Just over three weeks ago, I was playing flag football with some friends. I remember beforehand thinking about a game of flag football with this group, and how my ability to run would give me a great advantage. I love to run, particularly in sports. I like to be faster than everyone else. I like to have more stamina, even if it isn’t the case. In this flag football game, I had made one pretty good run already, that probably would have been a touchdown if not for a foot out of bounds. I’m a quick guy and I play hard, because it’s pretty thrilling.
On a kick-off, Justin caught the ball and lateraled it to Amanda, who shot out across the field. They had clearly planed this plat out and it was working pretty well for them. I knew I was my team’s only hope to keep them from scoring. So, I went after Amanda (also a runner) knowing that if I didn’t catch her, it would be 6 for the other team. I was gaining ground on her, but she was getting close to the goal line. Since, we had the goal marked with small orange cones, I didn’t know exactly how close. There was not quite enough distance for me to catch up on foot, so I made a snap decision to dive. This is just something that the boy inside of you wants to do. Go watch a t-ball game, and see how many times the kids dive for the ball even after the ball has stopped moving completely. So I dove. I didn’t catch the flags. Amanda did cross the goal line and scored.
I planted on my left shoulder. Then my head. Then my body flipped over, with my shoulder and head firmly planted in the ground. I felt this. It was that kind of hard hit, where you begin to understand what it’s like to come into contact with something that refuses to give way to you, so you have to give something up. I heard the other team celebrate. Asher ran up, commented on how nasty my dive was and recalling that that was they way he broke his collar bone playing flag football. I stood up and the world got hazy for a second, like it does when you stand up too fast. Your eyesight fades into the screen on an analog TV that isn’t picking up a signal. It came back, but my shoulder was hurting in a bad way. I tried to shake it off, and I played a few more downs. I completed several passes, but the fuzziness came back. I started feeling sick to my stomach. The color left my face, and I knew I needed to lay down, drink some water, or both.
I had broken my collar bone. Do you know how embarrassing it is to tell people you broke your collar bone playing flag football? It’s punchline to a joke. You have to explain how on Earth you can even do that. You’re not supposed to hit the ground in flag football, right? The funny thing is that I probably wouldn’t have broken it if we had been playing tackle. I remember recounting the story to a few guys who stopped me in the story when I said, “I was chasing Amanda…” They were like, “Wait a minute, you broke your collar bone chasing a girl?” What does it matter? It’s not like we were boxing and we broke it. I dove and landed on my shoulder. The only thing she did was be in front of me as I did it. Regardless, Amanda would probably waste those dudes in flag football, anyway.
Before this injury, the collar bone was always a bone that would make me cringe to think about breaking. It’s just so out there, without much padding. Most of us can really feel this bone and know it’s a bone. You can’t do that so much with your fibula or ulna–they’re wrapped up in muscle. It just always seemed to me that if you broke that bone, you’d know it and wouldn’t be able to deny it. I really hoped I would never break my collar bone.
At this point, I don’t recommend anyone try a broken collar bone. They say that a broken fibula is the most painful, and I’m not trying to argue. But a broken clavicle is pretty inconvenient. I pretty well couldn’t use my left side for the first two weeks. Even lifting something more than 10 pounds on the right side was tough. When you injure something, you often find out how connected your body is. You realize how many tasks are tied to that part. Stuff that I wouldn’t imagine my collar bone being important for caused it to hurt. I couldn’t sit up, twist, reach out my left arm. The list is too long.
The healing process, though, has been interesting to watch. I can see it progress daily. It is a journey full of baby steps that seem like monumental victories. Here’s a list of victories that I celebrated being able to do again:
-Turning a doorknob with my left hand
-Reaching for a glass of water with my left arm
-Bouncing my shoulders to rap music
-Washing my left armpit
-Throwing Digby’s tennis ball (right handed)
-Lifting my left hand straight up in the air
-Closing the car door with my left arm
-Scratching my head with my left hand
-Jogging in short circles at the park with Digby
-Carrying a bag of groceries short distances with my left arm
These are activities on par with graduations right now. It is a new world with new freedoms. I can do things unavailable to me just yesterday. It’s like I’m becoming a man all over again. I’m still weeks away from heavy lifting or running. I’m probably at least a month or two away from push-ups. But, I’m just beginning to feel like a normal person again, and that’s enough for right now. We have so many bones in our body and so many other parts built all around them. One broken piece, one part that doesn’t work the way it should, and we are left pretty debilitated.
Before, I just imagined how bad a broken collar bone must hurt, when I theorized how I didn’t want to happen. I didn’t think about how for a month or more afterwards I wouldn’t be able to do things that most hospital bound seniors can normally do on their own. The pain I can deal with. I want to be able to wear my backpack on both shoulders again. I want to run. I want be able to hold my body weight up with my arms. I want to be a normal 35 year old again.
In all of this there are lessons about aging. Lessons about cockiness and recklessness, and how you’re bound to be dropped down a few pegs in the most random of places. About the balance between realism and hope. But, at the end of the day, what I go back to the most is that for the rest of my life I will have aches on my left shoulder. When it rains or the temperature changes, I’ll feel a twinge. There will be weird pops and sudden, sharp pains in this bone for the rest of my life, because in a very inconsequential game of flag football I dove for someone’s flags–which I didn’t even touch. I dove so hard and ungracefully that I created an impact that fractured a bone in my relatively healthy skeleton. If I had been willing to just let Amanda score (which she did anyway), I could have ran 5 miles today. I could have done push-ups. I could go backpacking next week. I could stand in such a way that I didn’t look like a dilapidated old man when I pass by the mirror. But, even now, do I want to give up that spirit? How many times would I break a bone really? How much fun was it to run around like that before my broken bone? Is is worth it? Will I curse myself when I’m 65 and my clavicle still aches with each air pressure change? I really don’t know the answers. I do know it’s hard not to listen to what your body tells you to do. That’s how I got in this situation. And, that’s why I’m stuck on the couch now.