Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Broken Thumb

When I was junior in high school, I played goalie for a gym class game of “speedball.”

Speedball, surely the brainchild of an ambitious phys ed teacher, was a soccer-football hybrid in which players could only use their hands if the ball had been kicked into the air and they caught it; the objective was to throw or kick the ball into the opposing team’s soccer goal.

On a particular play, I made a save with my hands. My thumb was sore afterward, and swelled up in the hours to follow, but such an occurrence wasn’t entirely new to me. At that stage in my life, I played quite a bit of basketball, and at least once every month or two, I’d jam one of my fingers. It would hurt for a day or so, but I’d ice it and it would get better.

This time, it didn’t get better. Two days later, my father complained when I was taking an inordinately long time to comb my hair before school, and I explained about my thumb. My old man was traditionally pretty conservative about going to see doctors about anything, but when he saw that I couldn’t bend my thumb, he determined that it was time for x-rays.

Lo and behold, I had fractured my thumb in three places. The months to follow saw a small-scale surgery, a month in a cast, physical therapy and a series of stretches I had to do independently to regain more or less full motion.

I remember the cast part most of all, perhaps because it’s the only time I’ve had to wear a cast and thus marked a several week period when I needed to change many aspects of how I lived my life. I was a prodigious writer for my age, and scrawled most everything longhand. I had to manage a modified grip on my pen as I worked on my novel outside school, and of course, tended to note-taking and homework for a full course load. I played viola in the high school orchestra, and though I remember sitting out playing for a period of a time, I also recall clutching my bow like a club, pinned between my four functional fingers and the hard cast of my thumb to draw it across the strings. I showered with my right hand elevated, and sealed in a plastic bag to ensure the cast remained dry.

And then, in perhaps the cruelest irony of all, that fall turned out to be the time when we had a basketball unit in gym class. Most any other sport, I would have gladly preferred to have sat on the sidelines in phys ed--this was the one game that would stir me to try sneaking on the court to take a few shots until the gym teacher told me I had to sit back down, lest I re-injure myself and he find himself in hot water.

When I reflect on that casted period, I have somewhat distinctive record for the fact that it came up in the same period of time when the photographer took student club pictures for the high school yearbook.

In these pictures, I’m surprised to see myself far more optimistic than the snarky, angst-ridden teenager I better recall. For despite being in fairly regular pain, dealing with all manner of hindrance and inconvenience, despite all of these reasons to scowl and sulk, in the yearbook pictures, I smile. Not only that, but in any number of them I use my cast to give the camera, the school, and my future self a disproportionately large thumbs up.

Sure, there was a part of me that just liked having a conspicuous prop around which to build Roger and Ebert-based puns or pretend I was hitchhiking. But more so, I like to think I was affirming that everything was and would be all right.

No comments:

Post a Comment