Anyone who knows me knows I am a huge soccer fan. Of course, being a soccer fan in America is a bit like being a vegetarian in the middle of Texas cattle country – everyone respects your choice but no one quite understands why you made it. Either way, we soccer fans, or football as it is properly called, experience heaven once every four years, and it is called the World Cup. This tournament, kind of like the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, and the World Series all rolled up into one, is a worldwide phenomenon where fans get so worked up that people have been killed over match results.
Lately, though, U.S. Soccer has gained in popularity, and the current team we are fielding is one of the best ever, giving us a shot against football juggernauts like Germany, France, Argentina, and Brazil. This past Sunday, we faced off against a team that included the man widely considered to be the best football player in the world – Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Everyone had counted us out before the math even began, despite the fact that we had beaten our old rival Ghana just days before. The game began, and hopes were high. What happened next was an emotional rollercoaster that was eerily reminiscent of living with rheumatoid arthritis.
Within the first five minutes, Portugal capitalized on a mistake made by the U.S. team and scored a goal. This instantly killed the excitement and feeling of hope in the room, especially considering the U.S. team had never before come back from a 1-0 deficit to win. I remember sitting and watching the TV, and as I was taking stock of my disappointment, I realized that it wasn’t the first time I’d felt that emotional mix. There have been so many times in the tenure of my disease where I’ve gone to a doctor’s appointment expecting negative test results and immediately being told bad news, or been or headed out to a social event only to leave a few minutes after arriving because my illness was acting up. That feeling of hope and promise of a good outcome being snuffed out is one of the most acutely painful experiences in the emotional arena.
Watching the U.S. team concede that goal so early in the game was devastating, but even though it felt horrible, there was still a sliver of hope. After all, there was still another 90 minutes of play left, and we could still draw or even win, despite history illustrating that we probably wouldn’t. This was a feeling I had experienced before because, as anyone with illness can tell you, we always hold out some hope that things will turn out better in the end, despite all evidence to the contrary. It’s how we get through our days, in fact, for if we give up all hope, what would be the point of living? So, yet again, I was experiencing feelings not unfamiliar to me.
So there I was, eating my chips and dip, surprised how similar life with disease was to this game unfolding before me, when out of nowhere, the U.S. scored a goal. The room exploded, and, instantly, our fortunes had reversed. The game was now a draw, and playing a team like Portugal, this was a huge accomplishment, especially considering the fact that we came from behind and endured such an early goal scored against us. Once again, I remarked to myself just how like life this game was, for I can’t remember how many times I’d have my disease fortunes reversed with the right medicine or surgery, within the matter of days sometime – about as close to instant as it gets when talking about illness.
Just as I was calming down from our surprise goal to put the game within reach, the U.S. scored yet another goal, and we were somehow now ahead of one of the top teams in the world. It was literally unbelievable, and everyone in the room was flying high. We all would have been satisfied with a draw, and now we were possible going to win the game and progress to the next round of the tournament. This was exactly like hearing the news that my hip replacement would take away all my pain and also prevent arthritis from affecting the joint ever again – a definite win and something that was almost too good to be true.
Just like a surgery with a great outcome, we were all happy with the situation, but after the initial thrill of success wore off, the nervousness crept in. It was almost as if we couldn’t believe something so good could happen to us without some price to pay, the same way I am always suspicious about anything that makes me feel better without obvious side effects. There was at least another 30 minutes in the game, so we all had to muddle through, nervous that Portugal would score and tie things up once again. It was nerve-wracking, and I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop – something that I do always whenever my disease is doing well. It’s a bad habit, I know, but I’ve been let down so many times by my illness, it is difficult to accept anything good without waiting for the inevitable bad that comes along at some point to balance the scales once again.
The game continued, and we all held our breath. Finally, the time had just about expired, and with less than one minute was left on the clock, we were all just about to relax. Just then, one of the U.S. players lost the ball, and somehow, the best football player in the world ended up with it. He took it down the field and, with ten seconds left, he kicked the ball right in front of our goal, and we all watched as his teammate headed it past our goalie into the back of the net. It was as if time had stopped, and none of us could believe what we had just seen. Somehow, defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory, and we all waited for a referee whistle to signify a foul or an offside call, but it never came. The goal counted, and the U.S. had to settle for a draw, but it felt like a loss. I was sick to my stomach, feeling as if someone had punched me right in the gut, and for a few seconds, I walked around in a daze. How could this happen? We had been so sure, played so well, how was this possible? Then I realized, if my disease had taught me anything, it was that you can do everything right and deserve a win, and still come away with your body hurt and your heart broken. I mean, I had suffered through a very painful ankle replacement, and now I have to do it all again because it was a failure. If that wasn’t an allegory to the painful end of the U.S. Portugal game, then I don’t know what is.
Of course, the World Cup will go on, and the U.S. will probably end up advancing anyway. It just struck me how similar the game on Sunday was to life with disease, though, with its ups and downs and sure things that weren’t so sure. Either way, though, we never stop rooting for a positive outcome!