HANGING TOUGH: Rovers striker Tom Biss has weathered the storm from the gastro bug that has brought thousands to their knees in Havelock North. PHOTO/Duncan Brown
Hawkes Bay Today - Anendra Singh
FOR almost 17 days, Tom Biss found himself in a very dark place, metaphorically groping for a switch on the wall to shed some light on why he felt so shut out from the world.
For the best part of that time, the Conroy Removals Napier City Rovers player was in a happy place, the bedroom of the family home in Havelock North.
Yet, during that spell, Biss felt alone, as if he had been banished to solitary confinement.
Not even humour could illuminate that passage of gloom that had cast a shadow on training and playing alongside his beloved Blues, who are playing their final Lotto Central League match against Lower Hutt City at Fraser Park, Wellington, from 2.30pm today.
The doctors couldn't put a finger on it but they had an inkling he had some sort of virus.
Eventually Biss played an entire game for Rovers against Stop Out at Park Island, Napier, on Sunday, August 7, but he was still none the wiser as to why his once healthy constitution had deserted him.
Enlightenment eventually came on Saturday, August 13, from an edition of the Hawke's Bay Today. Biss discovered he had fallen prey to a silent invader dubbed "the gastro bug".
Ironically, by then the 23-year-old storeman at Design Spun, Napier, had started to feel markedly better.
"I was thinking that's why they couldn't tell me anything at the doctor's because this was it, pretty much, as I was drinking from the tap all that time," he says with a smile but his eyes still showing the drain of a torrid battle against E. coli - a common bacteria in the intestine that typically helps people stay healthy but which can equally create havoc.
His mother, Jo Biss, got feedback that people were going down like flies from the bug. She started bracing herself for her older son, Ben, 26, who had started to show similar symptoms.
The Biss family started boiling water and also taking it from a tank near the Te Mata Rd Four Square supermarket. The use of hand sanitisers became the norm.Protecting others also became a priority - at home, on the paddock and just about anywhere when Tom comes to think of it now.
"At home I'd stay in bed until everyone went to work then I'd get up to do my thing around the house," says Biss, mindful not to let it infiltrate the footy squad so he stayed away when he felt worse for wear.
In fact, he was probably among the earliest victims of the outbreak.
Biss had trained on Tuesday, July 26 - two days after collecting a red card against Miramar Rangers in the 2-1 Lotto Central League loss at Bluewater Stadium - but that evening the signs were ominous.
" ... I just felt more tired than normal when I got home. My lower back was aching and my legs were aching and I felt a bit dizzy."
He started breaking into bouts of hot-and-cold sweats in bed, something that lingered into the next day.
It wasn't until Thursday that he felt the wrath of the gastro bug.
"I started spewing on Thursday and sort of came in and out of it but, by Sunday, I think I was really bad."
It was a combination of everything at a much higher intensity and the bed seemed to be the safest sanctuary so, for the first time, he entertained the thought of consulting a doctor.
"They didn't say I actually had the gastro bug but they said, 'You're run down and have some symptoms so we're going to give you some medication and you'll have the whole week off work to rest up and feel better'."
Rovers team physiotherapist Alex Gairdner suggested Biss go to the A and E Department of the Hawke's Bay Hospital in Hastings on Tuesday, August 9, after he complained of a stiff neck as well as blurry and sore eyes, some of the symptoms typical of meningococcal meningitis. "I was feeling a little better that day so I went to training just to show my face and say hi to the boys."
Biss took it on board but, while driving home, changed his mind, electing to hold out one more night.
The childhood message driven home with fervour from kindergarten and primary school days came flooding back - don't ever share food or drink bottles with anyone.
Hydrating has been a mantra for a bloke whose sweat glands work overtime through his training-heavy daily routine.
"I sweat a lot and I'm training a lot so I'm always drinking straight from the tap and I was getting sicker and sicker."
Nevertheless, he knew while the Rovers shared team bottles during training and match days, players avoided putting the sipper tops to their mouths.
"We squirt it but, in saying that, this week I've taken my own drink bottle because I didn't want to get anyone else sick, even though I'm fine now."
What's happening around Havelock North "is pretty crazy right now". It is not just his guard that will be up for a long time on matters pertaining to health and hygiene.
He gave the bus trip to Lower Hutt that Saturday a miss to spend the weekend in bed.
For someone who ran the half marathon - albeit as a "female runner" under the bib of injured Hilary Bartlett - during the Air New Zealand Hawke's Bay Marathon in May and last November tamed the Auckland Marathon, it was demoralising.
While the Rovers train on Tuesday and Thursday nights, Biss trains every other day, either running and/or in the gym.
He visited a Hastings GP that Sunday night.
At the height of his illness, Biss started questioning his faith in what was until then a pretty bulletproof template in life. The Blues player took stock of every habit to try to make sense of where he may have strayed.
"So I'm pretty healthy, I keep pretty fit all the time, I eat well and then, randomly, I start getting crook.
"I don't really get sick at all, especially not spewing sick."
He had worked laboriously to sculpt his body into shape this year, building strength and sidestepping injuries.
It was a setback enough to be sent off early against Miramar and miss the next game through suspension, away against Wellington United, but to have to sit out another because of the bug just tore him up.
"I then only had 30 minutes in the fourth game and now we have one game left ... so the last part of the month has just been all downhill for me."
While some fans outside may have wondered if Biss was taking his post-red card suspension in the Chatham Cup and the Blues' waning campaign too close to heart, it pays to know it takes something special to knock out the adroit player.
"Even if we'd lost in the first round of the Chatham Cup, I'd still turn up to training and still play every game as hard as I could."
Biss played the entire losing game against Stop Out at Park Island, on a kitchen sponge-like Bluewater Stadium, but it put him through the spin-dry cycle and tested his resolve.
"I could have come off after 10 minutes, to be honest. I had no energy.
"I wasn't spewing or anything like that but you know how you feel after you're just getting back [from an illness].
"I could have put my hand up to say take me off after the first five minutes but I battled through it even though we didn't get the result we wanted," he says of the 5-3 loss that further pushed them into the mathematical quagmire.
He is 100 per cent now and the team intend to finish a season that promised much but delivered little in terms of silverware for the league defending champions.
Today is the last fling at retaining the crown for the third-placed Rovers.
Coaching staff and substitutes on the sideline will have an eye and ear on the progress of the Stop Out versus Wellington Olympic game at Hutt Park as well as the Miramar versus Petone one at David Farrington Park, also kicking off at 2.30pm, to keep the suspense alive.
Against Palmerston North Marist last Saturday, Biss came off the bench in the last 30 minutes to make the telling pass for the third goal that Saul Halpin nodded into the net at the far post for the 3-2 victory.
Biss says assistant coach Chris Greatholder, of Havelock North, has got the bug but schoolboy Ross Willox, from the village, has warded it off to date - although some of his family members haven't been so lucky.
"I could tell on the way home from Palmy last week in the van.
"CG [Greatholder] sat on the back right of the van and I sat back left, and he was sweating and freezing so, by the time we got off at Hastings, he was looking bad.
"We haven't seen him this week [because] he's crook," says Biss.
Player-coach Bill Robertson says Biss takes immense pride in his fitness and general health so it was great to see him bounce back.
Robertson says today's final clash is a godsend and good for the league as no one will have an inkling until all the three games are over as to who will reign.
"We're the underdogs now so it's Olympic and Miramar's title to lose."
Co-skipper Finlay Milne hasn't recovered from a groin injury in the last round. He won't play today.
English import midfielder Rob Pearson's season is over after picking up a card in Palmerston North last Saturday.
"We're a bit light in the squad and we have two key players out so that's the story of our season," says Robertson adding that Rovers are unsure if today's game will be on grass or turf.
WHO: Lower Hutt City v Napier City Rovers.
WHEN: 2.30pm, today.
WHERE: Fraser Park No 5, Wellington.
REFEREE: Mark Whitehead.
AR1/AR2: Peter Macdonald/Aaron Clarke.
LOWER HUTT CITY: Marcel Kampman (GK), 2 Bryn Yates, 3 Callum Martin, 4 Ben Ratahi, 5 Tobias Kratt, 6 Kade Schrijvers, 7 Cam McKenzie, 8 Alex McDonald Jnr, 9 Jeremy Field, 10 Aaron McDonald, 11 Mark Webber, 12 Sam Dewar, 13 Jarrod Stant, 14 James Marsh, 15 Jared Mitchell, 16 Scott Henderson, 18 Ryan Benson, 19 Ash Crawford, 20 Taylor Schrijvers, 21 Reed Collingwood (RGK ).
Coach: Ryan Sandford.
NAPIER CITY ROVERS: Ruben Parker Hanks (GK), 2 Daniel Ball, 3 Ethan Ladd, 7 Steve Hoyle, 8 Ryan Tinsley, 10 Saul Halpin, 11 Tom Biss, 12 Kurtis Maney, 14 Josh Stevenson, 15 Jim Hoyle, 16 Danny Wilson (c), 17 Fergus Neil, 18 Ross Willox, 19 Bill Robertson, 21 Kyle Baxter (RGK).
Coach: Bill Robertson.
Ast coach: Chris Greatholder.
All today in 2.30pm kickoffs:
Miramar Rangers v Petone at David Farrington Park.
Stop Out v Wellington Olympic at Hutt Park No 1.
Palmerston North Marist v Western Suburbs at Memorial Park (PN).
Standings: Olympic 36pts, Miramar 35, Rovers 34, Suburbs 31, Stop Out 31, Lower Hutt City 20, Wairarapa 19, Wgtn Utd 17, Marist 12, Petone 5.
- Hawkes Bay Today
By Anendra Singh