Not Your Typical Bye Week

I should be all charged up for next Saturday's Sunflower Showdown, but I'm not. Give me until Wednesday or Thursday and maybe I'll get there. I should have feelings one way or the other about Kansas State's rout of Texas or Colorado upsetting Oklahoma, but I don't.

Instead, I’m going to tell you about my mom.

My mom has been a loyal Kansas sports fan since she was 23 years old and married my dad. That was 59 years ago.

For nearly 40 of those years, they had season football tickets. The only reason they quit going was because my dad could no longer navigate the ramps and stairs of Memorial Stadium.

When I lived out-of-state for four years, back before Al Gore invented the interwebs, Mom sent me the Saturday, Sunday and Monday sports sections so I got all the coverage of my beloved Jayhawks, all without me ever having to ask. She even taped every KU basketball game that wasn’t on ESPN and sent them to me.

Without fail, she would call a couple of days later to make sure I got the newspapers or the tape and to talk about the game.

Anytime the football Jayhawks played the much-feared Sooners and Cornhuskers, my mom would tell my dad to take me to the game, even though I was little and was far more interested in watching the students’ cup fights than the game. I always thought that was the coolest thing ever. It wasn’t until years later that my mom told me that she always skipped those games because she was worried: “I always thought one of our boys was going to get hurt against those big teams, and I couldn’t stand to watch that!”

Last Tuesday, my mom went into the hospital at the urgent referral of several doctors to find out why she was having pain in both arms and across her chest. She hadn’t had any energy for months and she never felt like eating.

The tests revealed 90 percent blockage in her arteries. She was hurriedly scheduled for open-heart surgery, a double by-pass, on Friday.

Considering her advanced age, the fact that she’d had a triple by-pass in 1987 and the condition of her calcified arteries and veins, it was going to be a very risky procedure. The cardiologist told us that any vein or artery that needed to be clamped would likely be crushed due to all the calcium and she’d have a stroke. The risk that her body just wouldn’t make it through the surgery was also a real possibility. The doctor said Mom had no room for error.

But she’s a tough old bird. On the way home after Tuesdays tests, she asked why I didn’t have a St. Christopher medal in the car. I told her I just hadn’t ever thought of getting one, and she said, “I’ll get you one for Christmas.”

An 82-year-old woman who’s having open-heart surgery in three days talking about Christmas?  She didn’t have plans to go anywhere.

I went to see her at the hospital very early Friday morning, before her surgery and just after they’d administered a sedative strong enough to stun an ox. A nurse showed me to the room where they were prepping her. My brother had already volunteered to spend the day at the hospital and was there already.

She looked so small, old, nearly-helpless in her white hospital gown and oversized bed, IV tubes sticking out of her arm. I held her hand. She was shaking. She was scared. Moms aren’t supposed to get scared.

I maintained my composure long enough to make small talk and ask her if she needed anything. She said no. After about 30 minutes of chit-chat, the sedatives kicked in and she was having a hard time keeping her eyes open. I kissed her on the forehead and told her I needed to go. She nodded and managed a sleepy smile. “I’ll see you after I get done,” she said.

I lost it when I got to the car. I started preparing myself for the worst: tough or not, she was 82 and had some strikes against her. If she made it through the surgery, she would be fine, I told myself. Problem was, that was a huge, huge “if.”

Friday was the longest day I’ve experienced in a long time. I could have just as easily stationed two pounds of chopped liver or a potted plant or Michael Bishop at my desk and they would’ve been more productive than I was. I stayed at work, telling myself that I’d be better off staying busy. By staying busy, I mean “sitting and staring at a computer monitor, not doing a blessed thing.” I knew, though, that the longer I didn’t hear anything, the better the news was going to be.

I was right. My brother called at 3 o’clock and his tone told me all I needed to know’ he was very upbeat. Mom was fine. In fact, the doctors were amazed at how well the procedure had gone.

I went to see her a few hours later. She was in intensive care. She had enough sedatives and painkillers in her to make Hunter S. Thompson proud. Her eyes were half-open. She looked like she’d had a stroke. She wasn’t in a medically-induced coma, but she looked close. A ventilation tube kept her from talking, but that’s okay: she probably wouldn’t have had any idea who I was anyway. Nevertheless, when I took her hand and told her I was glad to see her, she squeezed my hand a little. She was blasted out of her gourd, but she still managed to be my mom.

She’s out of intensive care now and on the cardiac rehab ward. If all goes to plan, she’ll be sent home Tuesday evening, two days earlier than everyone had thought. That’s good, good stuff to a son who was ready for the worst case scenario.

What’s this got to do with KU football? Not a damn thing, except that it’s one of those necessary lessons in perspective that we all need sometimes.

The smack flies pretty thick during Kansas-Kansas State week if you live here in the Lawrence area. Most of it’s in good fun. Some of it gets pretty personal and crosses a line or twelve. The game makes good water cooler debate fodder all week, especially in a season when it looks like both teams can play a little bit.

But you’ll have to pardon me if I’m not hip-deep in animal husbandry jokes this week. I won’t be making fun of Josh Freeman’s hair or Ron Prince’s lack of it. I won’t try to poke holes in KSU’s win over an overrated Texas team that can’t take a good shot to the gut, let alone the five or six the Wildcats gave them Saturday night.

I also won’t spend a lot of time trying to convince people that Todd Reesing can play and that he really is taller than Gary Coleman. I’ll keep my opinions that Jake Sharp is a pretty darned good back and that KU’s pass defense is monumentally better than they were last season to myself.

I’ll enjoy the game come Saturday, don’t get me wrong, but don’t look to me to be pounding my chest if KU wins. There won’t be a need to try and talk me off a ledge if the Jayhawks lose, either.

This was a bye week that was supposed to be a chance to work on fundamentals and re-energize. For the Jayhawks, it probably was. For me, it most certainly wasn’t.

Thankfully, everything went right Friday and I didn’t lose my favorite Jayhawk. Compared to that, losing – or winning – a football game just doesn’t seem all that crucial anymore.


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