I think I know how the “Elephant Man” felt.
The Englishman Joseph Carey Merrick suffered from a rare, never-quite-determined illness or two that caused a number of grotesque deformities, formed the basis of a traveling show featuring Joseph as a human curiosity, and later inspired at least one theatrical plan and feature film. Joseph was evidently miserable, and evidently also of enormous interest to showmen, doctors, royalty, and ticket-holding penny gaff patrons.
For nearly two weeks, I’ve been staggering through my days trying to remember when, exactly, I was struck by a car while riding my bike. Or tackled unexpectedly by an overzealous, old friend. Or inadvertently struck in the side of the head with an aluminum baseball bat. Or maybe bitten by a blood-thirsty tick carrying one or another malevolent species of bacteria. Those are the only logical explanations I can can conjure up to explain how I’ve been feeling. But as far as I can remember, none of those potential explanations are based in reality. None of them happened.
I have been knocked sideways by what feels like a dislocated shoulder, a sore sternocleidomastoid neck muscle consistent with the aftermath of swimming the English Channel, and an intermittent throbbing below my ear. There are far worse health problems than mine, absolutely. But I am not accustomed to this.
I haven’t taken a stroke in the Bay, a jogging step in my zero drop shoes, or a spin on my bike for nearly two weeks. I have a race less than two weeks from today. It’s not that I’m worried about finishing the race, or being adequately trained. It’s that whatever ails me is preventing me from moving my body the way it has to move for a couple hours to even do the race. I couldn’t zip up my wetsuit right now if my life depended upon it, for example, let alone go out and crawl around the Bay with 1,000 others.
More importantly, we’re in the heart of Little League playoffs season right now. Both of my sons’ teams are playing. They and all of their teammates are all kinds of fired up. I live for this time of year. In my current condition, if I foolishly burn through a bucket of ground balls with my fungo, the next morning will give me a hint of what it must feel like to be shot in the shoulder. So I don’t hit infield. Normally, my throwing shoulder is bone-weary by now, just from the sheer number of balls thrown during batting practice and father-son games of “catch” over the past few months. In the past, I’ve complained about that seasonal ache. I now ache for that trivial, seasonal ache. At the moment, I am unable to raise my hand above my shoulder without wincing in pain. So that means no throwing BP, no “coach-pitch” relief during my Little League games when our pitcher has been overly wild on the mound, and no easy game of catch with my boys. Sure, I can catch just fine. It’s the throwing part. I’m reduced to underhand tosses. And even those don’t feel particularly good.
In short, I’m miserable.
And apparently, like Joe Merrick, quite a curiosity to doctors.
My own doctor has been a champ through this. Chatting with me after-hours on the phone. Speeding blood work results through the lab’s otherwise arthritic process. Assuring me that eating ibuprofen like M&Ms is OK for the time being. And showing genuine empathy for my situation, even though I know she has patients with far more serious maladies.
All of that is true.
But I am now beginning to suspect that I’m not far from the penny gaff myself. This mysterious, pain-inducing thing knocking around inside of me is a Rubic’s Cube for my doctor. I just want it to go away. But my doctor has begun saying things like “infectious disease specialists,” “more blood work,” and “my colleagues.” Saying those words with a barely-detectible hint of excitement in her voice that I would rather not be detecting.
I think she is already working on the creative brief for the P. T. Barnum-style poster announcing my imminent arrival in your town. I think she has begun drafting the speech for the barker posturing out in front of the tent.
“Step right up, folks. You won’t want to miss this. We have the death-defying Human Cannonball. See him shot right out of a cannon before your very eyes. We have Fire-Boy. The man who eats and drinks fire same as you and I eat a hearty meal. We have Billy, the famous two-headed goat. And get this folks, for the first time ever, we bring you our newest, feature attraction: The Whimpering Little League Coach. Reduced to throwing underhand! That’s right, you’ll have to see it to believe it! Has the devil taken hold of him? Could be, folks, could be. Step right up!”
So like I said. Miserable. But evidently, too, of enormous interest. Step right up.
Thanks for reading.