A round of golf in the Swedish countryside during the summer seems like a pretty nice way to pass the time.
For Lukas Bengtsson, it was hazardous.
The rookie defenseman thought nothing of retrieving a golf ball that was shanked into the woods as he golfed with friends back home in Sweden. But that seemingly harmless act left Bengtsson with a disease that debilitated him for months, thanks to a bite from a tiny tick.
In Sweden Bengtsson’s ailment is called Borrelia. In the United States it’s known as Lyme disease.
For Bengtsson, fatigue was the biggest issue. He didn’t deal with the occasional yawn or afternoon nap. The disease was potent enough to keep a 22-year old hockey player essentially bed-ridden for days.
“I went to our summer house and I started to feel really bad. I had no energy at all and I was just laying in bed thinking ‘Something’s not right,’” he said.
A visit with a doctor revealed and subsequent tests revealed that Bengtsson had Lyme disease, and he was placed on antibiotics for 10 days.
The medicine seemed to be working and soon Bengtsson began practicing again while in Sweden. He admits to being tired after practice, but dismissed it to just a hard day.
“I thought it was gone,” Bengtsson said.
In fact, Bengtsson surmises he practiced in Sweden for nearly two months while he had Lyme disease, thinking the ailment was gone.
“I wasn’t that tired. Just in the morning,” he said. “I thought it was because I wasn’t sleeping good.”
It wasn’t until he arrived in North America to participate in Pittsburgh’s rookie tournament that Bengtsson realized the Lyme disease bacteria and all its symptoms wasn’t gone. He felt fine while playing in the rookie tournament, but afterward in Pittsburgh the disease struck again.
“The same thing popped up again, but so much worse,” Bengtsson said. “I was in bed for seven days straight and did nothing.”
Essentially restricted to the bed in his hotel room, Bengtsson’s teammates brought him food and they passed the time with him playing cards – when he could muster the strength.
In the meantime, Bengtsson was placed on another round of antibiotics – this time for 42 days, and despite missing training camp his condition has improved enough to return to the ice last weekend.
The Penguins are happy to have their prospect back.
“He’s felt really good for long stretches now and he’s ready to go,” said head coach Clark Donatelli, adding the rookie defenseman has done a good job at facing challenges in addition to being sick. “Being in a different country for the first time, a different culture, he’s handled it all well. He’s very mature for his age.”
Bengtsson credits the treatment he received once he arrived in North America as the turning point in his battle against lyme disease. In addition to the physical ailments, Bengtsson said it was difficult mentally just thinking about how he feels when he wakes up every day.
The debilitating effects of the disease also set back his recovery as he couldn’t work on his conditioning while sidelined.
“If you break a finger you can still do conditioning. When you have this, you can’t do anything. Just lay in bed, sleep, eat, drink water and take the pills,” Bengtsson said.
Now that he has turned the corner, Bengtsson hopes to make up for lost time and salvage his first pro season in North America. It’s something that he thought about constantly while he battled lyme disease.
“I missed the beginning of the year, but it’s a long season. Everyone kept telling me that and I’m happy to be back now,” Bengtsson said.