Spirit and Life

Down But Never Out

Lying on a gurney in an emergency room at St. Vincent's Hospital in Birmingham, Ala., waiting to be examined, I looked up at a clock on a wall and noticed the time: 9:50 a.m.

I had arrived by ambulance at St. Vincent's minutes earlier after having been transported from EWTN, where I slipped and fell. Hard. The pain was excruciating. I felt something tear and I was unable to get up. Later, X-rays would reveal that I had severed the tendons above both knees.

“How am I going to get back home to Boston?” I thought to myself. “Why did this happen?” I had many more questions than answers. Then, just when panic was about to block out all reason, I thought of the words “be not afraid.” Words of comfort repeatedly spoken by Christ to the apostles and his followers, by the angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation and by Pope John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate.

Almost immediately, a wave of peace washed over me. I thought: “You are in the world, but you are not of the world. As a baptized child of God, you belong to Christ. He is your hope and you need not be afraid.”

I had traveled to EWTN to appear on “Life on the Rock,” the show for young people hosted by Father Francis Mary Stone. The program was scheduled to air that night. I had been booked to speak about the role athletics can play in a Catholic's pilgrim journey to God. Needless to say, I never did make it. (A few weeks later, I was able to do a live telephone interview with Father Francis Mary during “Life on the Rock.”)

All this happened last November. Since that time, I have had multiple surgeries and one major re-injury. After the second set of operations, I developed pneumonia in both lungs and was hospitalized for 10 more days. My knees are in tough shape and daily life has become, quite literally, a grind.

What have I learned from this life-altering ordeal that all began with what I expected to be a special and joyful occasion?

First and foremost, that God will not leave us alone. If we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), we will always receive the help we need. Much of the aid is interior. But much of it comes from the people God puts in our life.

So many have assisted me, beginning with my wife, Mary Rose, who made the trip with me to Alabama and has been close by my side ever since. Then there were the wonderful people of EWTN, the emergency-medical technicians and even the helpful and sympathetic flight attendants. And I can never thank God enough for my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Mark Caulkins, or the nurses who got me through the tough days and long, drawn-out nights with inspiring, vocation-like care and commitment.

And God sent me Father Ted Kofitse, a priest from Ghana, West Africa, who serves as assistant priest chaplain at my hospital, St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Brighton, Mass. Every day, without fail, a beaming Father Ted brought me closer to Jesus. He gave me Communion. He heard my confession, anointed me with oil, held my hand, prayed with me and was truly present, sharing his enormous faith. His visits strengthened me at a depth only God knows.

Today my rehab moves ahead. Slowly, but surely. I must use a cane but I no longer have to wear braces or use a walker. I can drive and I am able to get to Mass. I have a long way to go, but I know God will get me there if I cling to him. He hasn't let me down yet. Why would he start now?

Wally Carew, author of Men of Spirit, Men of Sports and A Farewell to Glory, writes from Medford, Massachusetts.