Exactly five weeks ago–and I do mean exactly…at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, September 3–in the middle of a pick-up basketball game I leapt many many inches (±3) into the air to intercept a three-quarter court pass. The ball reached my hands, it stopped there, and gravity brought me back to where I’d started. Only, the landing, settling down on Earth again, dear ground control, didn’t go so well. Right landing gear crumpled, an old black shoe sole gripped and wrenched counter-clockwise against the freshly polyeurethaned floors, many thickly tackily coated planks, cork-screwing my shoe+foot and the bones inside until the fifth metatarsal said, “Fuck it. I give up.”
Sometimes bones give up. They break.
Landings are so common in jumping sports that I would guess on any given night, through 90 minutes of pick-up ball, there are 1,000 successful landings by any given player. And years ago, the tip-toe landing would have resulted for me in a sprained ankle. I’ve had tens of sprained ankles, mostly on the right side–so many in fact that I had a knuckle-sized bone spur surgically chiseled off the south-most tip of my right tibia in 1995 because so many bone chips had rustled and rattled in there, nomadic calcifying teasers making the bone think it needed to grown even though it didn’t need to grow. But grow it did until sprain sprain sprain, I couldn’t lift my toes toward my knee without bone-bone pinching. I’m not complaining, only historicizing the ways some ankle area bones try to retrieve their loose chips, advancing gradually as if to bring them home again. The spur was with a couple of knocks taken away and the ankle more or less as good as new. Refurbished, at least.
But the broken fifth metatarsal was new, a first. I’d only broken any bone once before, my left wrist during a 1990 high school basketball game against Leroy-Pine River, a game we lost, a game I continued to play in after halftime despite having fractured the wrist you guessed it intercepting a goddamned three-quarter court pass. A pass I caught. A landing I flubbed. I recall Pine River (the Bucks) had a couple of giants in the post, immovable trees who we kept fouling and fouling but still could not overcome.
Last month’s broken foot popped audibly, a long-faced spiral fracture that left me in a huddled pile on the sticky floor, polyeurewincing with the sensation that something extra was in my shoe–a feeling similar to when, as a kid, my brother and I rode bikes (without helmets!) up Winn Road to the Kountry Korner to buy a Sunday newspaper but didn’t have pockets and so carried home loose change in my shoe. That’s what it reminded me of: shoe as coin purse, jangling. At least two quarters in there.
Back on September 3, an hour and three wins into our weekly run, I told my teammates I was through, that I’d felt a bona fide pop, and then hobbled to gather my gym bag, fish out five dollars for Brandon “The Commissioner”, and without peeking inside the shoe to count the coins (dime and a nickel?), wobbled out to the Element and drove straightaway to Canton’s emergency care outfit. They took three x-rays, but they only showed me this one:
“You might need surgery. This is a very serious break. I’m sorry your basketball career had to end this way.” They said more, but this is most of what I remember.
By the following Monday, after a five day wait, I finally sat down with an orthopedic surgeon who assured me that it wasn’t as bad as I was led to believe, that I would be fitted for an orthotic walking boot, and that I was only to listen to my pain and to return in a month. Before the boot, this:
And so I’m taking a few minutes here–tapping out a few lines–to commemorate the ordeal because tomorrow is that one-month follow-up. The foot has, as far as I can tell, mended to a point of allowing me to walk (but not jog) without pain. I’ve been on campus for the last two days without the boot, negotiating the craggy asphalt around Pray-Harrold and having an okay time of it. I hope to retire the walking boot officially and to shift next to a physical therapy regimen that will, whatever else comes of it, get me back to a more runnerly routine and, if I’m lucky, eventually give me the choice to take another trip or two up and down the hardwoods.