Rob Gronkowski woke up to find his left forearm, operated on three times since November, was swollen and leaking. An infection, contracted sometime after his second surgery, has not cleared up as expected. An immediate cross-country flight back to Boston and a medical examination later, and now there's legitimate fear Gronkowski won't be ready for opening week.
Gronkowski broke his arm in November, and then again in January. We fretted that the healing process wasn't going to be as simple as the Patriots made it seem, and we were right—for the wrong reasons. Gronkowski had a metal plate installed to set the break, but somewhere along the line the wound got infected. No one would say what it was, but the mind immediately jumped to a staph infection, a relatively common post-op complication that can force a player to restart the rehab clock. (Tom Brady knows all about it.)
In February, Gronkowski underwent a third surgery to clean out the wound, and went on a six-week course of antibiotics. That six weeks is just about here, and doctors are worried that it hasn't gone away. It's "very likely" that Gronkowski will need a fourth, and possibly a fifth surgery before he can even start his rehab, very much putting his availability for training camp and the regular season into question.
If doctors find infected tissue, they'll be forced to remove the forearm plate and clean out the wound. Only when that heals—after another protracted course of antibiotics—would a new plate be installed, and Gronkowski would require the originally stated 10 weeks to even be ready for full-contact drills. And if the infection means the bone hasn't set correctly, it could be much longer.
The Boston Herald, which originally reported the setback, finds a doctor who has not treated Gronkowski to scare the shit out of New England fans:
“If you have issues with reinfection of the bone and the plate, there can be long-term consequences that the bone will not heal. It may need significant time to heal. That means sometimes that they have to take the plate out, wash the wound out and let all of the infection completely resolve before they go back in and do a repair. Sometimes, you can get a chronic non-union, or non-healing, of the bone.”
If he has a wound that is chronically infected — they cannot get rid of the infection — it could stop them from having the definite operation to completely repair his arm, which means he probably would not play football. That is the worst-case scenario. I’m not saying that is going to happen, but that is the worst-case scenario."
The Patriots, naturally, aren't saying a damn thing. It's likely they won't even know Gronkowski's long-term prognosis until surgeons open up his arm and poke around inside. It could be nothing! On the other hand, there's a reason the Patriots have six tight ends.