Josh Hardcastle says he feared “that could have been it” as he lay in a hospital bed after suffering a stroke this month at just 30 years old.
The Featherstone Rovers forward has given his first interview since a shock collapse at home, and will find out at the end of the season if he will ever play rugby league again.
He is adamant that a return to the field is possible, despite admitting he currently feels lucky to have survived the scare.
“I’ve had a few negative thoughts, I’ve got two young kids at home and that really dawned on me when I was laying in the hospital bed,” Hardcastle revealed.
“That could have been it. It could have been game over. But looking at the others in the ward, they were in a lot worse position than me.
“I am still young and surrounded by a lot of good people. A lot of people don’t make recoveries from strokes and I’ve read a lot about it.
“I could be negative and think ‘why me’ or I can crack on and focus on what I have to get back to. Hopefully I’ll be back to normal life in a couple of months so this is a small price to play.”
‘It came out of nowhere’ – Featherstone Rovers star recalls scary stroke incident
Hardcastle had been enjoying a fine season with his hometown club Featherstone, who are big favourites to gain promotion to Super League with a ten-point lead at the top of the Championship.
But now he faces the prospect of watching the final third of the campaign from the stands after suffering the stroke while recovering from a recent knee injury.
“It came out of nowhere,” he said. “I was just in the bath on a Tuesday afternoon as I was off work anyway with my knee.
“I just had a bit of a funny do in the bath and then my lass found me upstairs on the bathroom floor.
“It was a bit scary for the first few hours before I got to A and E, then ended up having some scans and stayed in for four days.
“They found the cause of it which was a tear in the artery in the brain, so the bleed from that caused it. Now I have the cause I am hoping I can continue my recovery and get out there sometime.
“I was conscious and it was just a weird feeling. All my left arm had gone numb and I just felt really weak trying to get out of the bath. I finally got out like a prune after about an hour and our lass found me on the bathroom floor hanging on to the door.
“I didn’t think too much of it, I just thought I was a bit hungry having only had a slice of toast. I’d had some dinner, still didn’t feel too cracking then she came back from the school run and my face was a bit drooped and my arm was flying down on its own so I ended up in A and E.
“It’s been surreal, not something you would ever expect to happen to any of the lads my age. I need to rest up for three months on doctors orders with no training and no work and then see how I am from that.”
Josh Hardcastle: I’ve probably been lucky with how it has happened
The cause of the stroke remains unknown and Hardcastle refuses to blame the brutal sport he plays for what has happened.
“They said the tear was from head trauma, a bit of whiplash, it’s a bang on the head, something or nothing,” he added.
“Luckily I hadn’t been playing for a few weeks with my knee injury anyway which has probably stopped more damage coming towards me.
“I’ve probably been lucky with how it has happened and there were a lot of people far worse than me on that ward.”
There are of course very real concerns that Hardcastle will never play again. But the one-club man insists he is focusing on the more positive of the prognosis’ he has received in recent days.
“I’ve had a bit of a mixed bag from the experts, one consultant said three months and I’d be alright,” he continued.
“I got told six months, 12 months, one said he would recommend indefinite rest from playing.
“But as long as the scan goes alright when I go back in three months time then if my risk is no higher than anyone else’s then I’m happy to come back and play.
“It’s been really nice the support and messages I’ve received, quite touching really as I’m normally called a bellend so it’s nice to see that people actually care about me!”