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Numbers Never Lie...(Post #8)

14 hours is a hell of a long time! Other than sleep, I’m not sure there are many things I could do for 14 straight hours (other than Netflix and chill, which is still a thing, right?!). Since my accident and the aftermath that followed, certain numbers have stuck out to me. I was a 16 year-old kid when it all first happened and I will end up enduring a total of 17 surgical procedures over the course of a year and a half, but one number that I’ll never forget is 14. I was under the knife for a total of 14 straight hours during one procedure, in which I almost lost my life…twice.

I’ve done some research on the phrase “we’re not out of the woods yet” and as it sounds, most references express that the saying is related to being lost, or not knowing what direction to pursue. Others use the phrase in regards to going through a tough or tumultuous time and not being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel (talk about popular phrase overload). Even though I may have been floating down the anesthetic lazy river during this 14-hour ordeal, I am still very aware of everything that occurred and have come to realize that this particular procedure is very important to my story and growth as a young man (ok, not so young anymore, but I digress). The reason this particular surgery holds a special and significant place within my experience is because this was the first time that I really understood that even though I was the one on the operating table, there were so many others who were hurting just as much, if not more. Something we tend to forget is that we do not have to trudge our way up and down the football field of life alone. Football is the ultimate team game, and nothing goes as planned if each and every one of your teammates doesn’t perform their duty. But that feeling of comradery, that sensation of overwhelming encouragement from your teammates can be just as dangerous of a weapon as a running back who runs a 4.3 second 40 yard dash. When a teammate goes down with an injury, everyone else on the team feels it, everyone suffers together and then you focus on whatever it takes to get back on the field. In my circumstance, my support system came in the form of family and friends who became my teammates and suffered right along side me, but rather than trying to get back on the field, I was just trying to stay alive.

There was a plan in place, thanks to the late addition of a particular surgeon with a very particular set of skills; we were ready to take the next steps necessary for me to hopefully live a long and prosperous life. The main issue we were facing was a gaping hole in my lower left leg, there was not enough muscle and tissue to just stich it up and move on, but there was an alternative. Sometimes when you read over a game plan, there may be a couple things that stick out that seem a little crazy, so crazy that it might just work! Like throwing a flea-flicker during the first quarter of the game, or attempting an onside kick coming out of halftime; certain “Hail Mary” type of plays that end up being beneficial. This plan we had in place, this audible that was called, was most definitely a “Hail Mary” to say the least.

I remember each and every time I have been wheeled back for surgery; the emotional toll it takes on a 16 year-old kid is extremely overwhelming. Wearing a stiff, pale white hospital gown and trying to stay warm while you’re in pre-op is nearly impossible. Everything smells clean and looks sterile, except the outrageous amount of toys and video games the hospital offers in order to try and ease the worry and discontent that is brought on like a hurricane when your waiting to have someone cut you open. But the worst part by far is the last explosion of hugs and kisses from Mom, Pops and Sis, and then that feeling of the unknown as your wheeled down the hallway away from them. Each time I have been wheeled away for surgery, each time I saw the tears well up in my Mothers eyes, each time my last thought was always “I hope I get to see them again”. That is what is so scary about surgery, not knowing whether or not you are going to wake up. Sure, this sounds terrifying, and probably not super motivating, but at the same time, I was able to utilize each of these emotionally charged situations and turn them into moments of strength. I would never tell anyone what to believe, or whom/what to believe in, but something I do know is that if we do not find ways to become stronger and better human beings, then even the Cleveland Browns defense can shut you down! (Coming from a life long Cleveland fan).

During our pre-operation team meeting, we went over the game plan one final time. The surgery play-by-play was supposed to sound something like this; doctors were going to remove my stomach muscle from the right side of my body, then after preparing the muscle, they would insert it into the gaping hole in my left leg. Next, a large portion of skin would be removed from my thigh, and that skin would be used as a free-flap to cover the aforementioned stomach muscle. Staples and stiches would be utilized to assist in holding the muscle in place and in time, hopefully, I would have some semblance of what a leg is supposed to look like. I was totally prepared for the idea that this surgery was going to hurt, I was going to have parts of my body removed from their natural habitat, and forcibly placed where they don’t belong! Here is the thing with the Hail Mary play in football, sometimes the football gods smile down and the receiver miraculously catches the 50 yard bomb for a touchdown. Other times, before you even snap the ball, your team gets called for a false start so you move back five yards, then a holding call which is another ten yards, then a delay of game penalty, and all of a sudden you are going backwards. Even though this surgical Hail Mary may have been my best chance, it became even more of an impossible task once that scalpel pierced my skin and problems began to arise.

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