Once the instructions were over, I was wheeled out into the lounge area and left there all alone. "See you in about an hour," the therapists said. "Have a nice trip."
As I sat there in my Cadillac, I had normal reactions for a quad—hot flashes, cold flashes, dizzy spells. I fought to keep my head up, a job in itself. I looked straight down the corridor to my room at the other end. It was probably 25 yards away, but it looked like 25 miles to me. I thought of my room as a paradise, and I had to get there. So I could get into my bed again and relax. So I could take a nap. So I could make a few phone calls. So I could have a few phone calls put through.
What did I do? I cried. I was scared. I tried to put my predicament in a football perspective. I had just caught a pass at the 25-yard line and had to get into that end zone. Trouble was, there were 11 guys in front of me who didn't want me to make it. What to do?
Slowly, painfully, oh, so painfully, I pushed the control switch on the armrest—and the chair started to move forward. I pulled my right hand back off the button—actually, it was a slow and painful retraction—and the Cadillac came to a halt. Then I slowly worked the switch back toward me, and the chair began to move in reverse. I experimented with the switch for what seemed like an eternity. If I maneuvered it to the left, the chair went left; to the right, right. I had a brand new toy.
And now that end zone—my room—was no obstacle at all. It took me more than an hour to cover the 25 yards from the foyer to my room. The chair bolted forward, weaved to the right, jumped into reverse, made a U-turn, slammed into a wall, lurched to the left—but I kept making progress, shortening that distance to Room 604. Finally, I was there, in the end zone, and as I turned the chair ever so slowly to steer it into my room, I heard a lot of commotion behind me. I couldn't figure out what was going on or see what was happening, so I painstakingly maneuvered the chair back and forth until I was able to look back down the corridor.
What a sight! Standing there in the middle of the corridor, about halfway between my room and the lounge where I'd started in the chair, were a whole bunch of doctors, nurses and therapists, and they were clapping. For me! I was getting a standing ovation. My first ovation of any kind since I was taken off the field in Oakland on a stretcher.
"Darryl, you made it, you made it," they all shouted.
"Yep, I made it," I said. "I made it."
After that, nobody at the rehab ever pushed me around in a wheelchair. I drove myself everywhere. And I became a champ with that chair. It became a part of me, a part of my life. In many ways, it is me. I'd like to think that I could make my chair fly if I had to.
On April 7, 1979, Darryl Stingley was discharged from the Rehabilitation Institute and returned to his family's apartment on Chicago's West Side. Today, Stingley, 31, lives in a condominium in downtown Chicago that was designed expressly for him; most of the fixtures can be controlled from a panel next to his bed. He is attended daily by a nurse and by his therapist/aide-decamp, but spends most of his nights alone. Tina and his sons, Hank, now 14, and Derek, now 12, live in an apartment in another part of Chicago.