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Column: I'm not done yet -- a tribute to a friend

WORTHINGTON -- I just need to let the community of Worthington know that my friend Mike Patrick peacefully died with his family surrounding him on September 20, 2016 at Regency Hospital in Golden Valley, Minnesota. He requested no obituary, pomp ...

WORTHINGTON -- I just need to let the community of Worthington know that my friend Mike Patrick peacefully died with his family surrounding him on September 20, 2016 at Regency Hospital in Golden Valley, Minnesota. He requested no obituary, pomp and circumstance and no service of any kind. As much as Mike liked the limelight in public life, he did not want anyone to grieve in his passing.

That was a lot like Mike. He wanted the attention in life because he could communicate a lot of wisdom from his chair. He and I would often sit in his van, and he would share his stories about kids he talked to, people he touched and some of his ideas and how he may have affected them. There is no way he could have imagined how many lives he changed or how many wounds he helped heal. It’s like the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the main character is given the gift of seeing how even in a very mundane life, we touch each other.

For those who don’t know Mike Patrick, he was injured in a high school football game in Worthington in 1971 and became a quadriplegic. Mike was the reason I chose the field of sports medicine. When I told him that, he was shocked. Although often in life, an event such as his injury, a disease or an event steers one to a career decision in life, he was still shocked.

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We were friends because we both loved athletics and loved to compete. We shot baskets until all hours of the night and through those passages talked about a lot of life and things. That began a friendship and trust that allowed us as boys and later as men to confide in each other things that a lot of males stuff or keep hidden as to not appear weak.

The day of his injury, he picked me up and we rode bicycles to school. He had just read in a magazine called “The Letterman” about a kid in high school who described a neck injury in a football game the year previously. I listened, but I didn’t listen. I guess I didn’t think about being hurt like that that, or maybe it was that I have never been a morning person. Needless to say, that was the first thing he said to me when we got to the hospital in Sioux Falls the next day. It was like what he had read the day before his injury. He said it was just the way the kid described it in the article. He felt like his legs were floating in the air and when he looked down, he could see them on the ground.

I look back at the night and remember it like it was yesterday. Coach Osterberg (our football coach) said after that game, it was the first time he ever remembers forgetting to say the Lord’s Prayer before a game. It was the first time I ever played in a varsity football game. We didn’t know the gravity of the situation until the next day, and then it became a feeling “that could have been me” and the doubts about playing football because it could happen to us. Somehow, as a football team those doubts were shared and we went on with our football and athletic careers. It was also a time where a football team, school and community came together in such a strong way, and I’m sure many differences were mended. There were fund drives, bike rides to Sioux Falls as a way to raise money, cake sales, movie nights and you name it, it was done to help Mike heal and a community to somehow help someone who couldn’t help himself.

That night was also Mike’s first date with a girl. He talked about that, too, when we went to the hospital the next day. He never got his first date, but if you ever see pictures of Mike, most of them have a female on his lap or leaning over to whisper in his ear or kissing him. He would joke often that it wouldn’t be the way he wanted to have female affection, but he wasn’t turning it down either.

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Forty-six-plus years of being friends between us. We would have many conversations over those years with many years between them, but whenever we reconnected we didn’t miss a beat. The last stretch of absence was self-inflicted for both of us. Both with Irish DNA, we decided not to talk to each other for a long time. The rift was something between us and it doesn’t really matter what precipitated it, but it was an absence of almost two years. I followed his blog, read about him on Facebook, but never made the call to patch up our differences.

On Saturday, the weekend before Labor Day, I got a call from him while at our lake cabin. He started the conversation with “I miss you Krek” and then went on to tell me how sick he was and that he wanted me to break him out of the hospital he was in. He said they were treating him like a child and he just wanted out. I promised I would get there within two weeks. I hung up the phone and realized I would be starting my classes at the college, sports coverage almost every night and having to work appraisals as well. I also knew from Hospice that this was a call for reconciliation and a “closing of the circle,” so to speak.

I knew he needed that and I needed it, too. So, Amy and I went to Golden Valley to see him. I was stunned when I saw him in the bed and found out from his mother he had “flat lined” a few weeks before. He and his mother agreed he would fight as long as he could, so they revived him. It was very painful to see him in this state. He had used up so much energy the day before calling the four people he wanted to see that he couldn’t get up enough energy to speak, even though his trach tube. We talked to him and whenever I made a comment he liked, he would smile, and whenever I made one he didn’t, he would frown. When I left, I kissed him on the forehead and told him that I loved him. I didn’t look back to see what his reaction was.

The ride home was filled with grief, conversations about being glad I went over there and a realization that Mike wouldn’t be here much longer. Thinking about all he went through, all the people he touched and -- most of all -- grateful I was given the gift of seeing him once more before he died. I wrote a long letter asking for forgiveness for not reaching out before this, making sure he was good with God and letting him know I always valued our friendship.

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As often is the case with me, I was given little reminders and nudges to complete the lessons. The next morning’s devotion was on “prideful man” and how it never serves a man very well to let pride guide one’s actions. I had a long day letting that sink in, but realize we all aren’t perfect and often need to be reminded of that.

Mike was always teaching and always giving lessons in his blog “I’m Not Done Yet.” Apparently, he wasn’t done yet.

My biggest reason for writing this is to honor a friend. let a community who lived this nightmare with Mike have some closure, but most of all to help Mike carry on his legacy of helping people heal. Don’t be prideful or angry. Reach out to those who are hurting and let Mike look down on us knowing, “He’s not done yet.”

We have set up a fund to honor Mike at Worthington Federal Savings Bank in Worthington. We hope to honor him with a bench somewhere on the bike path to remind us that we all touch lives, and that Mike did in a very profound way.

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