One of the most shocking things I ever witnessed in person happened during a pickup basketball game in which one of the guys on my team suddenly punched an opposing player right in the face. The player who was struck was knocked out and he slumped to the floor. I could hardly believe what I had seen. I stood there motionless, emotionally numb.
Once when I caught my daughter smoking pot in her bedroom in our home, I knocked loud on her door. When she stood there in front of me, I yelled at her angrily to get the point across I would not tolerate any illegal activity in our house. Before she could even respond, she fainted and fell. I also saw her faint a few years ago for no apparent reason and she hit her head on a small table. She went into a seizure that frightened her mother and me not just a little.
I myself have fainted a couple of times, back when I was a child and was quite sick. One was at school. I hit my mouth on a low cabinet as I fell and broke off two front teeth. It was a life-changing event. In recent years, my cardiologist told me I’m a candidate to have sudden cardiac arrest because I have had rather long pauses in my heartbeat. That triggered recurring moments of fear and panic when I felt an irregular heart rhythm. I’ve moved past these emotional reactions in the last couple years, but what I witnessed on Monday Night Football last week brought back these shocks of the past.
The Lights Go Out
Chances are you know the facts surrounding the incident, but I’d like to share my account. I was watching a game on January 2nd, alone in our living room. I’m a big Buffalo Bills fan. We lived near Buffalo in Niagara Falls when the Bills franchise came into existence. This was a key game of their season. Damar Hamlin saw Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver carrying the ball into his area. Hamlin tackled him and got up from the play as usual, but suddenly Hamlin fell backward from his standing position. His knees buckled and he just tipped over. I was stunned and so were the announcers and so were millions of viewers.
When it became obvious he was in serious medical trouble, I took my cue from the players on the field. Their faces conveyed fear and grief and disbelief. Whatever was wrong with him, it was clear these men who were no strangers to injury were strangers to what it was they were seeing. I was afraid for this 24 year-old whose bright future was now in serious question. The Bills players came onto the field and formed a dense circle around their fallen teammate, presumably to give him privacy from curious cameras. We would not see what they were seeing as Hamlin and the medical team fought for his life. The word came before long that CPR was being administered. This was a matter of life and death.
Football Was No Longer Important
An ambulance whisked Hamlin away as a hushed stadium full of frenzied fans looked on fearfully. The game officials declared the teams would be given five minutes to gather themselves and restart the game. It soon became evident the appetite for the game was dwindling. The players on both sides looked to be in shock. The announcers found it difficult to expound as the only thing they could talk about was shrouded in a void of information. The two head coaches met on the sidelines with the officials, agreeing to send the teams to the locker room indefinitely. The game was suspended until further notice.
An hour or so after the injury, the National Football League announced the game would not be played that night. In subsequent days, it was decided the game would not be finished at all. All people cared about around football and far beyond was whether this young man would make it out of intensive care with his life.
The story of Damar Hamlin grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. I know it wasn’t just me being a dedicated sports fan. His name was prominent in the news cycle. His condition was updated to the world on major news services internationally as soon as any information became available. My heart was captive to the fragile condition of his heart. When I learned the next morning he had survived the night, I shed tears of joy.
The Short and Winding Road
Hamlin was placed on a ventilator and was put under heavy sedation. This left the world wondering if he would ever wake up and if he did, would he breathe on his own again. Not only that, would he be able to move or would he be a slave to paralysis? I checked the news at least once every day of the week and beyond.
On Tuesday, the day following the collapse, an uncle reported Hamlin was needing less oxygen from the ventilator. He remained in critical condition, still unconscious. I was so happy just to learn he was still alive.
On Wednesday, a family spokesman said his friend was showing signs of improvement. The lack of detail left much to be desired, but he was headed in the right direction.
On Thursday, he awoke and used a writing pad to ask who won the game. More importantly, a doctor said he was making substantial improvement and his neurological function was intact!
On Friday, the ventilator was removed from his body. He had a Face Time call with his teammates in which he spoke, saying “Love you boys.” I felt genuine relief he had survived the dreaded ventilator. Now there was actual verbal communication on his part.
On Saturday, he was still listed in critical condition. He posted on Instagram and Twitter, thanking everyone who reached out. He requested continued prayers. I was puzzled that he was so interactive, yet still considered to be in critical condition.
He was photographed sitting up in bed on Sunday, parents at his sides, oxygen tubes running to his nose. He watched the Bills football game and reportedly jumped up in excitement as the team scored a touchdown on the opening play.
On Monday, one week after cardiac arrest, he was upgraded and released from University of Cincinnati Medical Center to Buffalo General Medical Center. He tweeted that all the love he has received has been “an amazing feeling.” He added, “The same love you all have shown me is the same love that I plan to put back into the world n more.”
As I write this on Wednesday, January 11th, Damar Hamlin has been released from Buffalo General to complete his rehab at home and with the Bills training staff. His recovery has been described as remarkable.
When Disaster Strikes
I’ve seen human cruelty. I’ve contributed to its heartless cuts. I’ve witnessed society’s indifference to suffering. I’ve turned a cold shoulder myself. I’ve observed people withholding love from those who need it for whatever reason. I’ve resisted the natural flow of love through my own heart. But when the specter of death or destruction forces its way into our consciousness, we of the human race tend to rise to our higher nature. We want to help with the resources available to us. We will roll up our sleeves and clean up a disaster area. We’ll send money for the newly destitute. We’ll take time for prayer and compassion and condolences for support of the devastated who we don’t even know.
It happens all around the world, again and again. Humanitarian action comes to the aid of those in need. In the case of Hamlin, our love was manifested in various forms. Candlelight vigils, social media messages, and heartfelt caring attention to his welfare are a few ways it has been expressed. One of the most striking shows of support came by donations to a GoFundMe campaign he had organized in 2020. It was under the name of Chasing M’s Foundation and it was initially meant to be a Community Toy Drive with a goal to raise $2500. In the short time since his injury, the campaign donations skyrocketed. It quickly shot up over a million dollars. Currently, the total is over eight million dollars! I view that as evidence of humanity just having to give its support to this stricken young man in any way it can.
Paying it Forward
And now we have Damar Hamlin telling us he plans to put the love he has received back into the world. May we keep passing it on and building on it, creating a movement of love for all. This is what it’s all about. May love, peace and joy abound.