It was the most challenging moment of his career; former All Black Adam Thomson, so used to physical intensity, struck down by a pain totally beyond his control.
Just days before Christmas last year, after playing one of the last games of the season, the star flanker experienced a sensation in his lower back that would ultimately test his emotions, courage and ability to accept help.
Speaking exclusively to Newshub, the 2011 Rugby World Cup-winning team member has opened up for the first time about the fear of the mystery surrounding his overwhelming agony, frustrations as a foreigner seeking medical help in a non-English speaking country, and the strength it took to keep faith that he would overcome the circumstances.
Playing rugby from the age of five, Thomson was familiar with dealing to injuries sustained on the field - including a stiff back, which he had grown used to.
Thomson launched his career straight out of high school, earning his first professional contract and going on to play close to 100 Super Rugby matches for the Highlanders, Reds and Rebels. He also represented the All Blacks in 29 tests between 2008 and 2012.
In 2013 he moved to Japan, and by the end of his 2017 season playing in Tokyo, his back began to cause him trouble - but nothing which caused more alarm than normal.
"I wasn't overly concerned, but I thought a couple of days would be fine for the recovery. I turned up to training and I felt a little bit off," Thomson told Newshub.
The coaches and his team mates could see he was seriously uncomfortable, so he was sent home to have an extra day of recovery.
His girlfriend of seven years, Jessie Gurunathan, had just returned from travelling overseas and noticed the pain he was suffering was out of the ordinary. She tucked him into bed and gave him a couple of pain meds, with Thomson intending to sleep it off and "grind it out" as he had done many times before.
But as it turned out, he couldn't.
"It was about midnight and the pain spasms kicked in really hard - I was writhing around in bed, on the floor, screaming out," Thomson explained.
"Jessie came in from the other room and she knew something was wrong, and I started to realise it was something I hadn't dealt with before.
"She called up one of the coaches, Dave Dillon, who came around immediately. Another mate, George, who had been in the team a long time, came around as well.
"They saw that I was in a lot of trouble, they carried me down six flights of stairs, put me in the car and began the search for a hospital… which turned out to be a challenge in itself. Two hospitals turned us down before we finally found one that would take us."
"I think the fact we were foreigners didn't help - [we were] probably put into the 'too hard' basket."
The third hospital came with a number of challenges. Irritations grew when the former Highlanders player was denied painkillers until medical staff had answers to a series of questions - and communication barriers became an issue.
"Any sort of movement was just excruciating by the time I got to the hospital - I couldn't walk at all. I was just in a position where you wanted to stop any movement, because any movement just caused a huge amount of pain," he said.
"We had to deal with a process of maybe two hours going through paperwork, filling in all our details - questions like, 'What sort of food do you eat?', 'Does Jessie shower you at home or do you shower yourself?'
"Really frustrating stuff - that's the Japanese system, very methodical protocol to follow. The fact that I couldn't speak Japanese, everything had to be translated - there was difficulty with that, and everything has to go up and down a chain of command."
Trying to breathe through his anguish, Thomson was in excruciating pain attempting to move from the foetal position to stretching out on a metal tray, for an X-ray.
"It's pretty hard to look back on," he said.
As the 29-cap international began internalising the events playing out before him, his outlook and initial optimism that he could tough it out began to dim.
"The fear came in when I got to a stage where I knew I couldn't handle it and I needed help as well, as the fear of the unknown and the fear of being in a country where I didn't know the system, and the three or four-hour period where I wasn't getting the help," he said.
His team doctor, Dr Kuniaki Amano - who happened to be a spine specialist - heard about his situation and organised a transfer to Tsukuba Memorial Hospital, where Thomson was admitted. He had a number of scans and MRIs. Everything came back and there was no diagnosis.
"That was really scary in itself - and then having to wait a week before I knew what was happening, and just being in so much pain and not being able to walk, it was pretty scary."
Although not apparent at the time, he cites an element of luck did coming into play during his most testing moment. Dr Amano was mentored by a world-renowned spine specialist, Masataka Sakane, who is also the Japanese national team's official doctor.
"Luckily he has dealt with a range of issues, and this being one of them, so when the scans came back and said that they didn't have an answer for me, he told me that he had an inkling that it was lumbar discitis, which is a spinal infection."
It's a complication that Dr Amano treated his father for, and only a handful of other patients. The inflammation between the vertebrae discs is rare even in elderly people, but especially in young - and even more so in athletes.
Thomson was told: "This is what I think it is, it's going to take a week before it shows up on the scans". He endured "a week of the unknown", unable to walk waiting to confirm suspicions of the infection.
Thomson started antibiotics, which initially helped - but Thomson was mistakenly given Japanese-sized doses, so for a 110kg Westerner, its impact dwindled. Once the diagnosis was finally made, his ordeal continued as his medical team worked to give him the support he needed.
“When the drugs stopped working and I was deteriorating they thought I was going to need spinal surgery to flush it out, in fact I came within one day of them making the call to operate.
“Luckily the change of antibiotics started working. That was incredibly daunting to think about getting my spine cut open.
"The first month I couldn't walk, I had a lot of pain attacks that could last up to a couple of hours before medication arrived," he recounted.
"I couldn't get out of the bed, so the first part of it was just getting the pain under control and the second month was about the rehabilitation, trying to get back on my feet again."
"Those experiences test your character - I had a lot of dark times, a lot of questions: 'Am I going to come out the other side? Am I going to be the same person again? Am I going to have a life that I can physically do what I want to do?'"
Thomson spent 57 days in hospital all up, weighing 96kg when he was discharged.
"To put that in perspective, when I left school I was 100kg - so it was a big shock."
Despite the hardships, Thomson believes his character has been changed for the better.
"I am definitely stronger out the other side and much more empathetic - although it was such a tough thing to go through, it's probably changed my character for the better.
"In a weird way, I am probably pretty grateful for the experience. It's given me a lot of compassion for other people, and I really sympathise with people who are going through these sorts of challenges and have to fight to come out the other side."
With well wishes sent from loved ones back in New Zealand, and family keeping a close interest in his health updates, Thomson is grateful that partner Jessie was there every step of the way.
"She was a rock throughout the whole thing; the only person that was by my bed for the whole journey. Imagining myself trying to go through that without her support, I am very lucky and grateful she was there."
Coming from the hyper-masculine environment that was his South Island boy's school, Thomson revealed that had he gone through a similar time when he was starting out in his career, he may not have had the stability to come out the other side.
"There's a feeling as if you need to accept these things by yourself," he explained.
"You feel like you have to muscle up and get through it, but for me, it was accepting vulnerability and the help of others and knowing that people are there to support you - and it's okay to accept that help.”
Thomson said he will take the lessons learned through his experience and apply them to his own work with WeAreTenzing - a sports and talent management company which he co-owns with Brooke Howard-Smith and Sam Hazledine.
"For me, I learned that I am not superhuman and bulletproof - it's really mentality from rugby, because it helps with your career to get through things like that. It's okay to be vulnerable, it's okay to hurt and be emotional in those moments.
"It was about setting little goals; as a rugby player I wanted to be an All Black and that was a huge goal, but taking that back to being sick in bed, the goal was to stand up and the goal was to walk to the toilet - so it's all about perspective and celebrating the little wins."
Thomson's focus now is to regain full fitness so he can return to rugby and finish his career on his feet - far from a hospital bed.