David Flatman: Bruised ego will take longer to heal than biceps injury

View from the front row with Bath & England prop
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The Independent Online

There are certain things that, as a proud man, I would rather keep to myself; things I do not feel that others need to know. Sadly, as I discovered last Monday morning, our medical team care not a hang for the preservation of my ego; they are just gagging to seize a rare opportunity to publicly humiliate me. So my pressing of the panic button – eagerly and immediately reported by our own doctor, no doubt – during an MRI scan on Saturday night gave them all the ammunition they needed and I arrived at the training ground to a gaggle of grown men – appropriately – crying like babies.

I was having a scan because I managed to tear my biceps tendon just 20 minutes into our match against Harlequins. It is not a terrible injury – perhaps only a three-week lay-off – but a painful and frustrating one none the less. The images provided by the claustrophobically proportioned MRI machine were necessary to rule out a rupture and therefore major surgery, but what an experience it was. I do not know for whom these machines were designed but they were not rugby players; a child jockey would struggle.

The position that I had to achieve involved me lying on my front with my two arms stretched out above my head, palms facing up. This may sound comfortable enough, but come back to me after four shoulder reconstructions. Let us just say one's range is not what it was. Not only did my hands quickly lose all feeling (at one point rendering me incapable of squeezing the red button – truly terrifying) but I felt, after about 10 minutes, that my shoulder capsules were actually coming apart as I lay. "Shouldn't be more than 25 minutes," proclaimed the radiographer. She was nearly right; it took just over 90. Her demeanour changed quickly from bubbly to petrified when she saw (and heard) me emerge from the tube of hell, having buzzed myself out after 45 long, brutal minutes.

"I'm afraid we only have one of the five images we need," she said in an apologetic tone. "Perhaps we could use some morphine to get you through it?" After about three milliseconds I replied: "No chance. The boys would hammer me if I bottled this."

So I got through it, but my shoulders still hurt more than my bicep. Still, they are not as bruised as my reputation among the troops; this may take longer to heal. Now that the banter has run its course and the children who form our elite medical team have moved on to their next target, the rehab can begin. No, this does not involve counselling sessions on leather couches from men with thick beards but, instead, hour after hour of arm-numbing (and mind-numbing) icing. Despite all the gains made by man over the centuries, ice appears to be all things to all medics. Ten minutes every hour, on the hour. All day and all night. I am allowed, as a treat, to have a physio rub special potions into my arm in the mornings but after all that excitement is over, it is home with my friend the ice machine to work on my armchair's bum groove.

Watching the boys run out to training and hearing them all laughing (usually at David Barnes) their way through a session is soul-destroying. Watching daytime TV alone is worse; it is like being a student, without an afternoon at the pub as an option.

So the visualisation of one's comeback is vital; it becomes an invalid's lifeblood. Without a clear, achievable goal in mind the process of injury rehabilitation could drive a player mad. Currently the only thing threatening to break my spirit is the knowledge that I need another MRI scan in two weeks to ensure all is healing properly. My only hope is that, this time, Doc can keep the details to himself. I think I've suffered enough.

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