what the spleen?

Last Thursday was just your average Thursday. I got done with work and drove over to Fort of Missoula for a summer league soccer game. Near the end of the game, I was somewhat brutally fouled. It wasn’t actually whistled as a foul, but someone collided into me with such force, it’s hard to not suspect any intention on their part. I’ve been on the giving end and the receiving end of hundreds of hard tackles throughout my career, and let’s just say that I would have apologized for that one. The person didn’t. 

Anyhow, I was immediately flat on the ground, unable to breath and with a knife-stabbing pain in my kidney. It took me a minute to start breathing again and a few more minutes to finally walk off the pitch. I still had a very hard time breathing, which led me to the fortunate decision to not keep playing. I drove home, walked up the stairs and by the time I made it to my front door, I did not have the strength to turn the key. It took me a couple of minutes to get into my apartment, at which point I decided it might be wise to go the ER room. I figured that maybe one of my lungs had temporarily collapsed and I wasn’t going to be surprised if I had a bruised rib or two. 

So, I decided to walk to my neighborhood hospital. My buddy Colin was sitting in the lobby in a wheelchair, having broken his foot in a hockey game. Of course we started joking around right away, until I recognized that every time I laughed, that knife stabbing pain in my kidneys returned. I must have not looked too healthy, because the ER nurses immediately pulled me to the front of the line and into the ER room. Apparently you don’t have to wait in line at the ER room when you can’t breath. 

The ER doctor arrived and was rather surprised that I had turned down pain meds by the ER nurse. While he rightfully suggested that I looked like I was in a lot of pain, my answer that I was fine as long I didn’t move did suffice for a moment.  Deep down, I was thinking that if I didn’t need pain meds, then it could be such a bad injury. The upcoming series of xrays and ct scans proved me wrong. 

The doc came back and told me that if I wasn’t still wearing my shin guards, he wouldn’t believe that this could have happened in a soccer game. Good news, my lungs didn’t collapse. Bad news, I had four broken rips, a punctured kidney and my spleen was largely torn in half – hanging together by a thread. 

There was a good chance they’d have to remove my spleen, so they were checking me into the intensive care unit until their emergency trauma surgeon could get to the hospital to make the final evaluation. 

Now I felt pretty shitty. I also decided to accept pain meds at this point, because, well, I wasn’t fooling anyone at this point.  Still, in my mind I had a hard time computing how this could have happened.

Within hours I was hooked up to an IV and oxygen, with pain meds being dripped into my body. I had a nurse solely assigned to me, which was troublesome for two reasons. One, why did I need around the clock care?  Two, a male nurse, really?

At some point the trauma surgeon arrived and said she wanted to wait a little bit longer and see if my body could heal a bit more on its own terms. Fine by me, because I didn’t really know what my spleen did so it probably wasn’t a good idea to lose it quite yet. 

They told me to get some rest, which was easier said than done because my blood was drawn literally every hour and they also did three or four x-rays throughout the night. Apparently, I was much more injured than expected.  

At some point, people started crying in front of my room. It took me a while to realize I wasn’t dreaming, at which point I checked with my nurse Jim what was going on. Apparently that was the family of the guy next door, who had just passed away. WTF? Why am I around people dying? Oh that’s right, I am laying in the ICU because of a soccer injury.

That was probably my lowest moment. I was bummed that these people just lost their father. I also didn’t understand why I was there in a somewhat life threatening situation? Was I going to lose my spleen? Do I need it? What about my kidney? And why did the guy not even apologize. I felt really alone that moment. I probably was. I felt a tear running down my cheek. And I felt my shinguards. Why am I still wearing my shinguards? Jim…

I woke up a just a little bit later, with someone sticking a needle into my hand. At this point, I had IVs in both arms at this point – just in case I needed to go into emergency surgery (one for fluids, the other for a potential blood transfusion). Jim told me that my internal bleeding seemed under control and that with every hour, my odds of keeping my spleen increased. For the first time in the last twelve hours, I had heard good news. I think it was probably around 7am on Friday morning at this point. 

Things only looked up from there on.

My professor and friend Jakki Mohr had snuck into ICU and all the sudden was looking over Jim’s shoulder. I am not sure how she got in there, but it meant the world to me. Seeing Jakki was a turning moment for me, the moment my perspective changed. For the better. She immediately took charge of the situation, walked to feed Otto and brought me my iPad, Kindle and a charger for my iPhone. I didn’t feel alone anymore. 

Throughout that day, I probably had 30 different visitors, hundreds of emails, cards, letters, no singing telegrams, text and Facebook messages. I couldn’t believe people cared so much. Friends, students, my host parents, my boss, the President of the University – heck, even my ex girlfriend’s parents showed up to support. I might have been losing my spleen, but I was rich in friends, plants and fruit baskets. Honestly, I still can’t believe the support I received. Even though, I spent most of that day in ICU, it was one of the greatest days ever. If I can figure out a way to spread all the home cooked meals offered to me throughout the year, then this will be one of the greatest years ever. 

The next day my parents arrived and I was transferred on a normal hospital floor. One more day there, and then I was released.

Now I am at home, trying to take it easy. I have lots of pain meds for my broken ribs, which I am not very good at taking regularly yet. I am having to exercise my deep breathing, as apparently I am at risk for pneumonia.  Regardless, I am getting better every day.

Thank you all for your support, plants, licorice, home cooked meals and fruit baskets. This should have been a pretty horrible stretch for me, but it really wasn’t. You took what should have been one of my worst days, and made it one of my best. 

Remember, we can make an incredible impact on each other. An impact so powerful, everything bad can take a backseat.  

You did.

Thank you.

With all my heart and spleen. 


  1. Ana May 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    So glad you’re home and recovering!

  2. Mario Schulzke May 21, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    Thank you Ana. I am feeling much better already.

  3. Elisa May 21, 2013 at 8:05 pm

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve been hoping to get details. I can’t believe what an ass that guy is who laid you out. Wish we were closer. Love your post, love that you always find the good in every situation. You’re a keeper and stay positive my dear friend!

  4. Collin Ferry May 21, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Rock on Mario, my spleen is very glad to hear you’re recovering.

  5. Mario Schulzke May 21, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    That girl sure was a jerk.

  6. Mario Schulzke May 21, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Thanks Collin. I still don’t know what spleens do.

  7. Todd Goodrich May 21, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    I think spleens make you smell better. Hang in there bud.

  8. erin mcgillis May 22, 2013 at 12:25 am

    Pretty sure your mom probably filled you in, but here ya go…..the spleen is an organ that is located in the upper left hand quadrant of your abdominal cavity, and it actually has several essential roles in your body. First, it filters the blood, but not in the same way the kidney does. The filtration role of the spleen is to remove defective/aged platetets and red blood cells from circulation, it also removes and inactivates / destroys antigens in the blood… which leads me to the other major role of the spleen, which is immune response.
    The spleen is a secondary lymphoid organ, by lymphoid I mean it is involved with immune system function. It is one of the production sites for lymphocytes (white blood cells), these include B-cells, T-cells, etc. After these cells are produced, some migrate to the bone marrow while others remain in the white pulp of the spleen to serve in lymphatic function.

    Glad your feeling better !

  9. Nathan Stephens May 22, 2013 at 3:30 am

    I’m so glad you’re doing better already! Heal up and get back out there.

  10. Ben Barreth May 22, 2013 at 3:44 am

    Holy crap! that must have been some kind of crazy hit during soccer.

    Glad you’re doing ok. hang in there. Said a prayer for you…

  11. Ben Herman May 22, 2013 at 7:21 am

    Dude, glad you’re on the mend. I checked wikipedia… It sounds like it was a good move to keep the spleen. Get well soon!

  12. Ady Rasburn May 22, 2013 at 10:19 pm

    Hi Mario, sorry to hear you have had such a bad time of it. Hope you recover soon and get back out there! All the best, Ady