As an athlete most of my life, there have been plenty of times when the doctors had to repair some part of my body. Even on the playground as a kid, I was so active and aggressive in sports there were injuries every other week. I was so competitive at kickball I was always running into the swingsets in centerfield. I’d get these big gooseheads on my forehead and the school nurse would call my mother to let her know I’d done it again. After so many times, she grew jaded. “Just put some ice on it.”
Baseball been berry berry bad to me
There were baseball injuries. A spike into my ankle left me hobbling home a mile from practice, bleeding down into my sock from the puncture wound. A chipped bone in my elbow came from stealing home and getting crushed under the body of a fat catcher. A front tooth got knocked out of place by a line drive at twilight during practice. That required dental surgery to put the tooth back in with a post. I have a fake tooth to this day.
There were some basketball injuries too. In eighth grade practice, we were doing “killer drills” in the gym during practice and a dorky teammate came stumbling into my knee and it hyperextended. I was lucky it didn’t tear the ACL way back in 1970. Surgery for that was brutal back then. But the knee did swell up like a balloon. The doctor used a six-inch needle to suck out the black blood coagulating around the joint. It filled a two-pint bag quite easily.
But I recovered from that incident and wound up sinking a half-court shot with a second remaining on the clock to help our team win the conference. That endowed me with hugs and kisses from admiring girls, and so much attention I nearly recoiled in my own body. But damn, that was a nice shot I hit.
Part of the game
So the injuries were part of the game, but it was worth it because much of the fun in life comes from competing at one thing or another. A few years ago I saw my college cross country coach at a reunion. He was bent sideways in discomfort from a back injury. He had been All-American in football and basketball,. When I asked him if he was okay that day, he turned to me and smiled, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”
But sports injuries do change us. Some hurts are temporary but still require a bit of recovery. Others are more permanent or require surgery to repair the damage we’ve caused our bodies.
I was feeling pain on the base of my pelvis back in the early 2000s. So I asked my doctor if I could go to physical therapy. He denied me that opportunity due to the HMO. A few months later I tore the ACL in my left knee. I waited six months, then had surgery using cadaver part to make the repair. Then I did months of rehab and got back to all the activities I loved. But then the ACL repair tore again in an outdoor soccer game.
A couple years ago I did something stupid during a snowy race and tore a bit of meniscus in the same knee that doesn’t have an ACL. It hasn’t hurt until this year, so I avoided having surgery even though it would jut out at times. But now it has to be fixed.
So this afternoon the ortho surgeon will poke into my knee with his scope and nip the torn meniscus. Just another day at the office for him. Just another life-changing surgery for me. It will take a couple weeks to rehab, but I plan to be active with that.
Back to normal
And likely I’ll get back to “normal,” whatever that means as we age. I know plenty of people who have had to really cut back due to wear and tear. I’ve been fairly smart and lucky in some ways. That bike crash at forty miles an hour in 2012 could have cost me my life. All in all, I’ve been fortunate. Not that many running injuries over the years.
However, there are other damages we face in life as well. The emotional hurts sometimes linger as long as physical damage. Our daily challenges include pain from deception by people we trusted. Sometimes our reactions can be as damaging as the situations to which we respond. With anger or revenge. The echoes of other hurts haunt us. We want payback. Retribution. Satisfaction.
Actually, sports are a healthy outlet for such competitive urges. We can fight to win all we want in sports, and it’s just a game. I think about these things on surgery day and realize how much has actually been gained by being part of the athletic world. As my old coach once told me during a time of crisis, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.”
Sage words and a strong reminder of why we choose to fix things when they go wrong, and study our lot rather than just letting things fall apart. Because that leads to making excuses the rest of our lives why we quit trying. And that’s something surgery can’t fix.
Better to fix things the best you can and move on. You can’t win at everything, because sometimes those victories have a greater cost in the long run.