Marsh saw three doctors, each of whom said he had no way of knowing what was wrong with the ankle until a CAT scan could be administered. Tony Daly, now the orthopedic surgeon for the NBA Los Angeles Clippers, discovered the broken talus bone after ordering the scan. Daly says that the bone chips could well have been caused by the broken pieces of bone grinding against one another, and he believes it is possible that the fracture occurred as early as 1986. Daly inserted screws into the ankle to force the bone together. But the surgery took an enormous toll on Marsh. He woke up sick and in great pain. Weary of the struggle and thoroughly disillusioned with the Raider organization, he decided to retire. "I told my wife right then that I was done, that if I ever mentioned playing football again to shoot me," Marsh says.
For years Curt and his wife, Pam, had dreamed of days filled with family football games in the backyard, hikes and camping trips. By the time Curt decided to quit, his older son, Jake, was six and Chris was four. (A daughter, Jillian, would be born in 1989.) But as long as Curt was a Raider, family life had taken a backseat to his career and his pain. "Everything we did was based on how far I'd have to walk or if I'd have to stand for a long time," he says. "I would be grumpy at night because it hurt so bad. I shouted a lot. My ankle kept me from football, but it also kept me from being a father."
"I just wanted him to be out of pain," Pam says. "When he retired, I thought we were close. I thought everything would be O.K."
By 1990, though, it was clear that everything was not O.K. Unable to walk without excruciating pain, Marsh had undergone a series of operations to insert and replace screws in his ankle. Finally Sigvard Hansen, an orthopedist at Harbor-view Medical Center, recommended that the joint be fused. Marsh would not be able to bend his ankle, but his foot might be saved. Three times Hansen operated to fuse the ankle, and three times the fusions snapped. During the last procedure an eight-inch steel post was inserted from the heel bone into the shin. None of the operations enabled Marsh to walk without pain. In late July, Marsh realized he had only one option left. "When the doctor first said amputation, my heart sank," he says. "We sat down as a family, and I cried. But I knew it was the only way I'd be able to live the way I wanted to."
Marsh says he had run into Rosenfeld about a year before deciding on the amputation. It was after a Raider-Seahawk game in Seattle, and Marsh had stopped by the Raider locker room. "I was standing there on crutches, in a cast, and he walks by," Marsh recalls. "I say hello, and he looks down and says, 'Oh, you're still in one of those things?' "
The night before the amputation, Marsh says, he had one last man-to-foot chat: "I said, 'You've been a good foot. You've taken me a long ways, and I appreciate all you've done. But I'm going to have to let you go.' It said, 'O.K.'
"I was most worried about how I would feel when I woke up after the operation. After the first look—it took me a day to get up the nerve—it was O.K. It's still not easy to look at it, but I'm getting used to it. We all are."
A month after the amputation, the Marsh household is slowly returning to normal. The kids are fighting with stuffed socks and swinging from a bar above their dad's hospital bed, which has been placed in the dining room. Pam, who evidently does not share her family's macabre sense of humor, has put away the box that holds the toenails from Curt's foot. "I wanted the whole foot," says Chris, "but they said it would rot. So I asked for the toenails."
"The kids were attached to that thing," Curt says. "I had traded a lot of money for ankle rubs." Everyone in the family takes turns unscrewing and screwing on the temporary plastic foot. Not surprisingly, Chris dreams of being a doctor.
Daily life Is still a struggle for Pam and Curt, who at the time of the amputation also had surgery to correct a problem in his hip. He'll be in a wheelchair for a few more months, and that makes life a mess. Doorways are too small, corners too sharp. Nights are still far too short.