The Anguish of Injury to an Athlete

I want to at least try to write on this subject, because it is so monumental to me. I have never experienced a legitimate injury throughout my entire time of playing tennis (11 years – and I am not talking about casual playing, or even “weekend warrior” playing; I am talking about playing as long and as hard as is physically possible, to go as high in the game as possible). When I was working full time, I would play about 15 hours a week. When I was not required to work, as I was going to school full time, living off of savings while going to jr. college, and off of grants/loans at the state universities, I played up to 25 hours a week, I would say, with an average of probably 20. During the summer and Christmas breaks, it was probably 30 hours a week. … I don’t know why I measure everything in hours per week; I guess I am revealing my working class status. What is harder to measure is the passion and the ambition, drive, inspiration, exultation, I had in the game (all of these are required in order to play so much! you understand). I don’t know how to explain why I would play so much, so easily. It is like a fish swimming, or a labrador chasing retrieving a stick. Playing tennis was “what I did.” Even if I wasn’t very good, I still had the enjoyment and the drive to become great (I know this because I *wasn’t* very good in the beginning, of course). But it got to the point where I was not only good, but bordering on great. (I write all this only because the injury I am currently nursing feels like it is on its way to recovering – fingers crossed; that is to say, prayers up). People would always gawk at me as a I hit against the wall, or played with a hitting partner. I would even surprise myself a lot of the times. I was not arrogant about it, though; I did not play to impress people, I played out of a pure and simple love for the sport.

I had had the normal, probably the less-than-average share of minor, niggling injuries – things like aching ankles, knees, wrist, or elbow. But I had never even sprained anything major. The worst injury I had gotten up to this point occurred playing basketball, when I threw a hard behind the back pass and my thumb got jammed when it hit my lower back – *really* hard! and, I am quite sure, I got a hairline fracture or a sprained middle thumb joint. I practiced thru that, hitting the ball very gingerly as the thumb got progressively better. My second-worst injury was gotten by hitting my big toe, directly on top the nail, with my racquet on the follow-thru of a slice backhand. I thought for sure I had broken the toe at the time, or that at the very least, the toenail would be coming off. It did not, and so, it was probably not broken.

So you see – I have been fairly lucky injury-wise, over the course of 11 years and almost 10,000 hours of playing. Hence the injury I am now nursing being very trying for me. At times I have struggled to block out the beginnings (just the beginnings; I am not trying to be dramatic here) of dejection and depression from blanketing me. Also, much of the time I have been trying to block out the fear that I will never be the same again. I am hoping that this fear is due to the fact that I am one who dwells on the worst case scenario (as you can see from my above toe injury, in which I thought it was broken, yet the toenail didn’t even come off)…Yes, I *really* hope that is the case. I have allowed these fears of the worst-case to rule in my mind, actually – simply because it reminds me to absolutely baby my injury so that it can possibly, hopefully heal up completely – I need it to be completely! because I cannot afford for it to become re-injured.

And, to any athletes out there that use their arm a lot (QB’s, baseball players, basketball players, etc.) you will understand this need; you see, the injury is, in general terms, a sprained shoulder. I am about 95% sure it is a ligament, and probably a main one. What I am not sure of is the level of the injury. I am hoping it is just a pull, but I think it’s at the very least a partial tear. The worst possible scenario would be that it is a complete tear, but I highly doubt this is the case. I know that I would not be able to do anything at all with my shoulder; it would be hanging there like a piece of meat. So that is good news ^_^ So I will then officially say, “worst case scenario is that it is a badly torn ligament.” I don’t even think this is the case; I believe it is partially torn (a grade 1 out of 3, as they determine ligament sprains). I also believe that it has healed itself to a much more stable degree at this point, 5 1/2 days after the injury. (Probably more intense athletes will be laughing at this point, like, “what a baby! That’s barely torn, at worst.”) … I really hope this is the case, and I would chide myself right along with them – as long as this shoulder heals up completely. 😦 I can’t imagine if I am “never the same again.” It would be a tragedy; a theft of the most hallowed thing in my life. I have somewhat of an over-active imagination, and I have been hearing the voice of sports commentators (easy to do, as I watch a lot of sports, and the topic of career-ending injuries comes up at times, and the tone is always so somber and gloomy). I have imagined them talking about me; and this is when the despair mentioned above begins to roll in like a fog through the valley hills. The single-most challenging thing about this injury was the split-second event, on the 3rd or 4th day of recovery, in which I was trying to step over a TV cord, and caught my second foot on it and fell forward, haaving to catch myself on the bed, arms out. The weight went into my shoulders, and the pain was probably worse than the initial injury (which occurred very embarrassingly, but I will say it for lesson’s sake! anyone reading this, please learn from me: I am not immune to the infamous tennis player tantrum and frustration, and I was having a bad day of this, and threw my racquet into the net. Oh why did I attempt to throw it so hard?? 😦 I “threw my arm out,” basically, adding onto the shoulder irritation I had been feeling for a month or so. I knew right away that it was, at best, a minor injury, to a very major part of the body for a tennis player. All thought evacuated from my mind, as the slight shock set in. I held my arm absolutely still, and, wide eyed and staring, slowly lifted my arm up before me, PRAYING that I did not feel a sharp pain. I didn’t lift it very far when I did feel pain, and that classic realization to an athlete that “something was very much not right,” and I figuratively dragged myself home, hanging my head, on the verge of tears, to nurse my shoulder, never loving it more. That was the drive home – the long drive home, through fields and hillsides of dead, dry grass, and up through the somber foothills. My car so mercifully and seemingly sympathetically, did not act up, as I shifted gears awkwardly and painfully with my left hand, focusing all attention not needed for driving on keeping my shoulder COMPLETELY still … so sorry for what I had done to myself! D’: I don’t think I have ever loved part of my body more than I did at that point. I prayed and rubbed and kissed my shoulder. Dear God please let it, and the mysterious little piece of machinery buried down in it, be OK.
… It has been almost six days, as I mentioned, and even with the aggravation at catching myself after the asininely stupid bit of fate at tripping over a TV cord, my shoulder is truly feeling “a lot better,” is the general category. I was starting to get worried, but in the middle of the day today, I don’t know what happened, but I realized that it could be moved in most directions except one, without feeling a sharp pain, and as I write this, it does not hurt at all, basically. I continue to baby it and to not move it in the one direction that causes the sharp pain. Hopefully it will get better day by day, and I look forward to the day when I can slowly move the racqcuet, tai-chi style, in the motion of a swing. At that point I will slowly work up to light swings, and I will be happy at that point, because that would mean that I could get back on the court – not to hit balls, but to practice my footwork, with (if need be) a slow swing at the end of the pice of movement. It is an exercise in patience, absolute PATIENCE. And I know alreaady, even in the midst of this, that I will never appreciate the sport more when I get back to being able to play it. (But i must, must MUST remain patient and make sure that it is completely healed. It is about as major a ligament for tennis as there is, I suspect).

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