Monday, November 23, 2009

Uh, You Guys Did Replace My Hip, Right?

If you had asked me last April whether I planned to play wheelchair basketball again, my answer would have been a big, fat "hells no!" After a season of trying (unsuccessfully) to stuff my hip back in the socket every time it came out during a game and trying (unsuccessfully) to get through 15-hour bus rides when my hip prevented me from staying in any position other than rigidly upright and trying (unsuccessfully) to avoid having a pain-related meltdown on the court because my hip had been out of alignment for two freaking weeks and my leg wouldn't stop spasming, I was more burned out than a college student after a three-day Adderall-induced study bender. Someone should have stuck a fork in me because I was done.

Well, as the great Bob Dylan sings, the times they are a'changing. Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder; (actually, it makes the heart obsessively watch NBA basketball and remember what it was like to actually do something useful with your life). A few months into my hip-replacement recovery, I found myself fantasizing about push-til-you-puke chair skills. Then, I was dreaming about wheelchair basketball. It was therefore no surprise that I did today what I said I was never going to do: I sat in a basketball wheelchair, even though I had told myself that I would never again get into a chair if I was still in pain. (This is not as body-smart as it sounds, since if I could play successfully with pain, I would be the first one on the court. The unfortunate truth, however, is that long-term pain causes me to suck at basketball and there's no point ruining your body for something that you suck at).

When I'm in Champaign, I still work out at the gym where the disabled athletes work out and when I came in today, everyone's basketball chair was lined up along a wall and were singing to me in that siren song that said, "Come on, Arley. You know you want to strap your ass into this chariot of titanium and go for a little spin. Before, you were a wheelchair athlete. Now you're just plain old gimpy. Don't you want to take a little push down memory lane?" I couldn't resist. A few minutes later, I'd strapped into my friend's chair and was cruising up and down the hallways of the Disability Resource Center. A few more minutes and I was dribbling up and down the halls and rolling the ball out in front of me to see if I could pick it up.

I was having so much fun that I didn't realize two things: 1) the hip replacement hadn't made one single bit of difference. I still couldn't bend past 90 degrees. I still couldn't pick the ball up on my left side. I still couldn't rotate well on my left side. 2) I was still in pain. Now, part of this is because the strap of the wheelchair rubs against the place where my gluteus medius should be attached, but the other part of it is that I hurt just as much as I did on my last day of playing basketball and the only thing that's changed is that I have a few pounds of cobalt-chrome where my hip should be and a tendon flapping in the breeze. I briefly wondered whether Dr. ___ had just lied about replacing my hip and had given me a hip-replacement placebo. (Somewhere, my dad is saying, "I'm high on placebos!," which is one of his catch phrases).

And how did I react to this news? Did I say, "Well, at least you tried and maybe you can try again after they repair your hip replacement?"No. Did I say, "I thought you hated this sport? Weren't you going to take up Paralympic swimming?" No. My very first reaction was this: "I could just move my strap so it wouldn't rub! I could put a piece of foam between myself and my chair! I could take off my side guards! Maybe I could still play! Maybe I could practice!" If you give a rat an electric shock every time he goes the wrong way in a maze, that rat will stop going the wrong way. I, however, seem incapable of translating "this activity hurts" to "I should stop doing this activity." Self preservation: you're doing it wrong.

So, yes, the chances of me successfully playing wheelchair basketball again are minimal. Hey, Paralympic swimmers, got any use for a 27-year-old, six-foot-tall chick who doesn't sink in water?

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