Schneider was unsure how long Walker had been without breath. But, under the assumption that Walker was choking on something, he knew that if he didn't work quickly there was a possibility he might suffer brain damage. Schneider tried to insert an oral screw into Walker's mouth but couldn't pry his teeth apart. Growing frantic, Schneider pulled out a pair of tape-cutting scissors and began to dig around Walker's incisors, looking for a crack. When he couldn't find one, he chipped one of Walker's teeth to allow him to insert the scissors and open his jaws. "I tried all the ways you're supposed to do it," Schneider says. "Finally I got my scissors in there, then I got my finger in, which you're also not supposed to do." Schneider was still trying to clear the windpipe with a rubber tongue depressor when Walker bit down on his finger so hard it began to bleed. Finally the seizure subsided, and Walker, fully conscious, was wheeled from the field on a stretcher. Schneider rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital. "He told me I was going to be all right," Walker says. "But the fact remained, something had happened, and nobody knew what it was."
Before the seizure, the only clue Walker had that something might be wrong with him was a rash that had broken out all over his body two weeks earlier, while the White Sox were playing in New York. "For the next five days I had a brutal case of the hives," he says. "I'd wake up at three o'clock in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and say, 'Who is this?' " The players had been given permission to bring their wives along on the trip, and as the rash grew, so did Carman Walker's alarm. Says Greg, "Everybody was kidding my wife that I was allergic to her, but she knew there was something wrong." At one point, Walker became convinced he was having an allergic reaction to something in his hotel room; in a panic one night at 4 a.m. he and Carman fled to a new room. Nothing helped, but eventually the condition vanished, as much a mystery as when it appeared. "I think about that all the time," Walker says. "What could I have eaten to cause that? Every time I walk up to a salad bar now, I look at all that food and wonder if there's something on there that could make me sick again. That's a pretty scary feeling, to think there might be something out there that could give me another seizure."
Walker spent the night after the seizure at Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill., with Carman—who was then six months pregnant—sprawled on a chair in his room. Carman, a true Georgia peach, had met Greg when they were in the sixth grade together back in Douglas, Ga., and they have been sweethearts ever since. "He's been in my life as far back as my memories go," she drawls. "That night I remember thinking that everything in my life had been too perfect up until then, that maybe this was meant to even things out a little."
When he awoke the next morning, Greg seemed normal and in reasonably good spirits. "He was sitting on the side of the bed getting ready to take a shower," says Carman, "and I turned to get him a towel. He said, 'Carm...' and I could see his right hand start shaking. Then he lay back, and I ran out into the hall and called for the nurses." Walker suffered a second brain seizure. At that point, Greg says, "I thought, Is this going to keep going on the rest of my life?"
During his hospitalization, Walker had been given a series of tests, including a CAT scan of his brain and a more sophisticated multiresonance imaging (MRI) examination of the brain. "Whenever an adult comes into the emergency room with a focal seizure [a seizure which originates in one specific place within the brain], as Greg did, it usually has a structural cause," says Dr. Melvin Wichter, the chairman of the neurology department at Christ Hospital, who was in charge of the testing. "The favored diagnosis after Greg's first MRI was a brain tumor." However, Wichter believed the evidence—especially Walker's bout of hives—pointed away from a tumor and more toward an epileptic seizure; but he couldn't be sure until a second MRI was performed. The second test indicated there was no tumor, so Walker was treated for a variety of possible viral causes. "It was probably an inflammation we'll never identify," Wichter says.
A couple of days after he was discharged from the hospital, Walker, feeling strangely again, was brought back to the emergency room in an ambulance and suffered a third focal seizure while being observed by his doctors. "His head was jerking violently, and his eyes were driven to the right," Wichter says. What was now clear was that Walker had not suffered a "freak incident," as he had hoped, but that he was having epileptic seizures—though what induced them remains unknown.
On August 15, Walker had an allergic reaction to Dilantin, a medication commonly used to control brain seizures, and had to be placed on drugs that kept him heavily sedated. "For the next two months I just walked around in a daze." he says. His first visit to the White Sox clubhouse, three weeks after the first seizure, proved to be less a relief to his teammates than Walker had intended. "I could see it in their eyes," he says. "I wasn't looking too good."
During his first few weeks at home, Walker received hundreds of calls from well-wishers, including many of his teammates. "The phone would be sitting right next to his chair, ringing all day," Carman says, "and he would sleep through it all. He would literally sleep 20 out of 24 hours. I had to wake him up to feed him." At first, their five-year-old daughter, Leigh Ann, was reluctant to be near him. "She would just sit on his bed and touch his toe," Carman says.
The one person who had not been afraid to touch Walker when he needed it most was Schneider, who would ordinarily have been the hero of this drama. But in the publicity that ensued after Walker's dramatic episode, Schneider instead ran afoul of the Epilepsy Foundation. Schneider was bombarded with angry letters from doctors, epileptics and others for using scissors to open Walker's mouth, and for then suggesting, according to the newspaper stories that followed, that the seizure had caused Walker to swallow his tongue—which, as it turns out, is physically impossible. The proper procedure in dealing with an epileptic seizure, as specialists like to stress, is to leave the victim alone, except to make sure he doesn't hurt himself, particularly by cradling the head, and to gently turn the head to either side to facilitate breathing. Schneider, however, did not know that Walker was suffering an epileptic seizure. "Herm was a hero for the moment, and everybody made him out to be something he didn't ask to be," Walker says. "The Epilepsy Foundation blasted him because they didn't want people sticking scissors or butter knives in people's mouths when somebody falls out in a restaurant. But I'm here today with a little chip on my tooth, and I'm glad he did what he did. In my mind he saved my life."
When Walker arrived at the White Sox spring training complex in Sarasota, Fla., this February, he still had to find out if he was fully restored after his ordeal. He had been gradually weaned from the more powerful antiseizure drugs, and a final brain scan had convinced his doctors there was no tumor. Now Walker had to convince himself he could still play baseball. As it turned out, he batted .308 for the spring and led the Sox in home runs (7) and RBIs (15). "Once I got down there and started swinging the bat," he says, "I knew I was back." If there were any lingering doubts, he erased them by the end of the first week of the regular season, hitting a cool .363. On Opening Day, he even felt good enough to throw himself into the fray that occurred after Angel reliever Bob McClure hit White Sox rightfielder Ivan Calderon with a pitch in the ninth inning. "I just had a good time." Walker said later. "I been waitin' on that game a while."