For those who have never enjoyed the experience, perhaps the most appropriate way I can describe having a catheter inserted is that it gives a whole new meaning to the expression “going in through the out door.” That and it hurts an awful lot. For me the procedure took place in the emergency room of Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, with my brother and a former teammate, Kevin Granath, waiting nearby. To hear them tell the story, they were listening to a doctor give them various details of my injury, prognosis, and the immediate plans for my admittance when, from behind a curtain, they heard a terrifying scream in a voice they knew was mine. Instinctively they turned their heads only to have the doctor admonish them. “Don’t look. It isn’t pretty.”
Fast forward two weeks. My blood count has stabilized allowing me to keep my kidney, my stay in the hospital is drawing to a merciful close, and it’s time to have said catheter taken out. Remembering what it had felt like going in, I’m not exactly looking forward to the procedure. Then in walks an angel.
I’m sure you can imagine the number of nurses one is likely to see over the course of a two week stay in a hospital. Considering my stay began in intensive care and I spent the first few days scared out of my wits, it’s certainly plausible that I don’t even remember half the people in whose charge I had been, but I would have remembered this one. She was beautiful, with an easy smile, dark brown eyes, and a soothing voice that, like a warm bath, seemed to melt all my concerns away. She moved with a practiced assurance that was professional without being insensitive, and almost before I knew what was happening she had done what she came to do. All I felt was a brief tingling sensation. She even cleaned me up with a quick sponge bath for good measure. I remember noticing at the time that her eyes had never left mine, a fact I found astonishing considering the task she was engaged in. As I have reflected on the moment, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that perhaps the catheter removal procedure is not all that challenging, and that, given the occasion, she probably could have done it with her eyes closed. Still, at the time it struck me as remarkable, and only added to her allure. That was 1984, and I still remember her name: Danielle Turri. Imagine that. I can still name and readily describe a woman whose only connection to me was that she pulled a tube out of my penis twenty-two years ago. Men are truly bizarre creatures.
What followed was three months of bed rest, a period when, through the courtesy of the creatively challenged programming geniuses at WPIX-11, I saw every episode of The Odd Couple, Star Trek and The Twilight Zone several times over. It’s also when my father sat at the foot of my bed for a heart-to-heart for the last time.
It was soon after I had come home, and I guess he just wanted to make sure he understood what had happened. Not being one to beat around the bush, he got right to it.
“So that’s it for this Frisbee game, right?” When I replied that it most certainly was not it, and that as soon as I could I expected to be back on the field, he got very quiet. It was the kind of quiet we had all come to recognize over the years, a quiet that was always followed by something that, like my catheter insertion, wouldn’t be pretty. One time in particular such a quiet was followed by him hurling a glass ashtray against the tile wall in the kitchen. You might say my father’s temper is volcanic. On this day, however, his response was quiet, frighteningly so, and all the more effective for it. “Just so you understand, I will never come see you in the hospital again.”
If I had looked at the situation from his perspective, I might not have been so shocked. Although I took the injury in stride, the truth is I could easily have died. In fact, had the tournament taken place farther away from New York or Pat King’s father not been there to diagnose it, I almost certainly would have gotten into a car for the road trip home and bled to death internally on the way. Talk about a buzz kill. Surely somewhere deep inside my father’s emotion concealing titanium shell he had an inkling that he might have lost his youngest child, and it scared him. But there’s more to it than that.
Sent to military school at the age of eight, my father had spent his entire youth being forced to participate in sports for which he had no particular passion or aptitude. His boxing “career” is emblematic of what athletic activity meant to him. He fought 14 times, lost every bout, and was left with a nose that has been broken many times and looks it. It’s hard enough for people who enjoy mainstream sports to understand the mindless dedication of the ultimate athlete. But for my father, a man who sees little point in sports of any kind, it was truly impossible to understand why, having dodged a nearly fatal bullet, I would go back out and chase a piece of plastic around. Looking back now, I can’t really blame him.
At the time of course I had none of the understanding that comes with the wisdom of experience and maturity. I also didn’t believe him. Shows what I know. Just over a year later I blew my ACL in the semis at nationals, and was again admitted to the hospital following a tournament. This time it was Lenox Hill, on the east side of Manhattan, and this being in the dark ages before arthroscopy was widely practiced, an ACL reconstruction required a stay of a few days. True to his word, my father never came by, not even when, as a result of an infection, my stay was extended long enough to include my birthday.
So it came to pass that when I celebrated my 24th birthday in Lenox Hill Hospital my father was not in attendance, although Dan Weiss was. Having helped guide his Flying Circus team to a 21-19 victory over us in the finals, Dan had come to New York to see family. In a move that shows the kind of class Dan has in abundance, he stopped by the hospital to wish me well. My memory of the event is a little hazy thanks to the morphine, but it was the tail end of the party, and I seem to remember Dan hesitating when offered some birthday cake. It was an ice cream cake, and after a short time in a small hospital room filled with people, it had melted into a sweet, gelatinous mass that, like my father’s temper and my catheter insertion, wasn’t pretty.