OAKLAND, Calif. -- When Golden State's David Lee returned to action on Nov. 27 after missing more than two weeks with an infection in his left elbow, he hoped to give his struggling team the proverbial shot in the arm after the Warriors lost seven of eight games in his absence.
Instead, Lee is having to take actual shots in his arm just to stay on the floor.
The sixth-year player told FanHouse he needed a medical assist to make it through the Warriors' 108-99 win over Minnesota on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, taking a shot before tip-off to help with the pain for the first time since he returned nine games ago.
While Lee did not specify the medicine used, he made it clear that this agonizing ordeal which began with his elbow-to-tooth collision with New York's Wilson Chandler on Nov. 10 isn't over quite yet.
"I had a shot before the game tonight," he said after finishing with 10 points, 11 rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes as the Warriors broke their seven-game losing streak. "Just (being) on a back-to-back (after a loss at Utah on Monday night), it was tough to get back at it tonight. The theory (regarding the injury) is that in a couple weeks it's going to heal up completely, but I stress the word 'theory.'"
All it takes is one look at the injury to see why Lee is skeptical. The wound -- which was so severe Lee wondered if he would ever play again and required two surgeries and "four or five" types of antibiotics to even begin the healing process -- is a long ways from being completely healed. He has a gaping pit in his left elbow, one that Bay Area News Group Warriors beat writer Marcus Thompson photographed on Sunday and FanHouse photographed again on Tuesday after Lee removed the bloody wrap to reveal the grotesque sight.
Talk about having holes in your game.
While Lee said the injury is indeed as painful as it looks, he has no plans to miss any more games because the doctors have ensured that he can't do further damage by playing. Still, he admitted it is no small task to continue on in this condition.
"It's the toughest league in the world, and I'm basically out there playing with one arm," he said. "It's very, very tough. Any time I make contact with anybody on that side of my body, there's pain that's tough to describe. I've played through just about every injury possible, and this is the toughest I've ever had to deal with."
After agreeing to a sign-and-trade in which he was given a six-year, $80-million deal, the former Knicks forward almost immediately embraced a leadership role with the Warriors. He was integral in their 6-2 start, with his best game by far coming in that ill-fated night against his old team in which he had 28 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors weren't the same without him, yet haven't been the same with him back again either. Yet while they have lost seven of the nine games since he returned, Lee said the elbow is having a significant impact on his effectiveness. The numbers don't show any drastic difference, though, as he is averaging 15.3 points (43.3 percent) and 9.1 rebounds per game since returning after averaging 14.3 points (46.4 percent shooting) and 11.3 rebounds before the injury.
"It's very, very frustrating, because I love my teammates," he said. "I've been given a great opportunity here to come and be a leader and I'm not able to do some of the things that I'm (normally) able to do out there."
Then again, he's not about to complain considering he wondered if he'd ever play again.
The injury hardly seemed career-threatening at the time, as Lee had checked back into the game against the Knicks just seconds after suffering the laceration on his elbow.
He played the rest of the game with tape covering the wound and blood more visible by the minute. Chandler appeared to have received the worst end of it, as he would, according to Lee, eventually undergo some four hours or dental work to fix what had been broken.
Lee's situation had grown much worse by the next morning, when he was being checked into the emergency room at Rush Memorial Hospital in Chicago after experiencing significant pain. He was given pain medicine and antibiotics and figured that would do the trick. He couldn't have been more wrong.
After watching his team lose by 30 points to the Bulls on Nov. 11, Lee was headed back to the hospital with a discolored elbow that had swelled, as he demonstrated, to approximately twice its normal size.
"It was so unpredictable," Lee said. "I'd go from feeling fine to feeling like I was on my deathbed in about a two or three hour period. Everything was feeling fine, progressing. And then it blew up to where it was here (demonstrates size of the elbow) on the tricep all the way up to the forearm."
Lee was monitored overnight, then flown back to the Bay Area with Warriors general manager Larry Riley and new owner Joe Lacob on his plane. Dr. Frank Chen surgically cleaned out the wound on the night of Nov. 12 at the Fremont Surgery Center, but that wouldn't be the end either.
"They tried four or five antibiotics, but nothing was helping," he said. "Just after the first surgery, we thought everything was good. They cleaned it out, and then (the infection) came right back and (the doctors) said there was nothing to counter the bacteria."
And if the bacteria couldn't be countered, Lee was told, a drastic measure would have to be taken.
"Before they found the right medicine, which was kind of a one in a million thing, they were talking about possibly having to cut out my tricep muscle in my forearm," Lee said. "It could've been something where I never played ball again."
Lee was admitted to Stanford Hospital on Nov. 14 night and would undergo a second procedure to clean the infection and insert stitches the next evening. That night, he went to sleep not knowing what his future might hold when the morning arrived.
"(The doctors) had talked to an infectious disease specialist, and he said that there's one thing called Unasyn where it's probably a one in a thousand chance, but sometimes it (helps combat) a couple rare bacterias that other more general antibiotics don't cover," Lee said. "I tried it, woke up the next day, and I've never been happier in all my life."
The swelling was "80 percent down," and Lee was 100 percent relieved. He would then receive intravenous antibiotics via a PICC (peripherally inserted central catheter for IV's) line to continue the recovery.
The hole in his elbow that remains must heal from the inside out, meaning there's more pain to come for Lee. Yet while it might take a few more painkilling shots to help him make it through, he knows it could have been much worse.
"The unknown was the most difficult thing, just because it happened so quick," he said. "It just came out of nowhere. One day I'm fine, and the next day I get a little gash and ... I'm trapped in a hospital. I'm just thankful I can be out there giving what I can right now."
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