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Chad Reece struggled to open his eyes, wondering why he couldn't move. Was he lying on the gym floor with a heavy weight on his chest?
"Help!" a weak voice called again.
Chad was always the first to help when any of his teammates were injured. Responding to the distress call, he tried to sit up. Gentle hands on his shoulders pushed him backward.
"Don't try to move," a kind voice cautioned sternly. "You'll pull out your IVs if you don't settle down. I'm supposed to keep you quiet, so cooperate, please."
Chad opened his eyelids slightly, and even that was an effort. He wasn't lying on the floor. He wasn't in his apartment. He wasn't in his parents' home, so where was he? Who was this woman hovering over him--a woman, with a soft voice, who smoothed his pillow and wiped his face with a warm, moist cloth?
"Where am I?"
"You're in OSU Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio."
In the hospital? He never got sick--not since the ear infections he'd had as a toddler.
"Are you real? Or am I dreaming?"
"It isn't a dream, Mr. Reece. You were recently airlifted to the medical center from a small hospital in eastern Ohio. I don't know all the details, but it seems you had an injury that hospital couldn't handle. Don't worry--you're doing great. You've been calling for help, and I'm here if you need me. Go back to sleep."
Chad closed his eyes, but he didn't want to sleep. Airlifted to this hospital! The last he remembered, it was the first weekend in September, and he had been in Pittsburgh heading for the goalpost during the first football game of the season. He recalled the shouting of the spectators and thevictory celebration of the cheerleaders--sounds that had been music to his ears since he had started playing football as a teenager.
When he had vaulted to safety with the ball, he must have grazed the goalpost, for it toppled and knocked him down. He had felt a sharp pain in his back, but that discomfort had faded into the background as they celebrated. He had scored for his team and started his third NFL season with a winning touchdown. Why worry about a pain in his back?
Eluding his many fans, at the end of the game, Chad got into his car, needing some solitude to unwind from the tension he'd been under for several days. After the emotional high of a game, nothing settled Chad more than driving alone through the rural area of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio. He didn't want to talk. He turned his cell phone off so he could concentrate on driving.
But a few hours of driving brought excruciating pain in his side and back. Although he was bent double with pain, he drove slowly to a hospital in the next town. He must have blacked out before he saw a doctor, for he didn't remember what happened after that.
Chad opened his eyes again. "And who are you?" he asked the aide, hardly recognizing his own voice, which sounded faraway.
"I'm Vicky Lanham, a hospital volunteer, and I'm sitting with you through the night. Your parents will be back tomorrow morning."
Parents? His parents were in Alabama. Although they had rarely missed any of his high school and college games, they had stopped following him when he turned pro. They had watched his last game on television. He must be having a nightmare.
He tried to sit up, but he couldn't move. When Chad woke up again, he was more alert and aware of his surroundings. He was in a hospital, but the young woman had gone, and his parents stood beside his bed. Tears glistened on his mother's wrinkled, wistful face.
Trying to smile, he said, "Aw...it can't be that bad, Mom. What happened to me?"
She shook her head, unable to speak, and Chad turned questioning eyes toward his father.
"You had an accident at the football game. Don't you remember?"
"I remember Tommy and me bumping into each other and toppling the goalpost."
His father smiled wanly. "Yes, it was an outstanding victory at the last minute, thanks to you. But I wonder if the cost was worth it. You had to have surgery."
"Surgery? How long have I been in the hospital?"
"Five days. The doctor is coming soon to talk to us about your surgery and when you can be discharged."
Chad asked no more questions. He'd already learned more than he wanted to know. Besides his head hurt and he felt shaky inside, as if he had been sick for weeks instead of five days. He had never stayed overnight in the hospital, and he had been here almost a week! He was adopted, and although he didn't know anything about his birth parents, his pediatrician had always told him that he must have inherited good genes. And now he was in the hospital.
Chad closed his eyes, trying to sort out what his father had told him. If this had to happen, why couldn't it have been the last game of the season instead of the first? What if this surgery meant he couldn't play the rest of the season? He wished he could go back to sleep with the assurance that all he'd heard was a dream.
The surgeon came in a short time later, shook hands with Chad's parents and spoke cheerily to Chad. He was a slender, white-haired man with a gray mustache. An RN followed him carrying an electronic machine to record his condition. The surgeon checked all of the tubes and wires attached to Chad's body, and in a crisp voice, rattled off a lot of numbers and terms that didn't mean anything to Chad. The nurse logged the information into the machine she held since all the hospital's records were electronic.
Turning to Stewart Reece, the surgeon asked, "What have you told him?"
"Very little," Reece said.
"That's just as well, I suppose."
Chad became aware that his mother was crying softly, and he knew the prognosis must be serious. He steeled himself for bad news. Had he broken his hip when he had fallen? If so, he could kiss his professional football games goodbye for this season. Or a worse possibility--maybe forever.
Chad wondered at the compassionate expression in the surgeon's eyes as he turned toward him.
"Chad, your parents wanted to be here when I discussed your injury with you."
Mr. Reece moved to Chad's side and laid a comforting hand on his son's shoulder. Chad looked up at his father's face noting the signs of fatigue lingering in his eyes. Again it hit Chad just how old his parents were.
It couldn't have been easy for his parents to adopt a baby when they were nearing middle age. To Chad they'd often seemed more like his grandparents when compared to his friends' parents. Both of small stature, with fair complexions and blue eyes, it was obvious that the Reeces couldn't have borne a son as tall and muscular as Chad with his dark eyes and features. But there had never been a day when Chad hadn't loved them for giving him a home.
"We've kept you sedated for the past several days," the surgeon continued, "so you probably don't remember anything that happened. There isn't an easy way to tell you. You suffered a serious injury in that last ball game, but it must not have been apparent at first. You had taken a drive and stopped at a small hospital in Ohio. After a brief exam, it was obvious you needed more care than that hospital could provide. You were airlifted to OSU Medical Center because our surgical team is one of the best in the country for your type of injury."
He hesitated, and Chad, weary of the suspense, said crossly, "Well, what is it? What happened to me?"
"We're not certain if the goalpost fell on your side, or if your buddy's fall onto you caused your injury. Somehow you suffered a transverse process fracture of the thoracic spine and lacerated your renal artery."
"Say it in plain English, please?"
"Your kidney was crushed beyond repair." Chad cringed from the impact of the doctor's words, but he had known when he started playing football that it was a dangerous sport.
He swallowed with effort, trying to ignore the panic the doctor's words had generated. "Can't people live with only one kidney?"
"That's true," the surgeon agreed. "But that was the only kidney you had."
Chad turned a bewildered, frightened look on the doctor before his eyes darted toward his mother. So that's why she was crying! "I find that hard to believe," Chad said. "How could I have lived this long without two kidneys? It just isn't possible!"
"It is possible, but not common." the surgeon continued. "Some people are born with only one kidney and live perfectly normal lives. If you've never been to a hospital, there'd be no reason prior to this that your condition would have been found."
"I still can't believe it!" Chad argued, knowing that he didn't want to believe it.
The surgeon regarded him with gentle, compassionate eyes. "Chad, I've been a surgeon for more then twenty years. I've had at least ten patients, maybe more, who had only one kidney but didn't know it until something else happened to them and the abnormality was discovered when they were being tested for a different problem."
Chad closed his eyes, trying to take in this information.