On 44

Recently I turned 44. 44 is +2 to the meaning of life.

Perspectively, 44 appears to be a large number, I guess unless you are 44+ in which case it no doubt appears to be a normal or usual number. 44 is not a prime number, neither is it a Platonic number. It is not divisible by 12, so the strange duodecimal cult folks should walk away now. One could cast around for adjectives. Shit seems apropos. But a particularly fragrant attractive shit, not all bad in its affect.

No doubt if you are 80-odd it may be that 44 is a number that you pine for; “I wish I was 44” etc. Numbers are like that, at least constructed numbers are, you have to give them meaning before they do anything meaningful. (Note: I’ve written lots on this in regards to testing, which is never the problem per se, it is always the process of interpretation, generalization, extrapolation which occurs in and through the normative processes of the language that we have). I wrote a book with colleagues which includes what I think is a meaningful approach to the use of those numbers that you can get a sneak peak here.

Anyhoo, I digress. I do this a lot, this is not intended as an academic blog, more a rumination on time and temporality (I also write on that. Some people like it. Some people think I am an idiot. I try to withhold judgement). So today I went to a sport specialist for THE consultation on my right knee. MRIs had been done. Film had been generated. Points of interest/concern had been raised. Hands had been shaked. (I know this should be shaken, but I’m writing for effect here). Lips had been pursed. Before I give you the diagnosis, I’d like to detour a little. But I would like to praise Science, given folks like me are presumed to be anti-Science. Wait for it:

Praise the Lord.

When I was younger, I was quite good at sport. Not super-Olympic-good, but on occasions didn’t look out of place playing with folks who were super-Olympic-good. Now I must give you a warning: the older I get the better I was, so best take what follows with a grain of salt. My main sport was hockey (field hockey to my USA friends) but I also played cricket, water polo and touch football at a reasonable level. I think it is quite hard to describe yourself as a sports person, no doubt we descend into an account of how we want to be seen rather than how we may have appeared to others. Perception is like that, the real exists somewhere beyond our ability to access it.

If I were pushed I would say that I was a strong, aggressive defender (read a guy that has less talent than the strikers and midfielders who waltz their way down the field, twiddling their sticks and getting the oohs and aahs from the crowd, only to be clubbed by a massive Neanderthal before they could score a goal). I mainly got the boos, but folks seemed to like playing with me. I always tried to be the first man back in a breakaway, to cop a body or ball or stick if needed. I wanted to be the guy that you wanted next to you in a trench, a silly idea because sport isn’t war and few things are like trench warfare. None of them are like hockey, yet I was apprentice of the signs (of culture) as Deleuze would say. Still am.

I played a lot, and for a long time. And in that time I picked up my share of injuries; two major ankle injuries (one a full dislocation requiring surgery, there is still free-floating bone masses floating about), around 35 stitches in my head from 6 different incidents of being collected by hockey sticks), three broken fingers and two broken toes. That’s not a bad catalogue, and probably not unusual for many players.

But in 1999 I was playing hockey in Geraldton. I’ll let you do the sums as to how old I was #numeracy. For those of you that don’t know, it is a regional centre about 420ks north of Perth. A fabulous place. It was my first teaching post, I was given a position in 1996 and stayed until the end of 1999. (Young teacher folks who are thinking about a country placement, I recommend it). Anyhow, I played hockey and water polo in the town, played and coached a few teams including their representative teams (Mens/Womens/Juniors) and had lots of fun.

In 1999 the team I coached, Saints, was headed for the title. We were top of the ladder, had won the Challenge (mid-season) Cup, and were playing well. The week before the finals, I was taking a free hit, and tried to pivot on my right leg, but my foot got stuck in the artificial turf. The upshot is that my body turned, and my lower right leg didn’t. I’ve always been a hefty lad, at my fittest my playing weight was 98kgs, so a lot of force traveled down and released itself through my right knee. I still remember the sound, like pulling apart the lamb leg joint in your Sunday roast. Knee trouble, I had dislocated my kneecap. My immediate thought was that someone had snuck up behind me and hit me as hard as they could with their hockey stick across the knee, such was the concussive impact, but when I looked around as I fell to the turf there was no one near me. And the pain… I don’t remember that fondly. Punching the ground waiting for it to go away but it wouldn’t. Wave after wave after wave… each as intense as what had come before.

I had to be stretchered off the ground, the ambulance came, was given one of those awesome green whistles and then was trolleyed off the pitch speaking shit to all the players. Green whistles are like that.

Shoutout to Meggsy if you’re about. The players had to lift me off the ground, Meggsy was holding my right leg (with the dislocation) and decided I was whinging too much so let go. They are pretty hard in the country.

I went and saw the doctor who reminded RICE. Being a diligent soul, I rested, I iced, I compressed, I elevated. I got a blood clot. I was whisked off to hospital, I’ll always remember the surgeon draining 160 mls of blood and detritus ie. little bits of cartilage and bone, from my knee using a massive needle and squirting them out into a kidney shaped dish. Pretty gross. The body fat congealed on the surface of the dish. Remember that you are but dust etc.

I was admitted to St Johns in Geraldton where I spent two weeks unable to move, with a shared room with a man called Bill. Now, Bill was an elderly gent who was suffering from Alzheimers and no doubt some other aliments, I woke fairly regularly to the scream of a nurse as Old Bill thumped her when he was woken up to get his medication in the middle of the night.

Seriously, pay nurses more and value their contribution.

Ultimately, it took 18 months to make a recovery. Incidentally, given the size and danger of the clot, I was getting blood tests and injections that averaged out at every 15 minutes for the first 24 hours. Cured my fear on injections, so wasn’t all bad. The upshot was that I came back and played hockey for another 5 years before retiring and going and playing suburban AFL football for another 3 with the mighty Brentwood Bulldogs. I quit playing team sports when my daughter was born in 2010 and took up swimming, getting 3 State records for my age group. I have always liked sport.

So, to return to the point of the story, today I got my results. I need an immediate operation for cartilage damage, but I have extreme osteoarthritis in my right knee that will mean that I’ll need a knee replacement in the future. How long? Worst case scenario within 5 years, most likely within 15. If I’m lucky I might push it out to 20.

The thing is, I want to go for a run, I want to keep fit, I want to continue to go to the gym and do my squats, deadlifts and powercleans. But most of all I want to be young again, to the extent that it means pre-injured (without the pain of social awkwardness and worry if you would ever lose your virginity). But I also don’t want to be 18 again, the nervousness of feeling alone, the awkwardness of romance, the unsettled politics, the desire for acceptance offset always by the physicality and the possibility. Well, everyone wants to be physically 18 and mentally/emotionally 75; it is an idiot’s game. But I find myself wanting at least some of it.

And I think about Foucault’s notion of the accidents of history, about the dangers of seeing what happens as a logical, linear series judged from the perspective of which you look backwards, or on Deleuze’s notion of what constitutes an event, and I marvel at how we story our lives, our choices, our experiences. Our numbers.

44. What a number.