That same nurse
gave me a sedative, and I dozed off quickly. When I woke up, Tina was at my
side, holding my hand, her face pressed against mine. She was crying.
Baby...Oh, Baby....," she said over and over. She looked hurt and shocked,
and in great pain. I wanted to talk to her, to ask her how our boys—Hank, 9,
and Derek, 7—were, but the words couldn't come out. Tina and I had been
together since our high school days in the 1960s back in Chicago, and though we
had never taken the time to get married, I was her man, and she was my
We just looked at
each other while she held my hand and smoothed her other hand across my face.
It felt so good, I wanted her to do it forever. But my friend in the green
jacket showed up with his screwdriver. So much for the handholding.
When I woke up
Monday morning my mother was at my bedside along with Tina. "I was at
church in Chicago when someone came and got me and told me you'd been hurt in a
football game," my mother said, sobbing. "I stayed in church and prayed
to God that you'd be O.K., that nothing bad would happen to you. And then when
I went home, as I walked into the apartment that picture of you on the living
room wall—the one where you're wearing your Patriots' red-and-white uniform
with the big Number 84—fell off the wall and shattered into a million pieces.
It took me an hour to clean up all the glass."
The days passed
into nights, and the nights passed into days. Tina was always at my bedside,
her hand on mine. Poor Tina. She would be quiet for long stretches, and I could
understand her mood. If I had been able to speak to her, I think I could have
made her feel a lot better. A month or so before, she had seen her man leave
Chicago and go off to work in New England as healthy a person as you could ever
find. Now that same man was flat on his back, unable to talk, unable to do
anything for himself. It was a tough thing for her to handle.
It didn't take me
long to realize that I was paralyzed and that I probably wouldn't be walking
out of the hospital any day soon—if ever. No one told me that; they didn't have
to. I still couldn't move a muscle. My whole body was useless. And, of course,
I couldn't talk. I had a pretty good idea of what was happening to me. And also
I had overheard my brother Wayne, who had come out from Chicago with my mother,
telling someone on the phone that I had suffered a broken neck and that I'd
probably never walk again.
In those early
days in the hospital, all my communication was done with my eyes. I inspected
everything going on; that is, everything I was able to see from my stabilized
position in bed. I tried—desperately tried—to read the expressions on the faces
of the doctors and the nurses, and also on the faces of my family, to get an
idea of the severity of my condition. I hated it when the doctors or nurses or
technicians would touch the machinery that was connected to me. If anyone even
got close to the respirator, my eyes would light up and my face would tense.
Get away from me! Get away from me! I couldn't say those things because of the
tubes in my mouth, but I wanted to shout them. I was scared that someone would
pull the plug, that the respirator would be disconnected accidentally—and that
Madden wouldn't be around to save me. I became frightened of almost everyone
who came into my room.
I felt that
certain nurses were definitely out to get me. One nurse came in a couple of
times a day to adjust my oxygen intake. How did I know she was helping me? I
had it in my mind that she was trying to get rid of me, that she was trying to
cut off my life-support system. I kept thinking, "This dumb nurse couldn't
care less if Darryl Stingley goes out of this hospital in a long box." All
I knew was that the oxygen was helping keep me alive, and she was messing with
it. My eyes told her that I hated her, and I hoped she got the message: Stay
the hell out of my room, and stop screwing around with my life.
Tina could tell
from the look in my eyes that I was suspicious of all these people, and she was
always trying to calm me down and soothe my fears. "Baby, the nurses are
just following orders," she'd say. "I've talked to them, and what
they're doing is trying to get you to do as much as you can for yourself. The
more breathing you do for yourself, the better it is for you. They want you to
reach the point where you won't need any respirator machine."
I didn't believe
Tina. No way. Those people were all out to do away with me.