Disclaimer: With this post I do not intent to complain about how bad I’ve had it in life. I am blessed beyond measure. This is purely meant to entertain and tell a story of recurring bad luck / bad timing.
Timberrrr – or the Evil Pillow: I was 14 and my teenage room was a mess. Everything and anything that is not supposed to be on the floor was scattered around and about so that there weren’t many free spots to step on. Hence, in the effort to somehow start the mission impossible of clearing the battlefield I stepped on a folded blanket to get to the messiest corner of the room. Little did I know that there was a pillow with a slippery satin case hiding in there, ready to attack. As I made my step, the pillow slipped out from its ambush and caused me to lose my balance and fall. Miraculously, I fell in between pieces of furniture so that I didn’t crack my head open (like I said – blessed!) but due to my height and the moment of surprise the fall was as forceful as that of a big old oak tree in the forest. I fell directly on my right arm and was in enough pain to just stay there and not get up by myself. My sister had been alarmed by the loud BOOM and came running from her room to peel me off the floor. When my parents came home from their Saturday morning errands, my Mom decided it was better to take me to the hospital and my Dad said “well I guess there won’t be any lunch on the table then!” Just to be clear, my Daddy is not a bad person or parent, he just gets cranky when he’s hungry, which is one of the many character traits that he passed down to me. Danke Papa…
It turned out that I had fractured my arm and needed surgery to ensure that it would mend properly. They put a wire in my arm and the arm in a sling. I wasn’t able to shower for 3 weeks, so that my Mom carefully bathed me in the tub, which is the worst nightmare of every awkward teenager. As far as bad timing goes, this happened a week before my confirmation in church – so much for looking snazzy and enjoying the festivities. We made it work though because my uncle also had his arm in a sling after trying to be a soccer hero so that cutting the meat into pieces became a joint effort. One of us held it down with the fork and the other one cut it with the knife. German teamwork at its best…
Timberrrr Part II – or ET coming to Hungary: I mentioned this one in a previous post. It was my first time traveling with the Junior National Team, I had made it through the cuts and onto the roster and was looking forward to my first real international competition that was only a week or two away (timing…). The Hungarians however had other plans. They cleaned the gym for our basketball practice after the judokas finished their workout so that the freshly mopped floor was still slightly wet when we started our warm up. Of course we were told to be careful but if you slip, you slip and since I apparently don’t know how to catch myself in a harmless manner, I broke my finger. I became the tallest ET double you have ever seen. That big purple thing on my hand was no joke. The only words that I remember from the doctor in Budapest are “Next competition without Katja!” Meaning, the highlight of the whole summer would happen without Katja and there would be no 500 Euro bonus for being on the final roster paid to Katja.
Timberrrr Reloaded – Hidden Pins: Here I was, all healed from broken arms and fingers, 10 days away from getting on an airplane to NYC (my first trip to the US) where I was awaited by a basketball scholarship at St. Francis College in Brooklyn. I stayed in shape by practicing with my local team and felt ready to take the basketball world by storm. You know what’s coming – one of my endlessly graceful falls. For this one I actually didn’t get attacked by any pillows or mischievous Hungarian cleaning ladies. I fell with a purpose when I tried to intercept a long pass while running back into transition defense. Coordinating the actions of sprinting back at full speed, looking over the shoulder to see the pass, and trying to get a hand on it proved to be more than my feet could handle. While going down I instinctively tried to protect my back, which came at the high price of a twisted and broken wrist. The coach took me to the ER and tried his best to make me believe that it was just a bad sprain but if you’ve ever broken a bone, you know that you know when it has happened. So I mentally prepared myself for a cast but not for a surgery and a cast. But since it looked like a big mess inside of that skinny wrist of mine, they decided to use some pins to put it all back into place. The cast was to stay on for 6 weeks and they told me that the pin removal would be easily done with a local anesthesia. I cried hysterically upon these news, which really threw off the doctor because she had initially met me as a brave and mentally stable patient. With terror in her eyes she asked me if she had hurt me during the examination. I sobbed and somehow got out the words “No, the pain is ok but what about New York??!” Well, they couldn’t really answer that question for me, so I figured I’d take it one step at a time and called my parents to inform them that I would have surgery that same night. By my Mom’s response you’ll be able to tell how used my parents were to accidents and surgeries at that point because she just said “Ok, good luck – I’ll see you tomorrow morning!” I barely got to squeeze in “Ok, can you please bring me some clean clothes?” (I was still in my sweaty practice gear on a hot August day) before she hung up. Ok then…
9 days later I called my coach in NY to confirm the travel itinerary and told her “You will find me, I have a blue cast on my arm”, which is funny considering that being 6’8’’ tall might be a little more of a distinctive feature… A broken wrist disables a person to a much higher degree than one might think so I really cannot tell you how I managed to drag around two 70lbs suitcases and a big carry on until a JFK security guy had mercy.
After all the meet & greet and the fun touristy stuff was over, the not so fun pre-season started. One thing a person CAN do with a broken wrist is running. And a college basketball pre-season involves a lot of that and consequently a lot of sweat, so that I was seriously worried that my cast would be carried away by the cultures living underneath it. So when they finally took it off and asked me if I wanted to keep it, I gave them my best Are-You-Freaking-Kidding-Me-Look while trying not to breathe in through my nose. They then returned the same look when they couldn’t see any pins sticking out of my wrist – “The German doctors wanted to take these out with local anesthesia only?? You guys are tough in your country!” They put me under, took them out and to this day, I still don’t know if I misunderstood what I was told after the first surgery in Germany or if there is that much of a difference in medical philosophies and methods between Germany and the US.
OsteochonWHAT?: Osteochondritis. That’s what I was diagnosed with 2 weeks (again, really bad timing!!) before what was supposed to be my first European Championship Tournament with the Women’s (not a junior anymore) National team. Once again, I had made it onto the final roster and was in great shape in the summer of 2007 before my College senior year. My right knee had pretty much been bothering me ever since I started the college madness but actually trying to find out the source of nagging injuries is typically not what happens in the US – you just put ice on it. The medical staff in Germany, however, wanted to see if everything was ok with my meniscus. It was really just a “making-sure” kind of thing, which then quickly turned into a nightmare. My meniscus was fine but my cartilage and bone in my femur weren’t. Osteochondritis is … “Osteochondritis dissecans often abbreviated to OCD or OD, is a joint disorder in which cracks form in the articular cartilage and the underlying subchondral bone. OCD is caused by blood deprivation in the subchondral bone. This loss of blood flow causes the subchondral bone to die in a process called avascular necrosis. The bone is then reabsorbed by the body, leaving the articular cartilage it supported prone to damage. The result is fragmentation (dissection) of both cartilage and bone, and the free movement of these osteochondral fragments within the joint space, causing pain and further damage.” (Thanks wikipedia!!) Basically, I had a dead piece of cartilage and bone in my knee that was about to come loose and really mess things up in there, so they had to react quickly and operate me fast. The European Championship Games of course happened without me and it was highly upsetting. Not only I was upset though, but also my coaches in New York who I didn’t really get to talk to in detail about all this. This was before I had a smartphone and whatsapp in my life and when my English wasn’t good enough yet to explain something that I barely understood in German. Consequently, they were mad at me for getting the surgery done without their consent and because they thought that my time with the National Team had caused the injury when the daily 4-hour practices on a rock-hard floor in NY probably had much more to do with it. In any case, communication wasn’t great and my knee never became a 100% in my senior year, so it wasn’t a good season for me. Now, five years later I have no negative feelings towards anyone on that coaching staff, it really is the opposite – I appreciate and value all of them highly.
The Freak Accident – All at once: If you have been following this blog for a while, then you know about the broken leg. I will never forget the date. March 30th, 2011. Despite my bad senior year and little setbacks (no surgeries, just nagging and time-consuming) I had built a decent career and was finishing my third year as a professional basketball player. We had one game left to play with my team in Spain, the bags were packed, and we were all happy to go home after a rather frustrating season. I didn’t get to go home though, I got to go see yet another OR from the inside. The injury sounded almost as pretty as Osteochondritis. That time, it was a Tibial Plateau Fracture. The worst thing that’s supposed to happen to a basketball player is a torn ACL. I, apparently, beat the odds. But I didn’t know that until 6 weeks after the surgery had been done in Spain, and when I finally made it home to Germany and wanted to see my doctor there for a follow-up appointment. Nobody in Spain had ever mentioned the word “career-ending” but that’s what it was. Lucky to walk pain-free and to be able to work out a bit is what it is now. It was the end of something that I loved dearly and letting it go was very, very painful. At the same time it made me a better person, more grateful for the little things, more patient. Five months on crutches will do that to you. I have one more surgery coming up to take out all the hardware they needed to puzzle me back together and I hope that it’ll be the last surgery for a very long time.
I know this was a long post, so thanks for reading it till the end. If you are not afraid of scars and stitches, keep scrolling down. If you are, leave this page NOW ;-).