For much of the past month, Bryan Bulaga has been surrounded by questions about an illness he couldn’t publicly discuss.
“I would go to class and people would ask, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ ” said Bulaga, a Marian Central graduate from Crystal Lake. “I’d just say, ‘I’m fine.’ I had to deal with that every day.”
Even more difficult for Bulaga, a junior offensive tackle at Iowa, was sitting out three games for the No. 12 Hawkeyes (5-0).
“That three weeks was like three years,” he said.
In his first in-depth discussion about the thyroid condition that sidelined him for most of the past month, Bulaga told the Northwest Herald the health scare worried him only briefly.
Four days before the Hawkeyes’ annual rivalry game against Iowa State on Sept. 12, Bulaga and his teammates were practicing on a warm day in Iowa City.
“I noticed in practice that I had shortness of breath,” Bulaga said. “It was a little hot that day, and I just thought it was the heat.”
The problem was enough of a concern for team trainers that Bulaga was admitted to a hospital for tests that included blood work and an EKG.
“When I got to the hospital and they ruled out that it was anything with my heart, I really settled down,” Bulaga said. “They pretty much ruled that out the first night. I knew it couldn’t be anything too bad.”
Bulaga said his mother Kathi’s side of the family has a history of thryoid issues. The thyroid, a gland in the neck, can cause a wide variety of symptoms and wreak havoc with the body’s metabolism.
In Bryan Bulaga’s case, the 312-pound offensive lineman’s weight dropped to 305, an unusual occurrence during the season.
After two nights in the hospital, Bulaga returned to the team but was not allowed to play while doctors closely monitored his condition with regular blood tests to check the level of hormones his thyroid was producing.
“The hardest thing for me was mentally,” Bulaga said. “I could run, and I could do all the stuff I needed to play. It’s different than having a bum ankle or a bum knee.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz did not discuss specifics of the condition until last week and asked Bulaga not to conduct any interviews until after he returned to the field.
Bulaga said he will not have to take medication to regulate his thyroid but will get regular blood tests for the rest of the season as a precaution.
Bulaga started in Saturday’s 24-21 win against Arkansas State and said he felt no ill effects from his time away.
“Physically, I felt really good,” he said. “Just to be out there competing again was great.”
One side effect from the illness already has been corrected.
“I’m back to 312, 313 (pounds),” Bulaga said. “That didn’t take long.”