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A U.S. Olympic team doctor blogs from Beijing: The guts, the glory, the gastrointestinal problems

August 20, 2008 |  9:25 pm

Swim500

Amid all the hoopla that is the Beijing Summer Olympics, it’s understandable that some things are lost in the wake of feats such as acquiring eight gold medals.

Take, for instance, the live-from-the-Beijing Olympics blog being written by Dr. Scott Rodeo (pronounced row-dee-oh, not the fancy row-day-oh), an orthopedic surgeon on the medical team treating U.S. Olympic athletes. He may not have the cachet of Oprah-approved Dr. Mehmet Oz, but Rodeo has great creds — he’s the co-chief of the Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, associate team physician for the New York Giants, and a former competitive swimmer. He’s done the Olympics gig before as the U.S. Olympic team’s physician at the Athens Games in 2004. The hospital’s public relations director suggested he blog via his Blackberry about his experiences as one of several medical personnel at the event, and so he has, starting with the swim team’s training camp in Singapore. Which is great, except the posts are … less than spine-tingling.

"I have continued to treat both gastrointestinal illness as well as sinusitis, upper respiratory conditions, coughs, and sore throats," he writes. "We have also had a few minor injuries in swimmers (finger, elbow) which occurred from a forceful finish."

All righty then.

Frankly, we feel for Rodeo, who must be caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, he certainly has no desire to see nasty injuries befall the athletes, most of whom have trained years for this opportunity. On the other hand, flying about 7,000 miles to treat diarrhea must be … a touch of a disappointment.

"There’s enough other stuff going on," he says, chuckling. "The less I see the better, because it means that everybody’s healthy."

A phone conversation (part of which took place en route to an event as Rodeo’s bag, filled with syringes and such, was being checked by security) yielded more info on what Rodeo’s been up to. Although his main focus is on swimmers, he cares for other U.S. and foreign athletes as well, plus a few media people and NBC staffers thrown in for good measure.

As for the athletes, "There may be a number of little things that you treat," he says. "More significant things are small fractures, which can be taped, and if it’s not too serious the athlete may keep competing. Most things are muscle strains — some are acute and demand attention." Those, he adds, are usually treated with ice and anti-inflammatory medications.

Various sports, he explains, yield specific types of injuries. Swimmers, for example, typically suffer overuse injuries such as shoulder strains, caused by repetitive arm movements. They can also suffer acute injuries such as fractures if they smash their hands against the pool wall during a finish. Track athletes can have stress reactions, a chronic bone injury that can be a precursor to a stress fracture.

It’s obvious that Rodeo must be prepared to treat anything, like the aforementioned gastrointestinal issues, which are typical for travelers and can stem from changes in water, food, and environment and can alter the GI tract’s bacterial balance. Nerves, he adds, are probably a factor in some of these cases. He’s been treating most mild cases with anti-diarrheal medications, and more serious ones with antibiotics. The danger here, Rodeo says, is dehydration: "Athletes can lose a lot of fluid, and that can affect performance."

For those hoping Rodeo would name names of who’s been injured and how, don’t hold your breath. The United States Olympic Committee prohibits him from giving out specifics. But a couple of nuggets were extracted: Michael Phelps is a stand-up guy who hasn’t gotten a swelled head from his phenomenal accomplishments. "He’s a good person, normal, he puts his pants on one leg at a time." Or should that be super-duper Speedos? Most athletes at this level, he adds, are pretty savvy about injuries and treatment and don’t act like prima donnas around the docs.

Despite a rigorous work schedule (he’s had little time to sightsee), Rodeo’s perks are getting to attend the competitions (he witnessed Phelps’ win in the 100-meter butterfly), as well as gather useful information to take home.

"You see injuries as they occur, as opposed to people coming in to see me a day later," he says. "So we can see what the best scenario is right away and learn how to get someone back quickly."

The blog has received about 1,000 visitors over seven days of tracking, and has received five comments. He sums up his month away from home this way: "It’s a neat experience on a lot of levels."

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Martin/Presse Sports via US PRESSWIRE.

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Comments (2)

Still, neither any mention nor explanation regarding numerous athletes contracting so-called "food poisoning" during their immediate pre-Olympic
training camp at Dalian.
It should be reported in detail that such problems have not occurred at
the Beijing 2008 Olympic Village - Athletes Dining Facilities.



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