AT FIRST Nick Holman thought he was winded. Three quarters of football and nine days later, he left hospital nine kilograms lighter after suffering a perforated bowel.
Early in the round 18 match against the Western Bulldogs at Metricon Stadium, Holman copped an innocuous hit to the stomach that floored him.
"A bit more pain to it than usual," he told AFL.com.au.
The Gold Coast small forward left the field, was assessed by the team's doctor, took painkillers and went back on, playing out the final 100 minutes of action.
After the final siren of the 11-point loss, in which he'd kicked three goals from 16 disposals and laid four tackles, the pain escalated quickly.
"After the game I was talking to the doc and about 10 minutes later I was feeling shocking," he said.
"I was walking back to the rooms with mum and dad (who were up from Victoria to watch him play) and I started feeling really crook, got hot and sweaty and had to lie on the ground.
"Bowesy (Jack Bowes) called the doc and he came running back, the ambulance was still at the ground, so it all happened pretty quick."
Holman described the pain as excruciating and for the first time in his life he was a patient in the back of an ambulance.
Arriving at nearby Pindara Hospital 24 hours after Richmond superstar Dustin Martin lobbed there with a lacerated kidney, Holman was put through a series of tests as doctors struggled to identify the problem.
"Lucky mum and dad were there, they were with me the whole time, which was comforting because it was scary," he said.
"I'd never experienced anything like that.
"I woke up Sunday morning and I was all drugged up and had a big scar down my guts and a few staples."
The 26-year-old could only consume ice for the next four days, with a tube running from his nose through his body.
On day five he moved to liquids and day seven to solid foods.
All the while his parents were unable to visit his hospital ward under the Queensland Government's COVID-19 protocols.
"I was in hospital for eight or nine days and lost nine kilos," he said.
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"I was a little bit emotional at the start.
"Mum was allowed in emergency and dad had to wait in the waiting room, but neither of them could come in after surgery. It was crazy.
"When the doc was talking to me at the start, I didn't realise how serious it was.
"I thought I could come back for the end of the season. He ruled that out and said it was pretty serious.
"He said this kind of injury happens to people when they're in a car crash, that's what it's equivalent to. The damage a seat belt can do."
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Gold Coast coach Stuart Dew described Holman's ability to play out the match as one of the toughest things he'd ever seen on a football field.
The man himself played it down, saying he didn't think it was enough to come off the field for and he was simply playing his role.
Although he joked about the lack of broader interest compared to Martin – who he never saw despite being on the same floor as for a week – Holman said he was flattered by the support he received.
"It hit home how many people cared. I got a lot of messages from the footy club, people back at home, friends at school I hadn't seen for years.
"It made me feel a bit better."
Holman is now back physically better than ever, regaining weight quickly and recording a personal best in the Suns' 2km time trial at the start of pre-season.
He might be wary before inviting his parents to watch a match in Queensland again, though.
"They only came up twice – the first time I got knocked out and the second time I ended up in hospital, so they haven't had much luck," he laughed.