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Sunday, March 30, 2014

75) Cricket


It’s Friday, and I’m shouting at my colleagues. They’re not sure what they’re supposed to be doing and I, having the clearest view, am trying to organise them.  I’m playing goalkeeper in my work’s team in Melbourne City Council’s inter-office lunchtime five-a-side soccer competition; I am trying to organise my team-mates into a defensive formation.

It’s only the third time I’ve played in goal and, to my great surprise, I love it.  But I’m inexperienced and, when I take my eye off the player with the ball, he sees the opportunity and shoots.  I notice the ball too late and though I get a hand to it it hits the back of the net.  I apologise to my team-mates while the other team cheers.  The score is 1-0.

At half-time our captain tells me, kindly, that my only job is to keep my eye on the ball.  By that time the score is 3-2 against us and I’ve made several saves, the most recent of which, just before half-time, bent my right hand back sharply at the wrist, causing immediate pain.  As the second half begins I’m still trying to shake off the pain, but it persists; yet I stay in the game, not thinking too much of it, and unwilling to abandon my team-mates as we gradually get back into the game, drawing level, then going ahead, then going further ahead as we push towards our first win in five weeks.  At full-time the score is 6-3: we’ve held the other team scoreless in the second half, and scored four goals ourselves.

On Saturday, thirty hours later, I’m sitting on a bench overlooking the Yarra River.  It’s getting towards night-time I’m too tired to go out so I’m going for a walk instead.  My right arm is in a sling and is immobilised from the fingertips almost to the elbow by a plaster splint.  I yawn deeply: the day has been physically and mentally exhausting.  I’m right-handed and now my right hand is unusable; my left hand, clumsy and uncertain, is all I have.  Being restricted to the use of only one hand, I’ve realised, is like being in a foreign country: daily tasks and habits are the same, but must be re-thought entirely, their practicality assessed, their execution re-learned.  The signs are familiar but are written in a different language.

After the game on Friday my hand began to swell up.  I put ice on it til the ice-pack melted, and I continued to work.  I didn’t want to let my colleagues down, and I didn’t think my injury was too big a deal.  It hurt, though, a pang, and when I asked my office manager for a panadol one of my colleagues overheard.  Seeing my hand, now fat like a small balloon, she said in a worried voice: “That doesn’t look good.”  Of course it didn’t, and when she said I should go to the doctor I realised that she was right.  I called my GP; he had one appointment slot available, the last of the day at 5:15.  It was 4:15 when I called.  I left the office immediately.

While I’m sitting on the bench, watching the river, a small flock of Red-rumped Parrots (Psephotus haematonotus) bursts from the eucalypts on the far bank and alights upon a grey log almost submerged in the middle of the river.  They are small and dainty, I could hold them in my arms; there are males and females alike, in equal numbers, about ten birds in total, and drinking from the water that surrounds their log they look like they’re taking an island vacation.  I’ve never seen parrots in the middle of a river before.

While I’m watching the parrots my phone begins to ring.  It’s my mother, calling to check up on me.  She’s worried that I’m in pain but I reassure her, truthfully, that there’s very little pain.  If I accidentally turn my arm the wrong way I wince, but other than that I don’t feel anything that can’t be managed some over-the-counter painkillers now and then.  The night before when I’d been waiting in St Vincent’s Hospital, on the edge of Melbourne’s CBD, one of the nurses had given me a couple of panadols; half an hour later, after getting x-rayed, I told the hospital physiotherapist cheerfully that the pain wasn’t as bad as it had been.  Only later did I remember having taken the panadols, and I laughed at myself while also wondering if I should call the physio back to explain my mistaken self-diagnosis to her.

My GP suspects that I’ve fractured the scaphoid, one of the small bones in the palm of the hand.  He refers me to the hospital for x-rays but explains that scaphoid fractures are notoriously hard to see.  As I catch the 96 tram down Nicholson Street from the doctor’s surgery to the hospital I begin to feel almost delirious; I wonder if my brain is soaking itself with endorphins to mitigate the pain in my hand, greater then than in the freshness of the injury it would be later.  By the time I walk into the emergency ward at St Vincent’s I’m almost giddy with the novelty of the experience.

By the river I ask my mum how she is.  My parents are trying to sell their house; it’s not as easy as they’d hoped.  I can’t tell if she’s optimistic or not, but she says she feels better than she did the week before.  I believe her.  We both feel the distance between Melbourne and Canberra more acutely this weekend more than we normally do.

We finish our conversation and I put my phone back in my pocket.  I’m keeping everything in my left pocket now, phone, keys, wallet, coin-pouch, and it bulges with its contents while my right pocket sits flat and empty and inaccessible beneath the elbow of my useless right arm.  I can feel the weight of my right arm pulling against the left side of my neck where the sling is tied.  When I went out earlier to do some shopping I carried a bag on my left shoulder.  The left side of my body is doing more than its fair share of work.

In between consultations with nurses and physios and x-ray technicians on Friday night I listen to the announcements over the hospital PA.  Around a corner in the ward I can hear a woman screaming abuse.  The physio is at her desk just metres away from me and I think how strange this workplace is: I try to imagine myself sitting at my desk, in my office, carrying out the normal tasks of my working day while perfect strangers sit just metres away; while in the background I can hear people fighting for life or sanity.  The hospital staff all wear comfortable shoes.

I’m walking slowly along the river.  A slow walk is all I can manage.  Earlier in the day I’d jogged for a few steps as I tried to get across a road before the lights changed and I’d immediately realised my mistake: jolted and jostled my right arm had flared up in pain.  I slowed again to a scampering walk.  I haven’t gone faster than that since.

It’s just after 6pm when I leave my house and the sun is still high on this second-last Saturday of daylight saving, but by the time I approach Fairfield it’s well past seven and dusk is settling.  It’s been a warm day and it’s a mild evening, and Crickets are singing everywhere, louder than I’ve ever heard them sing before.  They’re bolder, too; they do not stop singing no matter how close to them I get, and at one point walking across a patch of grass I stop and stand for a minute in the metre-wide gap between two Crickets.  The sound of them in stereo is almost deafening, it nearly makes my ears ring.  I’m stunned by how persistent and unwavering they are in their singing.  Perhaps they know, these Crickets, that summer is fading, and with it their last chance to attract a mate.

The x-rays were inconclusive, as my GP had predicted they would be.  The physio puts the splint on my arm and makes the sling as a precautionary measure: I’m to wear it for a week, by which time the swelling will have subsided and my hand can be x-rayed again.  I find as soon as I leave the hospital that having my arm in plaster and a sling garners me automatic sympathy: stopping off at a grocer to buy chocolate on my way home the shopgirl walks me through each of the types of chocolate in stock, one by one, as if I might be unable to read the labels or make a decision.  It’s baffling, but also sweetly amusing: I’m unused to being fussed over.  The next day, exactly twenty-four hours after the soccer match, a waitress at a café where I’m having lunch asks what happened; it transpires that she once also broke the scaphoid in her right hand.  “So that’ll be six weeks, right?” she says, and I quail at the thought; I remember sheepishly my disappointment the night before when the physio had been unable to confirm whether the bone was broken: secretly I’d been hoping for the fracture.  At the age of thirty-four I’ve never broken a bone in my body, and I’d been looking forward to the novelty of the experience.

Now, though, with my hand in plaster, even the thought of six days exhausts me.  Everything takes twice as long to do as it normally would.  Before going to the café, when I’d been shopping at another grocer near my house, I’d noticed a woman who was shopping with her boyfriend.  His right hand, too, was in plaster; how I envied him, having somebody to be an extra pair of hands.  What luxury.

The path along the river rises abruptly, until without quite realising how it’s happened I’m looking out over the crowns of the trees and the river is far below me.  Only moments ago I was at the water’s edge.  This part of the path always confuses and delights me.  This is a favourite walk of mine, across Merri Creek at Yarra Bend then back up the river towards Fairfield, then over the Eastern Freeway to Heidelberg Road and the creek again.  I’ve taken this walk many times and as I walk it again today I’m thinking about a woman I know who I would like to take this walk with one day; but I know she is not interested in walking with me.  I’ve met enough disinterested women in my time to know one when I meet one.  That’s okay, she’s under no obligation, and these things cannot be taken personally.

The physio had told me to put a plastic bag over my plastered arm when I have a shower.  I feel sorry for my GP, having to cut the plaster off on Thursday and get the first whiff of my arm, sweaty and unwashed for a week.  Putting a plastic bag over my arm is harder than I thought it would be: the first bag I select has a hole in it; the second seems to be too short until I manoeuvre it so that my fingers are pushed right into its bottom corner.  I secure and seal the bag with a rubber band, stretching it gingerly over my hand, tugging the ends of the bag beneath it.  It works, and in the shower my arm stays dry, but trying to get a lather up from the soap with one hand is slow and inefficient.  Still, I manage it.  This life can be managed alone, if it has to be.

Opposite the Yarra Bend Golf Course I stop to watch a group of Indian men playing cricket.  They are wearing shorts and t-shirts; it’s far too dark to play cricket and I wonder how long they’ve been there.  They’re revelling in each-other’s company, chatting to each-other in Hindi or some other language, laughing on a beautiful Australian autumn evening.  Three Eastern Rosellas (Platycercus eximius) forage in the grass in between the Indian men and me.  Birds flock so that there is always at least one pair of eyes keeping an eye out for predators: they look out for each-other, literally.

Since I announced my injury on social media I’ve had a handful of offers of help if needed, but not many.  Still, I’ve received many sympathetic words, and commiserations, and kind-hearted jokes, and these too are help of a kind.  I’ve only very recently begun to come around to the idea that people other than my family care about me and think of me when I’m not around.  It seems foolish to have come to such a realisation so late.  My injury has inconvenienced me, but things are not so bad. 

Earlier on Saturday afternoon my Indian houseguest had told me about studies that showed that just twenty minutes’ exposure to natural sounds a day reduced stress levels and prolonged a person’s life.  By the time I get back home the sky above is dark, dark blue, and the Grey-headed Flying Foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) are making their nightly pilgrimage overhead.  It’s 8pm; a walk that normally takes me one hour has tonight taken me more than two.  And yet when I get home, I feel less tired than I did when I left.

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