Basel forward Ricky van Wolfswinkel could never have predicted the long road to recovery he would face after sustaining a severe concussion in a Champions League qualifying match last August.
Follow-up examinations revealed the Netherlands international, 31, had a brain aneurysm – a balloon-like bulge in a blood vessel, which can be fatal should it burst.
Six months on from being diagnosed, the former Norwich City striker made his return to football in the Swiss league in February. But he only managed nine minutes of action before the coronavirus pandemic halted the competition – forcing him to sit out a further five months.
In his first appearance following the resumption of the league – 343 days on from his concussion against LASK on 7 August – Van Wolfswinkel scored against FC Zurich on 14 July to bring an end to a testing 11 months.
“It was scary,” Van Wolfswinkel told BBC World Service. “You don’t expect something like this. Normally with injuries you know the time frame and you work hard every day to make progress.
“You have no idea what it is or the danger it brings. It was a tough couple of days in hospital.”
The aneurysm was a pre-existing condition and was not caused by the concussion sustained against LASK. But it may not have been discovered otherwise.
The striker, who joined Basel from Dutch team Vitesse in 2017, said he felt back to normal after leaving hospital and his main frustration in rehab came from feeling ready but not being able to help his team-mates.
“The first question we always ask as footballers is ‘how long will it take before I can play?’ – then it hits you,” he said.
“I couldn’t play for six months. I couldn’t train, I couldn’t do anything. The first day [out of hospital], I bought flowers for my wife to say sorry for the next few months because I knew I would be grumpy.
“There were games where I arrived and after 20 minutes I said to my wife ‘I have to go, I cannot watch it’.”
He made one appearance as an 81st-minute substitute against Zurich following his return to training, before the league was postponed on 2 March.
Despite waiting so long to return, the striker was able to maintain perspective through a time he describes as “boring” because of a lack of football, “happy” because of the time spent with family and “lucky” that he “made it through”.
Reflecting on his February comeback, Van Wolfswinkel said: “I couldn’t care less how the game went, it was just a statement for me to show I was back.”
On waiting another five months to play again, he added: “It was horrible. This time it was harder, I think, because you accept you cannot play because of the doctor’s decisions – then when you’re fit and ready, there’s a lockdown.
“I always kept saying there are worse things in life. People were dying because of coronavirus, so why should I complain that I have a longer recovery with my aneurysm?”
The extra wait made scoring his first goal in almost a year all the sweeter.