When badly injured, it really helps to have all your friends around you. When I was last ruled out with a long-term knock, I was bowled over by the efforts that some of the other players went to just to give me some company and keep my spirits high. They would call round every day after training, always putting the kettle straight on and even bearing edible gifts for the oh-so-grateful invalid.
It was only when I received a text message meant for someone else from one Andy Beattie – Bath back row and childhood friend – that their true agenda was revealed. "Don't forget the cookies, let's see if we can get him to 20 stones." Ah, I see.
What a lovely set of boys.
This was almost as despicable as the time former Bath scrum-half Martyn Wood hurt his neck on a trampoline while showing off to some girls. We spent nine days calling his name and forcing him to turn awkwardly in his neck brace and punching him lightly in the face from behind; standard procedure with neck injuries. All good fun, at least until the second x-ray revealed a serious injury. We felt genuinely terrible. Well, we did until we saw him again post-surgery. "Wouldn't change a thing, lads, funniest week of my life," he muttered from his hospital bed. So we nicked his Toblerone and left him to it.
You see, injuries happen in this game; it's how you deal with it. I am typically a depressive bear with a short temper and tendency to fear the worst. I know this, though, so I have learned to compartmentalise my thoughts somewhat – putting these in the "silly" box – which allows me to snap myself back to reality when the nightmarish daydreams become too morose. Thankfully, Olly Barkley is a bit more sensible.
Last weekend he suffered a nasty break to his left leg and has since had the operation to fix it. Lots of rods, plates and screws have been notched into place and the healing has begun. There was a point when I thought none of this would be necessary; just minutes after the match at Gloucester my phone rang. It was Olly and, a little confused and still in my underpants, I answered.
"Had the x-ray," he said, "and there's nothing wrong with it. What we doing for food tonight? Can we have curry?" It took me a few seconds to realise that whatever drugs he had been given were certainly working! And at least he wasn't in pain. So I agreed to the curry and told him to stop being such a drama queen and hurry home.
No matter how much perspective you are able to muster, though, these times are extremely tough. Now the drugs have worn off, he knows that it will be months of painful, laborious rehabilitation before he can again take the field and play for his beloved club. He knows that he will have to get used to watching us from the sidelines feeling impotent and frustrated. He knows all of this, as we all do in these moments, but how does a player get through it?
Well, it all depends on the individual. Some players like to set goals; usually based around dates and key steps in their rehabilitation. For me, this didn't work. As soon as a goal was not achieved I felt so frustrated that I couldn't communicate.
So I decided to ask my father, a psychologist, for some advice. It was simple: "All you have to do is get to the gym on time and do as the experts tell you. So do that. Get to the gym on time and leave the thinking to the ones who know what they're talking about." That was what did it for me; arrive ready to work to the point of exhaustion, complete every repetition of every set, then go home and relax, knowing all that could have been done has been done.
What every injured player needs is support. Whether it is administrative or social, solitude is rarely healthy. My role in Olly's rehab is simple: I'm his PA. I envisage months of driving him everywhere, waiting hours for him to finish physio, cooking his meals and mowing his lawn. So, no change there then. Thinking about it, it's alright for him; he will just do his hour of work at breakfast time, sit back, apply some bags of ice and relax. Someone needs to run his empire, so this could be a busy few months for yours truly. Either way, he would do the same for me. In fact, he has done.
What he has to dream of now is that first session back with the boys. The first time he loses the "don't hurt me" bib and gets properly stuck in. That will be a great day. He will be nervous, as will the medics watching on from the sidelines, but it will be worth it. Tell you what, though; he'll have to lose a few pounds first; I sent him up a family bucket of fried chicken for lunch today. Just a little treat, it's what mates are for...