For the first time in 51 days, Drew Bledsoe was cleared to play football. Now the only question that remains is when.
Bledsoe joined his team of doctors at a press conference at Massachusetts General Hospital on Tuesday and they announced that the former Pro Bowler could return to full-time duty. Patriots team physician Dr. Bertram Zarins, joined by Dr. David Berger, who treated Bledsoe at the time of his injury, and Dr. Andrew Warshaw, the chief of surgery at Mass. General, opened the proceedings by simply stating Bledsoe could return.
"The news today is that we're clearing Drew to play," Zarins said. He and Berger went on to describe Bledsoe's injury in an attempt to clear up any misconceptions that may have arisen during the past two-plus months since the Jets Mo Lewis knocked the Patriots quarterback out of the lineup on Sept. 23.
They reported that Bledsoe suffered a hemothorax, a condition that results when the chest cavity fills with blood, and not a pneumothorax, or a collapsed lung, as some have reported.
"Drew never had a collapsed lung," Berger said. "A collapsed lung means that there is air that gets in between the chest wall and the lung itself. At no time did he have a collapsed lung. He had what we call a hemothorax. He did not have a pneumothorax, which is a collapsed lung."
While the medical semantics may be questioned, the important news is that Bledsoe will resume his full-
time duties. Zarins went on to explain the thought process behind allowing Bledsoe back into the Jets game despite the hit, explaining that at no time was there any indication of chest pain. He also said Bledsoe's condition changed from the time of the hit until after the game.
"I was right next to him on the field at the time and he never lost consciousness," Zarins said. "He had no amnesia and no problem responding. He got hit hard and his whole body got hit hard. I evaluated him neurologically and he passed all the testing we use for a concussion. Things change and evolve. At the moment I think it's a matter of semantics, but I don't think he had a true concussion."
Berger, who treated Bledsoe at the hospital upon his arrival, reported he checked for other injuries at the time of the examination and only found problems in his chest.
"At that time I placed a chest tube into his left chest and drained blood from his chest," Berger said. "We connected that tube up to a device which allows us to give him his blood back and basically the only blood Bledsoe received during this entire process was his own. The bleeding stopped on its own and the tube was subsequently removed.
"He eventually was discharged from the hospital and he had chest X-rays as a follow up. He developed
some fluid in his chest, which is to be expected after this type of injury. You get a reactive effusion, which is a clear fluid – not blood – that develops. That was removed with the help of a radiologist. At present, his chest X-ray is completely normal, there is no blood in his chest and we feel he is completely healed from this injury."
That's fine for Bledsoe the person, but what does it mean for the football player? It's been more than seven weeks since he last took a snap and it only stands to reason that he'll need time to work his way back into football shape where he'll be able to withstand the rigors of NFL life.
Zarins said the decision was a difficult one for just that reason but the medical team is confident he's 100 percent.
"I'm itching to get back in there," Bledsoe said. "I feel healthy, I'm putting weight back on – I'm about 10 pounds from where I was when I got hit – I feel strong and I've been working out for the last couple of weeks and I feel great."
Bledsoe was also seen by five specialists, who all agreed with the current plan of care. Berger said one of things that made this case difficult was that it was so unique.
"I think this was a very unusual injury," Berger said. "I don't think we've ever seen an injury like this in a professional athlete. The chance of him having a re-bleed is significantly lower than it was prior to him having this injury. When you have an injury to the space between your chest wall and your lung, that space scars after the injury heals and consequently things are stuck over where those blood vessels run."
Bledsoe was hit with several questions about his expectations in light of the job done by Tom Brady in his absence. Bledsoe feels he deserves a chance to recapture his starting job, but understands there are no guarantees.
"If it's within my power to be on the field Sunday, I'm going to do everything to see that that happens," Bledsoe said. "Nothing is promised to anyone in this game. Since I've been in the league from the time I was a rookie I've been the starter. That said, I have to prove it again. I have to prove that I'm the best guy to go out and win football games.
"The team's done great and Brady's played excellent football and I'm ecstatic about that. At the same time it's been bittersweet because I'm not out there. But I have to make it difficult for Brady to stay on the field by playing better."
Head Coach Bill Belichick said on Monday that he expects Brady to take the majority of the snaps this week in practice and start on Sunday. The most likely scenario for Bledsoe would be for him to regain his form in practice this week and slowly work his way back into the picture.