Six years ago I went through the toughest experience of my life. I had severe sciatica and needed my L5/S1 disc cutting back. In the end, most of it was removed. Post-op, I asked the neurosurgeon how likely it was that I'd herniate a disc again. He said: "In percentage terms, about 100". He didn't even smile as he delivered the news.
Since then, I've been hell-bent on staying fit. They say the one thing that matters is staying supple. And having a strong core. Over the last five years, I have stretched down for 45 minutes after every single football match. And I've swallowed my pride and resorted to all those weird, emasculating core strengthening exercises. I even did bloody Pilates. I thought I'd done my bit to stay healthy.
Run It Off
And yet life has thrown me the proverbial curve ball. An innocuous tackle, a twisted knee, and a torn anterior cruciate. Being of good working class stock, I resolved to "run it off" (the magic sponge wasn't available). As my knee gave way - the tell-tale sign - I knew it was the cruciate. And I realised, as I hit the ground and screamed in pain, that I probably just mangled my meniscus too.
The MRI confirmed it all. The orthopaedic surgeon shrugged and asked what I wanted to do. I'm 42. Do I want to play football again? Yes. Yes! Ok, so we need to cut the meniscus back and rebuild the cruciate.
Six to nine months. That's how long the rehab is, and that's assuming no complications along the way. Six to nine months until I can, mid-run, wrap my foot ever so lightly around the side of the ball as I whip in a long pass; perfect pace, perfect spin, perfect length. My speciality. The purety of the moment matched by nothing else in my life. Ever.
And yet, here I am again. Far, far away from my source of happiness. After disc surgery, I think it took 18 months to get back to playing. Perhaps a little less. The memory (and tramadol) blurs around the rehab. But I remember the devastation of pain in trying to step up onto a curb, the small demand on one's hips almost too much for my ginger spine. I remember the sheer elation of swimming in the Agean. Tears of joy in realising that I'd recovered enough core control to handle the gentle waves of the sea. Hope.
And so. Tonight. The night before tomorrow. Tomorrow being knee surgery. Then two weeks of pure rest. Leg elevated. And then, mobilising. Slowly. Re-learning walking. The aim, the physio said, is to be able to walk without pain after six weeks. No. No, physio. The aim is the long pass, whipped in, perfect pace, perfect spin, perfect length. That's the aim. There is no other aim.
And after that, of course, it's the crunching tackle. Full blooded. Full pace. Ball won. Team helped. But that goes without saying.
It is what it is. I'm here again. Different reason but similar journey ahead. Over the last six weeks I've doubted my resolve to do this again. I've not been helped by a workload that's crushing and a girlfriend walking out without explanation (sorry but it's true). I need a holiday. I need a reason. But, somehow, and I'm not really sure how, I think I'll make it through.
Where I grew up, a fight was always a heart beat away. You get used to it. You find a peaceful world suspicious. It's time to fight. Again.
But, honestly, I think this is the last one.
Pritpal S Tamber