I recently hurt - or as we trained and toned middle aged athletes like to say - “blew out” my knee. I was running across the tennis court - all right, not running but moving as quickly as I’m capable of - and as I lunged for the ball - all right, not so much lunged as started to fall down - my foot “stuck” - obviously the shoe’s fault - and my leg twisted and the next thing you know, there I was, writhing on the ground, making a very big deal of it; in my mind comparing myself to a hall of fame running back, stopped by a dozen defenders at the goal line, thinking that in a moment I’d get up and soldier on - score!! - to cheers and adoration.
Only when I got up I couldn’t put any weight on my leg.
There is an odd, mixed feeling to be injured doing something you really like. You find yourself thinking - oh, good, I don’t have to do this for awhile -- coupled with - Oh, god, when will I be able to do this again? You realize you’re going to have some extra free time on your hands which is nice. You have no idea what you’re going to do with it which is bad. What if you’re forced to take up golf again?
Around where I live, when one is a middle aged tennis warrior and one is injured, there is really only one thing to do and that is to go and see Doctor Stu.
Beside being an avid tennis player, Dr. Stu is an orthopedic surgeon of note and has traveled with The Davis Cup Team as medical advisor. Dr. Stu was a Division I middleweight wrestler in college. For those who don’t know, wrestling is a sport where you train until you puke and then puke till you make weight. Unless it’s to gain it, most middle aged tennis players gave up on making weight long ago. At sixty, Dr. Stu still greets every new day with two hundred sit ups and three hundred push-ups. When Dr. Stu comes to play tennis he does so wearing ominous looking, black metal braces on both knees. He wears a black, rubber shirt and has a towel around his neck. He bounces up and down and rolls his head from side to side like a prizefighter, all the while swinging his racket in front of him as if he is going to seriously decapitate some flowers. You just know, even if he loses the match, Dr. Stu is capable of taking you down and pinning you at set point.
If Dr. Stu weren’t a doctor, he’d be beating up linebackers in the NFL.
It’s always interesting to see friends in professional mode. You realize they actually do something besides hit the occasional tennis ball, shoot the shit and drink beer. You realize they are, when they have to be, serious people who do serious things. As one who has never done anything serious in his entire life, I’m always somewhat embarrassed and very impressed. My only serious talent is in trying to make people slightly chuckle.
Dr. Stu’s waiting room is filled with injured, middle-aged white people of which I am one. There are casts on wrists and ankles. There are people on crutches. There is a woman in a neck brace. Where do people like this hurt themselves, I wonder - the supermarket? Was there a rugby scrum on isle 5 near the frozen foods? I’m suddenly reminded of my father, who at the age of 70, farted and broke a rib. So it goes.
For an orthopod, Dr. Stu’s magazines leave a lot to be desired. Women’s Home Journal. Redbook. People. You can never tell what medical practitioner is going to have decent reading material in his waiting room but you really expect a guy who deals with joint injuries to at least stock Sports Illustrated. On the other hand, my friend, Paul, who is a dentist, tells me he spends a hundred bucks a month on magazine subscriptions and they’re usually gone from the office by the end of the week. I would call this stealing but as magazines often walk out offices with me, I consider it borrowing until next time. It all goes on your health plan anyway.
When I finally get in to see Dr. Stu he pokes and prods at my knee, measures it and twists it. He makes doctors sounds.
Mmm, he says, poking.
Ahh, he says, prodding.
Does that hurt, he says, twisting?
Yes, no, I dunno, maybe, ahhh!!!, I say.
Let’s take a look, he says and he takes me down the hall to some machine that shows a picture on a computer screen. He operates this miracle machine himself. Amazing! Just another thing I can’t do. Look, he says. Where I see shadows. He sees bone and ligaments, cartilage and padding. He sees wear and tear.
Tsk, tsk, he says - not so much criticizing me as the aging process.
Dr. Stu proceeds to drain my swollen knee. Do you like needles, he says, taking out a six inch syringe. I like needles only slightly less than I like electroshock treatment.
This won’t hurt much, says Dr. Stu as he dabs my knee with what he says is a numbing agent. Much. What is much to a man who once wrestled Dan Gable? What is much to a man who once had a colonoscopy done without sedation or anesthetic, just so he could watch the procedure on the screen along the with the gastroenterologist. He liked it - he thought it all was interesting.
One - two - !
Dr. Stu doesn’t wait for three - he sticks you on two and a half as if you’ll be so surprised you won’t feel a thing. It’s a nice gesture but unnecessary. The examination room is small and the table is against the wall. I have nowhere to run.
Take a look, Steve, this is really interesting.
I have been staring at the ceiling since “much” and I decide to venture a quick look. The glass tube attached to the syringe is filling with fluid. Fluid from my swollen knee. My fluid.
I feel faint.
Hmmm. Not bad, says Dr. Stu. Pretty clear.
He likes the fluid in my knee so much, he decides to take two more syringes full.
--------- to be continued.