Invincibility and Mortality

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I’ve torn my MCL. Not completely (thankfully), but enough to justify a grade II tear; which means I’m off strenuous physical activity for the next few weeks at least. And for someone who plays on three hockey teams (two field and one ice) and leads an incredibly active life, this is a pretty significant downer. Or so I initially thought…

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About three years ago I broke a toe playing soccer. This was the first time I’d ever broken a bone, and the defected digit wasn’t even fully cracked. But hairline or otherwise, it hurt like a bitch and essentially made me immobile for about a month. Which I took really badly. It was during the winter in Guelph (i.e., sometime between September and May) and the fact that I had to hobble around on crutches in the snow made me incredibly miserable and self-pitying. And while I laugh at the situation now, I know that my outlook toward it often made everyone around me pretty miserable as well. And that’s not the happiest thought. But on the bright side, I know I learned a lot from that experience.

When I was at the hospital waiting for my most recent diagnosis, the doctor asked me to explain what happened. I told him about the incident, which occurred in an ice hockey game. He then asked me about any other injuries I’d incurred over the years, and I rattled off a pretty long list. It was at this point that he proceeded to give me an extended lecture on how girls shouldn’t play sports with guys and that this was bound to happen sooner or later. Apparently if I was his daughter, I would not have been playing. He also suggested that I strongly consider joining a women’s league instead. Oh, and apparently at the rate I’m going, I’ll be unable to walk by age 30. Awesome, thanks for the encouragement, Doc. I pretty much decided that he was a dickhead.

I’ve been playing sports— hockey in particular— with guys since about age five. It’s really all I’ve ever known. I love their level of competition: the speed, the intensity, the physicality. I remember one afternoon as a kid when I was out playing street hockey all day with some guys up the road. Because none of them wanted to be goalie, I got stuck in net. Over the course of the afternoon, I had to go home about half a dozen times to have various injuries attended by my Mom. I was covered in Band-Aids and bruises by the end of the day. But I didn’t care: I was having a blast and doing pretty well all things considered. And, instead of telling me not to play, my understanding and patient Mom took me to the store get a mask and some better gear. From that day on, I understood the inherent risk involved in sport.

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Regardless of the specific activity, if you’re pushing the limits, you walk a fine line whenever you step on the ice, or pitch, or court, or mountain. I’ve sustained some pretty substantial injuries in my sporting life. However, for the most part, they have been a result of freak coincidences rather than a lack of ability or training. It’s OK to play like you’re invincible* (in fact, I think every player should), so long as you fully understand that you are not. Injuries are a very real possibility, and the best you can do is be physically and mentally prepared to prevent them from happening— and accept them when they do.

I have complete faith that this brief stint off activity will once again allow me to appreciate just how much I love my legs. It already has. And, despite my initial unhappiness at being shoved in a foam stabilizing brace and handed a pair of crutches for the next little bit, there are actually several other positives to come out of it already. Firstly, I am well aware that tearing one’s MCL is a helluva lot better than doing the same to an ACL. Or even a LCL. And, while I’ll obviously miss my last two field hockey games this season, I’ll now be a permanent coaching fixture behind the bench of my ice hockey team. Less time on the slopes will also give me a chance to get a ton of work done on my thesis. (Haha, right…). But mostly, I hope that seeing me hobble around with my Michelin leg will simply remind others just how lucky they are to have full mobility. Already I’ve become accustomed to the looks (and avoided looks) of pity from strangers as I crutch myself from Point A to Point B. I definitely don’t want them to feel sorry for me—what’s done is done and I’m looking to just get better and not dwell on it. Instead, I hope they take just a few seconds to think of how lucky they are to have the use of their legs. Seriously, be glad you’re not me. Maybe it will inspire them to toss in an extra couple of kilometers in their daily run, grab a basketball for the first time in a year, or even just go for a walk to the beach because they can. Realistically, probably not. But I’m an eternal optimist.

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On a final note, I read Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality on the weekend. I was still feeling pretty down at this point but, as per usual, Hitch got me thinking and put life in vivid perspective one last time. As I was lying on my couch, staring down at my stupid leg, I felt incredibly fortunate with each passing page. Sure, I had a sore knee. But that sure as hell beats having Stage Four esophageal cancer. Or even having another broken bone. Or dealing with poverty, or rape, or any of the hundreds of other daily hardships that I somehow magically lucked out of simply because I was born in a developed country. Of all the powerful descriptions and ideas in this book, the point that hit me hardest was this: I don’t have a body, I am a body. How very, very true. And yet, I’d never thought of it that way before. It was a tough read, both due to the subject matter (which, naturally, was as genuine as ever) and because it was a final work in every sense. It makes me sad to think that there will never be any new insights from this fascinating man. (And I know that is incredibly selfish of me to say.) In my opinion, Hitch was one of the most provocative, insightful, and comprehensive thinkers of our time. And while his content always got me hooked, it was his genuine passion for speaking, for learning, for sticking to your guns, and for encouraging others to ask instead of blindly accept, that kept me coming back for more.

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*In this case, I use invincible to mean playing smart, going balls to the wall, giving 1000% effort, and leaving it all on the ice/ court/ field. I don’t think a player should ever be reckless or stupid because this does cause injury (and often not always their own).

2 thoughts on “Invincibility and Mortality

  1. Oh, Laurenne, I’m sad for you, that you have to deal with new pain and challenges. But this too shall pass, you’ll be that much stronger mentally, and you’ll be back on the ice doing what you love again sooner than it might seem at the front end of this healing period. I must say I’m furiously angry with that ER doctor. What if a male hockey player (professional or otherwise) had come in with that same list of past injuries? I seriously doubt he would have received a lecture on “not playing with the big boys.” Just mark it down to that guy’s own male chauvinism and brush it off.

    Your mother, by the way, is one wise woman.

    Christopher Hitchens’ Mortality, eh? I haven’t read that yet. I think I will. He and I, it seems, have something in common – Stage 4 cancer. I wonder if his insights are similar to those I’ve gained.

    • Thanks, Karen! Yeah, I’m not so much angry with the doctor as sad that his general outlook is so bleak. Maybe he did think that he had my best interest at heart (or maybe he is just a moron) but either way, he’s entitled to his opinion. I think he was frustrated with me because I basically wasn’t having any of it. And yeah, I’ve always trusted my Mom’s advice on these things. Although, she is probably shaking her head over it all now…
      As far as Mortality goes, it was definitely an interesting read. A lot of his thoughts focus on death and how different people cope, so you may find it interesting. And, he is a philosopher at heart, so there is a good deal of reminiscing and rationalizing as well. If you do read it, let me know what you think!

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