Updated: Jun 16, 2020
There I was, bursting down the wing. I’d done their winger and found myself heading towards a bit of space from where I could launch a decent cross. I was at full tilt when, from nowhere, I was taken out from behind. I instantly felt an agonising pain in my arm – the left elbow, to be specific. As I rolled over, my arm seemed to do something suggesting it had a mind of its own. As the paramedics arrived and bundled me into the back of the ambulance and hooked me up to the gas and air (thank God for gas and air!), I was told that I’d dislocated my elbow quite badly.
The gas and air must have worked well, as I have no recollection of the process of getting into the A&E department, nor of how long I had to wait for what came next, but I have very vivid memories of the doctor next trying to re-locate my elbow without administering any further pain relief. I’m not sure what set of words I used to convey my discomfort, but they were sufficient to make him stop and try another tack. Still no joy. The dislocation was bad and slightly complicated by a bit of bone having chipped off. Eventually, a decision was made – which presumably I must have consented to – to revert to general anaesthetic to facilitate the re-setting.
I came round eventually in a completely different part of the hospital with no idea whatsoever how I got there, nor what had happened, but that my arm was now neatly bent and placed into a sling. I was later discharged with the advice to rest for at least 4 weeks and to attend a follow-up appointment with some other person.
The problem was that I was 16 years old. Not only did I have all of the answers and wisdom to everything and anything ever, but I also had a gig on the Tuesday evening (the accident having occurred on the Saturday afternoon). I was the drummer in a band with some friends and we were raising money for something or other. To the medical world, there was no way I could play the gig. However – and I’m ashamed to admit this – the thought of allowing Alex, a more gifted but less cool (yes, that’s my view, and I realise what a numpty I was for seeing things that way!) drummer to steal my limelight was all the motivation I needed to supercharge my rehabilitation.
Sunday, the day after my accident, my arm had ballooned and was beginning to display all shades of purple, black and yellow bruising.
Monday, I forewent any classes I was due to go to and sat for virtually the whole day – impressive levels of commitment and concentration for me back then – and used my ‘good arm’ to force the recovering left limb from its ‘sling position’ to straight. It was painstaking and painful. But I got there. Eventually. I then forced it back closed. And then open again.
By the time I went to bed on the Monday evening, I could, with considerable pain, open and close my arm sufficient to play the gig the following day. I know, I’m an idiot.
So, Tuesday passed and 7:30pm came. ‘Cotton’ – the band’s rhythm guitarist and lead singer – struck up the opening chords to ‘Just’ by Radiohead (click to watch the song done rightly!) and I crashed in at the well-rehearsed right time with the drum part. Beat by excruciating beat. Bar by painful bar and verse by agonising verse, I made it first through ‘Just’ and then through the whole set. Live music is always exhilarating, so I shouldn’t have been surprised that my body found a way of getting me through.
However, the next morning the adrenaline had all worn off and I was just left with memories of a great night and undeniable evidence of my own stupidity as my arm was thoroughly mangled. A few days later I had to attend the fracture clinic (even though it was a dislocation) and the Doctor I saw was unrelenting in his diagnosis of my Grade A stupidity in doing what I’d done. So little did he trust my capacity to follow his advice from that point, that he slapped me in a full arm’s length plaster cast. (To be honest, I felt I’d gotten off lightly, and that if he could have, he would have rather placed me in a whole-body cast!)
And so the healing began. Not the quick, ‘everything will be alright’ healing I’d tried to force, but the slow, incremental process of my body repairing. It didn’t move at the pace I wanted, and a number of parts of life had to be put on hold for a season, but it was necessary. Pretending I was alright when I very clearly wasn’t was harmful to myself.
And here I see some overlap with the spiritual life. Many of us have had harm inflicted on us; suffered fractures and dislocations of our feelings, our soul. The harm may have been inflicted intentionally by another, or – more likely – through carelessness on the part of another. We register pain and distress because of another’s attitude, words or actions. Sometimes we know it immediately, and on other occasions, we discover it some time later, like finding stud marks down your back after a rugby match that you didn’t know were there (a story for another blog, maybe…). Our natural instinct when we register such pain is to seek its removal. We strive to have it taken away and go ‘back to normal’ – we sometimes justify the pain or the injury in order to seek to lessen its impact on us. ‘They probably didn’t mean it…’, ‘you’re being silly feeling that…’ and so on. The reality is that we don’t like pain and injury, so we want it gone; restored, healed or whatever – just gone. After all, life goes on, and we have a gig on Tuesday. Press it down, cover it over, pretend it’s all okay. Just do what you need to to get through the gig and continue life as normal.
But getting through the gig didn’t mean I was healed any more than you making it through the day means you’re healed. Full healing often takes time. But let me add a word of clarity here: Time doesn’t heal, only God does. It’s just that God, in His wisdom, often allows His process of healing to take time. Why would He do such a thing? Maybe it’s because we’re slow to fully identify the full measure of pain and harm we’ve suffered. Possibly. But maybe it’s that He wants to teach us – the ones who’ve been injured – things throughout the process. Things about His faithfulness when everything and everyone else seems unreliable. Things about His dependability when the people we know and love prove to be like shifting sands. Things about His love for us that we’d perhaps not fully receive if we were in such a rush to ‘get on with things’. Things about forgiveness; both our need to receive it and to give it.
Let me encourage you not to rush the process of healing that God is leading you in. Don’t force yourself to make it so you can ‘just get on’, but lean in as God invites you into a journey of recovery and restoration.
Once the cast was removed and a bit of physio undertaken, I recovered a good range of movement and freedom in my elbow, but it still wasn’t right. The bits of bone which had chipped off were now floating around in there, and about a decade later I had to have further surgery to have them removed, as they were causing my arm to lock at inopportune times. Many years later, my elbow is fully healed. I can move it and use it without restriction, but I have the surgery scars to remind me of the whole chapter.
Is there harm inflicted by some injury which you are covering over and pretending to be ‘alright’ from? If so, what steps can you take to begin to press in to God’s healing? Remember, hurt people hurt people, so don’t do the whole ‘it’ll be alright’ thing. Own it, accept it for what it is, and allow a Great Physician to bring about healing in His way, and in His time.