Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Story of the Last Game

Recently I read something that said a good story needs conflict, tension, vulnerability, grace, relatability, maybe a hero or two and maybe a lesson or two.  I get that. I also get that sometimes we tell the stories and other times we live them and can't believe they are happening to us. The story of Peyton's football season has all the stuff that a good story supposedly needs.  The past few weeks have been filled with conflict and tension and vulnerability, especially last Saturday. This past weekend there were heroes and lots of relatability and grace. I'm sure there's a lesson or two as well, but I'm not sure just what they are yet.  This isn't a story about how bad football is or isn't, it's a story of one kid's season and one mom's fears.

The Conflict: Second Opinions, Second Chances, Second Thoughts

The week before the football season started, we took Peyton to a follow-up appointment for a very severe concussion he'd had a few months earlier (not football related). The neurologist thought he found a blood clot in his brain on the MRI and said he didn't think football was a good idea, but ordered more tests, blood work and more doctors to investigate. Peyton was devastated, but also hopeful that there would be new answers. He loves football and wanted to play. I love football and wanted him to play, but not if it put him at higher risk for not recovering fully from the concussion.

Even when we found out that there was no blood clot and he got cleared to play from two different doctors including the neurologist that originally had concerns, I didn't want him to play. I cried a lot. I fought with Tim who wanted Peyton to play.  I cried a lot more. I stopped talking to some friends who wouldn't quit sending me articles about how bad football is and giving me unsolicited opinions and advice. I worried. I agreed to let him play but vowed to maybe not go to any games and I might have told Tim "if he gets hurt I will hate you." (hint that's some good old fashioned storytelling foreshadowing)

I did end up going to the football games. I even enjoyed most of them and sometimes even gave Peyton some constructive criticism about a few missed tackles. Remember deep down I really do love the game of football. I cheered. I shook the shaker one of the moms made with all the kids' names and numbers on it. I rang the cowbell. But I also held my breath watching my son, a linebacker, play.  Behind the smiling face and shaking the shaker, each game I worried that my kid would end up in a crumpled heap in the middle of the field.  I vividly pictured Tim going out on the field to our injured boy, an ambulance being called and my world falling apart.  

Most games I hid behind my fancy camera. I took over 1,000 pictures of both my sons' football games over the last few weeks. 

I have so many pictures of the teenage boys being so nice to little Wade, the water boy, this season. I was so impressed with how kind all the boys were to him.

JT loves football just like his older brother.

I love taking pictures. I love capturing moments. The camera was a buffer between the game and my anxiety and fear.
The Last Game

This past Saturday was Peyton's last game of the season. I sighed thinking about how the past few weeks had gone down--all the worrying, all the breath holding, all the fear--and how it was almost over. I drove to the game alone with Peyton which was odd because we are never just the two of us.  I leaned over and told him "geez kid, the last game, we made it, well I made it through all my crazy worry, you've had a great time." We laughed. Then we took a selfie which he suffered through because he's a nice kid and he knows I love taking selfies and pictures.

The game started and I started snapping pictures in between talking to my friends in the stands. Fifteen minutes into the game my worst nightmare came true.  The scene that I had feared happened right in front of me. There was a player crumpled in the middle of the field after a play. I knew it was Peyton. I had been taking pictures. I saw him not get up.

"It's not his head," I laughed to my friends. "He's okay. It's just a leg."  

I laughed but inside I was terrified and my heart was racing and I wanted to scream and cry.

When I saw Tim run down the stairs from the coaching booth to be with him I started to literally lose my breath again. Then the coaches standing over my son yelled to the crowd that they needed blankets. Blankets to cover my crumpled boy in the middle of the field.

I got up. "I can't do this," I think I said out loud.  I walked to the gate by far edge of the stadium. I walked past two men saying things like "yeah, it looks bad" and "I think that's Youngblood."  It was like a bad dream or a movie.

"Fuck, fuck this, fuck, fuck, fuck" I repeated over and over. (hopefully this is relatability, hopefully a few other people would say fuck in a situation like this)

I turned around and saw two of my friends walking toward me.(Two heroes of this story.)  They knew where I was mentally and emotionally. They knew that my fears were coming true. They hugged me and cried with me for a few minutes.  Then Tim called me on my cell from the field, "It's his knee, he needs you."

I wiped my tears, straightened my back and walked out to be with my son.  It's not that I am particularly brave, it's that sometimes when you have such anxiety about something you are sort of oddly prepared for it when IT happens.  

I walked out to the crumpled boy in the middle of the field, my boy, covered with blankets. I got on my knees, held his hand and told him it was going to be okay. He was being so brave. He wasn't screaming or sobbing, only repeating "it hurts so bad" while a few single tears ran down his cheeks. I looked up and the men, his coaches and the coaches from the other team, looked so concerned and many of them had tears in their eyes.  It was serious and heavy and heartbreaking.
A friend of mine in the stands took these pictures. She took them because she knows me, she knows that I appreciate the stories that pictures tell. I am so grateful that she knew that and took these pictures, they are painfully beautiful to me.
JT was still in his uniform from his game earlier in the day.
Tim consoling the little brothers.

We all waited for the ambulance to arrive.

When they finally loaded him on the stretcher and wheeled him to the ambulance, Peyton gave a thumbs up to his team and the crowd.  I walked behind him in disbelief. 

This horrible moment, this amazing all seemed so surreal, so powerful.

Healing and Heroes

Once we were in the ambulance, they started an IV for Peyton. I held his hand and carried his cleat in my other hand.  Peyton looked scared. I felt determined, determined to make him less scared.

"We are giving you Fentanyl for the pain, it's a synthetic morphine," the ambulance guys explained.

"Otherwise known as one of Grammy's favorites," I interjected. I've talked with Peyton at length about my mother's drug abuse, so he knows. He smiled and even laughed. He looked less scared. The synthetic morphine and I were a good team for the ride over to the nearest hospital.

The nearest hospital was like a scene out of Grey's Anatomy, lots of interesting people and drama.  Police officers walked patients around who were handcuffed, there was another officer questioning a patient, a very loud, wailing woman, a couple uninsured people and woah, just a lot happening. 

Tim had followed the ambulance in our minivan. When he walked into the ER I whispered "this is exactly what I feared, this is all your fault, if there weren't so many cops in here I'd scream at you and throw things."  Not my proudest moment but it was real and raw and painful.  "Not now," Tim said and looked at the floor.

They wheeled Peyton back from Xrays and informed us he had broken his femur and would need surgery.  And also that they didn't have a pediatric department and Peyton would need to be transported to another hospital immediately. 

"Fuck," I said.

Peyton was transferred by another ambulance to another hospital. He had surgery. He stayed in the hospital a few days. He hardly complained. He just said he was disappointed he couldn't try out for the eighth grade basketball team and was hoping he could help manage the team.  He worried about his science homework. He refused pain meds at first because all of my at-length talks about how addiction runs in our family and my mother's drug abuse (the doctors and I forced him to take the meds because um, a broken femur, yeah I told him it was worth the risk). He only asked for one thing, a Dr. Pepper, after we offered him "anything" he wanted.  He's now dedicated to practicing his physical therapy and getting back to school.

He's amazing. I don't know where he gets his drive and his kindness and his strength. He is the kid who gives the thumb's up. He is my hero.

Since Saturday we have had an outpouring of love and generosity and compassion and kindness. Offers to help drive, get groceries, make dinners and offer support. All of these people are my heroes.

The goodness of people and the strength of my son make it hard for me to breathe all over again. I am breathless with wonder, in awe of people's kindness, and breathless with gratitude. If there are lessons to be learned from scary situations it's that they happen and there's no control BUT also that there are people that care, people that go the extra mile, people that teach us all how to be better and stronger and kinder and make us want to pay it forward.  

The Last Picture

Yesterday, I got out my fancy camera for the first time since Saturday and looked at the pictures I took. The last picture is a picture of the tackle where Peyton got hurt. When I saw it I felt sick. It's the last picture I took from the last game of a long season.

I still feel pissed that this is how the story went because really, what the fuck? The last game? But that isn't where this story ends. The story continues with good people that are helping and a good son who is healing and a couple of parents who love each other so much  they will work through all their feelings of resentment and figure out football and fights and fear and be better for all of it. 

At least that's how I hope to write it.


  1. Crying with you. SO UNFAIR. Wishing all of you healing!!!

  2. I'm so sorry this happened (obviously.) Your perspective on it all is amazing. Love you.

  3. Wow. I'm so sorry about all of this. The picture of you with your husband looking at you on the field is perfect, though. (I think it's your husband behind your son) xoxo

  4. The selfie of you and your son makes me wish for a boy. I am a mom of three young girls and reading your stories makes me crave a boy.

  5. This life sure is real, isn't it? :) Loving you all and offering up continued healing prayers from here. xoxo