Center Scott Wells didn’t finish the final week of Rams practices in June, then missed a good portion of training camp. It was thought that he had some kind of virus, and lost some weight.
Turns out it was much worse than that, and could have been fatal had it not been treated in time.
“I had a bacterial infection from a tick bite,” Wells told the Post-Dispatch. “It’s called ehrlichia. It’s similar to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. I was in intensive care for four days that last week’’ of offseason practices.
Wells said it started with flu symptoms, then the illness escalated quickly.
“At first, it seemed like a head cold,” Wells said. “Congestion. I had an ear that was stopped up, but it wasn’t infected. I would have night sweats, chills, body aches — all the same things consistent with the flu. But it wasn’t flu season.”
He was being treated for the symptoms, basically as if it were some sort of virus or flu. But when Wells’ urine was brown — dark brown — he knew something was wrong.
He was admitted to a hospital for tests on the Wednesday afternoon of the last week of practices in June.
“Wednesday night I was put in ICU,” Wells said. “From the way (doctors) explained it to me, it attacks your bone marrow and starts to shut down your immune system so you can’t fight it off. Then your organs start to shut down trying to fight it off.
“So it went from what seemed to be just a cold virus, flu-like symptoms, to really sick really fast.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatality rate for ehrlichia is 1.8 percent — or nearly one in 50.
Even before the blood test results came back, he was given antibiotics to treat ehrlichia. On the second day of receiving antibiotics, Wells said his temperature reached 104.5 degrees
“Then it came down pretty fast,” he said. “I was on antibiotics for another 10 days. The antibiotics made everything taste funny. So I didn’t have an appetite, lost a whole bunch of weight in the hospital.”
Wells dropped 20 pounds during the four days he was in the hospital.
People often think of tick bites occurring in the outdoors.
Not necessarily so.
“We spray our yard, and our pets weren’t at home,” Wells said. “They were back in Tennessee (which is where Wells is from). I mean, you can get a tick anywhere. You can get a tick in a grocery store. And the one that causes this is a small tick. They said it’s like a freckle when they bite you. Half the people that get it don’t even recognize it. They never find it.”
Once training camp started, the Rams took a cautious approach to working Wells back into the practice routine and into preseason action because he had lost all that weight just a month before the start of camp.
“It took some time to gain the weight back,” Wells said. “I was in great shape when I got sick, and the doctor said that’s what helped me get through it. But I’m healthy now. I’m fine now. There’s no residual long-term effects from it. Everything is normal.”
Because of the severity and the unusual nature of the illness, Rams coach Jeff Fisher didn’t want to reveal the information, basically leaving that up to Wells.
Now that he has been back in the lineup for the first three games of the regular season, Wells had no problem speaking of his ordeal.
“To me it’s important to educate the public on this, because everybody knows (tick bites) exist,” Wells said. “But until you’re hit with it, you don’t really understand how significant it is.
“It changed my whole perspective. If any of my kids, anybody I know, gets flu symptoms and it’s not flu season, check it out. Because you’d rather know early than late.”
For Wells, it was another setback — a potentially life-threatening setback — since signing a free-agent contract with the team before the 2012 season.
Wells, who had been durable during his time in Green Bay, suffered a fractured fibula last Dec. 1, missing the final four games of the season.
In 2012, a broken foot in the season opener sidelined Wells for nine games.
This summer’s tick-borne illness resulted in Wells sitting out the exhibition opener, although he did play in Game 2 (against Green Bay) and Game 3 (Cleveland) of the preseason.
But combine that with left guard Rodger Saffold’s shoulder injury, and left tackle Jake Long’s rehab from knee surgery, and the Rams’ starting offensive line was rarely on the field together during training camp and the preseason.
Judging by its performance Sept. 21 against Dallas, the Rams’ last game before the bye week, the line could be gelling.
The Cowboys had zero sacks in 42 passing attempts, and the Rams averaged more than four yards a carry on the ground.
“I see progress,” Wells said. “It’s good to see improvement, but the category we need to improve upon the most — it’s the win column.”
The Rams are 1-2.
One of the only offensive line glitches of the day against Dallas was Wells’ botched snap near the end of the first half, which was recovered by the Cowboys and set up a field goal just before intermission.
“I didn’t think (quarterback Austin Davis) was underneath,” Wells explained. “I was trying to hold onto the ball and it slipped out of my hands. We’ve turned the page. We’ve moved on. That’s gone — over with.”