I know nothing about football culture. It was difficult enough for me to understand the reason for the argument, much less the cause of violence. The social worker let us know that legally this did not constitute a domestic violence case. The technicality was that they had a child together. Two, actually. A distant, perfunctory relationship built up around the shared blood. He, the father: paid his child support, saw his children as allowed, and kept his distance. She, the mother: diligently adopted the mantle of single motherhood with love and relentlessness. She supported her children in school, at home, and in their extracurriculars. She worried about her son’s blood sugar, although he did not have diabetes. She has plastic plugs in her electrical outlets, even though her children are now teenagers. She has a hurricane emergency evacuation plan taped to the walls in every room of her small house. She buried a key to the house in the backyard, just in case. But she did not like football for her son.

Football, for many kids in South Florida, is a godsend. It’s better than grades, extracurriculars, or minimum wage part-time jobs. In a world of shrinking options, football is hope for families. But football is not perfect. It can be dangerous, in more ways than one. The future it promises is tenuous and fragile, and certainly not universal. Attainability is both its strength and its most heartbreaking weakness. She was trapped between violence and concussions. Football was the cause of it all.

He confronted them on the lawn, a rectangular swath of crabgrass and rocks. Our son, he shouted, is going to play football. She determinedly opened the door and stepped out to meet him in the heat, leave my boy alone. Later in court, he claimed that he had not raised his hand to her. In the ED, the X-rays showed no broken bones; weeks later, when the headaches didn’t subside, an MRI was ordered, and post-concussive syndrome was diagnosed. In the end, no further action was taken on the case. This was how I learned about football. She shared her story in bits and pieces, a little more at every out-patient visit. We built our relationship in the back of the mobile health clinic, where I poked and prodded, checked her teeth, counseled her on cervical cancer screening, and encouraged proper diabetic footwear. Although she never directly accused him of domestic violence – I don’t see him anymore, he knows not to come around – the possibility remains, according to the police, and perhaps in the back of her mind as well. So I went home and read, the diligent medical student, on domestic violence, trauma, and football. I learned to ask her about this in different ways, and gauged by her reaction how far I was from being a proficient interviewer. My patient was patient with me, and taught me how to be a doctor.

My patient was patient with me and taught me how to be a doctor

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