By Jeff Darlington
Reporter, NFL.com and NFL Network
Published: Oct. 5, 2012 at 09:58 a.m.
Updated: Oct. 5, 2012 at 04:54 p.m
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- In a pint-sized bathroom on a two-and-a-half hour flight from Ohio to Florida in early June, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Brian Hartline just wanted to be alone in his misery.
The pain was excruciating, like nothing he'd ever felt, and no timeout would help him here. So he paced between his aisle seat and the bathroom, back and forth, back and forth, as the minutes slogged along like a slow-motion replay.
"My stomach was hurting so bad that I couldn't sit in my seat," said Hartline, detailing his offseason with NFL.com for the first time publicly. "I'd put the tray down on the seat in front of me to bury my head, but I kept ending up in that bathroom just so I could sit by myself."
Maybe that's the best place to call the beginning of these unlikeliest of months, up in the sky, locked in a bathroom, where Hartline believed he was experiencing the worst case of constipation this world has ever felt. ...
One sleepless night after Hartline's painful flight June 10, he crawled to the elevator of his condo building, managed his way to his car and drove to Broward General Hospital, where he'd have his appendix, complicated by gangrene, removed immediately. He wouldn't leave for 12 days. And he'd lose 25 pounds in the process. ...
"I don't want to act like I don't have confidence in myself -- and I don't want to get caught up in the idea that this production is anything crazy -- but from what I went through, there was a point I didn't know if I'd even play in the first game."
You see, Hartline didn't just have his appendix removed four months before the start of a contract year. He also suffered a batch of complications that completely shut down his digestive system. He also suffered a calf injury on the first day of training camp, a result of improper healing of a previous injury because of his bed-ridden hospital stay. It caused him to miss the entire preseason.
"The poor guy just couldn't get out of his own way," coach Joe Philbin said. "You felt bad for him. The (first-year) coaching staff didn't have a lot of history with him, and we didn't know him yet, but you feel for guys who can't get over the hump.
"There was nothing he could do. When you go see a kid in the hospital, and he has to stay there for 12 days, it's not like he's faking it."
Indeed, Philbin was among those who visited Hartline in the hospital in June -- until Hartline became so frail and so uncomfortable that he prohibited visitors altogether.
The pain led to medicine. The medicine led to complications. And complications resulted in ileus, a complete blockage of Hartline's intestines. For 12 days, Hartline couldn't eat as much as a Popsicle without throwing up.
"It was to the point where my stomach wasn't even processing my bile, so I had to put a tube down my throat," Hartline said. "Every 24 hours, I was emptying 600 CCs of bile from my stomach (the equivalent of a 20 oz. bottle of soda)."
Are you getting this? Less than four months ago, the NFL's leading wide receiver -- who few had on their radar nationally at all -- was 25 pounds lighter, and his offseason training activities consisted of nothing more than walking the length of the hospital's hallway in scrubs while attached to a pole with an IV drip.
"So the doctor says, 'Some people, they're in here for a day or two, if that. Then, you have people who die from this. But you're somewhere in the middle.' I look at the doctor and say, 'Wait, doc, are you telling me I have a 50 percent chance of dying?" ...
Three weeks into training camp, when Hartline still couldn't get his calf healthy enough to get on the field, ...
"A week before the season started, my toe nails were falling off, which happens to guys a week into training camp," Hartline said. "I had 'camp legs,' and the season was about to start. I'm only now just really getting my legs under me."
Two months ago, shortly before he pulled his calf muscle on the first day of camp, Hartline didn't even have the endurance to run a full lap around a football field because of his medical situation. ...
Considering how the off - season went I think he a good beginning of the season.