Saturday afternoon, I went over to Lake Nokomis and laced up my skates to crank out a few laps on that trusty old oval. Once out on the ice, however, I found myself rumbling over frozen tire tracks — left behind after last week’s rain and pond hockey extravaganza — and doing my best to avoid some fairly prodigious cracks and crevasses. It was a sunny and pleasant day, though, and My Lovely Wife would not be returning to pick me up for a half hour or so, which left me with little choice but to give it my best. Which is what I did until one of my blades found a crack in the ice and sent me sprawling, slamming my left knee and right elbow into that unforgiving surface.
It’s always embarrassing, of course, to get horizontal in this context, when you’re supposed to be vertical. But I wasn’t concerned about the impression I might be creating. My knee and elbow were throbbing in a way that had me wondering whether I’d done any serious damage. I hauled myself back up onto my blades, brushed the snow off my body, and took a few tentative strides to see if my lower extremities, at least, were functional. They seemed to be, so I pushed myself through a few more cautious laps without incident before MLW returned to fetch me from my foolishness.
The next morning I was plenty sore. My elbow was creaky and both my knees were complaining about the fact that I had scheduled a 12:30 tennis match with The Baseline Machine, now fully healthy and fresh off her first victory in her USTA league (she had made a point of calling me last week to inform/intimidate me). I nonetheless headed over to Martin Luther King Park at the appointed hour, slightly revved up for the challenge, despite my infirmities.
After only a handful of warm-up volleys, though, it was TBM who was in pain, clutching her right hamstring and hobbling around with some difficulty. She tried to stretch it out, but to no avail, so we spent the next hour with her at the net, volleying to and fro with little of our accustomed intensity. It was a pretty good workout, actually, as she had me scampering from backhand to forehand to backhand again — a regular tennis lesson. My creaky knee seemed to be enjoying itself and my bruised elbow voiced no complaint. In fact, I was whacking it around pretty good for an old guy.
At a break in the action, I thanked her for hanging in there. You plunk down 20 bucks for an hour on the court, after all, and you want to use it up. It was a compassionate gesture, I suggested. She said I was the one who was being compassionate, since I didn’t insist we proceed with the match after her injury.
“I’m actually keeping score in my head,” I admitted. “I’m winning.”
I received my punishment Monday morning, when I rolled out bed wondering how I was going to pull on my pants. Knees, elbow, back all rose up in protest at the smallest suggestion of movement. As is usually the case, however, everything gradually loosened up to the point where only specific tweaks and creaks made themselves known. And they were sufficiently boisterous by the time I was trekking home from the office that I skipped Monday night basketball in favor of some general recuperation.
The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, if you give it the chance. While I was recovering, I stumbled upon a new study out of Lund University in Sweden showing that people with ACL injuries who decided against surgery had similar outcomes to those who went under the knife. Indeed, researchers concluded that more than half of all ACL reconstructive surgeries could be avoided if the injured parties were willing to undergo physical therapy. In other words, letting their body heal naturally.
Now, I admit that I’m no poster boy for natural healing. My right knee was “scoped” in 1998 after I blew it out playing basketball. And I do tend to push myself a bit beyond my limits from time to time (last weekend being a case in point). But I have learned as I’ve hit advanced middle age that you’ve got to listen to your body once in a while and be willing to take it easy when necessary.
After all, if you can’t show yourself a little compassion, how can you practice it with anyone else?