Injured Reserve

What we expect is never what happens, so live defensively.

Dear Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Mike Hart, and Kelvin Hayden:

It’s the offseason, and with any luck—heaven knows you all could use some—you’re resting up. One thing you don’t have to practice this spring and summer is sitting on the bench; you’ve got that nailed, what with this past season’s injuries, ranging from konked heads to messed-up elbows, wrists, necks, and shoulders.

Don’t expect a pity party from me, however. I’ve got my own problems, and nobody’s paying me zillions of dollars to solve them. I’m injury-prone myself, but do I lie around the house watching Judge Judy? No, I do not. I keep trudging along, although more carefully as I grow older.

It all started when I was 5 and tumbled down some concrete steps outside Sunday school. My mother and I were holding hands, and to this day it’s unclear who perpetrated the mishap. All I remember is winding up at the bottom, brushing myself off, and asking my mother, “What’d you do that for?” which became an enduring family joke.

And then Patty Segal sat on my hand on the School 84 playground and broke my pinky finger. The teacher didn’t pay any attention and made me take the math test anyway. Math has never been my strong suit; I mean, can any of you figure percentages in your head? I thought not, unless of course it involves your agents’ takes. Adrenaline was pumping so hard that I got all of the answers correct, which was good. You gotta play hurt, right? What was bad was that I had to wear a cast that wrecked the look I was going for at my sister’s Bat Mitzvah party—that yellow organdy dress might as well have been a gunnysack.

Maturity might have improved your coordination, boys, but it has done nothing for mine. My son got married in Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day a few years back, and as part of the festive weekend, the family gathered to watch the Chicago River turn green. There were some volunteers throwing beads from boats. The crowd was pressing forward trying to catch these ridiculous souvenirs, when one strand, zooming like a Peyton pass, hit me square in the eye. Nobody sees your ripped bicep or dislocated shoulder, but at the wedding that night, everyone saw the raised red welt on my eyelid.

Lots of bad stuff has happened since then, so, even though I don’t feel sorry for you, I can relate. I tripped over my suitcase in the lobby of the Lehman Brothers building in New York (when there was a Lehman Brothers), landing heels-up in front of several dozen bustling Wall Street executives. You probably don’t have to suffer the insults of your teammates, but when I finally uprighted myself and made my way to the curb, my business associate merely asked what took me so long.

I’m curious. When you’re in the process of injuring yourself, do you sense it coming? Do you know you’re about to land wrong, and there’s nothing you can do to change course? Because that’s what happens to me. When I caught the toe of my shoe on a loose brick on Monument Circle, I had that terrible, gut-lurching feeling of suspension, and I couldn’t stop the momentum. I landed hard on my left hip—the same place that put me on injured reserve a few months ago, when my 3-year-old granddaughter spent the night.

Someday you’ll understand that when a grandchild is sleeping under your roof, you have to check, say, 10 times during the night to make sure she is breathing. At 2 a.m., I gently scooted her out of suffocation range, at which point she awoke and said she had to use the potty. I walked her into the bathroom and proceeded to trip over her little stool in front of the commode. In order not to knock her off her feet on my way down—and make no mistake, I was going down—I veered left, where I crashed into the wall, talking out the entire toilet-tissue assembly on the way. Before I hit the tile floor, she asked, innocently, “What are you doing?” to which I replied, “Falling.” I wore a bruise the size of a salad plate on my hip for a month, and, btw, it turned out she did not have to go.

You’re lucky that as jocks, you aren’t ex-pected to shop. As a career woman, however, I am, and have endured two related injuries: once when a mannequin leg displaying hosiery was knocked off a high counter by a careless shopper and landed without warning on my shoulder, and another time when I was putting my purchases in my car in the Von Maur parking lot and bonked the trunk lid on my head. Do you see stars every time you get your bell rung? If so, you don’t need me to tell you that doesn’t just happen in cartoons.

We should start a support group, you guys and I. Oh, and let’s be sure to invite IU’s Maurice Creek and my sister, who broke a rib after being launched out of a London cab by way of a tightly sprung jump seat and smacked nose-first into a glass door on the way out of a Chicago boutique.

In your line of work, you should expect some bumps and bruises, but me? I’m just a klutz who too often finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. You’re asking for trouble; I’m not. Yet here we are, fellow victims, alternating between ice packs and heating pads, limping to the MRI machine wearing a neck brace and with one eye swollen shut. I guess all of these accidents should teach us that what we expect is never what happens, so we need to live defensively.

Call me if you want company doing something safe, like watching paint dry. In the meantime, get well soon.

Yours truly,

Deborah Paul

Illustration by Christian Northeast.

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue.