The proverbial angel and devil are on my shoulder 24/7. Do I hang 'em up? Do my basketball shoes collect dust (my Polo shoes definitely will)? Do I spend my Monday nights watching football instead of playing in the men's basketball league? Do I spend my Sundays eating hot dog after hot dog instead of taking the bike out for a ride? Do I talk trash from the sidelines instead of playing in the annual Students versus Faculty basketball game?
The devil (or maybe the angel) on my shoulder echoes the advice, no command, of my friend--"Don't try to play ball again, man. You're gonna get hurt."
The angel or the devil tells me, "Use this as fuel. You know what it's like to have been active, and you cannot give that up! You can't put the toothpaste back in the tube (my angel/devil has a firm command of figurative language)!
Let me say this -the fear of spending another period of multiple weeks/months off my feet, virtually helpless, unable to even shower without a Herculean effort, is quite real. The fear is real, yet I wonder how long it will last. Part of this fear is healthy, I think, that which kept me concentrating with each "step" on my crutches, loath to make a misstep that would lead to a fresh tear of my balloon-fragile, newly-rebuilt Achilles tendon.
About a week after my surgery, I made my way to my usual sitting room perch, a comfortable couch with a good view of the television. As I spun around to allow myself to lay down, backside first, I made a misstep that made my weight lean forward. In a feeling that I can liken to those agonizing seconds when the wind is knocked out of you, there was a moment (who knows how long exactly?) when I felt that the next logical step was me stumbling onto my bad leg, that it was inescapable.
I uttered a pitiful cry that didn't sound much different than the Tarzanlike cries I usually exhaled in a joking fashion when I stretched out on the couch. My sister and cousin, extremely solicitous and helpful in my recovery, must have figured that things were normal, and thankfully, I regained my balance, having seen the abyss below.
As I stand (so to speak) now at this crossroads, I wonder if this tenderness, this avoidance of injury, will stick with me for a long time, will infect my brain, will cause unnecessary worry.
Will I be emboldened by this injury, quick to resist the malaise that would keep me home from a workout? Will I run to the tennis court without hesitation, savor the back and forth that I missed for many months?
"Good news is," says my uncle who suffered the same injury at the age of 31, also playing basketball, "my repaired Achilles has never given me a problem in the twenty years since. Shoot, it's better than the other Achilles. I've played a lotta tennis, even to this day. Played basketball for years, too."
"And the bad news?" I say.
"Bad news is, they tell you six months until you can exercise, but it was almost a year before I felt right. You know what I mean by 'right.' Feeling like you can cut on that leg, plant on that leg, go up in a crowd and grab a rebound. The physical will be fine. It's the mental that is the hardest part.
Will I be gung ho about my first basketball game and my first tennis match, or beg out due to the possibility of reinjury?
With apologies to Robert Frost, is it possible to take both paths?