On the 18th day of June 2018 I ventured to San Diego’s Coronado Island to enjoy a few days of vacation with my wife and kids. It would be our last trip to the beach for quite some time thanks to our upcoming voyage to Texas. I was hoping to actually put my work away for 4 or 5 days, and limiting my time on the telephone and computer as well. The goal was to shut things “off” as completely as possible. But with two children you cannot really turn everything off, and when a friend — one of those ones you would do almost anything for — calls you for help, you cannot help but listen. You may just need to delay “turning off” for a few more minutes, hours or even days. But somehow, this call for help was at the right time because I was in the place that my friend needed me to be.
Before I get into the heart of the story, I need to take you back about 10 days. My friend Andrew, who is one of the Athletic Directors at UC Berkeley (AKA “Cal”) was flying down to meet with a few potential donors, along with Jared Goff who happened to be the very first pick in the 2016 NFL draft (my Jared “moment” happened when I was a medical student doing an elective at Cal and Jared was injured in the Big Game against Stanford and I was the one who took off his shoulder pads so that we could get an X-ray completed).
Andrew’s plan was to fly into San Diego a day early, visit with me and the family for an evening and then continue up to Los Angeles the next day. Our plan was solid. But then, as often happens in this life that we live, a few days later on the 11th of June, one of Cal’s incoming freshman football players, who was talented both on the gridiron and in the classroom, dove into a swimming pool with friends near his home in San Diego. He hit his head and instantly lost all movement and feeling in his arms and legs. He was rushed to the nearest trauma center and the neurosurgeons on duty had him in the operating room less than two hours later.
His name is Chris. He was set to report to Berkeley to start summer courses and football workouts on Sunday June 17th. He was only six days away from a new beginning. A new opportunity to fulfill his football and academic dreams. A chance to get an education without having to take out astronomical loans. A degree from Berkeley could open so many doors.
But now it was already Monday June 18th, and he was surely not at Berkeley. He wasn’t even at home prepping for his trip. He was in the hospital and confined to a bed.
Andrew called and asked if I could join him to visit Chris at the hospital a few days earlier. I was already planning on arriving in San Diego on the 18th and thus the timing was ideal.
We checked into our hotel around 200 pm and my kids were ready to go and expend their pent up energy on the beach. But I knew I had to meet Chris. I could not “turn off” my life’s PURPOSE just yet.
I soon found out, within minutes of being on the 10th floor of Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego, that I made the best choice that day. I hated putting off playing with my kids, especially with the schedule that I had endured for the past 8 years, but I knew they would understand. I had learned over the years that my words, my touch, and my time had moved people in special ways. And my goal on this day was that it would be no different with Chris and his family.
Seeing this massive 18-year old Samoan teenager confined to a bed, only able to make small movements with this arms and legs brought me into focus. This kid was in trouble. His mother had died of breast cancer just a few years earlier. His father, having recently retired as a US Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer was looking for a steady job (for most, retiring in the Navy hardly ever means actually retiring).
I was finding that my connection to this family was growing quickly. From Cal football to breast cancer to the Navy. My choice to go to the hospital that day was the best choice I could have made. Everyone I met was hurting. The reality of the situation had not set in. Football still meant too much. But there was so much love in the room. Love that I had never truly encountered before.
My choice had a positive outcome. Chris’ choice on June 11th took football away from him. It put his hopes and dreams on hold. But he is a fighter. He is grinding. He is not giving up hope. His family members are constantly at the bedside. His is a family driven by love. A family that won’t stop fighting.
It all comes down to a choice.