The silence in room 401 created peace and serenity.
Former Bears guard Revie Sorey suffered a massive stroke on March 25, 2012, leaving the once eloquent and enthusiastic community leader barely able to utter a word. I visited my rehabbing friend Thursday at the Warren Barr Pavilion on Oak Street. We sat in comfortable silence for about an hour.
Sorey, 59, a hulking and athletic lineman who blocked for Walter Payton from 1975-83, sat slumped in a wheelchair next to his bed, head bowed, body decimated.
He looked up as I announced myself at the entrance of his room and his eyes brightened as he appeared to recognize me. I knelt down to offered a lingering hug, then presented him with three signed books about the Bears that I have written over the years. As he struggled to secure each book with his one functioning hand (left), I pointed out passages that referred to him and pictures of former teammates he might recognize.
The quiet was broken about 45 minutes later as cheerful nurses entered to insert a feeding tube.
The Brooklyn-born Sorey, who played for Jack Pardee, Neill Armstrong and Mike Ditka, gained greater stature in my eyes as educational director of the Ada S. McKinley Community Services Center for 12 years.
I remember being invited by Sorey to attend special 7 a.m. breakfasts conducted by that organization, during which at-risk students received college scholarships and thanked the man who helped make it possible. Sorey also served as educational director of Special Olympics of Chicago.
I remember Sorey telling students: "Truly the weapon of choice right now is education."
I walked around his room Thursday to observe the get-well cards, flowers, mini-footballs and pictures on the wall that friends had displayed for him. There was a picture of Sorey with the late Bears safety Dave Duerson. Another photo depicted Sorey with former teammates Dan Jiggetts and Noah Jackson jogging in from an afternoon practice outside the old Halas Hall in Lake Forest. Another photo of Payton and former Bear Dave Williams hung on a wall.
My mind drifted back to the time I interviewed Sorey several years ago as he gleefully described the pride he took in blocking for Payton.
"It was incredible," Sorey said then. "If you just got in the way, you made a good block. And I happened to throw a couple of get-in-the-way blocks. And he made me look outstanding. Whenever we ran a sweep, I figured we could get at least 10 or 15 yards. If he broke it, that was gravy."
Then, in the blink of an eye, my attention shifted back to the stark reality of Sorey sitting there silently, struggling to turn each page of a book.
Sorey suffered an initial mild stroke in 2002 without losing consciousness. He received assistance from Dr. Stefan Humphries, also a former Bears offensive lineman, who flew to Chicago from Colorado where he had been a rehabilitation specialist. Humphries is now medical director at St. Luke's Rehabilitation Institute in Spokane, Wash.
Signs of dementia and memory loss were evident in Sorey before he suffered his strokes, according to his longtime friend and caregiver Anita Efron. He spent about three months in the hospital last spring following the stroke before being released to the rehabilitation center.
Sorey's wife of 20 years, Suzy, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer on April 16, 2011, at the age of 59. Quite understandably, Sorey was heartbroken.
"It was devastating for all of us," Efron said by phone. "We all had spent every holiday together, every birthday together. It was a very, very close relationship."
Anita and her husband, Mort, encouraged Sorey and his son, Trace, to leave their Glen Ellyn home and move in with them in Chicago after Suzy died. Anita oversaw all of his medications and his special diet because of Sorey's myriad health issues before the massive stroke.
"I noticed his memory loss and different behavior," said Anita, not quite sure what to make of any possible connection with the discoveries of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) found in the brains of deceased former NFL players such as Duerson.
Although his long-term prognosis remains in doubt, Sorey continues to undergo physical and speech therapy, and friends and well-wishers are encouraged to visit him.
As a football star at Illinois, Sorey had met Anita and Mort and they remained friends for life. Mort is a long-time attorney and Revie asked him to represent him after the Bears drafted him in the fifth round in 1975.
"We became best friends and Revie became the godfather of our children," Anita Efron said. "And down the road, when he got married, we became godparents of Trace. Trace is 20 now and going to school at Harold Washington. He has a little part-time job and he is doing extremely well."
As my visit with Sorey drew to a close, I stood up and promised to return. He nodded as I patted him on the shoulder. I wondered what was going through his mind. I know he stirred up memories in mine.