Hurt – extract from a sports essay


I’m writing a series of sports essays at the moment, hopefully to become a book.

This is a work in progress piece about the physical/the body in sport. This bit is about injuries – my own, mostly –  one of which was serious. Working title: Hurt. 

Suggestions/comments welcome. 


When I settled into the renal ward (my kidney still inside me) I enjoyed my time there. My mother and father and my family and friends visited and I relished the wounded hero role I had constructed for myself. I wasn’t in much pain but my stomach had gone into shutdown so I could not eat or drink and I was on a drip for ten days.

There was one unpleasant moment, a few days after admission. An orderly arrived with a trolley to take me out of the ward. Where are you taking me? I asked and a nurse said I was being taken for a scan to see if my kidney was working. I thought my kidney was okay, I said, the endoscopy showed that. Well, she said, there’s no internal bleeding but we have to check if it’s working so they will put a liquid into you and track it to see if the kidney is doing its job. And if it isn’t? I asked. I’m sure it’ll be fine, says she – most reassuring.

I had a reaction to whatever they pumped into me through the intravenous – it turned out I was allergic to iodine. That was unpleasant, it felt like a heart attack or a fit. I think it was a fit. My body started spasming and I lost consciousness, but not before being scared shitless. They pumped some adrenaline into me and that calmed things down but it didn’t solve the problem of checking out the kidney. So they sent me to the ultrasound clinic where I queued up with several pregnant women for a scan. The news was good. My kidney was working and I could hold on to it.

One day my consultant came in and listened to my abdomen. Interesting, he said and he bade his little retinue of wannabe consultants to listen also. Which they did, and one of them was a beautiful young blonde woman. She had the fresh, creamy, earnest, blushing English rose look of Rosamund Pike in Love in a Cold Climate. I paid special attention to her as she fingered her hair behind her ear and pressed her stethoscope against my flat stomach.

Well? What did you hear? the consultant asked them and one of them chanced his arm and said something. You heard nothing. Nothing! the consultant said and rattled off some medical terms I didn’t understand, apart from the word shock. He insisted they all listen again to learn what nothing sounded like.

I watched Rosamund again and wondered what it would be like to have a life with her. I wondered other stuff about her, too – in my defence I’d had a bad scare and hospital is boring. Truth is, I was lonely those days – I didn’t have a girlfriend and I would have loved one but I didn’t know how to go about getting one. How wonderful it would have been to have a girlfriend worrying and fussing over me in the hospital – someone to impress with my stoicism and bravery. Gentle kisses and a soft hand on my cheek – all wounded heroes should have that, at least. Shouldn’t they? Rosamund would have been brilliant at it – I’m certain of that.

My favourite injury was when I was playing in a league match for UCC below in Limerick – it must have been against what was then called NIHE, or maybe it was Thomond College. Anyway, I put up my hand for a ball and somebody pulled across the top of my forehead and I went down in a welter of astonishment and blood.

Nicky English ran over and said: who did it Tadhg, what number? I’ll fucking kill him. I always loved Nicky for that. The best bit was that they had to bandage up my head for me to play on and I thought I must have had the look of a wounded Vietnam War soldier or some kind of tough David Foster Wallace with my bandana-like bandage. When we stopped for food on the way home I made a point to go into the toilet to see what I did look like and it was gratifying.

Yes, there was the bandana-like bandage – very dramatic – but even better was that dried blood could be seen through it, and some had leaked down the side of my cheek and onto my ear and neck. I didn’t wash it off.

When I gave my order nonchalantly to the young waitress her eyes widened at the sight of me and I was delighted with myself, the whole man. What happened later that night wasn’t as satisfying.

When I got home my mother drove me up to the hospital in Mallow to get stitches. The nurse on duty gave out stink about hurling while (very roughly, I thought) she cleaned around the wound and shaved away some hair to put the stitches in. I must have been wincing and she told me she had an eight year-old in that morning who made much less of a song and dance about getting a few stitches.

I put on my best thousand-yard stare as she sewed her ten stitches (maybe even more) into my head – without a single flinch. I showed her what tough was. Damn right I did.

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