“He might not be back the rest of the season,” said Dr. Geoffrey Manley, the vice chairman of neurological surgery at UCSF. “But I don’t think this would preclude him from playing baseball.”
On Wednesday night McCarthy underwent two hours of surgery to evacuate an epidural hemorrhage (a collection of blood between the brain and the skull) and stabilize his skull fracture. A CT scan on Thursday showed McCarthy’s condition has improved, a tribute to Oakland’s medical staff, as well as the doctor’s at Summit Hospital.
According to a statement released by the team on Wednesday, McCarthy was “conscious and doing well.” Despite this fact, McCarthy was kept overnight at Summit Hospital for observation. Had this not happened, McCarthy’s outlook might not be as positive.
“If you are not treated for this, you could die, but if you’re treated rapidly, you usually have a very, very good recovery,” Manley said. “That is why people need to be evaluated promptly.”
Unfortunately, the evaluation process isn’t all that cut and dry. “(Most) of the pathologic processes that determine outcome are fully active during the first hours after TBI (Traumatic Brain Injuries),” writes Brian Zink, Chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University. As such, “the decisions of emergency care providers may be crucial.”
Actress Natasha Richardson fatally suffered the same injury as McCarthy in 2009 after a skiing accident. Like McCarthy, Richardson was initially lucid, showing no signs of an injury. She declined immediate treatment from local paramedics only to be rushed to the hospital just four hours later. Despite treatment, Richardson would succumb to her injuries a few days later.
It seems fitting that McCarthy — who has built a career centered on speed and time, on miles-per-hour, on seconds to the place — is recovering because of the quick thinking of doctors. Fortunately for McCarthy and the Athletics, “Most patients who have this kind of injury return to a normal life,” Manley noted. McCarthy’s own teammate, Brad Ziegler, can attest to this.
In September 2004, Ziegler took a Fred Lewis (remember him?) line drive off the right side of his forehead, sending him to the ICU for six days. Then in 2008, it happened again. While playing catch with former Athletic pitcher John Rheinecker during spring training, Ziegler was hit in the forehead by a tipped baseball, the force of which was strong enough to fracture his skull.
Ziegler has recovered fully from both times and says McCarthy should brace himself for the physical toll the injury might take. “For me, the physical part was the toughest,” Ziegler told reporters. “I couldn’t work out all offseason, even cardio, until the fracture healed, so my first five or six starts in 2005 were really bad.”
“The mental part that was hard was because I wasn’t pitching well – honestly, I wasn’t ever afraid of getting hit again,” Ziegler continued. “I felt like the odds of it happening in the first place were minuscule, so what were the odds of it happening again?”
McCarthy faces the same tough road Ziegler faced in 2004 and again in 2008. Meanwhile, the A’s must face a daunting task of their own: Contending for a Wild Card spot without one of their best pitchers. Having already lost Bartolo Colon, the depleted pitching staff will turn to rookie Dan Straily. In three starts, Straily has given up 16 hits, four home runs and four walks, accumulating a 3.18 ERA.