I have been an avid follower of "March Madness" for many years – the men’s basketball NCAA tournament. I hate to admit it, but I am a basketball junkie. Even at my age, I must confess there is still a fire burning inside me regarding this sport. My love for basketball is irrefutable evidence of a misspent youth playing basketball anywhere and everywhere I could and as often as I could. In fact, up to the time I was hurt, I played basketball with co-workers, on church teams, with my kids, neighbors and relatives at family gatherings.
Jo Anne, who could not understand my passion for this sport in the early years of our marriage, is now as grateful as I am for the entertainment it has provided me following my injury. Since being paralyzed, it has brought me hours of enjoyment that, had I not been a fan, would perhaps of been filled with self pity and boredom. While involved in a game, I actually lose my sense of self and become fully involved in what I am watching. For a short time, my body becomes irrelevant and there is no distinction between me and the other fans that are also caught up in the moment. My love for this sport has only intensified through the years.
I must tell you about the time that "March Madness" almost cost me my life. My wife, Jo Anne, and my youngest daughter, Jackie, and I had gone to St. George to visit some of Jo Anne's family. It was toward the end of March and I was a little nervous that I would not be able to see the NCAA championship game. My whole trip brightened considerably, however, when Jo Anne's brother, Danny, who lives in Mesquite, Nevada, invited me to come over because he was going to be watching the championship game between the University of Arizona and the University of Kansas on his big screen TV. I eagerly accepted his invitation, but wouldn’t you know the day before the great event the battery to the ventilator on the back of my wheelchair died. Jo Anne tried to locate a new one, but the right battery could not be found in all of St. George. The medical supply store found a garage who said they could order one, but that it might take a few days to get it.
The ventilator worked just fine as long as it was plugged into an outlet in the wall. I figured since breathing is better than not breathing, I really had no choice but to stay put. Not much fun for a vacation. Then a light went on in my head -- pure revelation. My ventilator is equipped with an internal battery. It is a safety feature in case the main battery dies and one is not close to an outlet. If fully charged, it is supposed to last about one hour – something we had never yet put to the test. Well, I knew that it was less than an hour from St. George to Mesquite, and the way Jo Anne drives, it would even be a shorter time period than that.
I finally convinced Jo Anne to take me and promised her that it would be okay. So late in the afternoon of the game, she and her youngest daughter, Jackie, loaded me into the van and off we went. However, I did not calculate in my plan the unexpected.
Just as we were about to get on the freeway, Jo Anne realized we needed gas. As if that wasn’t enough, we took the wrong off-ramp to get to Danny's home and got lost. We were still some distance from our destination when the internal battery ran out of juice. At that moment we discovered that when the ventilator dies, it gives a big, sickening gasp - its last breath and mine – and completely shuts down. The next sound is another safety feature – an alarm begins ringing. It is quite a gut wrenching sound to the person who is depending on the ventilator for his air. With Jo Anne at the wheel, we had prepared Jackie in advance if the worst case scenario should happen. Standing, ready and able to help her Dad, she pulled out the trusty ambubag (a hand operated air pump) and began pumping air into my lungs via my trach attached to my neck. As Jackie, not quite 12 years old at the time (we train them young at our house) began pumping air into my lungs, she realized that she had me in a very compromising situation – to her advantage. While pumping like a good daughter, the questions started coming - “Dad, could I have a new bicycle?" "Yes,” I gasped out. “Yes, anything, just keep pumping!" "Dad, how about a year's pass to Disneyland?" "Yes,” I agreed again. “Just keep squeezing that bag!"
We finally screeched to a stop in front of Danny's home and he came running out into the driveway with a long extension cord. Soon the ventilator was happy once again as it took over the job of pumping air into my lungs to the relief of us all – especially Jackie who had done such a good job. In fact, she had this incredible smile on her face. I could just picture visions of bicycles and Disneyland dancing in her head.
Plugged into the wall, munching on chips and dip, drinking root beer, and watching Arizona beat Kansas on the big screen TV, I was truly in heaven. I temporarily put out of my mind the fact that later that night -- it turned out to be midnight -- we would have to make the mad dash back up the gorge to St. George to the safety of another extension cord and wall socket. Jo Anne, giving a great imitation of an Indy 500 driver, got us home safely.
Well, am I crazy or what? Was it really worth risking my life to be able to watch that game on the big screen TV? Any normal rational person would say of course not! But for somebody infected with the "March Madness" disease - yes, it was worth the risk.
It is so hard to get basketball out of your blood. I think I am in pretty good company though. I love this passage from President Spencer W. Kimball's Journal which he wrote as a young man: "It is a great occasion. Many people came tonight who have never been before. Some of the townsmen say basketball is a girl’s game but they came in large numbers tonight. Our court is not quite regulation. We are used to it, our opponents not. I have special luck with my shots tonight and the ball goes through the hoop again and again and the game ends with our High School team the victors against the college team. I am the smallest one and the youngest on the team. I have piled up the most points through the efforts of the whole team protecting me and feeding the ball to me. I am on the shoulders of the big fellows of the Academy. They are parading me around the hall to my consternation and embarrassment. I like basketball. I would rather play this game than eat." (Edward L. Kimball and Andrew E. Kimball Jr., Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City Bookcraft, 1977), 65)
I can totally identify with President Kimball's sentiments regarding basketball. From President Ezra Taft Benson's biography comes the following incident: “Ezra remembers his father swearing only once. The Oneida Stake Academy was playing Brigham Young College in Logan, and late in the game Oneida trailed by a point after failing to convert on several attempts. Ezra suddenly got the ball and an exasperated George yelled. ‘Hell, T. put it in!’ It was shocking to the local citizens coming from George Benson, but apparently they understood his enthusiasm and anxiety.” Ezra continued, “When we finished with a one-point victory, Father was overjoyed.” (Sheri L. Dew, Ezra Taft Benson: A Biography (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1987), 39)
Have I ever been tempted to utter a cuss word during a Lakers or BYU basketball game? Well, hopefully those of you with sound minds will have mercy on those of us who are smitten by "March Madness." If you unfortunately happen to be married to someone with this affliction, let me give you the following counsel. As you offer your prayers for your loved one, use as a pattern the words of the distraught father who brought his son to Jesus to be healed. "Lord, have mercy on my son [husband]: for he is [a] lunatic..." [Matthew 17: 15] And then we must never forget Paul's counsel to the Thessalonian Saints: "... comfort the feebleminded..." [1 Thessalonians 5: 14]
On the bright side, "March Madness" comes only once every 12 months!