Waiting’s up

November 5, 2008

So that’s it. I’m now officially bionic. They have rebuilt me.

My experience of the surgery was overwhelmingly positive. As soon as I came round, things felt different and better. Although I was in not inconsiderable pain, my shoulder felt fundamentally right; a feeling which I hadn’t had in the preceding week and a half. Almost immediately, I could use my arm again. The down side is that even now—just under a week after the op—the range of motion of my shoulder joint is pretty shoddy, and will need a lot of painful physio to get right again. Although maybe I’ll wait until the bruising goes down first.

My main problem right now, and for the last two and a half weeks—apart from the range of motion—is one of sleep. Last night I managed a mostly-uninterrupted night, although I still needed to augment it with a bunch of micro-naps throughout the day. I’m still pretty tired most of the day, but in a normal work week, that’s not a million miles out of the ordinary anyway.

The negative which bugged me about my time in the care of the NHS was its customers. I love the NHS. I genuinely do. It’s an institution of which Britain should be proud. Sure, it’s not perfect, but the idea of universal healthcare is just right. The downside to a system which caters for everyone, irrespective of background, is that it caters for everyone, irrespective of background. What I’m trying to get at here is that I object to having to share a bay with two smackheads. I’ll write more on that aspect of my stay later.

Anyway, to the money shots. What follows is a timeline of my clavicular integrity over a 13-day period in the autumn of 2008…

About 2 hours after hearing a clicking noise from my collar bone, here’s what I looked like. The break is clean in two, but there’s a ton of overlap so no indication that things won’t heal without intervention.

straight afterward

A week later, this is no longer the case. the two halves of what was once my lovely intact collarbone now want nothing to do with each other. They’d rather spend their time hurting me and stopping me from sleeping. Surgical intervention is now a necessity.

a week later

Here’s the outcome of that intervention. For scale, the screw on the left is about 22 mm long. The things floating above my collar bone are the 21 staples holding me together on the outside.


And here’s what they look like on the outside, when I had my dressing changed.

the outside

In a nutshell, what I’m trying to get at here is that I’ve had better weeks.



October 30, 2008

So it wasn’t today.

The phone call from the hospital wasn’t the one for which I was waiting. The excess of orthopaedic trauma cases yesterday bumped my op back to tomorrow at the earliest. In an open message to the late-night travellers of the Southend area, can you please try to avoid any multiple pile-ups in the next few hours? Also, seeing as it’s kicking out time at the nightclubs before too long, can I ask that if you really want to fight each other, to try to restrict yourselves to soft tissue damage only?

My inner hypochondriac has started to work his own special magic since I got the news that the bone I thought was healing nicely was to be augmented by one of these. When I was under the impression that everything was ok, frankly I didn’t feel too bad. Sure it hurt, but most of the time I wrote it off as what happens when healing takes place. Since finding out that the ends of my collar bone are a lot further apart than they should be, the baseline level of hurt has been different. The best way that I can describe the feeling across my right shoulder is that it’s like the feeling when you first stretch your hamstring before a match on a cold day. Only for longer. It’s an odd sensation, and by no means one which I’ll miss.

As I write this, it’s early morning and I can’t really sleep. Might be the discomfort, might be the unknown about what tomorrow will bring – I’m not sure. Either way, from my bedroom, I can hear neither car crashes or drunken fights. Or drunken car crashes. And on a purely selfish note, that has to be a good thing.

ORIF R Clav.

October 29, 2008

my arm

Well, what started out as a reasonably run-of-the-mill day has taken something of a rum twist. To set the scene, let’s go back 10 days…

The date: saturday 18 october, 2008. The time: probably about 4ish. The team: Thurrock RFC. The match: away at Chelmsford. The opposition player: fairly sizable, and sprinting down the wing. The last line of defence: me.

The match was pretty tight at the time. From what I remember, we were ahead, but not by more than 7 points. As I was looking at it, their player was haring down the left wing with only me to beat. I’m happy to say that he didn’t. The resultant tackle was pretty hard. I got lowish on the chap, hitting him around the hip area with my right shoulder, tackling him into touch. Needless to say, this hurt a bit, but I’ve had worse. Previous shoulder tackles have done something to a nerve, paralysing my arm for a few minutes. This one was sore, but nothing like as bad.  I got up, shook myself down, and got ready for the lineout—our throw.  In my big diary of the day, it was at this point that things started to go wrong.

In the line, I was tasked to lift one of our two main jumpers. I’ve lifted him hundreds of times before. He’s the lighter of the two, about 6’3″, and has good reliable hands. The dummy jump went in, and their front jumper fell for it. Yahtzee. I turned to lift our jumper, who now had a clear line of sight to the ball. I got a hold of his leg, and gave him an agricultural heave into the air.  Well, that was the plan. As soon as my right upper arm passed the horizontal, I hear what sounded like someone clicking their fingers next to my ear. My initial thought—verbatim—was “Fuck it—I’ve just broken my collar bone. Well, at least it doesn’t hurt much.” I’m not sure what happened from the lineout, but as I trod gingerly to the touchline, we scored in the far corner, making my last action on the pitch a 14-point turnaround.

By this time, my hubristic underestimation of the pain involved had come back to bite me. Any movement of the right side of my upper body resulted in an intense stabbing pain in my shoulder. A trip to A&E beckoned.

At A&E after one of the least comfortable car journeys of my life, I happily accepted the kind offer of pain relief.  I then glumly sat back down for the next half hour in the stark realisation that the effect diclofenac has on me is somewhere between nonexistent and negligible. I’m not all that bad with pain, but speaking as the world’s most squeamish man, the thing that truly freaked me out at that time was the feeling of bone grinding against bone. Those of you who have experienced it know what I mean. Those of you that haven’t probably don’t want to.

After exposure to some of Röntgen’s finest, the fracture was pretty clear to see. It was about half way along my collar bone, with the fracture at an angle of 45-60° to the bone. The two halves of my collarbone were at about 5-10° to each other, resulting in a nice big overlapping area to heal together without surgery. A trip to the fracture clinic upgraded me to an impressively-proportioned sling, and a checkup a week later.

The difficult thing in this time has been sleeping. I’m propped up in bed in kind of a sitting position, with a bunch of pillows supporting my right elbow. I’ve not managed more than 2-3 hours on the bounce, partly because this is an inherently uncomfortable position in which to sleep, and partly because moving out of it hurts enough to wake me up.

The previously-mentioned week later is now today.  My shoulder has felt mostly ok for the last few days. The sickening bone-on-bone grinding stopped toward the end of last week. I assumed that this meant that the two halves of my collarbone had succumbed to the osteoblast’s inexorable march, and started to mesh together. A second X-ray showed that not to be the case.  The reason that I was no longer feeling any hot bone-on-bone action is that in the intervening week, the two halves have moved apart by a good few cm. This was not the result I had been wanting.

The upshot is that I’m sat here now where I’ve spent a large portion of the last week and a half; sat upright in bed, with my right arm in one of these. The difference is that a registrar has tagged my right bicep in permanent marker with a big arrow, and the eponymous inscription “ORIF R Clav.”

ORIF is an acronym for Open Reduction Internal Fixation. It means opening me up, pulling the two halves of my collarbone together, and screwing them both to a plate. Frankly, it looks brutal. I now have to wait for the call from the hospital. It could be tomorrow, although it could be the day after. Either way, it’s time to start a nice preoperative fast.

All in all, I’m not terribly chuffed. For a person who likes to be in control of his situation, I’m now not eating in anticipation of a phone call—which may come tomorrow, although it may not—to go to a strange place, where i can dress in a paper gown so that one stranger can render me unconscious while his friend—another stranger—cuts a hole in me and has a poke around, before getting out his set of Ikea allen keys. This is far from ideal.

Preseason, part II

June 29, 2008

We’re a few weeks in, and life is no more fun. Not by any stretch. I’ve been in constant pain now for three weeks. I’ve not slept a full night in that time, simply because I can’t move around in bed without a previously-unknown muscle group reminding me of its presence.

But as much as this awful pursuit is ruining my enjoyment of life, I’m yet to be convinced that I’d like things any other way. It’s taking time, effort, and no small amount of pain, but I’m getting better. I’ve never been the world’s best sprinter, but at training yesterday, I nearly overtook someone. This week promises a bunch of position-specific work. For my role—a scrummaging specialist—this means that I’ll be doing a whole bunch of anaerobics and deadlifting. I like neither. Yet, as ever, I don’t want it any other way. I love my club, I love my sport, and I know that everyone else on the playing staff is feeling the same as I do, and making the same sacrifices. In the coming season, I know they won’t let me down. I have to make sure that I won’t let them down. The only way to ensure this is more hard work, more time, and a whole lot more pain. But it’ll be worth it. This time next year, I’ll be hating life as much as I do now, but at least I’ll be doing it one league higher up.


June 16, 2008

Last month, I watched the finest dvd ever created. Ever since, I’ve been counting the minutes until I can get back on the rugby pitch. Needless to say, now that I have, I really wish I hadn’t.

On saturday, we had a fitness test to set a baseline for the upcoming summer’s endeavours. Of the people who were there, I knew that I’d perhaps fare a little worse than the 9 stone 16 year-old. Seeing as the session was 2 days ago, and that even now, I’m in such splendidly searing agony that even writing this post is making my fingers hurt, I’m pretty sure that was indeed the case.

Knowing the fitness coach, I’m pretty confident that I’ll be spending the next 3 months mainlining ibuprofen. On a slightly more worrying note, the friday just gone was the last day in the next 9-10 months that I’ll spend not hurting. The rest of the preseason and season will be spent cramped, with aching muscles, bruised, and generally feeling sorry for myself.

But, as ever, would I have it any other way? Of course not. This season, my own personal Everest may come. I need to make sure that I’m ready.

After the big match

January 28, 2008

So we lost. We’re out of the cup. But as the converse of hollow, boring wins, what we did yesterday was fantastic. Taking on a better-prepared, (better-)paid team, we showed up, and gave them one hell of a scare.

Without resorting too much to the world of sour grapes, if a couple of dubious referee’s decisions had gone the other way, I honestly think we could have taken it. We played pretty much according to plan. We were nasty, uncompromising, disruptive, and played in all facets as if we wanted the win more. In the forwards, we dominated everything. In the backs, every man left everything they had on the pitch. I even got to unleash my rapier wit.

As we limped and hobbled our way back to the coach, we did it with the warm glow that not one of us could have done anything more than we had done. We shared a few pints on the way home, in a coach unrecognisable from the one in which we arrived. Everyone was sat together, all having a laugh, all members of a team beaten but unbroken.

I received a text message this morning from a friend asking if I was walking proud or defeated. I replied “Both.”

It’s the biggest match of the year. We’re a diverse team; some older and some younger. Some short and some tall. Some fat and some thin. Some black and some white. What brings us together is the black and white hooped shirt we wear on a saturday afternoon. In just over two hours we kick off against a team from just up the road, where players are paid formidable amounts of money to play the game we play for free.

Slowly trickling to our home club, we mill around, swapping jokes about last week’s match report, swigging Lucozade, and throwing a ball around. We’re all wearing the team mufti; a black hooded top with the club name and a few logos on. We look good. Like a team.

Some of us are starting to think ahead to the game. On paper, they’re the better players. But we know we’re the better team. Our best hope lies with rattling them a bit. Getting under their skin. If we can put them off their game enough, we’ve got the skill to take them. It’ll be close, but we can do it. We’ve been told we can do it, and we’re starting to believe.

The coach is here. There’s no turning back. Once we’re on, the mood starts to change. Some players quieten down, some become more boisterous. Some lean over the back of chairs to join the banter. Others retreat into the world of their iPods. The King is keeping me mellow as the countryside drifts by the window. I say nothing.

I know my job; it’s a simple one. All I have to do is to be better than my opposite number. I know that he’s out there somewhere thinking the same thing. But I can’t let him. I refuse to let him. My friends on the coach expect this of me, as I expect it from them.

Closer to the match, the coach goes quiet. We want this win, and to get it, we have to concentrate. I look around, into the eyes of my friends. As I look, I see the unification of desire, and of purpose. We all want the same thing, and in just under an hour, will be giving everything we have to get it.

As we pull into the opponents’ club, we stand as one, resolute in our purpose. I know that there’s nowhere else in the world I’d like to be more than where I am right now. I love this game. I bloody love this game.