Men of a certain age share many traits. One of these is the belief that we can still play sports and participate in physical activities the same way we could when we were a little shorter in the tooth and longer in stride.
We have a terrific, albeit misplaced, sense of confidence in our physical prowess. Some call this affliction "weekend warrior syndrome," but my spouse says this is a somewhat inaccurate descriptor for me since I manage to injure myself on a regular basis - not just on weekends - and this causes her worry. So I've come up with a new tag: the "weakened worrier."
Since hitting 40 (at full speed, with no extra padding, protection or helmet), an age considered ancient for most professional sports players, I have managed to accumulate a list of injuries that would make a pharmaceutical sales rep salivate. It's not like I'm into bungee-jump stick-fighting or anything otherwise extreme. I'm just trying to get some exercise and have fun. Then I get injured. Every time.
The latest of my many knee injuries was suffered about a year ago while overseas in Afghanistan training police officers. I wish I had a more manly story, but I hurt my knee playing squash. The Catch-22 was summed up nicely by a French doctor on duty in the military hospital after he examined my knee and X-rays. He came to the conclusion that playing squash in my overweight condition caused too much stress on the cartilage in my knee. "You are fat. You need to do exercise. You must lose weight," he said. I began protesting that I had in fact been exercising, but it was no use.
My next-to-last injury was also from playing squash, except this time my rather inexperienced partner decided the term squash was a verb, not a sport. In keeping with tradition, this injury was received during my first game back after my previous squash injury last year. In a laudable effort, my opponent drove his shoulder into my ribcage while trying valiantly to close the distance with the ball.
I could feel my left lung collapse and it was a few minutes before I was vertical and breathing again from both airbags. I drove myself to the hospital, where the X-rays and doctors informed me, almost to my disappointment, that my injury consisted merely of the smirk-inducing condition known to all over-40s as soft tissue injury. Thankfully, my wife was out of town for a few days so I could whine at will to the dog.
The pulled groin I received a couple of years ago during my second ice hockey game in about 28 years drew even less sympathy. However, I call no fair on that front because women can never fully understand what it's like to be injured in that area.
My worst mishap on the ego scale arrived during an afternoon of tobogganing. It actually had nothing to do with a toboggan because of the massive amount of snow that had buried the tow lifts on the mountain that day. So instead, we did what most athletes of our calibre would do in this situation: We went to the pub.
The damage occurred in the parking lot of said saloon. Having no place to change, I secreted myself between a couple of parked cars and tried to take off my long underwear. I sprained my thumb while hurriedly trying to strip one long john leg and sock off my foot while hopping up and down on the other foot. I still think it qualifies as a sports injury.
You may be tempted to consider these incidents a byproduct of a midlife crisis. I beg to differ. After my first purchase of a motorcycle a few years ago, I had to go to the emergency room to see about some eye pain. It turned out I had a metal shard stuck in my cornea from riding without my face shield in place.
I tried to conduct some serious lifestyle introspection as the doctor joked about the procedure: "I'm going to stick a needle in your eye, ha ha. No really, I am, so keep still."
While he scraped at the rust that had formed on my eyeball with the needle, I thought that it seemed reasonable to me that a man my age could ride a motorcycle and not feel self-conscious about it. I still feel this way despite wrenching my arm after stalling my bike and trying to keep it from tipping over on our street last fall.
I didn't even visit the doctor that time, although I worried I did some lasting damage as it continued to hurt for months. I worry about most of my injuries: Will they lead to permanent mobility concerns and nagging, recurring pain? Or, nearly as bad, will I have a lame story and no war wound to display to my buddies?
I am now recovering from yet another squash trauma. This time, I severed my Achilles tendon while lunging for the ball. I received surgery, a nasty scar and a cast and crutches for six weeks followed by rehab for months. I am now wearing a big, black, walking boot, hobbling around without crutches. It's important for a man to have something to show for his trouble.
I also have a good story - when the tendon went "twang," I was a mere two points from winning a tournament in the basement category of my squash league.
While cutting me open as I lay on my stomach, numb from a spinal tap, my doctor noted that he gets a lot of business from the squash club. I suggested he sponsor our next tournament, or perhaps put up an ad on the bulletin board.
My wife calls me clumsy and careless, but I think I am truly one of an old and proud breed: the weakened worrier.
Paul Reshaur lives in Prince Rupert, B.C.