Rehab, My Road to Recovery;Lessons from Little League (part 8)
Trying to win every day made sense. Hey, as a young athlete, I was all about the game. I would do anything to put myself in position to win, regardless of the situation. In sports, though, I understood the rules. For football, I knew if I lifted weights, ran, and practiced, I'd get better and contribute to my team winning. I was self motivated, but I really caught fire when my body was starting to show the effects of my efforts and I was getting bigger, stronger, and faster. I loved winning, but I was driven by something darker. I was a fighter who hated to lose more than anything in the world. As a young little leaguer, I was one of the better players. But I threw the bat when I made an out and cried all the way home if we lost. In our driveway where the greatest sporting events in my life took place every single day, I'd pick a fight I couldn't win with my older brother if he beat me in Wiffle ball. Parents didn't want their kids on my team, but people always knew I was a competitor. And in 1977, Jack Bohan was a wise man because he tapped into the depths of my soul by reminding me every day that "nobody in this hospital knows you. I know you and you are NOT going to let the NO HOPES win." Oh hell...it was game on.
After 2 or 3 weeks in rehab, I was fighting for my life in a world where failure was expected and acceptable. I was continually counseled to collect disability and spend my life in residential care. Those folks were quickly placed on team No Hope. Flindt and my 2 therapists were in on the How Many Wins game, so every day became the Super Bowl. We defined winning as doing one thing every day better than the day before. We moved slowly through the puking on the tilt table to sitting in a wheelchair. With no stomach or back muscles, that is no small feat because any bump or sudden stop would make me fall over. So, I learned the value of using belts to tie me in to my seat. I went from bench pressing 240 pounds to celebrating the day I lifted my wrist with 8 ounces on my hand. I fought every night for every bite of food. I strapped a cuff on my hand with a fork attached to try to feed myself and resist the notion that there staff members who would feed me. I had to learn to hold a cup, move from my chair to my bed, protect my skin, put clothes on with help, ride in a car, brush my teeth, and the list went on and on. I learned through rehab that you lose your bathroom functions and one of the most critical factors in my long term health was getting my bladder to release when it was full. Every 4 hours, Flindt and I would use a technique where I pounded on my bladder until pee came out. Most of the time it didn't, but whenever there was a squirt, we were partying. Another victory and another day of not being run over by the NO HOPE express.
Not sure when it hit me, and it doesn't really matter. I learned during these months that I was in a battle that I would have to fight every day for the rest of my life. I reached a point where I knew I could win. I didn't know what winning would look like, but I found myself again. I was, in fact, that little boy who threw the bat and cried when he lost. I was a competitor and I was ready to fight. I told my doctor that it was time to go and he agreed. I left the hospital in the middle of April, 1978. As we drove home I was struck by how everything looked the same. My world had been turned upside down, but life in Fresno Ca went right on. I had to get on board or not. But I was convinced I had developed the habit of winning and I was ready to play.