn’t take a deep breath. I was panting and really had to work to get control of it so I could relax. “
Despite his situation, Wood insists that he stayed fairly calm even if his family feared the worst. “A lot of people have said, ‘God, you must have been scared or scared or whatever, but I wouldn’t describe it as one of those things,” Wood said. “I’m always pretty matter-of-fact. I don’t get too excited about these things – it’s more about my mother and wife who were a little beside themselves. The woman checked the life insurance and the will and everything was fine pretty quickly. “
After an overnight stay in the hospital, Wood was locked on his sofa for almost a week, mostly spending time watching the Netflix show Meat Eater. “I couldn’t get up from the sofa without having an episode,” said Wood. “I didn’t sleep in my own bed for four or five days because I couldn’t lie down. I had to sleep upright. “
After this episode, Wood did not experience any further symptoms. Within a week Wood was again training at his usual ferocity, but he is banned from contact training because of his blood thinners.
His return date has been set for the Premiership semi-finals, although he hopes to convince his agent to approve an earlier return. Otherwise, “I just need the guys to do a job and then I’ll come in at the last minute and do a John Terry.”