Hibs boss Lee Johnson opens up on health scare – ‘I was curled up in a ball on my office floor in agony’
“When I came back after the operation, I made three phone calls to find out what had happened, then I made the same three phone calls because I had completely forgotten that I had made them. .”
The 41-year-old laughs at the memory but hasn’t ignored the more serious side of his health scare. He has returned to full-time work and is taking on pre-match media duties for the first time in nearly a month.
He is relieved to be back and feels the enforced break has done him a lot of good.
“The break was good”
“While I’ve always overseen, themed and helped with the design, just having the time to think about looking at the club and not just the team has been good,” he explains.
“I’ve had a lot of great meetings this week; five hours with Ron [Gordon, executive chairman] on a zoom with Ben Kensell, Ian Gordon and Derek White, and a technical board meeting with the academy for three hours. Really good, solid, solid strategy meetings.
“Sometimes when games are thick and fast, you can’t see the wood for the trees because you’re in the mix, every day. So I drip fed in terms of strength levels.
“I was always in control; I was texting during the Kilmarnock game – even though I was 45 seconds behind the stream so a bit late with my suggestions!”
Some details have been shared by assistant managers Jamie McAllister and Adam Owen on the nature of the surgery, but Johnson is eager to start at the beginning and give a full account.
“In general, I have been in very good health. My dad had a quadruple heart bypass so I was always on it in terms of blood pressure, cholesterol, that sort of thing,” he begins.
“The only saving grace is that I lost 17 pounds over the period. I was at the gym and losing weight, then I had a blowout, six or seven pints and a curry, and that is what made me sink.
“It was a four-hour operation. Normally it is a one hour operation. I had a perforated and infected gallbladder and there were also gallstones; I had inflammatory levels of 103 and the max should be five…I should have been in the ER on Monday or Tuesday.
“I am in a much better state of health than I was before I entered.
“Being a football manager is very stressful and you often put yourself in the background. You have to be physically and mentally fit, and be ‘self-first’, not selfish.
“It was a boost to say ‘you’re not invincible’. I’ve been managing for ten years; you tend to think you’ve been through a lot and you can get through it.
“But if you don’t have your health, you’re no good for anyone.”
So how does a team that needs to make signings work on transfer deadline day if the manager is, well, operated on himself?
“Before I went to the hospital, I was in my office curled up on the floor because I was in agony. Someone knocked on the door and I acted like everything was fine and as soon as I they were gone, I would start curling up again,” Johnson recalled.
“You just keep trying to do your job. I couldn’t have done worse with that week, though.”
By all accounts, Johnson was doing some mischief at the hospital, where cellphone rules are notoriously strict.
“I was taking calls as the anesthetist was about to inflict pain on me, and trying to make decisions about Harry McKirdy,” he laughs.
“In a way you mean, ‘f*** off, I’m dying here’ but in another way you know it’s important
“When you have a leader making decisions and all of a sudden someone else has to, it’s not easy.
“Will Fish was a good example. I don’t remember if I signed it or not. Apparently yes, but I didn’t remember because I had just left the theater.
“It was a little crazy but the show has to go on no matter what.”
Presumably Johnson was welcomed to HTC with open arms and good wishes from his gaming team?
“Martin Boyle said, ‘Gaffer, I’m superstitious, can’t you come next week too?’
“Pretty. I bring him back from the desert, give him everything he ever wanted, play him every minute of every game, lose an organ, and he throws this at me. This shows you their ruthless banter” , he replies with a wry smile.
Johnson will return to the dugout for visiting Aberdeen on Saturday, a much-anticipated game between two sides looking to put last season’s woes behind them and enjoy a better campaign.
The Hibs boss is eager for his side to build on the win over Kilmarnock last time out after last weekend’s trip to Dundee United was postponed following the death of Queen Elizabeth.
“It has been a decent period for us. I always want to play games; the team was ready and it was an opportunity to put some points on the board,” added Johnson.
“Saturday is a different game but in another sense the preparation is like a cup game because a win validates all the good work against a strong rival.
“In any game, anything can happen. We have seen that to our advantage with sending offs, and to our detriment with poor form, poor decision-making or brilliant goals against the opposition.
“In a game like this, with a relatively new group, we have to validate the work we are doing. We do it more than while getting all three points.
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