PUT ME IN COACH
Barbara J. Galasso
The hallways are alive with activity as the doctors and nurses rush to do their duties. People come and go to pay their respects to the ill. Announcements are made over the intercom calling Dr. James to come to the third floor. Patients are pushed in wheel chairs to their next CAT scan appointment. And so the day goes on as all the days before at the North side City Hospital.
The sun tries to sneak its head through the cloudy grey morning sky with little success. The quiet peace of morning is interrupted by the shrieking sounds of the ambulance rushing down the street heading to the back entrance that leads to the emergency room. People who live in this neighborhood are all too familiar with this unnerving sound of doom as they peek out their windows more from habit than curiosity. They've seen enough to satisfy their curiosity in the past, but today they bring a young boy in.
"Doctor, our son, how is our son?" the father anxiously asks as his wife clings to him for support. The doctor looks tired as he comes out of the operating room. "Well the good news is that your son made it through the operation just fine", he tells the anxious but relieved parents. The mother almost collapses from exhaustion. "Yes, do sit down", the doctor tells them. You've been through a great deal of stress. It seems when your son, was hit by that car on his way to football practice, it threw him and he landed on his back. He has extensive damage to his vertebrae, severed nerves in his legs, a broken collar bone and a dislocated hip.” The mother lets out a gasp and begins to cry.
"What's the prognosis, Dr. James?” the father asks. "Well I'll tell you Mr. & Mrs. Baxter, Johnny's not going to be able to play football for a very long time, if at all. He's going to need extensive physical therapy." "Oh no, Mr. Baxter says. Football is his life." Mrs. Baxter breathes a sigh of relief just happy that her son is alive.
The first few days pass and Johnny is heavily sedated because of the pain he sustained from the accident. When he wakes, it's decided that the father will be the one to tell him about the seriousness of his injuries. The mother sits quietly by his bedside as the doctor stands in the far corner of the room over by the window. Dr. James is rather thankful for the noise that the radiator is making today as it drowns out some of the words that are spoken between father and son. But it's not nearly loud enough when the father tells his son, "Johnny, you may never be able to play football again." A loud hysterical shriek can be heard coming from Room 56. Dr. James then decides he needs to step in. He tells Johnny there is a 50/50 change he can resume his life with physical therapy. "And what are my chances of every playing football again?" he cries. "That my son, I can't guarantee you.” Johnny yells at all of them to get out of his room and leave him alone. He decides to suffer his grief by himself as only a 16 year old boy can do. He sobs aloud, and even with his door shut, his broken heart is shared by those who walk past his room.
For the next few days, Johnny refuses all food and is forced to be fed by IV again. He pulls the needle out from his already very black and blue hand. The nurses keep reporting his uncooperative behavior to the doctor. The doctor sends a physical therapist in by the name of Mr. Hardy to talk to him. He tells him that in another two weeks, they will begin their work. "What's the use? Johnny screams. I'm a cripple". Don't play with me Doc. You know I don't stand a chance in hell. He rips off his blankets and says, Just look at these legs. Where the hell do you think I'm going with these?" Mr. Hardy tries to reassure the boy that it's his attitude that needs fixing and not his legs. "You want to get well he asks him. Then change your attitude. I'm not here to tell you son that you're ever going to play football again, but if you have a defeatist attitude, that's exactly where you will remain.....defeated!"
The next day as Johnny lays staring at the TV screen, a small knock is heard tapping at his door. "Might as well come in, he shouts out. Everyone else does." The door is pushed open and a young girl Johnny's age comes in led by a big German Shepherd Dog carrying a magazine in his mouth. "Hey, he screams. What's that dog doing in my room, and who are you?” he demands. "Hi Johnny, my name is Cindy and this here is Spike," she tells him. He's a therapy dog and he just loves to pay visits to see all the people in the hospital," she tells him.
Spike with his tail wagging and a glisten in his eye, goes over to the bed where Johnny is watching him with a scroll on his face. The dog gently places the magazine on the bed and looks Johnny straight in the face and lets out a friendly bark. "Get that beast out of here, he sarcastically tells her. I don't need a flea bitten dog in my room. Can't you see I have enough problems already? Now take him and yourself and get out of here."
As the last sentence comes out of his mouth, the physical therapist comes back into the room. "Remember what I told you about your attitude son? he reminds him. "It's all in your head, it's all in your head, and he repeats himself. You want to get better? Then change those thoughts in your head. This dog will be part of your rehabilitation. He will be helping you to walk again. That's if you decide that you want to walk again. Or you can lay there and feel sorry for yourself and never walk again. It's your choose. 50/50 chance? How about putting the odds in your favor son?" With that, Spike comes over and nudges Johnny's hand looking for a pat on the head. Johnny's first inclination is to pull his hand away, but he catches the eye of Mr. Hardy, and thinks better of it, and begrudgingly pats the dog on the head instead.
The next day a wheel chair delivers Johnny to the physical therapy room. Mr. Hardy is waiting for him. "Good morning Johnny he says to him. Glad to have you with us today. Let me tell you son, this is going to be tedious, repetitious, and painful work, day in and day out. There will be only one day of rest in between and that will be Sunday, and that's the day you’ll pray for relief from me. I'm here to drive you and to push you, and I push hard," he tells the boy. I want you to think of me as your coach just like you had a coach for your football workouts. Well this is going to be your physical therapy workouts." Johnny interrupts him. "Where's that big dog Spike fit into all of this?" he asks him. He tells him, "He's going to be your legs, your brain, and your direction. He will wear a harness that you will hold onto and he will lead you until we feel that you're strong enough to stand and walk on your own. We already know you're up for the challenge because you showed up here today for your first try out. Football practice is in session son. So let’s get to work shall we?"
The days and weeks pass by slowly with set backs and failures. Johnny gets more and more discouraged. But Mr. Hardy pushes him even harder. They put him in the water therapy tank and then take him out and massage his legs. They stand him up and have him hold onto the walking bars on the side of the mat. "Come on boy, move those legs," Mr. Hardy shouts out to him. His legs never budge.
Mr. & Mrs. Baxter feel Mr. Hardy is driving their son too hard and complain about it to Dr. James. Dr. James has a talk with him about it. Mr. Hardy tells him, "Sir, this boy's got a physical problem. We all know that. But I need to re-train his thinking again. I must get him out of this "I can't do it anymore attitude.” I know what I'm doing here sir." Dr. James say's “All right Mr. Hardy. I trust you. You're the best in the business. If this boy is to walk again, you're the man for the job." Mr. Hardy corrects him and says, "Sorry to disagree with you Dr. James, I won't be the reason Johnny walks again. It's all up to him. It's in his hands. He has to have the will to want to walk again. I can only give him the tools to do it with."
One day Spike is lying on the floor when Johnny comes in for his physical therapy session. Something is different today. Normally soothing, relaxing music is playing. Today is different. Today Johnny hears an old rock and roll song blaring over the speakers. It's music from his parent's generation but he recognizes it because it used to play in the locker rooms before a football game. He hears the familiar pulsating beat of “CCR” singing but for some reason, he can't quite remember the words today. Spike decides to get up from his resting place and goes and pushes the boy in the behind. "Hey, watch it before you make me fall,” he yells at the dog. Mr. Hardy watches silently from a distance. Spike nudges him again and this time, takes a little nip at him. "What's the matter with this crazy dog, Mr. Hardy?" He asks him. Mr. Hardy just shrugs his shoulders as if to say, "I don't know." Spike goes behind a chair and Johnny sees he's picking something up and when he turns around, he sees he has a football in his mouth. "Hey, be careful with that, or you'll puncture it with your big teeth,” Johnny says angrily.
Spike drops the ball about two feet in front of Johnny and starts to bark at him. Then the dog goes to the boy and starts to pull on his pajamas. "Hey, Mr. Hardy this dumb dog is going to make me fall," he protests again. Mr. Hardy says, "Looks to me like he wants you to play with him," he says and continues to do his paper work. Spike barks at Johnny again and pulls at his pajamas even harder this time. "If I could only get my hands on you," Johnny says. He can feel his face flush with anger. Spike picks up the ball again and stands there looking Johnny straight in the face with that never ending wag of a tail of his challenging him to try to take the ball from him.
Johnny tries with all his might and feels himself start to fall. Naturally his physical therapy aides are there with him through this whole ordeal. He shrugs off their help, and he concentrates with all his might as the dog continues to stare at him with that confounded football in his mouth. Johnny is mumbling something to himself now. Again he tries to move his legs. The aides are watching as they witness a small half of an inch movement of his legs pushing him forward. They look over to Mr. Hardy, and he stops them from saying anything by raising is hand in the air and the other he brings to his lips indicating for them not to say a word. Johnny pays no attention to them as he focuses on Spike with the ball in his mouth. Another half inch he propels his body forward. And then another half inch. And then another. He is now one foot away from the dog. The dog picks the ball up, walks over to him and drops the ball at his feet. As Johnny starts to collapse, his aides catch him. With that he turns to look at Mr. Hardy who gives him a wink and a “high five” as he hears the final lyric to the song he was trying to identify earlier..............."Put me in coach, I'm ready to play........today.”
From the book: "WHEN LIFE IS HARD"....When life is hard, you know, really hard, we often spend all our time pleading, begging, yelling, refusing, and questioning. While none of these things are necessarily unusual, they are missing the ultimate point. When life is hard, when things get ugly, when all hope seems to be lost… that is when we are able to display the superiority of the life lived in God. It is in those moments of despair, when we question what is happening, when we don’t know what to do, when some trials never…seem…to…end, that we can lean most heavily into God’s promises and truths. Working his way through five questions we've all had run through our heads trusted pastor James MacDonald helps us to understand what we should do now. We begin the journey by looking at different types of "trials" and figuring out exactly what we're dealing with and recognizing that God certainly knows. Second, the obvious question: "Why?" God sees us going through trials and we long for two things: for them to be over and to know why they happened in the first place. Next, we need to know what to do with these trials when they come (and they will most certainly come). Fourth, we have all wondered it, can trials be refused? Are God's purposes really being fulfilled in the midst of this trying time? And lastly, God reveals Himself to us through these trials. . . and sometimes, they just don't ever end. Why doesn't this trial go away? God refines us. Often in so many ways that we can't even see. Should we just try to weather the storm? Or is there something greater in God's vision for these difficulties? God told us to expect trials—don’t be surprised when they come (they are on purpose). Grow when they come. Find hope when they come.
My rating: German Shepherd Dogs as therapy dogs: (4)