How To: (Not) Break Your Ankle Like A Man
Step One: Ignore Reality
I’m 34 now. I’m in some of the best shape of my life: down 25 pounds, running daily, eating better(ish). Yes, there’s gray in my hair, and yes, standing up in the morning takes longer than it used to, but I’m still basically 27. Hell, 22 wasn’t that long ago. Not in the grand scheme of glacial time when you really think about it.
I run every week against the same guys. They’re good players, mostly better than me. Younger and faster too. I hang around with a bit of guile and a bit of limiting myself to what I know I should be able to do. Things recently have been harder though, slower almost. Not a full-step slower, but maybe a half-step. But enough to notice. Enough to occasionally make me look at my hands and think, “What just happened? Why didn’t I get that?”
I’ve heard old(er) guys say that the mind is willing but the body isn’t. But I’m 34. They were older than that when they said those things, weren’t they?
Step Two: Never Properly Adjust To A Changing Game
When I grew up, big guys like me were taught to defend the post, because big guys like me played on the post. That’s right under the basket for those wondering. So that’s what I can do: defend the post. Maybe not well mind you, but well enough to keep in check anybody that wants to do their business down there.
If that’s the game then, I’m good. But that isn’t the game. The game has changed. I’m not matched up against the other team’s big man, but rather, I’m matched up against the other team’s biggest man. The guys I play against played basketball at higher levels than I ever did. They played for their high school teams. Some of them played for their college teams. Some of them played other college sports. One guy who used to run with us is now a starting infielder for a major league baseball team. I’m running with and against athletic basketball players.
And that’s a problem, because athletic basketball players have a tendency to use the entire court, especially offensively. I never learned to defend beyond the post. I’m big enough to hang around with guys but if they want to, they can use me like a turnstile, going left or right or up and I’m there grasping at straws. My only chance is denying them the ball – they can’t hurt me if they don’t have the ball. So I try to keep them from getting the ball. If that doesn’t work, I hope that they’ll drive it.
I have a chance if they drive it.
Step Three: Footwork Is Important
Or at least I tell myself I have a chance. I can’t get to their jumpshots, I reason, but if they’re going up for a layup, I might be able to tail them, jump behind them, and get the block. This was a great strategy when I was younger, but nowadays I note every blocked shot, because it legitimately feels like it might be the last.
The man I’m defending at that moment though? He catches the ball – I failed to deny it to him – and he has it on the floor immediately, going to my left. This is good. I can deal with this. At the worst, I’ll get scored on and trudge on back up the court, hopeful to make up the points on the other end. He’s around me and scooping the layup and I’m reaching out for it and before the ball leaves his hand, I roll my fingers across it, blocking the shot. This is a great moment. Except that I am also required to stick the landing, and in attempting to do so, my foot and ankle are suddenly very much at odds with one another.
Now I am laying on the ground.
Step Four: Get Real Manly Because This Is The Time For It
On my way down, I feel/hear distinct popping sounds and I make a noise of some sort, one that I probably wouldn’t enjoy hearing played back to me.
“Oh man, is it your ankle? Is it your wrist? Was it your wrist? What hurts?” I’m getting asked, but the key here – the most important thing you can do – is to minimize the severity of the situation by saying something like, “It’s my ankle. I do this all the time. Gotta just get up.”
So I get myself standing and put let’s-just-say one pound’s worth of pressure on my left leg and no, I do not just have to “get up.”
“I’m done,” I announce. “Sorry guys.”
I’m the 10th man in a 10 man game. Another guy drops out so that everybody left can play 4-on-4 and then I crawl in a very masculine way over to my pile of stuff. I text my wife to tell her that things aren’t good in Ankletown, but even there, I try to brush aside the reality by writing, “Just badly rolled my ankle. Nondriving. Home soon hopefully.”
I gingerly pull on my clothes and get myself standing.
“You want some help getting to your car?” I’m asked, which I decline, because really, I’m fine. No worries. Nothing to see here.
“You sure?” No, no, I couldn’t.
It’s just a few feet, I tell myself, which incidentally isn’t true. I’m at the other end of the parking lot. So on a cold, icy night, I hop across the parking lot, occasionally trying to put pressure on my ankle, and then I pull myself into my car and feel very queasy.
This was all very manly. I accepted no help. I insisted that everything was fine. I made it to my car on my own. Grr. I’m a big tough guy.
Step Five: Maybe Go To The Doctor Tomorrow
My wife wonders if I shouldn’t just drive myself to the Emergency Room. She is a pharmacist, and smart, but I say no, because I’m at that very moment telling myself that I can sleep it off. Which is what one does with an injured ankle: sleep it off.
When I was a kid, I rode a fast sled down a steep hill and realizing I might hit water, I put my hands out and stopped myself with a crack. My hand hurt, but I was fine, which is what I told my mother when I left her a sad message on our answering machine. “I hurt my hand sledding mom, but I’m fine.” She found me the next morning trying to button my shirt using the hand that worked and the wrist of the hand that didn’t. An x-ray revealed a shattered metacarpal (“Paging Dr. Wilkinson. Paging Dr. Wilkinson!”) and I ended up casted in plaster for more than a month.
My wife then encouraged me to get home safely, which I did after pulling over to endure a brief bout of feeling like I was about to violently throw up everywhere, and when I arrived, she helped me get into bed, elevate my leg, take some medicine, and rest.
The next morning, I tried to get up, but couldn’t, and then almost pulled her down while using her as a brace. We eventually agreed that I would go to the doctor.
So I hopped into the doctor’s office, where I again repeatedly refused an offered wheelchair, because my injury wasn’t so bad that I needed a wheelchair. I was fine hopping around like a child playing hopscotch. This lead to the following conversation:
“Are you sure we can’t get you a wheelchair?” I was asked for the umpteenth time.
“No, really, I’m fine. This is fine,” I said, hopping. “Not so fine that I can put both feet down and walk like a normal person, but seriously, it’s fine.”
I’m pretty sure the nurse rolled her eyes at me.
Step Six: Diagnosis – Broken Ankle
“That looks awful!” I heard, which I dismissed, because as I explained, my ankles were already swollen from years of injuries to them, so even though this looked like it was three times its normal size, it was really only twice its normal size.
“You really injured yourself!” I heard, which I laughed off, because it wasn’t that bad.
“Wow!” I heard, which, yes, I get it, I injured my ankle a little bit.
A physician’s assistant eventually explained me that x-rays revealed a slightly broken ankle and I laughed, which wasn’t the expected response apparently. “You sure you’re okay?” I got asked, and I nodded because I was amused.
“And you’ll have to go for a orthopedic opinion later this week.”
I went to get temporarily casted and I was offered green, blue, and gold for my wrap.
“Oh, and we also have pink,” she said. “But you don’t want pink.”
Step Seven: Diagnosis – Severely Sprained Ankle
“Ooooh, that’s a good one,” said the orthopedic specialist who came in to look at me. “You did a real number on it.”
“I did my best,” I said.
“Well, you didn’t break it. At least this time you didn’t break it. You’ve broken it before, but now you’ve only severely sprained it. It’ll be harder to heal this way so don’t get excited about having not broken it. We’ll give you a boot and come back in four weeks to see how things are.”
My broken ankle is now only severely sprained, although I take some solace in knowing that at some point I was so dumb that I walked around on a broken ankle. I’ve got my MoonBoot, which is cool, at least until I try to do anything in it, at which point it becomes a ten pound anchor attached to an injured leg. And most importantly, I’ve got the pride in knowing that I walked* it off, even if walking** it off meant repeatedly turning down good-faith efforts to help me, all in service of the idea that doing things this way was the truly manly way to approach the pain.
Me smart. Me strong. Me man. Grr.
**nope, hopping again