Sunday, September 18, 2011

Mauer and Me

For Minnesota Twins fans this will not be a season to remember. At a dismal 28 games out of first place in their division it's almost a sure thing that they will take a solid stand in the cellar as the season winds down. A central issue has been the problematic health of their wonder boy Joe Mauer whose injury-plagued year has received as much press as any Twins achievements. (Yes, they did have a win streak at one point.) This weekend Joe Mauer was diagnosed with pneumonia and will likely be done for the season.

Mauer's pneumonia brought to mind my own experience with the disease when I was a young baseball player. I was in seventh grade at the time so it must have been 1964. I played shortstop for the Pluckemin Little League team. Like Joe Mauer I loved playing baseball, and like Mauer I was pretty good at it. I was one of two players on that Pluckemin team to get picked for the All-Star Game.

Then the hand of fate intervened. I was struck down with pneumonia.

Pneumonia is a respiratory disease with a track record of having killed a lot of people throughout history. Before the advent of antibiotics it was nicknamed "the old man's friend" because it was the last disease older folks got before they passed on. In the Third World it still remains the leading cause of death among the very old and very young. It's essentially an infection of the lungs.

The symptoms are supposedly cough, chest pain and fever, among other things. But honestly I do not recall any symptoms at all, though there must have been something that caused my mother to bring me to the doctor who provided that verdict. The cure is simple: take your meds and rest.

For Joe Mauer this means he can't play baseball. He can't work out. He can't run around. He has to rest.

And for me, being a seventh grade boy with an overabundance of energy, the "rest" part was not an easy prescription to follow. I didn't feel ill. I wanted to play in the woods. I wanted to play baseball. And even though I could not go play ball, my mother frequently found me in the woods behind our house. After discussing this situation with the doctor it was decided I should be hospitalized.

I spent five days in the Somerset County Hospital during which time I had many interesting experiences. The first room I stayed in was next to the operating room. One morning I watched the nurses roll a body out of the operating room with their skull still open wide after a surgery. The blanket covering the person had not been pulled fully over the head, the face being turned away from my door. When I commented on this to my mother she mentioned it to the doctors who said this was not possible and I was imagining things. Needless to say I was moved out of that room the next day and up to another floor.

The big event of the week, though, was the Little League All-Star Game. I was supposed to be the starting shortstop, but here I was in a hospital bed. And it was here that I received the news that the kid who replaced me hit a grand slam home run in my place. The pitcher was an intimidating fastballer from Far Hills whom I had found challenging, and I've often wondered how it would have affected my self-esteem had I struck out with the bases loaded that day.

Joe Mauer will be sitting on the sidelines as he watches the slumping Twins limp toward the end of the season. That is, unless he doesn't rest like he's supposed to. Then he will be watching those games from a hospital room, because his mom most assuredly wants him to get well soon.

Good luck, Joe.

1 comment:

John Billman said...

Very interesting. Gives perspective on the disease.