Not Exactly Paradise, But They Did Have Cheeseburgers...(Post #17)
After a long and tiresome day on the football field, kicking up dust on a hot August afternoon in southern Ohio, peeling off the layers of padding and sweat soaked socks, the very first thing I used to do was ask Mom about dinner! The truth is, it didn’t even matter what we were having that night; no matter what, after football practice, I always felt as though I hadn’t eaten in days (truth be told I probably had two lunches at school, but none the less, I digress). I would clean up my locker and pack up my gear, as I grew more and more anxious about what would be waiting for me on the dinner table. Those were simple times; days in which my life was filled with academics, athletics and the occasional social outing. Those were the days in which I just couldn’t wait to get home and gorge myself on whatever we were having that evening. I never thought I could be as excited about food than I was during those simple days of high school football, but laying in that hospital bed, knowing that I had to eat on my own before I could be released was an entirely different story. Knowing that the only thing holding me back from continuing on my journey of recovery was something we usually take for granted; eating.
Starting a daily routine in a hospital is not exactly the most enjoyable thing in the world, and it takes a turn down the road of humiliation and helplessness when you have trouble moving, let alone standing up on your own. I would wake each morning, considering I slept the night before, and my parents and I would start each day with a healthy game of “lets see if we can get Sy to the bathroom without any issues”. An hour or so of finally sitting up in bed, then scooting to the edge, then delicately adjusting myself into a wheelchair, followed by a short trip to the facilities, taking care of my business, then attempting to make it back into bed; at the end of each one of these adventures, I was exhausted. After I finally made myself comfortable back in bed, we started the arduous task of teasing through everything and anything that may sound good from the hospital cafeteria. Back when I was a young student-athlete, you could have placed a can of Spam in front of me and I would have eaten it as though it was a juicy steak; but now, not even jello or ice cream sounded appetizing. After deciding on something for lunch, which I wouldn’t eat, therefore still relying on a feeding tube; it was time for a little physical therapy. Let me tell you something about physical therapists, they are bad ass people (excuse my language), it does not matter if they are male or female, big or small, strong or weak, they always had one thing on their minds, and that was making sure I was on the long, but correct path to salvaging what I had left of my adolescence. There were days in which I hated working with my physical therapist, those were also the days in which I just felt like giving up, but I knew that in order to gain some normality in life, I had to put in the work. There are a very miniscule number of young men who make it all the way to the NFL, but those who do reach that mountain top are the ones who put in the most time training and becoming an expert at their craft. So I would take the mindset of that 16-year-old student-athlete and use the motivation during my physical therapy sessions as though I was preparing for the Super Bowl. The days after I would get in a great physical therapy session reminded me of having a great practice out on the field. When you get back in the locker room after a hard and successful practice, everything seems a bit brighter and you feel better about yourself and your team. I loved that feeling following physical therapy, it was the closest thing to feeling like an athlete again.
Even though my daily routine was tough and exhausting, it was still fairly mundane. Hospitals don’t have a spa, or evening entertainment on the patio; you are there for one reason, and that is to improve your situation so you can go back to your own monotonous life! During my time in the hospital, each time I would close my eyes I worried what new problem was going to be haunting me in the morning, but once I started down my road to recovery, all I was worried about each evening was whether or not I would be able to eat tomorrow. I distinctly remember the day I woke up and felt hungry, it was as though a giant weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and stomach! It was a sunny day, my Mom always made sure to open the blinds on my window when it was a beautiful day outside, seeing the sun always made things better. The birds were chirping (or so I imagine), and the first thing I wanted to do was go outside and enjoy the weather; trying to escape my painful reality was a new and challenging game each day. After my ever-so-exciting bathroom routine, instead of wheeling myself back to bed, we headed down the elevator and outside into a small sitting area. This was one of the first times I remember being outside since I first started this journey, and at that moment, something inside of me clicked (in reality it was probably my stomach growling). No matter how it happened, I remember feeling hungry and all I wanted was a cheeseburger and fries from the hospital cafeteria; not exactly a four-course meal in the Hamptons, but I was starving. We wheeled back up to the room and Mom sprinted to the cafeteria; I knew she was coming before she got back because I could smell the sweet scent of french fries wafting through the infectious disease floor. It sounds rather funny, but taking the first bite of that cheeseburger and not feeling like I was going to hurl was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. This was the first day to the rest of my life; I knew that I was on the track to getting back to my own home and continuing my recovery. One thing I was unaware of when scarfing down that burger was that I was going to need to accomplish much more if I was going to really get back to living a normal life; but what is normal?