Saturday, October 1, 2016

Last Call

My brother Scott died on Oct. 2, 2012, and he did not go out gently. In fact, his last six months were horrible.

He was in hospitals in and around Jonesboro, Arkansas, and he had bone cancer that derived from prostate cancer. As bad as that was, he was also fighting blocked arteries that had required him to undergo many, many bypasses over recent years.

What all that meant, in his case, was pain. Unendurable, unending, relentlessly piercing pain.

The last time I talked to him was over the telephone, and the story he told me during that memorable call shows his inner strength, his steel … the things that made him a lifelong athlete and winning coach.

As one response to his circulation problems, the doctors lopped things off. Scott gave up a toe, another toe, his right leg … you see what I mean. He had six surgeries in his last six months.

One day not long after an amputation, a muscle-bound orderly came into Scott’s hospital room, stood at the bed and said: “Are you Scott Clark?”


“I’m gonna move you out of the bed and into a chair. You up for that, big guy?”

At this point, Scott had never seen this hospital worker before, and the pain — even when he was lying in bed — was still unstoppable. Morphine? Nah, couldn’t touch this pain. Scott had to fight just to breathe, fight past the pain to inhale.

He tried to respond, struggling to form words around the searing pain: “No. Not … up … for it.”

The orderly, I’ll call him The Kid, said: “Well, too bad, cuz I’m gonna put you in the chair for your own good.”

Scott held up a hand in a “Wait” gesture, fought to get some breath and said, haltingly and with great effort, “If I have to be moved … you need to get … at least one other person … to help you … lift me.”

That was more that he had managed to say for weeks, and he did it out of fear. He knew that if only one person lifted him, he would be rocked to one side or the other and hurt badly.

“Nah, I lift more than you every day at the gym.”

Scott, laboring over each word, said: “I … have … just had … an ampu …”

And The Kid said, “Yeah, yeah, an amputation, I know. Let’s get you in the chair.”

Scott said “NO. You must…”

At which point The Kid, tired of waiting, threw back the sheets, grabbed Scott’s body, jerked him up to chest height, wheeled around to the chair and DROPPED Scott into the room’s chair.

The pain was blinding, searing, unimaginable. Scott took his biggest breath in days and wailed at the top of his lungs. But not just a freaky sound of pain. No. He shaped it into a word:
“HELLLLP!” And then turned it into a string of agonized shrieks — “HELPHELPHELPHELP!!!”

A nurse came running into the room. Scott screamed at her when she reached the door: “HELP – GET A SUPERVISOR RIGHT AWAY. PLEASE. SUPERVISOR! HELP! HURRY!!”

The nurse wheeled around and ran down the hall. Scott and The Kid stared at each other. Scott smiled. Inhaled through his nose and said, “So long, sucker.”

The supervisor ran into the room, followed by the helpful nurse.

Scott resumed his pain-filled, breathy groan of words: “This man … would not wait … for another person … to steady me … I told him they had just amputated … he got angry … he pulled me … off the bed…swung me around…and threw me…into this chair… I’m afraid I’m hemorrhaging …”

The supervisor turned to The Kid and said: “Vincent, go to my office. Now.” To the nurse: “Get a doctor in here STAT.”

The nurse scooted away. The Kid left, sulking.

The supervisor went to Scott, placed a hand on his shoulder and said: “I am so sorry. We’ll get you fixed up right away. We’ll stop the pain. And you’ll never see Vincent again — I’ll have Security take him to his locker and then to wherever he’s parked. He’ll be banned from entering this hospital.”

When Scott told me the story, it took him almost 45 minutes. He was fighting for each breath. I had spent enough time in his hospital room to picture how he was struggling, but I couldn’t stop him from finishing the story, nor did I try — it was obvious that he felt a need to tell me. This former athlete and Hall of Fame wrestling coach was reveling in what turned out to be his last victory.

He finished the story with a deep satisfaction and release, slowly repeating his parting shot to The Kid: “So … long … sucker.”

A few days later, after yet another amputation, his heart gave out. Scott left us, a winner to the end.