An Injurious Insight

Sod’s Law of Injury says an injury will occur when one feels least likely to suffer one.

My poor sodding sister’s shoulder slipped out of its socket as we were swimming at the bathing pools the other morning. Fortunately it did not happen in open water, where we sometimes swim, where one will never find sure footing. 

The buoyancy of the water takes the weight off the dislocated limb, granting a wee grace period before I help her out of the pool and the pain really sets in.

Ten years since last her shoulder dislocated. Long enough to forget it is liable to occur. Certainly not long enough to forget the pain.

En route to A&E I say, in complete sincerity, “I feel your pain”. We both inherited shoulders predisposed to dislocation, as we are now so rudely reminded.

“It’s nothing compared to a contraction,” my sister says, trying to prop up the disjointed limb, jutting awkwardly out of her deformed shoulder. That’s the spirit.

My sister sits down and I approach the receptionist, who looks not in the least bit surprised by the mostly-naked man approaching her. After signing in and being told a higher rate will be charged as it’s before 8am—another ouch—we are ushered through to the ward on A&E.

The kindly nurses put me on laughing gas duty as they fetch blankets and meds. “Free hats!” I exclaim to my sister, placing a cardboard retching receptacle—unused—on my still-wet hair. She heaves and winces with laughter, “Don’t make me laugh!” 

“Give us a puff on that love”, I say, having a quick chug on the old gas before the nurses return with pain relief.

“I’ve had three children without morphine”, my sister says airily, impressing the nurse administering the dose. She nonetheless suggests to her colleague that we are taken to a private room so other patients aren’t ‘disturbed’ by the relocation.

After a few more discussions and drags on the canned laughter, three nurses relocate the shoulder with a reassuring click. Not a nice sound to most, but a very satisfying one to us all. My sister, relieved, relocated and with a posture decidedly less grotesque, goes in for an x-ray. As the clock makes 8am, we are administered additional relief by the nurse, who informs us we have escaped the higher rate on the x-ray. I say thank you and farewell to all involved.

I leave A&E with a sick bowl hat on my head and a striking thought on my mind.

Here is my injurious insight.

We lucky ones, with four working limbs, get complacent; we take our bodies functioning for granted. We lucky ones only appreciate our limbs working when they don’t. To abuse a cliché: we don’t know what we have until it’s gone.

Imagine someone without working limbs being blessed temporarily by the freedom of movement—walking, running, jumping, swimming, dancing. The elation would be unimaginable; just to enjoy the movement we take for granted, movements we sometimes can’t even be bothered to make.

It is a strange truth that life bestows blessings in disguise. The religious know this; that God works in mysterious ways. What life blesses us with through injury—my injurious insight—is the opportunity to appreciate what you have by losing it.

This is why injury—physical and emotional hurt—clarifies things. Injury clarifies what is important in your life, and what is unimportant. Injury clarifies what you should be doing, and what you shouldn’t.

Looking back on the innumerable times I’ve dislocated my own shoulders, things are clear as day. I should have rested and rehabilitated myself properly. I should not have had one-armed heavy-bag sessions (the other in a sling), lamenting my incapacity and self-medicating the pain with wine. Cumulatively, the injury and my mistreatment of it cost me years out of competitive sport, years that could have been months, had I considered it a blessing in disguise and made the now-obvious adjustments. (Presently my shoulders are strong and I spend time strengthening them almost everyday. Turkish Get-Ups, ladies and gentleman.)

In this same way, recovering from a heart attack may teach you that health is wealth, which you should treasure and should stop squandering on cigarettes. Healing a cracked rib might help you appreciate the simpler joys of breathing and coughing and laughing—without recoiling with pain. Surviving a “near-miss” will teach you to appreciate life, to stop taking it for granted as if you are invincible and fated to survive every injury and illness en route to eternal life.

It makes you think: if blessed with the ‘right’ sort of injury, who might we be?

Maybe the sorts of people who say goodbye to their parents and partners in the morning, telling them you love them. Maybe the sorts of people who bother to keep in contact with family and friends, and attempt to heal trivially ruptured relationships. We might even become sorts of people who work hard at their studies and jobs and hobbies, as if we know this is our one and only life.

God only knows, we might stop doing the things we know we shouldn’t be doing, start appreciating the things we are capable of doing, and start doing them, having been blessed by the injurious insight that life is but a fleeting flash, within a flash, within a cosmic pan, within a panoply of possibility, which we should bother to explore and experience, quickly, before it is all extinguished and we extinct.

But I digress—what did this injury clarify in the case of my sister?

That she should enact her appreciation for escaping with both her life and her health by religiously rehabilitating her shoulder. That she should not half-ass it and wade back into the water unhealed and unprepared.

From my side of things, it has clarified that one can suffer pain and disfigurement with dignity, despite sporting a wet bathing suit and a posture akin to the Hunchback of Notre Dame’s. Moreso, that traumatic experiences—with caring family, competent nurses, an optimistic attitude and the right proportion of drugs—can actually be rather enjoyable, certainly insightful, and very entertaining.  

But most importantly, it has clarified for me that my sister is lucky; so lucky it was not out in the deep; so very lucky to be alive and kicking and screaming. Just not punching. Yet.

Now allow me to serve you a more palatable and digestible takeaway from this experience, a “TL;DR”, without all of the cosmic flash-in-the-pan malarkey.

Whatever preventative measures you take, Sod’s Law of Injury will eventually apply to you, and you are powerless prevent it.

Yet, it is within your power to bring to it an optimistic attitude, and with that the power to reclaim something from the injury, be it a renewed appreciation for your life, or for your loved ones, or for your limbs. Whether or not you recover, you are blessed with an opportunity to become all the more strong, wise and grateful through it.

And hey, who knows, you might even score a sick bowl-er hat and puff on the old gas out of it too.

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