Of course, there's one catch: You might never get there. It’s every fan's worst fear, particularly if you live in a place like Seattle. All that energy over the years just getting displaced, no release, no satisfaction, nothing. Season after season, no championship ... and then you die. For some, that could be 70, 80, 90 years. Well, for me, it could have easily only been 34.
When I was 2 years old, I was diagnosed with a congenital condition called hydrocephalus. It’s a fancy medical term for the fact that my body produces too much brain fluid and I don’t have the natural mechanisms to absorb all the excess. Left untreated (or caught too late), it can cause brain damage, epilepsy, and ultimately death. So, they fix that by drilling a hole in my skull, implanting a catheter/drain inside my brain, and then threading a tube down into my abdominal cavity where the excess can be absorbed. If you search “vp shunt surgery” on YouTube right now, you can gross yourself out with how these are actually done. Anyway, that worked fine until I was in junior high and the tubing disintegrated and they had to go in and replace some of the hardware. While scary, I wasn’t in nearly as bad of shape as many of the kids on my floor at Seattle Children’s. Having been a patient there and knowing what kinds of things he sees on a weekly basis, I have even more respect for Russell Wilson and the work he does at Children’s.
Flash forward to the summer of 2012. I’m having lunch in the break room of my office and all of a sudden I get this incredibly dizzy feeling. My legs are buckling underneath me. The left side of my face goes numb. I’m thinking the worst that I might be having a stroke. Thankfully I work at a medical clinic so excellent help was close by. The good news was that it wasn’t a stroke, but they couldn’t pinpoint exactly what caused those symptoms. A couple days later, I noticed a lump forming on my collarbone. I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you how scary unexplained lumps are. I had an ultrasound taken and the radiologist said it was fluid buildup but that the fluid was right around where my tubing was coming down from my neck area. He said it was time for another brain surgery, but it shouldn’t be a big deal. Yeah, for you it isn’t a big deal. You’re not the one having another hole drilled in your skull and your abdominal wall sliced open so they can thread the tubing through and hook it in properly.
So, in August of 2012 I had the surgery done down at the UW to repair everything and put it all back into its proper place. It was actually a shorter hospital stay and recovery time than when I was a teenager. I went back to work after a couple weeks of recovery and, as far as I was concerned, life had returned to normal. Then after about 4 weeks, my co-worker noticed that the incision behind my ear was really red. After a few days of procrastination (hey, I’m a guy, we’re not known for our speed of getting to the doctor’s office) I ultimately went back down to the UW hospital, where none of the physician assistants or the surgical residents thought it was anything to be concerned about. The surgeon who actually performed the surgery said otherwise. “Get a CSF sample out of his reservoir”. There’s a sentence you could be ok going through life without ever hearing. Notably, because it means sticking a needle into the side of your head trying to find the small area where there’s a reserve of brain fluid in the valve that they have on the end of the catheter that’s in my brain. There’s no roadmap for where they are supposed to be sticking that needle because not all those valves are alike and mine was 22 years old at this point. So, after 3 agonizing tries, they finally hit pay dirt. They sent it to the lab upstairs and I had to just sit there thinking these guys are wasting my time because they want to be extra cautious and now I’m going to hit horrendous traffic trying to get home.
Then they said it. “I’m sorry, we can’t let you go home. We’re admitting you right away because you have a staph infection in your brain fluid and we’re going to have to do emergency surgery in the morning”. I was glad none of them had a feather in their hand, because they could have knocked me over with it if they did. It’s one thing when you know you have to have this hardware replaced and everything’s under control. It’s completely another when you hear the words “staph infection” and “brain fluid” in the same sentence and the outcome is much more in doubt.
So, after a sleepless night full of blood draws, CT scans, and an overactive imagination of what could happen, under the knife I go again. Only this time when I wake up I’m in the ICU and I’ve got a tube going out from the side of my head and over into a bag that’s on a pole next to me. Normally when you’re in a hospital, that’s an IV and things are going in. Not this time though. That was my excess brain fluid sitting next to me and it was going out. Ultimately, this is my life until the doctors can determine exactly what this infection is, when it’s completely gone, and when is it safe to put all the hardware back together.
This is where my beloved Seahawks come in. As anyone who has faced life-threatening medical situations can tell you, hope and distraction are two of your most important allies, outside of your medical team of course. You have a lot of time to think when you’re lying in that hospital bed and you want to do everything you can to take your mind off what you’re dealing with so you don’t go crazy. The first Sunday I was in there happened to be the debut of one Russell Wilson. The doctors/nurses/lab techs all learned that day that if you want to talk to me, you want blood from me, or you want to know how many cc’s I peed the last time I went to the bathroom, you wait until there’s a timeout. You certainly don’t ask for anything as Russell’s driving for the potential winning touchdown, if not for butterfingers Braylon Edwards.
As that week went on, it became more apparent that I was going to miss my first home game in 7 years as the infection would not be gone and they weren’t going to do the surgery to put everything back together that week. The Dallas Cowboys would not be subject to my hollering in person. The tailgate would be sans its #1 bartender. It was depressing to say the least. However, two things got me through that. First, the Seahawks complete dismantling of the Cowboys that Sunday afternoon. Second was the fact that I had a Sea-Train done in my honor in Hawk Alley. For the uninitiated, that’s akin to the Seahawks putting you in the Ring Of Honor. It’s not done for just anyone for any reason.
My hopes were further raised later that day when word came down that the antibiotics had done their job and they were going to be able to do the last surgery and put everything back together. I was to be in the hospital only for another night and have a very real chance to enjoy the Monday Night game against the Packers in person. They wheeled me down the next morning and prepped me for surgery. The anesthesiologist came by to give the sedatives, signaling we were ready for action. I’m still awake when I’m on the operating table and they’re going over the checklist of who’s on the table, what kind of surgery are we doing, etc. Ultimately, orders were changed and they weren’t putting everything back together, only drilling yet another hole in my skull (this time on the other side of my head) and keeping that tube going out of my head for at least another week. Since my mother may read this, I’ll spare you the string of profanity I unleashed on those doctors that would have made George Carlin blush.
Disappointment and despair doesn’t quite cover what I was feeling once I got back to my room after that surgery. If I wasn’t well enough for them to put everything back together then, would I ever get well and be able to go home? Were the doctors being straight with me regarding the seriousness of the infection? Dammit, how much longer was I going to have to be in here??! Thankfully, the greatest distraction was again the Seahawks. Re-runs of SportsCenter weren’t quite so bad. NFL Live became appointment television. Thankfully the hospital had wi-fi, allowing me to watch YouTube videos of Seahawk highlights without blowing out my data plan. It’s tough to explain, but as I watched old videos of the 12th Man Flag being raised, I started to get the hope back that I would eventually see that again in person.
September 24th, 2012. A day that will live in infamy, not only in Seattle, but in our national sports collective memory. It just also happened to be the day I was scheduled to have my last surgery. I badgered every person who even came near my room, making them swear on the eyeballs of their first-born that nothing had changed and this was truly the last one and I could conceivably go home the next day. Surgery was scheduled for 11am that day so even building in a little delay time, I knew I’d be back up in my room in time to watch the Monday Night game, even if it was in the post-surgery haze. Well, that surgery time turned out to be as reliable as a used Yugo. 11:00 became noon, which became 2:00, which ultimately became 4:00. The combo of not being able to eat or drink anything for 18 hours and now the real possibility of missing the Seahawk game left me, let’s say, irritable.
We now fast forward to when I’m in the recovery room after surgery. As any of you who have been through general anesthesia know, you’re not firing on all cylinders right after you wake up. It’s the time where you could have told me anything and I probably would have believed it. My mom, apparently wanting to test that theory, tells me the Seahawks sacked Aaron Rodgers 8 times in the 1st half. Did you say they sacked him 8 times or you need to borrow 8 dimes? Sorry, I’m pretty much naked right now, no place to keep those dimes. She repeated it and it finally clicked. So, naturally I’m thinking that the Hawks are up something like 21-0. No, they’re only up 7-6. What??!! Good grief, I knew they shouldn’t have drafted that shrimp Russell Wilson. Leave it to the Hawks to throw away a defensive effort like that.
After what seemed like an hour (but was probably 10 minutes) I made it back to my humble abode in the ICU. I think it took me exactly 0.23 seconds to turn on ESPN. As luck would have it, the Packers were just finishing their touchdown drive to take a 12-7 lead with about 6 minutes left. Deflated, in pain, and nauseous, I settle in to watch what I’m sure will be something similar to the close-but-no-cigar performance that we saw a couple weeks prior against Arizona. “Ok, so you got them down to the 24 with 8 seconds left. Field goal doesn’t win it here guys. Russell’s scrambling around, giving ground, and ultimately letting it fly from the 40. Come on now, we couldn’t have drawn up something slightly better than this? Then after all that you throw it into a crowd where you know all those guys are taught to just knock it….wait a second…no….couldn’t be…WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
No need for pain meds that night! The tears of ESPN and all Packer fans were all the morphine I needed! There’s nothing quite like the feeling of finally being on the “winning” side of a controversial call, particularly after having been on the “losing” side so many times throughout history.
Recovery was slow, at least compared to my artificial, uninformed timeline. After all, in the span of under 2 months, I had only been through 4 brain surgeries, accompanied by 4 rounds general anesthesia, had my abdominal wall sliced open twice, fought off a staph infection in my brain fluid, had massive amounts of antibiotics and opiates pumped into my bloodstream, and stubbed my toe once going to the bathroom. Apparently wanting life to get back to normal after 2 weeks was a little optimistic. But, at least I was able to get myself back to Seahawk home games for the rest of the year. Sure, climbing the stairs up to our seats in the 300 level because $400 million apparently can’t buy escalators almost finished off what the staph infection tried to do, but I was there. I was there to watch Russell Wilson and The Legion of Boom start their meteoric rise to becoming the best in the NFL.
Which brings us back to February 2nd, 2014. While many said the game was boring, I couldn’t have come up with a better way for the Super Bowl to unfold. Without the stress of worrying about the final score, the beer just tasted better that day. The heartburn didn’t develop. The number of high-fives were plentiful and abundant. But it also allowed me time to reflect on what this team has meant to me over the years. It was listening to Pete Gross call games when my dad had work to do at school and I’d have him turn on the game on the loudspeakers in the gym. It was listening to Lee Hacksaw Hamilton as I would plow through my economics homework in college during the years where almost every home game was blacked out. It was a bond between one of my grandfathers and me as we looked for a way to distract ourselves from the pain of my grandma slowly dying from ovarian cancer. It was uncontrollably bawling at the NFC Championship game in 2006 as we went to our first Super Bowl. It was unrestrained jubilation as Malcolm Smith caught the pass that Richard Sherman tipped. It was more bawling when that clock struck zero and they were bringing a championship home. It’s been the catalyst for starting new friendships as our Hawk Alley tailgating family has grown. A family I wouldn’t have had without the Seahawks. A family that, along with my actual family and awesome friends, definitely helped get me through the scariest time in my life. All in all, the Seahawks don’t know, and probably won’t ever know, but they’re at least a small part of why I was around to enjoy February 2nd, 2014.