Over a lifetime of athletics, I’ve been fairly fortunate to only break and tear a few things. But they’re starting to add up these days, and it’s got me thinking about how it all started, and where it’s going.
The main thing that contributed to injuries early in my life was a deep obsession with winning. I competed so hard on the playground at games like kickball there were repeated bumps on the head from smashing face first into the swingset in center field that served as the “wall” for home runs. Anything that was kicked over the top of the swingset like a field goal counted as a home run.
Unless, of course, someone could charge out there and catch the ball on the other side. I’d had enough success stealing home runs from other players by running beyond the swingset to steal their glory that I judged it worth the occasional goose egg on the forehead caused by smashing into the bare metal poles sunk into the asphalt.
The same competitive abandon spread into all the sports I played, including backyard tackle football games. The older brother of a best friend once shoved me out of bounds so hard I tumbled into a roughly constructed cement ditch and struck the side of my head. That gave me a massive head wound and a concussion so bad I was seeing double on the way back home. I’m not sure if they conducted a lobotomy but the stitches were many. So perhaps I’m lucky that I didn’t die from that incident or many other near-fatal encounters involving my head and other body parts.
Line drives and other hazards
At some point, the universe must have decided, “Well, we can’t seem to kill this kid. Let’s just keeping steal body parts to remind him of his mortality.”
Which is why a baseball eventually struck me clean in the mouth, knocking out a front tooth to the point that it was literally hanging by a tenuous bloody thread. The coaches that day reached my father by phone, and he rushed down to the field to drive his bloodied kid to the dentist, who laughed a bit and then stuck a post in my upper gums. Then he shoved the tooth back into place and said, “There. Fixed.”
And it stuck. But with time the tooth slowly died and turned gray. It wasn’t horrid-looking, but it wasn’t the kind of look that made girls swoon either. It ultimately survived a bout with braces to straighten the rest of my toofers. But eventually, I hired another dentist who tore out the old dead tooth and put a newer-looking fake tooth in my head. Such are the compromises we make to keep up appearances in this world. We want to look good whether our body parts are dead or alive. Or neither.
Which brings me to another big injury that took place later in life. I tore my ACL playing indoor soccer. I waited six months and then had ACL replacement surgery. The choice I had to make was whether to take a bit of my own patellar tendon (below the kneecap) or stick a cadaver part in there. “The first works best but takes longer to heal,” the doctor told me. So I made the dumb decision to go with the cadaver part. I called it Jake in honor of whoever the “donor” was in life.
Well, Jake died all over again when I re-tore the ACL two years later. What fun.
But again, was Jake ever really alive again? Was that cadaver ACL expected to revascularize? All I knew was that I lost Jake to another tear, but was it dead or alive?
Years later I stupidly jumped over a traffic cone during a running race held on snowy roads in Wisconsin. That stunt hyperextended my knee and caused a meniscus tear that didn’t really cause much problem, until it did.
So the doctors again operated on my left knee with their arthroscopic toys and clipped off the “excess” meniscus that was now uselessly dangling and sticking outside the joint. And that hurt. So they warned: “That tissue will die if we don’t get rid of it.” At least that’s what I thought I heard the doctor say. In any case, that meant another chunk of my body was gone. I’m starting to shrink from the inside out it seems.
Root of the problem
And joy of joys… this week it was back into the dentist’s chair for a root canal. The endodontist numbed me up good and then used a needle-like drill to bore out the root canal material. It felt weird. It also meant that I’d be living with yet another dead body part.
At this rate, I’ll be dead before I ever get around to dying. And I’m not even really old yet. The years to come will surely provide a ton of surprises, what with a family history that’s not exactly encouraging on a few fronts.
In the meantime, I’m one of the healthiest members of the walking dead you’ll ever see. And Halloween’s just around the corner. I’ll see you around.