Injury time

9 12 2012

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In sport, more play time is given at the end of some games to compensate for time lost to injury. In life, there is no such luxury. Injury time is part of the ordinary run of time, and there are no bonus hours of living to make up for time lost in the playing. Injury time is headless of plans and projects and must be accommodated on its own terms.

Being injured is something I’ve forgotten. It is nearly eight years since my knee injury and I thought I had cured it with regular walking and exercise. After a couple of minor falls on slippery mud and on ice, my knee has given way again, and this time I know that it is more serious than the first time. This time I know that it will be months before I can return to the level of activity I was taking for granted less than a week ago.

In less than a week my world has both shrunk and grotesquely enlarged. When I look at ordinary spaces transformed into parkland for giants, I feel like Alice in Wonderland. On the first day, I couldn’t cross the kitchen. Today at the hospital, a car park stretched like an expanse of grey English Chanel. My car, on the other hand, feels like an old wellington boot: a perfect fit.

Like many people who use their minds for a living, I reside mostly in a non-physical space and regard my body as the other part of me, the bit that accompanies my head. I keep fit, eat my greens and generally look after my body, but my sense of ‘me’ is not my hands, chest, shoulders, hips, thighs, knees or feet. I am not my flesh and blood. If I were a horse, I would be located in my loins, or my heart, or my powerful lungs. If I were a dog, I would be my sense of smell or my hearing. If I were a cat, I would be my balance and my timing. If I were a mouse, I would be my nerve endings. A falcon? I would be my eyes.

Because I am human, I am my thoughts. There seems no escaping from this and it is why people wish to be birds and why a friend once said that that the reason we admire and love animals so much is because we envy them.

Being injured returns us to the body. I have become disproportionately right-kneed. I wake thinking about my knee and spend all day making adjustments for it so that the rest of me can come through. I feel subdued, muffled by my lack of vivacity and also bemused because I now have a stick, a particularly fetching aluminium standard NHS issue elbow crutch. It is useful. It is my rudder. Because straightforward walking is not easy, I’ve been dreaming of movement in other dimensions. I want to recapture fluidity. I want to dance, to run, to climb, to leap, to move unequivocally.

But in order to do so again I have to give injury time its proper due. So far, this has meant reading and eating a lot of chocolate. It has also meant this morning a visit to the mother of all magnets, the giant doughnut of the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. I was given yellow foam earplugs, but these still did not dampen the soundtrack that opened with clanging church bells and ran through a range of other frequencies including power drills, garage music, metal grinders and ships’ anchors being slowly winched ashore, and all of this was just action on my water molecules.

MRI scans work by rearranging the protons at the centre of each hydrogen atom, making them stand to attention all in one direction, like a magnetized cadet force. Protons pulled out of normal position emit radio signals and these can be mapped to create an image of the body. After the scan – it takes a surprisingly long 40 minutes – I asked the radiologist if I could see the pictures. He showed me one of the anterior ligaments still clinging to the bone and a blurred section inside the knee. ‘That all looks pretty mushy.’

Pretty mushy is accurate. My knee has the consistency of pond sludge. There is not much I can do to get things flowing again. Injury time will not be coerced; it will not be hurried. I must concede to it.

But still I can’t help wondering what I would do with the time if I were given say a fortnight at the end of my life to play out for free. Where would I go? What would I see? What would I stop doing immediately?

I’m going to have a think about this and report back next time

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