It was a corner kick when it happened. Brazil swung a looping ball into the box. Alyssa rushed off her line to claim it. She was surrounded by a sea of yellow. All fans could see was her green gloves snagging the ball before going down. The Brazilians slowly jogged out of the box, frustrated at loosing another scoring chance. Becky was walking over to tell her girlfriend good job on the swinging ball when she noticed Alyssa wasn’t moving. Her walk turned to into a run. A hush fell over the crowd when they realized their goalkeeper wasn’t moving.
“Lys, Lys honey what’s going on?” Becky slid to the ground at Alyssa’s side. The goalkeeper was face down. The ball tucked under one arm. The other was pressed to her head.
“Blood. Lots of blood.” Alyssa mumbled.
“Shit. Ok. Ok. Don’t move honey. I’m going to get the medic out of here.” The defender had to force down her panic. She had to stay calm for Alyssa’s sake. Casey, Ali, and Abby had all wandered over, along with the ref.
“Lys ok?” Casey asked for them all.
“She’s got some kind of head wound. She needs a medic. Kriegs, go tell Jill that Campbell needs to warm up. Now.” She addressed all four women.
“On it.” Krieger turned and took off towards the bench. The ref gestured for the medical staff to come on the field. Becky, Casey, and the ref stayed close to the prone goalkeeper. Abby had jogged up the field to update the rest of the team.
The medical crew reached Alyssa quickly. Becky had to pry the ball from her grasp so the medics could roll her over. The goalkeeper winced against the harsh sunlight. It didn’t go unnoticed by the medics. They would need to run concussion protocol once they ceased the bleeding.
Becky didn’t leave Alyssa’s side. She took the keeper’s hand while they examined the gash on her head. It was right at her hairline. Becky guessed it was 6 inches long and it looked deep. What had she collided with to cause that much damage? Right now, it didn’t matter. She watched them pack it with gauze. The medics wouldn’t move her until they could do concussion protocol, which they couldn’t do until the bleeding stopped.
“It looks like they’ve almost got it Lys. You just stay still. Tim and Jack got this.” Becky kept a tight hold on Alyssa’s gloved hand. She wanted her girlfriend to know that no matter what she wasn’t alone.
“Hurts like a bitch.”
“I know it does. But you got this. Just a little longer.” Becky tried her best to keep Alyssa calm. She knew the younger woman was scared. Being unable to move had to make everything 1000x scarier.
“Alright Alyssa we’ve stopped the bleeding. I need to ask you some questions. Answer as best you can ok?” Tim leaned over so he could see her face clearly.
“Good. What is your full name?”
“Alyssa Michelle Naeher.”
“What are you doing today?”
“Playing France. It’s the SheBelieves Cup.”
“What year is it?”
“Um…2017 I think.” Alyssa’s brow furrowed in pain when she tried to think.
“Don’t strain yourself. I am going to put you in this neck brace and we are going to get you off the field. You don’t’ panic. You are going to be just fine.” Tim did his best to reassure both women.
“I’m going with you.” Becky squeezed her girlfriend’s hand. “You aren’t doing this alone.”
“Oh…Ok Becky.” Alyssa’s voice was shaking. She knew something was wrong.
The team watched the medic stabilize their number one goalkeeper and load her onto the stretcher. This was bad. They were in the middle of a gritty game against Brazil. Alyssa had been on fire and saved their collective asses several times. How were they supposed to survive now? The defender paused at the bench to speak to her coach. Tim and Jack continued on with Alyssa down the tunnel.
“Jill, I am going with her. She has a concussion but they don’t know how bad. Throw Julie back with Abby and slot Long into the midfield. Jane needs all the help she can get this game.” Jill looked flustered. She was losing her top goalkeeper and veteran center-back in an important friendly. To say she was flustered was an understatement. Becky prayed she would listen. Then she turned to Jane.
“Don’t try to be Alyssa. Be Jane. Manage your backline and do the best you can. The team will have your back no matter what.” Jane’s eyes were wide but she nodded. She didn’t have time to panic.
Becky took off down the tunnel to catch up with Alyssa. They had just finished loading her into the ambulance. Jack offered a hand. Becky took it gladly and let him pull her up into the ambulance. The defender slid past Jack to sit on the small metal seat. She took the goalkeeper’s hand and leaned over so her panicking girlfriend could see her face. Tears fell from wide, scared green orbs.
“I’m here sweetheart. I had to tell Jill how to not fuck up the game and give Jane some encouragement since you couldn’t. I’m back now.”
“Jane? You mean Ashlyn, right? Who is Jane?” Alyssa croaked out. Her heart rate increased on the monitor.
“Sorry dear yeah I meant Ashlyn. I just wanted to get here.” Becky caught the look from Tim and adjusted her story. There was no need to panic Alyssa further. She gently wiped the tears away then placed her hand on Alyssa’s head.
They sped off towards the hospital. Alyssa was fairly stable, so they just started her on fluids as a precaution. Becky gave them Alyssa’s basic medical history so they were up to speed. She thought of updating Alyssa’s family. Then Becky realized she didn’t stop in the locker room to grab anything. She had no way of contacting them. Hopefully someone at the hospital would have a phone she could use – they had to worried sick.
When they arrived at the hospital, they immediately took Alyssa away for tests. Becky tried to follow her girlfriend, but a nurse stopped her. Becky saw her mouth moving, but her brain heard white noise. It was too busy trying to figure out how to get around her. The nurse was two steps ahead of her. She had guided Becky to the waiting room when the defender’s brain snapped into focus.
“As soon as we have her in a room and are done with the first battery of tests, I will come get you.”
“Oh…right. Just, tell her I am waiting, if she asks. She isn’t alone. Is there a phone somewhere I can use? Mine is still at the stadium.”
“The nurses station right over there does.” The young woman pointed.
“Alright, thank you.” Becky smiled at the nurse. The nurse nodded at the defender then left. Becky paced back and forth. She was trying to organize a list of people to call. There was Lys’s parents, both sisters, her parents, Rory probably would want to know but she didn’t know his number. Maybe by the time she got to him, one of Alyssa’s Red Stars teammates would be there. Becky gave a small nod then went to the nurse’s station.
“Can I help you?”
“Yeah, one of your nurses said I could use a phone here?”
“Of course, ma’am.” The young man put a phone on the counter. Becky dialed her girlfriend’s parents first. She had to call twice before someone picked up.
“Donna? It’s Becky.”
“Becky? Oh, thank God. We were watching the game and saw her go down. How is she?!”
“Lys is going to be ok. She’s got a nasty gash on her head but Tim said they should be able to fix it easily. They tested her on the field. She did show signs of a concussion. That is why they had her in the neck brace and on the back board. As soon as we got her they whisked her away for testing. Hopefully we know more soon.”
“Oh no a concussion? From what? All we could see was a mass of yellow bodies around her.” Donna gasped and Becky could see her covering her mouth to keep from sobbing. She could hear the tears Alyssa’s mom was trying to blink back.
“I don’t know Donna. My best guess is a knee or a cleat. But she is going to be ok.”
“Ok Honey. We can get up there if we have to or if she wants us there. You just keep us updated.’
“I will. Promise.” Becky swallowed after she hung up the phone. Donna’s tears stirred up Becky’s own emotions. She had to get herself under control before she called Amanda. Amanda would only freak out more if she heard how scared Becky was.
The phone calls to Abby, Amanda, and her parents went about the same. They all wanted to know what happened and how she was doing. Becky just wished she had more to tell them. When she finished the last call, she gave the phone back to the nurse. Becky resumed pacing the small waiting area. Her cleats echoed off the floor. Wait, her cleats shouldn’t be making that much noise. Becky looked up. The team was piling through the front entrance, heading straight for her. Julie was leading the pack. The young blonde wrapped Becky in a warm hug. Becky melted into her arms. She was no longer alone.
“She doing ok Becks?” Julie whispered. Becky shrugged in her protégé’s arms.
“She was doing ok when we got here. They took her off for tests. I’m waiting for them to come get me.”
“Alright, then we will wait with you. We grabbed your bags in case either of you needs something.”
“Thanks J.” Becky smiled and wiped her eyes. The tears kept coming even though she kept drying them and trying to get them to stop.
Carli stepped up and handed Becky her bag. The captains shared a smile. The team always protected their own. Becky went to an open chair and started to strip off her gear. The team started to do the same. It took the defender a moment to notice.
“Why are you all still in game gear? Didn’t you shower?”
“Um…yeah…about that. No, we didn’t. We were all worried about Lys. So, we shook hands, talked briefly to the press, then grabbed our crap and piled onto the bus.” Alex spoke while she took off her game socks.
“Guys…thank you. Seriously.” Becky smiled at the team as her voice wavered.
“Of course, Becks. We’re family.” KO piped up from next to Alex.
“Family of Alyssa Naeher?” A doctor in dark blue scrubs asked from next to the nurse’s station.
“That’s me.” Becky shot up. Jill, Dawn, Christen, and Carli all followed her. “Well, that’s us. How is she?”
“My name is Dr. Taylor. I am the neurologist on call. We took Alyssa up and ran our standard concussion protocol. When she didn’t pass, we took her up to get an MRI to determine the severity of the concussion. She does have some brain swelling. While minor, it could be contributing to her slight memory loss and light sensitivity. Right now we are considering it a mid-grade concussion. I want to keep her overnight to make sure there is no permanent damage. We will reassess in the morning and if things look good, I will release her to the US Soccer medical staff.”
“Oh, thank God.” Becky gasped and held her hand on her chest. She could breathe again, now that doctors have told her that Alyssa was going to be ok. “Can I see her?”
“We’ve got her in her own room. I want no more than 5 people at a time and if she wants you to leave then you leave.”
“Yes ma’am.” Dawn agreed for them all. She wasn’t going to let anyone tax the goalkeeper.
“Alright, then follow me.”
“Go on. I’ll update the team.” Christen volunteered. Becky thanked her and the four women followed the doctor. She took them up the 6th floor and down a series of hallways.
“We got her a private room. A security guard will be posted at the elevator and outside the door. Only the team and US Soccer badged personnel will be allowed to see her unless she or her family say otherwise.”
“Thank you, Dr. Taylor.” Jill shook the doctor’s hand. Becky opened the door and immediately noticed the dimmed lights. Her eyes got to her girlfriend. She is reclined in a bed. Her eyes are closed and the gash on her forehead is bandaged. Alyssa just seems tired. Becky takes a breath then goes to her side. Green orbs flutter open and wince before locking onto the defender. Becky took her hand in her own and smiled.
“Hey there beautiful. You had me worried.”
“Sorry love.” Alyssa whispered.
“Don’t you apologize. I am just glad you are going to be ok.”
“You really think I am going to remember the past 4 months?”
“Once your brain rests and heals, yes I do. And if not, we will remember for you. Between me, Julie, and Ragamuffin I think we have you covered.”
“We all have your back Lys.” Carli stepped up next to her fellow captain.
“Thanks Car.” Alyssa’s eyes closed for a moment. “Is the whole team here?”
“Yeah they are. We rushed here right after the game. Christen is updating them right now.”
“Oh.” Alyssa turned her head, fighting tears.
“They are just worried about you.” Becky tried to soothe her upset girlfriend.
“That’s a good thing.” Dawn spoke from the doorway. “They will be relieved to hear that you are going to be ok.”
“Well, I will go talk to them and send them to shower.” Carli glanced at Becky who nodded. Alyssa didn’t want people around right now.
“And I will update Rory. He has called me 6 times.” Jill was grateful to have an excuse to escape the awkward situation.
“We will swing by later Lys. Rest up.” Dawn ushered the two other women out.
The moment the door swung shut, Alyssa cracked. Becky was shocked. In the four years they had been together, Becky had seen the goalkeeper cry a total of 7 times. This wasn’t like her girlfriend at all. But Dr. Taylor did mention that mood swings could happen while her brain healed.
“Scoot over.” Becky squeezed Alyssa’s hand. The goalkeeper shook her head. “Hey.” The older woman cooed. “Scoot over so I can hold you. I am not going anywhere.” Becky’s heart was breaking. Alyssa needed comfort. Becky just wanted to give it to her.
Alyssa held out for a few minutes. Then the sadness overtook her. She rolled over to the far side of the bed as the tears broke through. Becky kicked off her slides and slid in to the empty space. Wiley arms wrapped around the staking younger woman. As best she could, Becky conformed her body around her girlfriend’s. She didn’t speak – nothing she could say would fix this. But she could be there. Alyssa’s hand grabbed onto Becky’s arm with a vice grip. She couldn’t get the tears to stop. But they made her head hurt worse.
“What’s wrong Lys?”
“Head pounding. Make it stop!”
“Ok. Let me call the nurse. I just have to grab the remote. Then you can have my hand back.” Becky kept her voice calm. She reached her hand over and found the cord. She followed it to the remote hanging from the bed. A quick tug had it in her hand. Becky pressed the call button and waited for someone to respond. A few moments passed then the speaker crackled to life.
“Nurse’s station. How can I help you?”
“Hi, my girlfriend is in a lot of pain and can’t stop crying. Could you send someone who could give her something for the pain?”
“Yes ma’am. Someone will be there shortly.” Upon confirmation, Becky tucked the remote back into its holder. Her arm went back around her shaking girlfriend. Help would be here soon.
The nurse knocked a few minutes later and entered. Thankfully she did not turn on the light. The older woman made her way around to Alyssa’s side.
“Hi there sweetheart. My name is Edna and I’m going to be your nurse tonight. Can you tell me what is going on?”
“Head hurts. Can’t stop crying. Please make it stop. Making my head worse.”
“Ok sweetheart I will give you some pain meds. I will ask the doctor if it is safe to give you something to help you sleep.” She squeezed Alyssa’s hand. “Hang on just a little longer.”
“Thank you.” Becky smiled at the woman before she left. They got lucky and got a good one. The defender held on tight to her sobbing girlfriend until Edna returned.
“Alright. I’ve got some Narco for the pain. That will go in your IV along with a light dose of something to help you sleep. Just let me see that armband so I can scan it.” Edna spoke softly. She didn’t want to make Alyssa’s headache worse. Becky guided Alyssa’s wrist up to the scanner. There was a flash of red as Edna scanned the badge. She then tucked it away and reached up to Alyssa’s IV. She hooked up both bags of medicine and adjusted their flow rate.
“How long before they kick in?” Becky whispered.
“15 minutes top. I’m going to turn off the lights when I leave and put a note on the door. No one is to disturb you. I will pop in to check your vitals. But don’t you worry, you hardly know I am here.” Edna squeezed Becky’s arm. Becky smiled and snuggled in closer to her girlfriend as Edna left.
Five minutes later, the medicine was starting to kick in. Becky noticed Alyssa had stopped shaking. Her sobs had lessened down to sniffles. She thought she was getting drowsy, but couldn’t be certain. The defender didn’t want to risk moving to check in case she was disturbed her keeper. Alyssa’s arm tightened on her wrist and pulled her closer.
“Shh…let the medicine take you to dreamland sweetheart. I will be right here when you wake up. I will always be here.” Becky murmured in her girlfriend’s ear. Her fingers stroked Alyssa’s abs over her gown. The motion seemed to soothe the goalkeeper. Alyssa settled back down. Her eyes were heave and Becky’s arm was a comforting weight on her abdomen. Sleep would make head stop hurting at least for a little while. Yeah, sleep sounded fantastic. Sleep wins. Everything else would still be there in the morning.