Monday 27 May 2019

A wound is the place where light enters you

There's something extremely satisfying about comparing old war wounds with other men
There's something extremely satisfying about comparing old war wounds with other men
Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Another sign of ageing. They come daily now.

I was thrown together with two guys I didn't know recently. We were all from different countries, so thank God sport was not going to be a common denominator between us. But, equally, neither were we going to start sharing our feelings.

So we lighted on the fact that one of us was walking with a stick, even though he was a youngish, fit man. Obviously I was gagging to know the story. He didn't seem like a habitual walking stick user so it didn't seem like a disability, or if it was, it was recently acquired.

But it wasn't like he had a cast on and you could just ask him what happened. Eventually the third man asked him about it. So it turned out he had a very unlikely broken hip. It was, in fact, an ice hockey injury. And the stick was to prevent him from overcompensating with his walking during recovery from the operation, and throwing everything out of whack.

Me and the other guy were lapping this up. We got all the gory details, and then, of course, we got into the extent of the metal involved. There was a fair bit. Obviously then it would have been wrong of me not to share my own war wound story and metal in my arm. Boring you would think - unless you are a middle-aged man.

We were loving it. It was a bit of sharing, but we were ostensibly talking about technical matters of pins and screws and did they go off in airports and so on.

And then the third man spoke up and trumped both of us. He didn't have metal. He had something much more exciting. He had a dead man's ACL in his knee. And it wasn't the first one he'd had. A previous repair hadn't worked, so the doc had joked to him that he was going to thaw out another one. Obviously this totally won. We had mere inanimate metal in us. This guy had a part of a dead person in him. And who knew cruciate ligaments were something you could donate after death?

We darkly jokingly asked him if he felt the spirit of the late tissue donor in him, but it turned out he actually took the donation quite seriously.

He had in fact written to the family of the dead man thanking them for the ligament and telling them about how it allowed him to play with his daughter again.

It had all become a bit too touchy feely at that point, so we retreated quickly back to metal.

The broken hip guy explained how he would not be having his metal removed because the bone would grow around. We all puked quietly in our mouths at the thought of that, and felt like men again.

So this, clearly, is the next phase. I will sit around with other men of a certain age discussing our war wounds. And the likelihood is that everyone will have them. Because not only does no one here get out alive, none of us get through it unscathed.

All the scars we carry are not as obvious as the nasty keloid one that runs in an S shape down my arm, and the sticks we use to keep going are not all as visible as the one our ice hockey friend used. But we all have our scars, and we all have our sticks. And they are our story. The new question in psychology these days is not 'what's wrong with you?' but 'what happened to you?' And that's who we are by and large. That's our story, and it's written on us. And it is, for middle-aged men, perhaps a safe way of telling each other what happened to you.

And maybe the important thing to remember is that, as unlikely as it seems, when you break a bone, the bone grows back stronger than before, maybe bolstered by the memories of what happened to you.

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