Justin Pugh said telling the Giants that he still was experiencing headaches when he woke up on the morning of the Patriots game three weeks ago was one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever had to make.
The team was getting ready for the game, counting on Pugh to start, and it was only a few hours before kickoff.
Ultimately, he knows he made the right call. And he’d do it again, too.
So while he’s been cleared after going through the NFL’s concussion protocol, has been symptom-free since Nov. 27, has practiced this week and fully expects to play on Sunday, he’s still waiting to see how he wakes up on Sunday morning.
“It’s going to be in my hands to let them know exactly how I’m feeling,” he said. “I know for a fact that if I’m not feeling right, I’m not going. That’s 100 percent what’s going to happen.”
Pugh suffered the concussion during the game against the Bucs on Nov. 8. He said there was no specific hit that he recalls, but he felt exhausted in the postgame locker room. He was evaluated by an independent neurologist who diagnosed him with dehydration. He practiced that week and was ready to go against the Patriots. But he had headaches all that week, he said, a pain behind his eyes that he called an “ocular concussion,” and when he woke up on the day of the game, he decided to speak up.
“I was scared, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I was definitely scared by it. It was something that definitely woke me up . . . You have to make sure you take care of your brain.”
That’s when he entered the protocol.
“I think it could have been partially dehydration,” he said. “[There were] seven days of having the same kind of symptoms and headaches and hoping it was dehydration and not a concussion, but it was definitely more than that.”
Pugh said he could not look at a screen or focus on anything without the pain behind his eyes. He said he would sleep 13 hours a night, come to the Giants’ facility for work, go home and take another two-hour nap. “Literally it was just sleep, sleep, sleep, because my brain needed to rest,” he said.
He met with a specialist who told him the importance of waiting for a concussion to heal before going back on the field.
“It’s almost like a sprained ankle,” he said of the way it was explained to him. “Once you’re fully healed from it, you’re fully healed from it. The issues come when you get a concussion, come back too soon and then get another concussion. Your brain is trying to heal and once it heals, it’s fine. That’s where a lot of guys have issues now because they would come back too soon and get another hit to the head.”
Pugh feels he’s at that point now.
“I was able to do some running and you kind of build your way up to it,” he said of working out through the recovery. “I was able to do 20 minutes of cardio one day, I was in a lot of eye training stuff with the trainers, and really just working on doing as much as I could. You push it to see how far you can go, and if it would bother you, we would back off. I would get a day off and we would come back and try and push it a little more.”
By Wednesday, he was ready.
“I wanted to practice so bad, I was yelling at the trainers, ‘I have to go out there and practice!’ ” he said. He was limited on Wednesday and did more on Thursday.
“It was just stacking together consecutive days of feeling good,” he said.
Pugh has no reservations about going back onto the field against the Jets.
“I hit heads with somebody and soon as I got that first hit, I was good,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “That’s something that as a football player, that’s my instincts going out there, just to play the way I’ve always played, be aggressive, and I’m never not going to play that way. That’s why I wanted to make sure I felt 100 percent before I went back and did it.”
And why he has no regrets about his decisions in the past or in the future.
“As soon as we said ‘concussion,’ they shut me down, did everything right, so I’m very fortunate,” he said. “I know a lot of guys who are in the same situation . . . I want to make sure what I went through, I help other guys who are in similar situations so they don’t rush themselves back. That’s the best thing you can do.”