Let me just start off with the facts… I am not a team player. I’m not talking about working in groups or handling assignments with other people. I’m talking about being a player on a team… a sports team. I am, and have always been, a country club kid.
I don’t play many sports, but when I do I’m actually OK at most of them. As long as none of them have any running involved. I can’t run. Never could. I actually failed the fourth grade Presidential Physical Fitness Test in the 50-yd dash, shuttle run, and the mile. My body was not designed to run, as evidenced that I could easily be bested during our school’s annual Field Day by the fat rollie-pollie kid that always smelled of sour milk. That’s why I swim…
Because you can’t beat me in the water... No one beats me in the water…
Back to my point, the sports I played were swimming, golfing, or tennis. I never wanted to play football or baseball, or even thought about playing soccer. Ugh. My sports’ teams weren’t really teams at all. In all of my meets or tournaments, it was always me versus one other competitor. Yes, technically my wins gave the team points, but no one really gave two shits about the team. Whether the team won or lost, we were still going out for buffet pizza afterwards. As a kid, when we were forced to play baseball in gym, I hated the false camaraderie that we were forced to shout, and I never figured out exactly when was the right time to do a solo clap or yell “let’s go, team” and “the play is at second!”
So you can imagine my surprise when I said I would be an alternate for a local expat softball league. I practiced with the team a few times and showed off my prowess of being able to carry the bat bag from the car to home plate… and that was about it. When the games started I sat on the bench, opened the gate to the dugout with aplomb, all the while trying to fathom why anyone would make softball jerseys so form fitting. I also discovered that when playing on the fields owned by the American School of Doha, the parents in the stands get really offended by the jokes I levied at the other players; something about being respectful around their kids or some other fucking bullshit. And the volunteer umpires really become dicks, taking their modicum of imaginary power way too seriously. One umpire told me to stop my jerking-off hand gestures while the other team was batting… what a dick that guy!
So on my only time at bat, I choked up, dug into the batter’s box, lifted my elbow high, and took a mighty swing at the lazily underhanded tossed softball… and promptly allowed it to hit the bat handle and fall straight at my feet.
It’s a hit! I actually (sorta) hit the ball! I awkwardly dropped the bat, planted my feet and took off at full tilt towards first base. And that was when I tore the plantar fascia in my left foot.
I got all of two steps before I yelped aloud in pain and began to gallop like a horse gone lame down the baseline. The catcher didn’t even throw the ball. He was too mesmerized by the sight of my floundering before coming to his senses, walked up to me, and tagged me out.
A few hours of excruciating pain later, I had to use my putter as a cane to get me to my car and to the emergency room for some X-rays. I thought I might of broken that weird hook everyone has on the bottom of your heel, a leftover relic from the time when we all had tails. Instead, it was a partial tear of my plantar fascia, and I was going to be in pain for a while.
Perfect timing, as in less than a week I was to fly to Anaheim for the spring American Chemical Society conference to man a booth for three days for promoting an organic chemistry conference (POC2012) that I was organizing in Qatar…
I had been organizing this conference for nearly six months, and we had paid handsomely for a booth during the convention in which to heavily promote and advertise the event. I had already shipped twenty-four boxes of banners, T-shirts, hats, notebooks, mugs, and every known high-end tchotchke with the POC2012 logo imaginable to our hotel. For a week I hobbled around swearing under my breath with my new aluminum cane and walking boot. The pain from the tear was bad enough, but the non-stop limping and hunching over was starting to affect my already horrific lower back. I was hit by a car in college while riding a bike that then decided to run me over, tearing up most of the soft tissue in my lower spine. A few months later a very nice girl who was belaying me down from a balance beam forty feet in the air fucked up, dropped me, and broke one of my vertebrae. Since then, Mr. Lumbar and I have had quite a few instances of not getting along.
After two long flights and a shuttle to Anaheim, my back was killing me, and I just wanted to get some rest. Tex and I would be sharing a room, even though he had left the warm academic tower of Science to dig the ditches of Health and Safety. Before we even checked in, Tex and I had a bit of a surprise. The convention center was hosting the California cheerleading championships. The streets, our lobby, and even the halls were filled with barely post-pubescent girls in short cheerleading skirts showing each other how flexible they were. Tee hee…
Soon the porters brought up the towers of boxes that filled every nook and cranny we had in the room. A shuttle took us around the Anaheim that exists just between the convention center and Disneyland. We tried to get into a few restaurants, but the lines were forever long with screaming children wearing Mickey Mouse ears and dead-eyed parents huddled on benches outside of the Outback Steakhouse. We had maybe walked ten minutes before my back started to send lightning bolts of pain down my legs. Instead, we headed back to the hotel and ordered in some late-night Chinese delivery; the one thing we could never get in Doha.
The next morning I awoke to pain I had not felt in quite some years. I needed to stay in bed, keep ice on my back, and not move for a few days to prevent any more damage. But instead I asked Tex to carry some boxes for me to the convention center that was right next door to the hotel. I was able to help put down the table cloth before I couldn’t take the pain anymore. I had to get back to the room and off my feet. Just before we got to the exit doors of the convention hall, I felt my back go. I really… felt it go.
To anyone who has never had a bad back, there is nothing funny about having a bad back. It’s like stepping on a landmine, because everything hurts and you can’t feel your legs anymore. I yelled out for Tex to grab me and help me to the ground. I had never felt my back just go out and die on me this bad before. Tex was staring at me wide-eyed, without any idea what to do. I begged him to go to the hotel and ask for a wheelchair, and to please come back to get me. I knew that if Tex were hit by a bus while crossing the street I would become the phantom living under the convention stairs outside of Hall D.
Tex came back with the wheelchair and a hotel manager, who had to try and hide his elation that I didn’t hurt myself on hotel property. They were able to get me into the wheelchair with only minimal screaming and crying, and back to the room where there was a lot more screaming and crying as they hoisted me into the bed.
I’m in a foreign city, in what is now a foreign country, in a hotel with a stranger and a co-worker, supposed to be setting up a booth I had been working on for six months… and I cannot move anything below my nipples without tears pouring down my face.
We called my boss who promptly laughed his ass off when he entered the room. When I told him how bad it was, he quickly backtracked when he realized that he would now have to man the booth. Tex and some others we knew were pulled away from their commitments to make our show happen, and it did without too many hitches. We were hoping to be that booth at every convention that gives out the flashing LED pins or really nice leather binders, the booth everyone lines up for and gossips about. I wanted us to be the house that gave out full-sized Snickers on Halloween.
Thankfully for me, I had Tex. He made sure I had access to the phone to order room service and take-out Chinese food. He handled all my responsibilities without any quibbles or bitching. And in return, I made him carry me to the bathroom so I would not shit the bed.
That week in the Anaheim Marriott, the friendship between Tex and I went to some dark places.
In the middle of one night while trying to shift to get more comfortable, I moved my leg too far and it slid off the bed. Unable to raise my leg back up, I thought I would have the strength to maybe slide the other leg over… and I don’t know what the hell happened next but I ended up falling off the bed. I called out to Tex to help me, but the ungodly heavy sleeper that he is, he wouldn’t wake up. I had to stretch out, grab a shoe, and toss it at his face to get him to wake up and save me… nothing but net.
Normally, my back calms down after a night or so. But in the morning I was in so much pain that I buckled and had the hotel call for an ambulance to take me to an emergency room. Needing three men to lift me onto a stretcher and be pushed out of the hotel lobby while I covered my face in embarrassment was unbearable. The doctors gave me some good shit, basically an epidural to manage the pain, and took some X-rays.
Tex rented a car and drove me afterwards to get my prescriptions filled. I felt terrible, with the pain in my spine but more with placing such a burden on Tex. Thankfully, he got a reprieve. Loyal readers may not believe this, but guess who showed up to save the day??… [NAME REMOVED]!!
Years ago I had promised [NAME REMOVED] that anytime I got injured or hospitalized (which is more common for me than you think), I was to give her a call. And since I was doing nothing but watching marathons of Storage Wars, why not? She was worried about me, and in an uncommon act of selflessness, flew out from Florida to take over nurse duties from Tex. As someone who had dated me, she wasn't unnerved by the site of me lying naked and helpless in a hotel bed.
Tex… not so much.
For four more days I languished under heavy pain medication while my friends did their jobs and nursed me like a baby. After three days of delivery crab Rangoon and General Tso’s chicken, [NAME REMOVED] demanded that I eat something healthier, and tried to order me a salad. I protested as much as I could until a shout from the hotel hallway came, “Just eat the damn salad!”
The conference was finally over, but our time together wasn’t quite done yet. As this was Tex’s first trip to California, we were originally going to spend an afternoon in Disneyland and maybe take in a preseason Angels game. I had also booked us a night in the famed Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, directly across the street from Grauman’s Chinese Theater. But my injury killed the idea of walking along the Walk of Fame for some celebrity spotting, cheap souvenirs, and even cheaper heroine.
Tex got a new rental car specifically for my comfort, a huge Oldsmobile with the front seat in the full recline. [NAME REMOVED] called the Roosevelt and explained that I had become enfeebled, and got us into a three person room. As part of the deal in coming to California, Tex desperately wanted to try an authentic fish taco at a real California-type place. We drove into LA and I guided him to the beachfront. We drove thru Santa Monica and my sister’s old stomping grounds of Manhattan Beach. I encouraged them to leave me in the car and go walking around for a while so he could experience more of LA than emptying my piss cup. They found a cool looking place and went in for some take out fish tacos and purple corn chips for us to share.
As we pulled into Hollywood I tried to get Tex excited about seeing the locations from his favorite films and TV shows, but I really think he just wanted to dump me in the room and have some time away from his own personal gimp. I have to give the Roosevelt some credit, as they were ready with a wheelchair and attendant to get us up into our new, handi-capable, suite. Dear God… if you ever have the chance, get the handi-capable room! The suite had a huge tub and an enormous window that overlooked Grauman’s Theater with the Hollywood sign just behind. I begged Tex to leave me, take his camera, and go exploring as to not have this week be a total waste. He and [NAME REMOVED] went walking thru Hollywood, finding the names among the stars in the sidewalk, and stumbled upon the filming of the failed television pilot of Wonder Woman. A day after we left they filmed a Top Chef party in the ballroom of our hotel… dammit.
I had an awkward phone call to make; as there was no way I was going to survive the twenty-six hour flight back to Doha. I needed to go to Texas and ask my folks for help. Of course they agreed without hesitation, while again I felt horrible for being a burden. Tex took off for his own family trip, and I thanked him tremendously for all his help. [NAME REMOVED] got me through the airport security before catching her own flight. I have to give her credit; there are not many people in this world that would fly out at the drop of a hat to help an ex-boyfriend. I shouldn’t doubt her… she almost always knows what’s best for me.
Back in Houston I booked some doctor’s appointments, and at the very first one he recoiled that I couldn’t lift up my toes. “Sorry,” he said, “but I’m not going to touch you without a CAT scan.” The doctors were able to shove me into a late appointment the next day, my Dad driving me around the city and helping me in and out of the car. The next day’s news was not promising, as the scan had come back showing that I had completely crushed two of my lumbar sacs, and was going to need surgery if I was ever going to regain feeling and movement back in my feet.
A surgeon’s appointment later, it was decided that I would try two weeks of physical therapy followed up with the surgery. In yet another awkward phone call, I explained to my boss that I wasn’t going to be back to work for at least a month; maybe more.
Two weeks of walking in therapy pools, lifting weights with my toes, and more of the same goofy exercises that previous doctors had prescribed for my back problems. Mom made me spend the days between therapy appointments in the clubhouse pool walking in circles. This is the best possible way to strengthen a weak spine, but you can’t do it for a few hours with a pool full of visiting grandkids without the residents thinking you’re a child predator.
But the absolute worst was when we needed to go to Wal-Mart, and I had to use a scooter to follow Mom around. That was the worst sensation in the world. I kept getting stares from people who probably thought I was just too lazy or fat to walk around the store. I kept wanting to shout "No! I really did hurt myself! I need this Rascal!" I hated myself that day.
Back with the surgeon, this time I could lift my toes a little, and he was really happy. He said it was enough movement to not have the surgery, and that I could fly again in a few days. A few miles more walking in the pool and my back was good enough to get around without the cane or the extra doses of pain pills. Pretty soon I was back in Doha, just in time to miss the ceremony where I was given the highest award at my university…
This trip sucked! This trip was the worst few weeks, ever! I ruined my friends’ plans, became a burden on them and my parents, totally screwed up a major work project, cost everyone time and energy, and all because I played a team sport. But I cannot thank Tex, [NAME REMOVED], and my parents enough for putting up with me and my rotten back.
And to anyone that needs a softball player, ask me again, and I’ll kick you square in the balls.