The Other Me

The Other Me


For years, my brothers – Lou and Nick – had a weekly social game of something or other with cousins and friends. Usually, it was soccer. I was hopeless at soccer, and only played it as a last resort. Lately, my brothers played football.

I’d never been invited to play because I was the baby. Regardless of my age and size, I always would be. But my cousin Roo – who was several months younger than me – had been invited to play, so my brothers could no longer rule me out due to age.

The first game I played I was horrible. I had nil stamina. I’d been fit all my life. Awesomely fit. I could run anywhere without puffing – I could jog three or four kilometres easily. But in the last year or so I’d taken up smoking. All my exercising had also slipped. Walking around a pool table all day didn’t do much in that regard. So that first game I puffed and puffed. It was embarrassing.

For the next week, I quit smoking and exercised daily, riding the exercise bike we had in the garage, doing weights, and pushing myself as hard as I could. It wasn’t just about finding fitness – it’s not like you can just find fitness in a week –, but reminding my body what it could do.

I dominated in my second game. I ran hard, hit hard, and felt good about myself. I wasn’t a champion footballer – I was okay and capable of some nice things – but in that game I fulfilled every bit of potential I had.

During one bit of play I leaped to punch the ball and was flipped in mid-air. All my weight came down on my right hand. Both bones in my right arm – about a quarter of the way up from my wrist – broke. It sounded like a plank of wood snapping – at least inside my own head.

My forearm dangled at a 45 degree angle from the point of the fracture. Seeing it, I thought, They’re not going to be able to fix that. Roo – who’d broken his arm twice – said, ‘That’s what mine looked like.’ That was assuring, that this might be normal. Assurance is an amazing thing.

Another cousin led me to the car. Roo shouted out they should take me to any hospital but the Preston and Northcote Community Hospital – or PANCH, as it was known. PANCH had a bad reputation. The reason he’d broken his am twice was he’d gone to PANCH the first time, they’d removed the plaster too early, and the bone had popped back out when somebody had grabbed his arm.

Lou and Nick drove me to St Vincent’s hospital. I clutched my broken arm in the back seat. The break didn’t hurt. But the lower half of my right hand screamed. Every now and again, it felt like my hand was on fire and the two lower fingers would contract. I couldn’t control it.

At hospital, I was told that broken bones are manipulated back into place up until the age of sixteen, but after sixteen they insert pins or plates. It had something to do with the way bones grew before and after that age. Because my sixteenth had been only a couple of months earlier, they were going to try manipulating the bones into place.

That worked, but concern grew over the next few days that I couldn’t feel the lower half of my hand. Fearing the cast was too tight, doctors ordered that it be split down the centre to loosen it, then wrapped up with bandages to ensure it didn’t fall free. The risk was that the procedure might cause the bone to pop out of the place.

The bone popped out of place.

As the doctors held a conference about what they’d do with my arm, I stood by the window of my hospital bay. Due to a lack of beds, I’d been stuck in a children’s ward.

I’d come in on a Sunday evening and been told that I would have to at least stay overnight. That agitated me. I’d been at camps and things like that, but they were places where you had a good time. This was a hospital. I was staying in here as long as something needed fixing. Now it was Tuesday.

I looked out the window and down into the parking lot. I was five storeys up. I wondered was sort of splatter I’d make on the concrete from this height. The thought popped into my head exactly as the thought to quit school had popped into my head. All I had to do was take a run-up and jump through the window.

Suicidal thoughts popped up (popped in?) every now and again. They were never serious. Irrational, more than anything. When I was about eleven, I’d even declared impulsively to Nick after something had gone wrong, ‘I’m going to kill myself!’ He laughed because, I guess, kids say stupid things. Now, though, it would be so easy to jump, to fall, crash, and know nothing more.

Just like that.

No more pain.

No more inconvenience.