GEELONG utility Jackson Thurlow returned to the club for the first time this week since suffering a lacerated kidney in a training mishap in December.
Thurlow avoided surgery but spent six days in hospital, to rest under observation, in an ordeal he described as "scary".
The 20-year-old copped a stray elbow during a competitive drill at training. Initially thinking he was "winded," he carried on, but when the pain persisted, Geelong's medical staff were quick to send Thurlow for scans, which showed the full extent of a serious injury.
"I panicked a little bit thinking, 'Well you lose your kidney then you don't know how much of the season you're going to miss,'" Thurlow told AFL.com.au.
"It was pretty scary but the nurses and doctors at the hospital were really good and the footy club was really supportive."
The incident occurred just days before the players went away for their Christmas break.
Given the seriousness of Thurlow's injury, the club granted him some extra leave time to spend with his family at home in Tasmania.
He had almost seven weeks holidaying in the Bay of Fires area, on Tasmania's eastern coast, but was thankful to have some normality restored when he returned to Geelong on Monday.
Thurlow, who has played 10 games in two seasons for the Cats since being drafted with pick No.16 in the 2012 NAB AFL Draft, did some light ball work at training on Wednesday and the plan is to gradually step up his conditioning in the ensuing weeks.
He is hoping to be fit and ready to play in the early rounds of the season, but he is unlikely to see any action in Geelong's NAB Challenge campaign.
"It'll be based on how I feel," Thurlow said of his rehabilitation.
"There isn't really a timeline on it, at the moment. If I can get fit in a certain amount of weeks, then so be it.
"If I don't reach that level then it might be different."