Friday, February 1, 2008

Faux knee injury

Mike’s recent post about faking injury (“Ohhhhhhhhh, my ovaries!”)to avoid marathon training reminded me of a particular low point in my otherwise illustrious athletic career.

I was eleven years old and had never been skiing. My classmate, Scotty, told me that he had also never skied and convinced me that this was something we both needed to do. Brian, a friend of my parents, agreed to teach Scotty and me the fine art of gliding down snow-covered mountainsides on two narrow slabs made of whatever material it is snow skis are constructed.

And so it went. It wasn’t long into our skiing expedition, however, that I became aware of a few details that had direct and immediate bearing on the enjoyability of the trip:
  1. Scotty lied. He’d been skiing his whole life. His ploy about being a novice was clearly a cover to land himself a ski trip.
  2. My parents’ friend Brian was an impatient ski instructor who shouted curses every time I fell into the snow.
  3. I fell into the snow. A lot.
  4. I don’t like falling into snow.
As I struggled unsuccessfully to sustain a general sense of uprightness on one trip down one hill, Scotty breezed by me several times over. Up and down he went, shouting empty words of encouragement, each time he zipped past me usually in the act of falling or having just fallen. ”Great job!” or “Keep it up!” he’d yell just as I would wobble and crumple to the frigid wintry slush. Brian, my instructor, would bark obscenity-laced orders at me to get up, bend my knees, snowplow, don’t fall, use my poles, don’t use my poles. No matter what crude command he gave me, the result was the same: a highly unstable (physically and, before long, emotionally), overweight and uncoordinated middle-schooler with virtually no chance of ever achieving any measure of ski-slope competence.

I couldn’t even disembark the ski lift without collapsing. Whenever a chairlift I was riding would approach the top of the mountain, my heart raced and an oppressive sense of impending doom overtook my fragile, pubescent soul. At the appropriate moment, I’d propel myself forward from the seat, poles in arms waving wildly about, striving with every ounce of willpower to remain vertical. More times than not, I toppled to the ground, barely managing to crawl and wriggle clear of the trajectory of the next skier emerging form the chairlift, skis aimed at my head.

By midday, my entire body was caked in snow and I was chilled to the bone. And though my muscles were already sore, my body did not hurt as profoundly my ego. I felt humiliated every time Scotty or Brian zigged or zagged around the quivering mound that was my contorted body twisted around two skis.

I finally decided that I had had enough. As was my habit that day, I had fallen to the ground while attempting to negotiate a very gentle turn. Rather than fight the good fight and struggle (yet again) to my feet, I patiently lied in wait for Brian. When he was within earshot, I clutched of my left leg and shouted, “Ohhhhhhhhh, my knee!”

I heard him swear under his breath as he skidded to a halt by my side. And with one simple fib, my agony was over.

“I don’t know what happened,” I lied, “but I think I really hurt my knee.”

“I can tell by the way you’re holding it that you’re in some serious pain,” he incorrectly assessed my condition. My ruse was working.

“It—it hurts a lots,” I confirmed with crocodile tears. I had hoodwinked Brian. I began to suspect that subterfuge was my spiritual gift.

Before I knew it, the ski patrol snowmobile arrived, sled in tow. Brian and the patrolman delicately maneuvered my clumsy body onto the sled, careful not to further disturb my *injured* leg. For good measure, I winced as the two delicately straightened my leg. Positioned comfortably, I then enjoyed the smoothest downhill ride of the day—nay—of my skiing career. I rode past Scotty, who was practicing some fancy maneuvers far above neophyte skill level. He looked mildly concerned; I maintained my pained visage and waved meagerly.

Upon arriving at the ski medical facility, the onsite doctor gave me a brief looking over. I feared he would determine that I was not really hurt. The only thing that would be more embarrassing than to have utterly failed on skis would have been Brian and Scotty knowing that I faked a knee injury to prevent further utter ski failure. Fortunately, the good doctor did not (openly) doubt the veracity of my claims of intense, sharp knee pain but recommended that I see my family physician when I returned home. As I write this, in far retrospect, I cannot imagine that my sham injury was in fact unique. Surely, ski lodge medical practitioners encounter fraudulent skiers on a routine basis and have learned to tell them what they want to hear: No more skiing for you, Mister (or Missy).

After I had been transported to the lodge post-examination, I assured Brian that I would be okay and that what I wanted most was for him and Scotty was to enjoy the rest of the day. “Don’t worry about me,” I said feebly, limping to a comfortable chair in the corner. “I’ll just take it easy over here.” Indeed, the rest of my day was spent reclining by the massive lodge fireplace sipping hot cocoas. Whenever Brian or Scotty stopped by to check on me (which was rare), I rubbed my knee and adopted a sour countenance. I expressed what a crying shame I thought it was that I could not be out there any longer than I had been. “And I think I was just starting to get the hang of it,” I told Brian once.

I managed to maintain the deception for the entire day and car ride home. Scotty and Brian, as far as I could tell, did not detect my artifice or suspect fakery of any kind.

While I had bamboozled Brian and Scotty, however, karma was not so easily fooled. As it turned out, within two years of the phony injury of ‘91, I actually did suffer a debilitating knee injury, requiring major reparative surgery: I tore my medial collateral ligament. The surgeon believed that I was “born with” weak medial collateral ligaments and warned me that my other knee would likely require a similar operation by the time I turned 20 (I am currently 28, and my other knee is still in its original working condition). It is clear to me, however, that I was not “born with” weak knee ligaments, but rather was dealt a hefty dose of karmic retribution for my stratagem. Furthermore, I have been blessed with a loving, beautiful wife… whose favorite winter pastime is snow skiing.

I no longer practice the art of injury fabrication to evade activities in which I have no desire to participate. The pain of implementing and maintaining such schemes and the risk of embarrassment for having been found out far outweigh the unpleasantness experienced in most enterprises I’d like to avoid. Besides, right now, I’m finding it much easier to implement the “I have to work on my thesis” tack to dodge undesirable activities (read: home improvement projects). I don’t even have to fake a limp—I just need a computer on my lap.

I sure hope the wife hasn’t read this far… as I’m blogging, she’s under the misimpression that I’m currently working on my thesis.


Russ Parker said...

Fun and useful.

Lisa said...

I was familiar with the ski story, so I thought it would be better to let you do what you want rather than risking a home improvement disimprovement.

your always loving wife

Mike said...

I really liked the phrase "As I struggled unsuccessfully to sustain a general sense of uprightness on"

Avery Gray said...

I faked a sprained ankle once. I even fooled the doctor who looked at it. He said it was "really swollen and red".

The bastard.

Just for the record, I DO NOT have cankles.

yajeev said...

i'm glad you found this post useful. remember, however, i am not a licensed life coach. i take no responsibility for the results of my actions replicated, nor do i officially endorse deception.

you know me so well.
and still you love me.

my entire life has been a series of blog posts with lines like that just waiting to happen.

maybe your doc was in on it and corroborating your claims? could you have mistaken a wink for something caught in his eye?

Russ Parker said...

My comment actually was referring to pratfalls.

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