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Outside the Stripes

Serious injury can re-calibrate outlook on life in a hurry



January 2 was going to be a long day. My family and I were driving back home from visiting family that day. It was just after 7 a.m. I was making my last trip down the stairs and we were five minutes from beginning our 14 hour journey. I successfully navigated 13 steps. My mother’s house has 14 steps. I slipped and fell hard, fracturing my right tibia and fibula. It is surreal looking down and seeing a body part pointing the wrong way.

As I lay on the floor waiting for the ambulance to arrive, one of the first questions out of my mouth was “Am I ever going to officiate again?” It was a legitimate question, but as the hours and days went along, my attitude and priorities changed.

I had surgery on January 3. The bones were set and doctors placed in titanium rods and screws. During surgery, my oxygen levels dropped low and doctors were concerned I was in pulmonary distress. I woke up to physicians removing the ventilator (another surreal experience) from my throat, the orthopedic doctor telling me the surgery went well, and a nurse telling me I had a rough go in the operating room. My oxygen levels soon came back to normal and doctors were pleased with my recovery.

The best moment of the day was when I opened my eyes in recovery, saw my wife, and she said, “Am I glad to see you!”

As I lay in the recovery room, I took stock in life. I could have started feeling sorry for myself, wigging out over my future officiating career and getting angry at the seeming randomness of such a freak accident. Instead, I became grateful that it was a broken leg. I could have hit my head and had a serious neurological injury. I could have injured my spine and suffered in pain for the rest of my life. I could have broken my neck and been paralyzed, or worse. Thinking of it like that, I was grateful it was “only” a broken leg.

I also learned what is worth getting stressed out over and what is not worth the time and effort. Me missing a holding call that springs the go-ahead touchdown is nothing. Job status, the checking account balance, and the outcome of the 2016 presidential primaries are nothing.

Faith, family, and friends are everything.

I eventually made it home safely and next week starts several rounds of doctor appointments, physical therapy, and recovery.

I am grateful to be here and able to armchair officiate in the playoffs. It could have been so much worse.

Oh, and the surgeon said I will be good to go and officiate the entire high school football season starting this August.

Mark Schultz is a high school football official, freelance writer and journalist. He first became interested in officiating when he was six years old, was watching a NFL game with his father and asked the fateful question, "Dad, what are those guys in the striped shirts doing?"

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