I had been out of the hospital for a little over a month. I was having dinner with my dad one Friday, when I received a call from a coworker asking if I wanted her ticket to an LSU game in October. I thanked her for her consideration but told her that there was probably no way I could go. First, I didn’t have transportation to Baton Rouge. Second, how would I be able to move around Tiger Stadium if I could make it there?
I hung up feeling defeated. The stroke had taken so much from me. I might never have a normal life again. What would I do for the rest of my days?
Then I began thinking, If you ever want a shot at a normal life, you have to start doing normal things. The last three months have been the biggest challenge you could imagine. You’re going to have to continue to fight just as hard for a long, long time. The first step in this journey is right now. You need to resolve to go to Tiger Stadium, then figure out the details. That is going to have to be how you attack life from now on. I called my friend back and accepted the ticket.
I knew my brother, Jonathan, and his wife were huge LSU fans. I texted him, What are you doing on October 3rd?
Going to LSU versus Central Michigan.
I have a ticket to that game.
We should meet up.
I started eating dinner again. I told Dad about my new plan. He told me that he was happy that I was going to see my brother again Then it occurred to me that I should talk to my other brother and see if he wanted to go. So I called him right before I even finished my meal.
“How’s it going?”
“I’m alright. Jonathan and I are going to the LSU game on October 3rd, and I was wondered if you wanted to go.”
“I think I might be free that weekend; who are they playing?”
“Yeah, my schedule looks clear. That sounds like fun.”
All three brothers had not been together since Thanksgiving 2011. Jonathan and Ivory had each seen me during my stay in the hospital, but it was never at the same time. This would be a great time. Although I had made strides after emerging from my coma, this was the first concrete event I had to look forward to.
When I got to therapy Monday, I told my occupational therapist my plan. She thought it sounded like a good goal. It would give me something to work toward. I threw myself into my exercises after that. I didn’t know how much muscle function I would regain over the next month, but I could build strength and endurance.
Ivory found tickets for himself and his girlfriend online. We decided that they would come down and drive me to Baton Rouge. There, we would meet up with Jonathan. I remembered a set of Christmas stockings Mama had made for us when we were in elementary school. The stockings she made for Ivory and Jonathan were red. Mine was green. At the time, I didn’t like having the odd color. Now I thought it would be reminiscent of childhood to have then wear purple or yellow, and have me wear the opposite color.
It was a long month of furious workouts, but Friday, October 2nd came at last. Ivory and his girlfriend, Sharon, came down from Saint Louis with Sharon’s son. They would spend the night, then we would all drive down in the morning. The plan was to get to town early and have lunch with Jonathan and his wife, Candice, before going to the game.
The next morning, I had Dad help me take a warm bath. When I was finished, I asked him to help me out. However, I got stuck again. Dad tried several times to pull me up – even using the gait belt – but he couldn’t get my body to budge. Apparently, we were going to need help. I had gotten used to Dad seeing me in the nude, but I was terrified of having anyone else see me naked. So I asked Dad to go get a pair of underwear from my room. We slipped it on, then we called Ivory.
When Ivory came in, I started to explain how I wanted him to help. He reminded me that he had been a medical officer in the navy and that he had been trained on how to use a gait belt. I counted to three and had him pull upward. We got me out of the tub without much effort. I went back to my room where Dad helped me to get dressed, then Ivory, Sharon, and I went outside with Dad. He snapped a few pictures of us, then the three of us climbed into the minivan got on the road.
After about an hour, we approached the state line. Since we were running about an hour behind schedule, we called Jonathan and told him how far behind were. We were going to be seated in different sections, so he suggested that we meet up after the game. Sharon, Ivory, and I stopped at the welcome center and had our pictures taken by the statue of the Louisiana state map.
An hour later, we drove into the Baton Rouge metropolitan area. Game day traffic had brought interstate travel to a crawl. It was even slower once we turned off onto campus. Parking was expensive and next to impossible. We had driven a few blocks past the stadium when Ivory spied a grassy field where people were parking for free. He drove onto it. I protested, saying that we should find an attendant, but he was not worried. My fear was that since I was still in a wheelchair, I could not run around looking for an impound lot in the event that the vehicle got towed. The stroke had left me feeling vulnerable. Undeterred, Ivory parked the minivan and we got out.
The ground where we parked was a bit rough, and Ivory never could have pushed the chair with me in it. Instead, I held onto one of the handles and used it as a walker until I got to smoother ground. Then I sat down in the chair, and he pushed me the three blocks to the stadium. We got through the gate and took the elevator up to the top.
When we got off the elevator, Ivory wheeled me to our section. Now I had to figure out how to get to my seat. I went to the right side of the section, so the guardrail would be on my right side. I asked Ivory to walk down in front me so I wouldn’t fall forward. Then I slowly advanced down the steps, each time stepping down with the left, then bringing the right one to rest beside it. When I got to my row, I realized that I could not safely sidle over to my seat. Since we were on bleachers, I asked every other person to stand up, so I could sit down on the end of a bleacher and slide across to my seat. The other attendees were very kind and obliged me. They cheered encouraging words to me, saying things like, “Now that’s a dedicated Tiger fan!”
We were so high up in the stadium that my head swam a little. I could see the Mississippi River meandering beneath the bridges. We snapped several more pictures before the game started. The first half was closer than anticipated, but I got the chance to participate in the cheers that I had only heard on TV. I didn’t have strong lungs, but I yelled as forcefully as I could. My voice gave out much of the time, but it felt amazing.
I still suffered from incontinence, so I decided to use the restroom at half time. Sine I still could only use a guardrail on the right side of my body, I slid to the other end. I wasn’t prepared for how tiring it would be to climb up to the top of the section. By the time I pulled myself all the way up the railing, I was sweaty and out of breath.
A security officer saw me and asked, “Is everything alright? Was there a fight?”
“Don’t worry. I had a stroke.”
I wondered how he thought I could have just suffered a stroke and been this ambulatory and competent. “No, it was in June. That’s why I’m tired.”
We’d left my wheelchair at the top of the section. Ivory went over to get it. I was starting to get urgent signals that I had to pee. When he brought the chair back, I had him push me to the bathroom. The urge got stronger, warning me that I was about to wet myself. I slammed the door behind me, wheeled to the toilet, and stood up. I ripped my pants down, and a torrent of urine shot into the toilet. I felt so relieved. When I was finished, I washes my hand and returned to my seat.
Sharon told us that, while we were gone, a lady behind us had told her that she was a physical therapist. She couldn’t imagine one of her patients doing what I was doing. This made me feel proud, because I seldom felt like I was putting forth maximum effort. (I have a tendency to measure my exercise output against my former self. So it’s good to hear another perspective periodically.) The game had now become a rout, and I asked Ivory to go get me a hotdog. I figured eating solid food would make me less likely to need to urinate.
Once the game was over, we went down and met Jonathan and Candice at one of the merchandise tents. I had to purchase a few souvenirs and a gift for a friend. Jonathan and Candice walked in around the same time we did. Since they hadn’t seen me outside of a hospital bed, I rose to my feet and gave him a hug. I took pictures with both my brothers, and with all five of us. It was wonderful, all of us standing there together.
After I made my purchases, we decided on a place where we could grab a late dinner. There, we laughed and joked and talked about old times. For months, I had been a hospital patient. Now I was really starting to feel alive again. We kept talking until the restaurant closed. Then we went outside and continued talking. I didn’t say that much. Speaking was still very effortful for me and would leave me exhausted. But I enjoyed the feeling of being surrounded by love and family.
We stood there talking for about an hour, but then Ivory announced to Jonathan that we had to get on the road. We stopped at a gas station on the edge of town, and I had Ivory go in and buy me a large root beer fountain drink. Then we sped off into the darkness. Intermittent shafts of moonlight pierced the minivan, periodically illuminating my shopping bag. I took my treasures out of the bag one by one and admired them in the flickering light. These trinkets were parts of the new memories I would forge ahead to build.