Friday, January 03, 2014

For Zak's Doctors: What to do When You Don't Know

My Alma mater for my BA and MA is not exactly football powerhouse when it comes to collegiate sports. California State University, Sacramento  (Sac State) joined the Big Sky Conference in 1997 and while its website trumpets, “20 intercollegiate teams that compete at the NCAA Division I level,” football subdivisions are different from other sports and Sac State plays in what was formerly known as Division I-AA (now Division I FCS) while the more prominent teams play in Division I FBS (formerly Division I-A). There are exceptions and variations, but let’s just say that Sac State is not exactly a “football school.” My current school (where I am working on my PhD), Louisiana State University (LSU), competes at the upper levels and places in the national top 10 most every year – and it has won it all more than once. Our arch-rival, Alabama, has an even better record. We don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s a football thing, nothing personal.

Which is why I can tell a non-football story about Alabama’s star quarterback, A.J. McCarron. Do I like him? On the football field, no, although I certainly respect his talent. As a person? I don’t know him; I have no opinion outside of what I’ve read. And there is one story that, while inspirational in and of itself, would not necessarily inspire me to cite it or write about it. However, just before last Christmas that all changed. Just before Christmas, a dear friend’s eight-year old son was involved in a serious accident that has been an overriding concern for many (myself included) for more than three weeks. His mother, my friend, has been on an emotional rollercoaster no one should have to endure and her strength throughout has been nothing short of amazing. Her continued strength is the reason that A.J. McCarron’s story should be told. But first, a little background…

The boy, Zak, was a passenger in a single vehicle rollover accident. He sustained significant head trauma that has had him in a medically induced coma since the accident. His prognosis is… unknown. And that is the point of all of these words. The seemingly irrelevant first paragraph (it’s designed to get my readers’ attention, but that’s not important right now), to the McCarron story set-up, to where we are right now and though the words that follow, they are designed to paint a picture of hope - hope despite some doctors’ penchant to “prepare families” for the worst. The point is that they simply do not know and, more importantly, that they should be stressing that they just don’t know. Telling a family what “might” happen in a worst-case scenario is not helpful. It does absolutely no good. I cannot imagine how losing a child might be easier in the slightest if a parent was informed that it could happen. They don’t know and there are literally thousands of examples that prove they don’t know. I am living proof of one of them. So is A.J. McCarron.

In October of 2000, I was involved in a serious accident that put me in the hospital for a long time. At first, they did not know if I would live or die. The doctors “prepared” my family for the worst. All but one, that is. The trauma surgeon on duty that day was not so sure. He never gave up and even when it was clear I would not die, he continued to make medical decisions based on the best-case scenario – that I would make a full recovery. He fought my insurance company to give me the sort of care such that when (not if) I made a full recovery, I would still have the same quality of life. I was out for most of all that, but I got the distinct impression that this doctor’s optimism was infectious. It gave my family hope. There were many others who did just the opposite. One of them felt it necessary to tell my young boys that when I “woke up” I might not remember them. The word “might” is indication enough that this “professional” did not know – and therefore should have kept his or her fucking mouth shut. It caused my sons more anxiety, trauma, grief, sorrow, etc., it did not help them in any way.

A.J. McCarron was in a serious jet-ski accident when he was a five-years old. He, like Zak, sustained serious head trauma. It might not have been as serious as Zak’s, but at the time the medical professionals “prepared” his family for death, cognitive and behavioral problems, seizure issues and blindness. All of those things could have happened. You know what else could have happened? He could have recovered, gone on to play football at Alabama, won two BCS National Championship rings (once beating LSU) and go on to what will be one of the top picks in the NFL draft. But the doctors didn’t tell his family that, they only felt compelled to tell them the worst that could happen. And they were wrong. They didn’t know. And Zak’s doctors don’t either. A.J. McCarron, myself, and thousands of other examples are all the reason in the world to have hope that Zak will make a full recovery. He might even win a Super Bowl. That could happen, too.

For anyone compelled to help Zak and his family, there is a Facebook page set up for him:

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