Forget his ‘Rambo’ nickname – Tom Wood might be better called ‘Lazarus’ after recovering from a blood clot on the lung last month.
The 50-cap England flanker is never one to mope. But if he meets his target of playing in the Premiership play-offs for Northampton in October, it will have to go down as the comeback of the year.
It was only last month that Wood woke up at 5am struggling to breathe.
Tom Wood, the Northampton Saints and England back row forward, poses with his family, wife Sarah and children Isabella, Oliver and Harriet at their Northamptonshire home
‘It was hard chest pains,’ says Wood, who is well on his way to a full recovery. ‘I couldn’t stand up straight. It was folding me in half. I was hunched over and panting, like I had been winded. I couldn’t sit up straight and open my chest.’
Having endured a 14-year professional career of bangs, bumps and thousands of bruises, 33-year-old Wood knew this was much more serious. Driven by his wife Sarah and with his three children in the back, Wood went to Northampton General Hospital straight away – but it took nine hours for them to find the issue.
It turned out a blood clot had started in his calf and travelled to the lungs. If the flanker had less luck and it had trapped around his heart, the issue could have been fatal. After being discharged later the same day, Wood returned to the hospital and spent a night there, worried the morphine dose he had been given was not strong enough for a 6ft 5in, 17-stone rugby player. His wife was worried, too, about something happening overnight.
Wood considers himself fortunate to make a full recovery from a blood clot on the lung
‘I couldn’t lie on my back to sleep, I was in too much pain,’ explains Wood. ‘I had to work unbelievably hard to get control of my breathing. I couldn’t take a deep breath. I was panting and I had to really work to get control of it, so I could relax.
‘I couldn’t get off the sofa without having an episode. I didn’t sleep in my own bed for four or five days because I couldn’t lie down. I had to sleep upright.
‘But I don’t get too worked up about those things – it is more about my mum and my missus who have been a bit beside themselves. The missus checked the life insurance and the will! Everything was in order pretty quick.
‘I don’t want to play down the severity of it, as it can be life-threatening in different circumstances.’
Wood runs with the ball during the Six Nations clash with France at Twickenham in 2017
Fortunately, Wood did not have Covid-19. As part of the Premiership testing regime, he has been checked regularly and is clear. Typically, he was more put out that this incident meant a week without his favourite outdoor pursuits of hunting, fishing, archery, carpentry – hence the ‘Rambo’ nickname.
During lockdown, he has even made his own wooden weights to lift.
‘I’ve had the least sedentary lifestyle you could imagine,’ he says. ‘I was annoyed because I was in the shape of my life – the boys came round with cookies and I really didn’t need it. I had a week of sitting on that sofa doing nothing. It felt so alien.’
At least he could watch his favourite show MeatEater – about hunting, fishing and butchery 0 on Netflix.
Already, Wood is determined to play again. He cannot do so yet because blood-thinning medicine makes any sort of rugby injury more risky. But once he is off those tablets in six weeks, he will be cracking on as usual.
Wood made his own weights to lift during the lockdown and is determined to play again
‘Within a week, I was back on a Watt bike,’ he explains. ‘We had a week in Newquay once I had the all-clear. I was in the sea for hours, knocking out sandcastles with the kids and doing structured running on sand dunes. I am running, I am training, I am able to push myself.’
Wood will miss rugby’s restart this week, but watching an in-house match at Saints got the juices flowing. Lazarus is not ready to quit yet.
‘It would be nice to get back and play a part this season,’ he adds. ‘If I did what the specialist laid out to the day, I would be available for the semi-final.
‘I just need the boys to do a job, then I will come and do a John Terry at the last minute!’