Doing the Real Work

Harrison Hill/The Players' Tribune

I learned how to cook this off-season.

Like most people, I had a lot of free time on my hands during quarantine. My only big obligations were to work out on my own and stay in football shape, and to be there for my wife, Parker, who works as a nurse in the labor and delivery unit at a hospital here in Los Angeles. So while she was at work, I’d spend the day training and just hanging out at the house with the dog. Then, in the evening, when it got close to time for Parker to get home from her 12-hour shift, I’d hit the kitchen.

We both love Mexican food, so I tried to make that as often as I could, and I got pretty good at it. I make some fire chicken enchiladas. Other times, I’d keep it simple with an easy dish like chicken parm, another go-to, with a nice side of pasta and red sauce. 

We had some great meals at home together this off-season. It was nice. But at the end of the day, it really wasn’t about the food.

It was about me being there for her.

I never knew what nurses went through before Parker started working at the hospital. And now that I’ve heard about some of the things she and her colleagues have to deal with on a daily basis, I’m blown away.

Most days, she might have as many as four patients at once — that’s four mothers-to-be, and each could be ready to deliver at any moment. And she's there the whole time — at their bedsides making sure they're comfortable and monitoring them for any potential issues or concerns, and also making sure that the doctors are ready when the baby comes. She’s there with these mothers before, during and after one of the biggest and most beautiful moments of their lives, giving them emotional support at a time when they are not able to have family and friends with them. 

That’s pretty special. 

Now that I’ve heard about some of the things she and her colleagues have to deal with on a daily basis, I’m blown away.

And she’s not just helping bring life into the world. She has people’s lives in her hands, too — both the mothers’ and the babies’.

To be in a position to make split-second decisions that could have such a tremendous impact on people’s lives, is a huge responsibility.

And that’s before even considering the added threat of COVID. With the hospital’s additional safety protocols, and Parker sometimes having to move from room to room between patients who have COVID and patients who don’t, her job has gotten even crazier. 

I can’t tell you how many times she’s come home after a 12-hour shift and said, “Today was nonstop … I didn’t even have time to eat lunch.”

So I wanted to make sure that whenever possible, if she was working, she had dinner ready for her when she got home. I just felt that cooking a good meal — along with massaging her back and legs after her being on her feet all day, and really just being there to listen — was the least I could do for her. Especially with everything she’s out there doing for others.

And everything she’s done for me.

Courtesy of Parker Henry

Before this year, 2018 was probably the craziest year of our lives.

When the Chargers drafted me in 2016, Parker stayed back in Arkansas to finish her nursing degree. We basically had a long-distance relationship for two years before she finally moved to L.A. She was going to start working as a nurse, I was getting ready for my third season with the Chargers and we were moving in together — and on top of that, we were also getting married. So 2018 was going to be our year, you know?

Then, during OTAs in May — not long after Parker moved out to L.A. — I tore my ACL.

This was about five weeks before our wedding, and I remember getting the news and thinking two things. First, I knew I had a long road to recovery ahead of me. And second….

I wanted to be able to walk down the aisle at our wedding.

Actually, I didn’t want to just walk.

I wanted to dance.

And I promised Parker I would. I said, “Babe, I’m gonna be up on my feet. I’m gonna walk at our wedding. I’m gonna dance at the reception— as much as I can — I promise!”

So I opted to have surgery immediately and start the recovery clock ASAP. And honestly, I think the wedding really pushed me to get back on my feet quickly. It gave me something to work toward at the beginning of what would be a long recovery process. 

And, after only a few weeks of rehab, I was able to walk down the aisle with Parker.

I danced, too. I wasn’t crushing it or anything … but I was able to move and enjoy myself.

It was a great night.

Courtesy of Hunter Henry

But as far as my recovery, that was really just the beginning.

I had never suffered an injury like that before, so I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen guys come back quickly from a torn ACL and not miss a beat. Some came back better than ever. But rehab is a funny thing. When you get into the later stages and you’re running and cutting and lifting, that’s the toughest part, mentally. Because you remember what it’s like to feel fast, to feel powerful and to really explode off that knee. And when you’re rehabbing, and you have a couple of rough days where that explosion still isn’t there … it can really mess with your head.

I’ll be honest: There were nights when I was at home with Parker after a rough day of rehab, and I definitely shed some tears. The physical pain was a lot at times, but when I couldn’t make that connection between what I used to be capable of and what I was able to do in the present — when I went to run, cut, jump or explode off the ball and it just wasn’t there — those were the lowest points. 

That’s when I began to question myself. 

I remember sitting on the couch at home with Parker one night with tears in my eyes, telling her, “I don’t know if I’m going to get back to what I was….”

I think anyone who has ever been through a rehab like that — even the guys who attack it head-on and are super positive — have those moments. I know I did. And at those times, when I needed it most?

Parker was there.

She comforted me when I needed comfort, but she was also there to kick me in the butt when I needed it, too — which was more than once. She was a great listener. She massaged my knee. She even cooked me dinner. She helped me through the toughest challenge I had faced in my career.

So when she was facing her toughest challenge — working three or four 12-hour shifts a week at the hospital in the middle of a worldwide pandemic — I wanted to do the same for her.

Harrison Hill/The Players' Tribune

Now that we’re into the season, Parker isn’t working at the hospital as much. But she’s still involved, picking up shifts here and there and devoting her time and energy to helping people. I’m in awe of her passion for what she does and the sacrifices she and so many others have made at such a critical time. 

I’m just happy that now, after having had the spotlight on me for most of our relationship because of what I do for a living, I have the opportunity to shine it on her and the incredible people she works with — not just here in L.A., but everywhere. The people who are out there doing the real work. The ones delivering babies. Running the ERs. Working in mental health. I don’t even have the space in my mind or on this page to name them all. 

But to all of them, I would like to say thank you.

I’m in awe of her passion for what she does and the sacrifices she and so many others have made at such a critical time. 

And to Parker … I don’t know. It’s tough to put into words. I just picture you at work, sitting at somebody’s bedside, comforting them. And knowing what it was like when you did that for me, I can’t help but think about how lucky those women are to have you there, helping them through the milestone of having a child.

And how lucky I am to have you, too — on this journey through our lives together, sharing in each milestone along the way.

I think that all both of us really want in life is to leave this world a better place than we found it. I still hope I’m able to do that. But I know you’re doing it. 

So thank you, Parker. Keep doing what you do.

And I’ll continue being awed by it.