Do Not Cut My Leg Off | Zach Miller | The Players’ Tribune

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– All my life I’ve been doubted. He can’t do this. He can’t do that. When I suffered this injury … do not cut my leg off. I was told I may never run again. Doubt me, you’ll be wrong. I grew up in a town of 300 people. Small little village called
the Village of Weston. I had a great time being a
little country boy from Nebraska. I can’t go back to a specific date of when Kristen and I met, probably like seven or eight, and I probably saw her
running around on the farm. I thought, Hey, I’ll
probably marry her one day. – We started dating when
we were in high school. He is passionate about football, but he always puts family first. – This is where it used to go down, Bishop Neumann High School,
man, football field. I took a long road. I get to high school, and I
broke my collar bone twice in my junior year, didn’t really get to play. One year of varsity high school
football was my senior year. You know, you’re a walk-on hometown kid. Coaching changes and a number
of things led me to transfer into Nebraska at Omaha, which is one of the best
decisions I could have ever made. It gave me an opportunity
to be on the football field for three-and-a-half years. – When we started dating, I
remember him always telling me, he’s like, “I’m gonna play in the NFL, I’m gonna play in the NFL.” – I remember sitting outside
her house in college, in the car, like, “I’m
going to the league.” Welcome to Day 2 of the 2009 NFL draft. I ended up getting drafted
by the Jacksonville Jaguars. – Florida here we come. – The most vivid memory is I
could hear my dad, screaming at the top of his lungs. That was cool for me. Pre-season, Game 1, fractured my tibial plateau. 2010, I had a minor sprain in my Lisfranc. In 2011, torn labrum. 2012, torn soleus, a partially torn achilles
on the same play. 2013 was kind of a up-and-down year. I mean, I hadn’t played in two years from when they released me
a week before the last game. 2014, I signed my contract with Chicago. Come here first pre-season
game, I caught two touchdowns and people are like, Who’s this guy? The next week I had 100-something yards against the Rams and two touchdowns, and then I was kind of where I wanted to be my entire career. It just took awhile to get there. Walking into the stadium,
something just didn’t feel right. I vividly remember everything … coming in motion across the ball. I remember the defender,
shaking him at the line, and I knew it was a touchdown. Where I’m turning and I’m
kind of cuffing one hand and trying to get the football, I simultaneously felt my knee pop. I had an athletic trainer
come to me and he’s like, what’s going on? And I was just like, my knee is gone. I wasn’t in pain, but I was nervous. I knew that I wasn’t dealing
with a regular knee injury. – The Bears with a devastating loss beyond the game. Tight end Zach Miller
suffered a dislocated knee. – When I spoke to him he had
a little panic in his voice. I could tell, like, the urgency, kind of maybe a little
bit of chaos going on. – As I got into the ambulance,
they were taking my shoe off. They’re cutting my socks
off to check for a pulse, and I could kind of tell
just from the look of it. There was no, “Oh, hey,
we got this, that.” It was, “You don’t have
a pulse in your foot, and we have to fix that.” – I hear him say to one of the workers, “Doc, am I gonna lose my foot?” That can’t really be happening. Like, he really can’t lose
his leg from an injury. – You know, they’re trying
to take us to a hospital that’s 45-minutes down the road. Sid Dreyer is one our
assistant athletic trainers. He told the EMTs there’s no way you’re taking us to that hospital. So he pulled out his phone and found a level-one trauma
center five minutes from us. And I just remember telling Doc, “Do not cut my leg off, please.” They hit me with a mask, and
I cashed out for a little bit. So I wake up. I just see a white sheet over
me and my first thing is like, All right, I gotta look at this. Check to see if it’s still there. I pick the sheet up, and I
look. And I see these two bars, and I’m like, “What the hell is this?” And I peek over and Kristen
was sitting next to me like, “Oh, what’s up, babe?” – He looked at myself and
his dad, and he’s like, “Oh guys,” he’s like,
“You didn’t have to come.” And I was like, “What
are you talking about?” I remember him, he’s like,
Today is my agent’s birthday. Did you tell him happy birthday?” It’s funny because it’s not about him. It’s about how everyone else is doing. – Being briefed on what had
happened was a shocker for me. They took a vein from my right
leg to repair that artery. My leg from my quad down was
probably almost the same size, so they cut it on both
sides to drain the blood. The remaining seven, eight
surgeries were to repair the ligaments and close that
fasciotemy, but it takes time. I remember the first time
I saw a still image of it, it was probably a day or two later. And just the rush of heat and
this wave just hit my body. I think I kind of just made
a decision like, All right, this is what we’re
dealing with so buck up. Let’s get through it. – I was reading through Bella’s journals, and she started talking
about what happened. – When my dad got hurt, I was so lonely. And then I found out that
he is in the hospital, and my mom went to the hospital too. – That tore me up when I saw
that she said she was lonely. That transition from New
Orleans to the hospital here, I remember seeing my mom and the kids, because Kristen and my dad flew with me. I remember peeking out the
window, and then I could hear Bella and Cash yelling “Daddy.” I was happy to finally pack my stuff up. We hopped back in that
ambulance and come home. – I almost feel like once we
got home was a total different struggle than it was in the hospital because there you have people
helping you, but then once you get home, it’s trying to
get places when you can’t. – Sleeping was terrible. There is no good rest, regardless
of how much medicine I had. The nerve pain that I
had was excruciating. Looking down and seeing
bars hanging out of your leg and your leg cut halfway open,
like, there was low days. That didn’t move for
probably five or six months. That’s all we got right now. Imagine if you really think
you could open and shut a door with your mind. But that damn door don’t move. That’s kind of how you’re
trying to move your foot. As hard as you can and it won’t budge. It can get somewhat frustrating. I remember sitting on the
couch, and I was like, “Oh, Kristen come in here.” Like, “Did my foot flicker?” So I’m like holding it up in
the air trying to move it. That was huge for me just
to see that little bit finally come back. Do you remember where
those were at in dad’s leg? – Those two. – Yeah. On the outside. Just to get that off and be
able to bend my leg again for the first time, that was a victory. Crutching my way in and
just seeing everybody for the first time, kind of
back where I felt, I mean, that’s everyday life for me. That’s been my second home for five years. Last home game of the year
allowed me to go on the field and get that standing
ovation from Soldier Field was probably one of the coolest things that I’ve been able to experience. When you got the people all
over the world pulling for you, praying for you, like sending
positive messages like, “Ah, what do I deserve all this for?” This one says: Dear Mr. Miller, welcome back to Chicago. I hope you’re feeling better
when you’re in your home city, and I hope you still play football again. I think I wanna play forever. Just being an athlete, I mean, I’m never gonna wanna give the game up. Do I know it comes to an end? Absolutely. I don’t think anybody ever
wants to end their career the way I did. My mind right now – get as strong as I can and as back to normal as
I can to play football. If I’m physically able to do it, I’d love to do it. Am I cool if I don’t? Out of my hands. If I can run around in the
backyard and play soccer with the kids, I’ll be good, man. There’s a number of positive
things that I’ve went through, been through, and still have
on a daily basis to look back at this thing and be
bitter or not grateful for the things that I have.

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