From The Heart (And Stomach)

By Bob Socci

Eating chips while watching the Super Bowl was always part of the weekend plans.  I just figured I’d be pulling them from a Green Mountain Gringo bag — preferably blue corn tortillas — and dipping them in salsa.  Instead, I was scooping ice chips from a styrofoam cup.

And so much for sitting on the cushions of our living-room couch to see New York and New England in all their high-definition splendor on our new 46-inch LED screen.  What I wound up watching were miniature Giants and Patriots on an old wall-mounted Zenith from a hospital bed just south of Boston.

I got there after going out for a run early the previous afternoon.  It was a rare weekend off for me in the middle of the college basketball season.  My wife had taken our two small children, a toddler and his infant sister, to spend the afternoon at her mother’s house.  Free time has been a rare commodity since our daughter was born in late December.  So I sought to use mine on this day in the healthiest way I know how.

Several miles into my jog — at a pace described as leisurely or laborious, depending on your fitness level — I was halted by a stabbing pain in my lower right abdomen.  Having already made the turn for home, I proceeded in a run, walk, run, walk staccato.  A few hours later, I lay on an emergency room bed.

Spending a Saturday night in an ER is about as much fun as a trip to the motor vehicle registry, a day in a dentist’s chair and a rush-hour lap around Washington’s Capital Beltway all rolled into one.  Overhearing medical staffers discuss their cases, I realized I was one of the few non chain-smoking, alcohol-abusing adults visiting for the evening.

I did for a moment, when the attending physician ordered a dose of Toradol to ease my pain, actually feel a certain connection to the G-Men and Pats.  As HBO’s Real Sports recently reported, Toradol is the drug du jour every Sunday in the NFL.  Bur for the most part, I waited and wondered, sipping a thirst-ruining concoction intended to lend contrast to a pending CT scan.

Initial suspicions centered on possible appendicitis or kidney stones.  As I braced myself for either, my thoughts shifted to selfish concerns.  If I needed an appendectomy, leaving me to watch the Super Bowl outside the comfort of our living room, so be it.  But I really wanted to know if I’d be well enough to travel to my next scheduled game.

Too much of my life, my life has been all about the next game, the next broadcast, the next season.  Even in recent years, after being blessed with a beautiful wife and kids, and approaching a better balance, the call of the game was always more than a professional calling.

When I was single, as much as I tried to maintain proper perspective, my “work” was my love.  Moments I wasn’t obsessed by the smaller picture of preparing for and calling each contest, I was consumed by concerns over the bigger picture of my career.  After meeting and marrying my best friend, a lot changed.  But much remained the same.  Someone became the most important thing in my life.  Yet something I try to do for a living was still close behind.  If you’re passionate about your own profession, you likely understand.

Less than two years ago, our son was born.  Then, this past December, our daughter arrived.  The addition of each, as any parent understands, continued to sharpen my focus on what matters most.  I always wanted to be the best father and husband I can be, and the best broadcaster I can be.  Definitely in that particular order.

Still, somewhat ashamedly I admit, there have been far too many times when that next game distracted me from the moment.  Like taking a peek at my Blackberry when my son deserved undivided attention during story time.  Or holding our baby girl late at night, hoping she’d fall asleep so I could cram a little more prep into my day.

And so, on the eve of Super Bowl Sunday, I lay in an emergency room thinking about Thursday.  Would I, could I be okay to get to Washington for the next broadcast?  True, a freelancer in business for himself has to think this way to a certain extent.  Each game represents another paycheck.  Diapers, much less college educations for two, are pretty expensive.  But as much as I thought in those terms, I also looked at it in this way: it’s simply what I’m supposed to do.  If you’re in the lineup, you play.  When you’re on a game, you make the call.

Until someone else, especially someone with a medical degree and your CT scan results, intervenes.  It turns out, neither appendicitis nor kidney stones were my problem.  Sparing most other details, suffice to say I wound up being diagnosed with an infection that challenged my large intestinal fortitude like nothing else I’ve ever experienced: diverticulitis with perforation and an abscess.  My wife, who’s in the medical field, assured me it was fairly serious.

Serious enough to re-think Thursday, along with a lot of other things in life.  Now, never for a moment, then or now, did or do I lose sight of the fact that what I was experiencing was still relatively minor compared to what so many endure.  I could have been in much, much, much worse shape.  It’s a blessing I’m still tabulating, among the otherwise countless others I’ve been given.  But considering the only other time I was a hospital patient was the week I was born, it was pretty startling.

Much of the next few nights, I was confined to a reclining bed and infused with a steady flow of various antibiotics.  I wasn’t going anywhere.  It was as good a time as any to let my mind wander.  Unashamedly I admit, it was a period of soul-searching and prayer.  I’ll keep most of those thoughts to myself.  Regarding the others I can share, you probably know them already.  Even I did.  Mostly, they boil down to this: work is work and games are games.  And neither is remotely as important as health and happiness for you and your family.

By midweek I was feeling much better.  My diet was expanded from ice chips to unfrozen water, to full liquids (chicken broth never looked so good!) to, finally, a “regular” meal.  It, in fact, represented a big test.  Following CT scans and x-rays, after being hooked up to an IV and probed for vital signs for several days, the real measure of my progress would be my body’s response to a Wednesday lunch.  And what did I get for my first real food since Saturday afternoon?  Hospital lasagna, served with chocolate cake.  As if I didn’t have enough stomach issues already!

Thankfully, I survived lunch, then dinner (turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy), too.  By Wednesday night, I was on my way back home.  I mean this when I write this: my wife never looked so beautiful, my children never seemed so lovable.  This was a night I was originally scheduled to spend in D.C., preparing in a hotel room for the next evening’s telecast.  I was more than happy to be in Milton, holding and soothing our baby girl.

On Thursday morning, knowing that I wasn’t getting to the next game, I had to think about the next game — two, actually — after that.  In just two days, I was scheduled to be in West Point, NY for a women’s-and-men’s basketball doubleheader.  All along, I planned on being there.  Wait and see, doctors said.  If your symptoms don’t recur, they assured me, traveling shouldn’t be a problem.  And yet, everything I’d been thinking about in the hospital, as well as the very real possibility of my condition suddenly worsening, gave me some pause.  What if something goes wrong on my 4 1/2-hour drive?  Where do I turn in an emergency, traveling to the remoteness of Bear Mountain and the west bank of the Hudson River?  Just two of the many questions I asked myself and posed to my wife.

We decided it was best to get to those next games.  Physically, I was up to it.  Plus, we concluded, I was more likely to have rest assured in a quiet hotel room than the noisy home of a toddler, infant and our two rambunctious cats.  Early Friday afternoon, I said a Hail Mary, backed out of our driveway and started west, with the steering wheel in the grip of white knuckles.

This afternoon, a week after my last run, I took my seat inside Christl Arena for the CBS Sports Network.  Wouldn’t you know it, the second half of the twin bill reached two overtimes.  We eventually signed off, after about five hours on the air.  Here in the hotel, I’m about to turn in for the night.

I’ll be on the road again in the morning.  I’m leaving the last game and heading home, until it’s time to take off for the next game.  It’s a lot like the old routine.  And yet, given the last seven days, I can’t help but think it’s the start of a brand new journey.

Bob is currently calling Patriot League basketball for the CBS Sports Network.  He recently completed his 15th year as radio play-by-play broadcaster for Navy football.  

Author: Bob Socci

Play-by-play broadcaster for the New England Patriots and 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

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