Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hope in a Vikings' Game

As my friend's wife languished in the Intensive Care Unit, I watched the constant life and death dramas unfold in the nearby waiting room. Families huddled around tables. A doctor whispered information. People cried.

It was the same routine I had witnessed years ago when my own wife was dealing with kidney failure. I recognized the faces; the faces of jubilation, of hope, of sorrow and of loss. It's a morality play of types I've seen repeated over and over in my past.

So, when the going got rough enough to bring back the memories, and things turned too close to home, I turned to sports, as usual.

Mounted on the wall was a small television set that was tuned to the Minnesota-Baltimore football game. Having grown up in northern Minnesota, I've been a Vikings fan since I could understand the sport. I lived through the glory days of Bud Grant and the four Super Bowls, the Purple People Eaters, Fran Tarkington and Chuck Foreman. I watched them practice in the mid 1960s on the college football field where my father taught; I had a Roy Winston No. 60 jersey as a kid.

I also lived through the second heydays of the 1990s and 2000s and Brad Johnson and Brett Favre. And I suffered through the dismal years, including this season.

All that to say the Vikings' game was a great distraction to the trauma I was witnessing in that waiting room.

My friend's wife had some kidney issues of her own and her autoimmune system had been weakened. A bacterial infection began festering in her lungs earlier that week and within 48 hours, she was on a ventilator and in poor shape. My friend went into that stage where he looked for any signs of hope, signs that, in a normal setting would seem insane. When doctors took 6 pounds of fluid from her lungs, rather than the 8 pounds they had done earlier, it seemed a positive sign. A lung specialist said she was retaining 100 percent of the oxygen pumped into her via the tube —again, some faint hope to cling upon.

But there was also the bad. Once, doctors told my friend that his wife's kidneys were failing. Her lungs were also filling fast with fluid and they were concerned. It was the roller coaster of health those in the Intensive Care Unit become accustomed to.

I realized the game I was watching that day mirrored the situation with my friend's wife's health. The Vikings took the lead late in the game on a 41-yard run. Baltimore responded with a kickoff return for a touchdown. Matt Cassell then threw a 79-yard touchdown pass to give the Vikes back their lead.

But with 4 seconds left in the game, Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco hit Marlon Brown for 9 yards and the win, 29-26. The game, too, was a roller coaster of emotions. When Flacco threw that last touchdown pass, I blurted out a bad word and kicked the air in frustration. The game was insignificant to the others in that room who were clinging on to whatever hope they could summon. But to me, at that point, it was key.

Was it insensitive to be emotionally attached to a football game in that ICU waiting room? Probably. Was it necessary I do so? I'm sure.

When the game ended on that snowy field in Baltimore Sunday, most people moved on with their lives. Even the players probably moved on. But for me, someone who has seen hope leave a lot of times, the game provided a respite of the fear and sorrow I was seeing and remembering of my own. And, even though the Vikings eventually lost, there was hope. Dammit, there was hope.

UPDATE: On Dec. 18, my friend's wife passed away after 16 days in  a coma in Intensive Care. She had a MRSA infection that wreaked havoc on her within 48 hours of her feeling bad. Hope left and now we deal with loss.


  1. I have two kids with autism and struggle greatly with their struggles. In order to stay sane I have to grab onto whatever keeps me afloat sometimes, whether it is a Kiss album or a Strat-o-Matic game or even just a sitcom. In the grand scheme of things, maybe not so important. But we live in the small scheme of things, and from that perspective, The Big Bang Theory is often just what I need to make it through that day.

    1. You are right. Odd you mention The Big Bang Theory, too. My friend's wife who I wrote about passed away on Dec. 18. Her husband helped me deal with the loss of my wife 7 years ago, and now it's my turn to help him. I spent the evening with him last night laughing mindlessly at that show. For 30 minutes (well, maybe 2 hours, it was on TBS's run), we put aside the sorrow and didn't think of loss and grief. Sometimes you have to grab on to whatever gets you through. I'm sorry about your kids, but I bet the experience has made you a stronger person and a much better parent as well.