Oct. 23, 2012
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- After Mike Bruesewitz stole the ball, he had only one thing in mind: Dunk.
On his way to the rim, though, he got caught from behind by Wisconsin teammate Josh Gasser.
“And we kind of got entangled,’’ recounted Bruesewitz, a senior from St. Paul, Minn.
As they fell to the floor, he said, “I tried not to trample on Josh.’’
So, the 6-foot-6, 223-pound Bruesewitz went careening into the back end of the basket standard.
“The next thing I know,’’ he said, “I looked down and I had a big gash in my leg.’’
Very little was left to the imagination.
“It was kind of scary,’’ Bruesewitz said.
Especially after seeing the size of the open wound, a seven-inch gash along his shin.
“I started to freak a little bit,’’ he admitted. “I saw my bones.’’
The scariest part of slicing open his leg was not knowing how much damage had been done.
But he knew it wasn’t good, and that’s when his mind began racing to worst-case scenarios.
Such as “not knowing if I was going to play basketball or walk normal again,’’ he said.
What he did know -- or what he thought he knew -- didn’t make him feel any better.
“I’m seeing my bone,’’ he said, “and I’m thinking, “I know there are a lot of nerves and tendons and some muscles there that can affect a lot of things.’’’
Everything was happening so fast, and none of it was making sense to Bruesewitz.
“Henry is running over to me,’’ he remembered, “and I’m thinking, ‘Oh, crap.’’’
Henry is Henry Perez-Guerra, the trainer for the Badger men’s basketball program.
“He’s one of the best in the country, if not the best,’’ Bruesewitz said.
That faith in Perez-Guerra helped reassure him.
“Henry was talking to me and making sure I was OK,’’ he said. “And he had me do a couple of isometric things with my ankle to see if I had cut a nerve or if there was muscle damage.
“He looked at me and said, ‘We’re not out of the woods yet, but you have full feeling and full control of your foot and that’s a big thing right there.’’’
An ambulance was called to take Bruesewitz from the practice gym to the emergency room.
Perez-Guerra and Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan accompanied him on the ride to the hospital.
“Coach Ryan was very reassuring,’’ he said. “I was glad he came; I was glad he was with us.’’
There was a peace of mind knowing that he was not alone.
“Once I got to the hospital,’’ Bruesewitz said, “I was much more calm.’’
On a scale of 1 to 10, Bruesewitz was asked to describe his level of pain.
“It was about a 3,’’ he replied. “I didn’t think that it hurt that bad.’’
Ryan made sure everyone knew that a “3’’ on the Bruesewitz scale may be a “7’’ to others.
“Some people say that I was kind of blessed with a high pain tolerance,’’ Bruesewitz said.
The hospital stay was short. Bruesewitz had surgery on Oct. 9 and was released the next day. The initial prognosis was that he would be sidelined from four to six weeks. More on that later.
Now, if you’re wondering how many stitches that he had, you have to be more specific.
Three days before injuring his leg, he needed seven stitches to close a cut above his eye. Senior forward Ryan Evans had inadvertently clipped him with an elbow during practice.
As for the laceration to his shin area, Bruesewitz pointed out, “Everybody said that I had between 100 and 150 stitches in my right leg. But Henry thought it was around 40 or 50.’’
In retrospect, he knows that he was pretty lucky.
“It was unfortunate that it happened,’’ he said, “but I got really fortunate because it didn’t nick or cut or sever any tendons or nerves. It got little bit of a muscle, but not much.’’
That’s what he shared with his teammates the day after surgery.
“Everybody came over and we talked about it,’’ said Bruesewitz, who lives with Jared Berggren and Dan Fahey. “We had a little bit of a therapy session in our living room.
“I wasn’t the only one who was freaked out (by the open wound). A lot of guys saw some stuff that they weren’t ready to see that day, either.’’
His mom and dad -- Joanne and Rob -- were at his side almost immediately.
They literally helped him get back on his feet.
“My mom cooked up a bunch of good food,’’ Mike Bruesewitz said.
Even during his own personal crisis, he couldn’t help but think about his older brother.
Robert Bruesewitz, who has been stationed in Washington, D.C., is headed to Afghanistan.
“My brother works for the Department of Defense,’’ he explained. “He was supposed to leave in July but it has kept getting delayed. He’ll be gone for most of the winter, four to six months.
“He’s doing intelligence work and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. But there are a lot of dumb people in the world; people who have other agendas, so it’s a little scary.’’
Scary, he said, from the perspective “he’s still in harm’s way, so you think about that.’’
When the Brothers Bruesewitz see each other again, they’ll have something to talk about.
Not that Mike Bruesewitz needed a conversation piece, but he has one now.
“I’m going to have a pretty wicked scar,’’ he said.
But when he’s cleared to begin playing again, will there be any mental scars?
Bruesewitz came by his nickname -- Bruiser -- the old-fashioned way.
On the court, he’s known as a relentless and aggressive competitor; a fearless hustler.
He’s generally banging into bodies or bouncing off the floor on a regular basis.
Regarding any potential physical limitations, he said, “No, it’s just a flesh wound.’’
That being said, he couldn’t resist delivering a punch line.
“If you want to quote Monty Python,’’ he said, “it’s merely a flesh wound.’’
Bruesewitz then revealed something that was not meant to be funny.
“Other than the seven inches on my leg that are all messed up,’’ he said, “this will probably be the healthiest my body has ever been.
“I’ve had the naggers, the nagging injuries to my ankles and shoulders; the general wear and tear to a basketball player. But my body actually feels pretty good right now.’’
Factoring into his condition is all the “down time’’ that he’s now coping with during his rehab.
“You want to work really hard and do everything you can to get back,’’ he said. “But it’s kind of odd because the best thing I can do to get back is to do nothing; at least for now.
“I’m literally sitting and waiting for this thing to heal up. That’s a weird concept for me. I have to come home and sit on the couch and prop my leg up. I’m not very good at sitting and waiting.’’
There have been a few silver linings. Not many, but a few.
“I’m catching up on things that I need to catch up on in the social aspect of the world,’’ he said.
Like watching the FX cable network series “Sons of Anarchy.’’ It’s about a motorcycle gang.
Along with staying abreast of his school work, he has also put a dent into the Harry Potter series.
Bruesewitz, meanwhile, just celebrated a red letter day.
Last Friday, he got rid of his crutches.
“My arm pits were getting a little raw,’’ he said.
He’s still wearing a stabilizing boot. But he stressed, “I’m moving around much better.’’
So much so that he’s optimistic that he can resume practicing ahead of schedule.
“They said four to six weeks,’’ he acknowledged. “But knowing me and my eagerness -- I hate sitting on the sidelines and being bored and I’m a quick healer, too -- I can be back sooner.
“I would really like to be back for all the games. Realistically, we’ll see. Hopefully I don’t miss too many. I’m hoping to get back by the third or fourth game. It’s up to the doctors and up to my body.’’
The Badgers open the season against Southeastern Louisiana on Nov. 11. That’s followed by a road trip to Florida and home dates against Cornell (Nov. 18) and Presbyterian (Nov. 20)
“Hopefully, I can get back the third game,’’ he said wistfully. “The second would be better.’’
So far, Bruesewitz has attended every practice.
“I haven’t missed one yet and I don’t plan on it,’’ he said. “If you’re hurt, you still want to try and stay around the guys as much as possible and be a part of everything, even though you’re really not.
“The guys know when I’m sitting on the sidelines because I will yell at them because I’m the old guy now. I’ll tell them, ‘You’ve got to do this, that and the other.’’’
He will rehab before practice, shoot free throws and set shots, and ice his leg after practice.
“The days are getting a little monotous that way,’’ he said. “This is kind of boring.’’
But it beats the alternative -- having no reason to rehab.
Not that he would have accepted anything less than a full recovery.
It’s merely a flesh wound, after all.