It was the second time I’d had the flu, and it was late February, just about a month before the pandemic turned life upside down, so I reluctantly went to the doctor and had a long swab pushed far enough up my nose that I can now no longer recall anything that happened in 1986. The swab confirmed my diagnosis, and the doctor said I just must have been lucky to catch both of the active strains for the season.
I’d skipped the flu shot, because my amateur and incorrect take on immunology was that the more I let my body fight the pathogens attacking it, the stronger I’d be. What doesn’t kill you sometimes doesn’t make you stronger, though. It just weakens you so that the next thing down the pike will. In early April, I got sick again, likely with Covid-19, but that’s not what this piece is about.
As I sat in the doctor’s office, exhausted, body-aching, feeling cursed, she said something that surprised me. Looking over my medical record, she said, “Wow, you have a long list of trauma here.”
“What do you mean?” I mumbled. And then she read off a list of fractures, sprains, and tears, stitches and minor surgeries, all the while shaking her head and chuckling.
“Oh,” I said. What else could I say?
I broke myself again on Saturday while pruning a tree. Yeah. I know. The collarbone fracture I gifted myself at the end of April, a few weeks after recovering from Covid, has turned into Shoulder Impingement Syndrome, so that my right arm isn’t as useful as it should be. That makes tree pruning tough, but I’m clever, so I began pruning using my left arm, bracing the other handle of the pruner against my chest. That worked well, until I took on a limb that was, I found out moments later, stronger than the rib I had the lopper braced against.
I wish I didn’t know what it sounds like when a muscle tears or a bone breaks, that tell-tale pop that you’re never sure is audible or tactile in nature, the sound that says, “Your day just ended.”
In those moments I’ve felt pain, but overshadowing the pain, or maybe just hidden behind a rush of adrenalin, is a profound sadness that washes over me, like the cancellation of all my plans in one brief second. Disappointment is the real injury.
I did not tell my wife that I’d cracked a rib, because she’s tired of my injuries. I get it. No one is more tired than I am. And with an injury like this one, where medical intervention consists entirely of “yeah, that probably hurts,” there’s really nothing to do but feel the pain and wait.
So I wait.
Given the accumulation of damage and the way injuries can domino one from the other, I have moments when I think I need to slow down. This is also the advice I get from my more cautious confidantes. My dad, before he left us, often chided me about all the running and playing and generally subjecting myself to physical punishment.
But I watched my dad give up the things he loved and squander his health on work, so his advice, much as I appreciated it in other areas of my life, only served to inspire me to keep at it. By it, of course, I mean everything.
I am not in denial. The entropy is real. I’m falling apart more rapidly than I am able to put myself back together. My choices might be accelerating the process, but the Second Law of Thermodynamics is immutable.
Put another way, we’re all going to hell in this handbasket. What are we going to do with the time we have left?