I know you’ve been a part of this conversation before, the one that starts with a bunch of guys talking last night’s game butsomehow devolves into an argument about who in his glory days suffered the worst sports injury. One guy brings up the sprained ankle that forced him to miss state, or something, and the next guy ups the ante with thetale of a compound fracture that kept him out of football pads for a year. Around the circle we go, beer in one hand, gesturing at various scars with the other, rolling up pant legs, lifting up shirts. It’s a competition, really. The winner is usually the guy who has the most gruesome story and the gnarly scars to go along with it. But sometimes the guy with the most random, bizarre, incomprehensible injury—the Milton Bradley ACL tear or the in-your-sleep back tweak—gets bragging rights.
I know you’re sitting there, thinking about your own amateur sports career and the toll it took on your body. Maybe you already know the story you’d tell if we were standing in that circle drinking a cold one.
Allow me to start the conversation.
I’ve had two related injuries that, while not exactly Milton Bradleyian, were unconventional. I might be the only guy on Earthto go directly from a high school cross country practice warm-up to the emergency room. If not, if others have required emergency intervention while preparing to run, the injury surely puts me in select company.
The day injury #1 happened was warm and dry and still, a typical fall afternoon in Southern California. The team met in the school’s parking lot before running a mile or so to a nearby park to finish our warm-up. In the park we stretched. We ran backwards and sideways. Then Coach told us to do some alternating pushups and sit-ups. I remember struggling with my pushups, as is still typical for me, before rolling onto my back for the sit-ups. That’s when it happened. As I rolled to my right, something snapped in my right knee.
I’d just dislocated my patella but it didn’t hurt until a half-hour later, by which time I was in the passenger seat of my family’s 1988 Toyota Corolla, my brother behind the wheel, driving to the hospital. When the snapping happened, I felt an immense tightness in my knee, and I couldn’t straighten it beyond about 100 degrees, but the pain lagged.
By the time we reached Pomona Valley Hospital, however, things had changed. I wasn’t feeling very good. I could feel the reggaeton beat of my heart all the way down in my knee. I remember waiting only about a half hour, once we got there, which has got to be some kind of record for that hospital. We didn’t lose our place in line to a gunshot victim or a guy with three of his own fingers in a plastic cup (both of which had happened to me in previous emergency room visits). They whisked me into the X-ray room and then an examination room. The doctor didn’t fuss around once he arrived. He picked up my leg, one hand under my calf, the other pushing down on my quads. As he flexed my knee he asked me questions.
The line of questioning went something like this:
Doctor: [My knee bent to 60 degrees] Does this hurt?
Doctor: [Straightening my leg] What about this?
Me: Yeah… Yeah. That’s starting to hurt a little bit.
Doctor: [Straightens my leg even further]
Me: Now that hurts a lot.
Doctor: [more straightening]
Me: I said A LOT!
My knee: POP!
And suddenly all the tension, all the pain just vanished. I was at peace.
One of the upshots to that experience was the revelation that I had loose patella (technical term). I’m tall and lanky and for some reason my knee caps don’t like to stay in their little groves. Or that’s what the doctor told me, anyway. That’s how I came to hurt myself doing calisthenics.This high school injury wasn’t the last time I would injure myself warming up for a non-contact sport. My real, career-defining moment came when, as a grad student in Mississippi, I hurt myself warming up for Ultimate Frisbee practice.
This accident happened on a wet February night at the university’s intramural fields. I jumped from a standstill to grab a floating disk, and when I landed, a clump of grass broke free under my foot. My ankle somehow rolled both forward and to the side—over my pinky toe—and my knee (the same one I hurt before) flexed to the side instead of backward. Again, something snapped. Again, I felt tingling rather than pain. And again, I couldn’t straighten my knee. My first inclination was to try to snap it back into place, just as the doctor had done years before, but it wouldn’t go.
I headed back to the emergency room.
As this was in Mississippi, a state with a population about 1/4th the size of the LA metro area, there wasn’t any wait at the hospital. I may have been the only patient in the place. I got X-rays. They gave me some nausea inducing stuff for the pain,put me in a leg brace, and got me an appointment with a specialist. A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, a surgeon removed a good chunk of my knee’s meniscus, which had folded over on top of itself and, like something wedged into a door hinge, was preventing me from straightening my leg.
Today, when I warm-up, I don’t play around. It’s serious.
Now it’s your turn. The Classical wants to hear from you. What’s the worst, strangest, most unbelievable injury you’ve suffered in your pursuit of (or, in my case, preparation for) athletic greatness (or non-greatness)? Can you top me?Throw your story up in the comments, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
 And I really do mean he. Women, in my experience, tend to steer clear of this sort of conversation.