When David Wilson went home to Virginia for Memorial Day last weekend, even his family was worried. Wilson tried to put them at ease.
"They were shocked to see me," the Giants running back said. "Like, 'Oh my God, is your neck [OK]? How is your neck?' I never had any pain. I've been walking on my own, talking on my own, doing everything normal, running, exercising like regular. I want to express to everybody that I have never had any pain at all, zero percent. I've been healthy and doing well."
And yet . . .
Wilson will have one of the most significant medical appointments of his life Wednesday when doctors take an MRI and look at the surgically repaired neck that cost him 11 games last year. If it does not heal properly, it could cost him the rest of his career.
For now, Wilson is just hoping -- "praying," he said -- that this week's images give him a green light to resume full-contact football.
"I'm just looking forward to getting out on the field, so hopefully they get the pictures they're looking for," Wilson said.
Had this been Wilson's knee or wrist or any other body part that routinely falls into disrepair during a football career, it would be much easier to gauge progress.
The pain would subside. Strength and range of motion would increase. He'd graduate from one mind-numbing rehab routine to the next, advance from jogging to sprinting, and eventually return to the field having overcome the injury.
That's the way these things usually happen, the way Eli Manning came back from offseason ankle surgery and Stevie Brown is returning from a torn ACL.
But Wilson doesn't have those benchmarks. There is no discomfort to diminish. There is no return of flexibility to acknowledge. Besides his arm going numb for a few moments after a hit in last year's Week 5 game against the Eagles, there have been no symptoms at all to indicate that Wilson's career is in jeopardy.
"I never had any pain, no pain at all," he said, pleading his case against a phantom-like injury that he cannot see or feel but knows is hovering inside him.
"He's out there running and feels good," coach Tom Coughlin said. "You'd never know that he's having issues."
The only thing that seems to hurt him is the helplessness.
"There's nothing I can do to make it better," he said, his usually carefree demeanor eroding with each day of idle waiting.
It's those pictures. The ones that showed a herniated disc in his neck and a case of spinal stenosis. That's why doctors refused to let him return to the field in that game against the Eagles -- he tried to sneak back onto the field but was stopped -- and wouldn't let him play the rest of the 2013 season.
That's why, when rest did not mend the situation, doctors fused his vertebrae to make the structure of his neck more secure in January.
"It was weird, but they said I had to do it to keep playing, so I was with it," he said of agreeing to surgery for an ailment that didn't ail him. "It was hard to worry because I felt nothing. I thought it would be something that would just pass over, but then they said I had to have the surgery, it was best to have the surgery. I understood that and I did my research and weighed the pros and cons and felt that it was the best decision."
On Wednesday, the doctors will inspect their handiwork.
The Giants are optimistic that Wilson, their first-round pick in 2012, can come back. But they've made provisions in case he cannot.
They signed free agent Rashad Jennings during the offseason, re-signed veteran Peyton Hillis and drafted Andre Williams. They also have second-year running back Michael Cox on the roster. All of them have been taking handoffs during spring workouts and OTAs, which began last week.
Wilson? He's been doing a few things on the field. Catching punts. Working on some drills in a limited capacity. With a lot of space around him.
These spring practices are by definition noncontact and players wear only helmets with shorts and jerseys, but collisions sometimes happen. Especially for a running back trying to hit holes behind blockers who aren't actually blocking.
"We're just being careful because I've come so far," Wilson said. "I feel the same since before the surgery, but we've come so far and the coaches don't want me to risk it by bumping into somebody, running into something and falling down when I'm this close to my next appointment."
An appointment that could return him to full-time duty in time for the second half of OTAs and minicamp and next month's training camp.
If the doctors don't like what they see, though, Wilson will remain on the shelf, a player who sees himself on uninjured reserve, one who can do nothing but wait for the lab coats to give him the go-ahead -- one he hopes will come before training camp opens in late July.
If that's the case, Wilson joked that he might just have to find another less strenuous way onto the football field.
Said the running back who wasn't allowed to run, "I'll probably start kicking field goals."