It's a Mann's world: Shrugging the pain away

Olly Man

A recent kayaking excursion reopened some old wounds for Olly Mann

I have just been sea kayaking. This would be an unlikely event at any stage in my life, as my track record with watersport is woeful. (Waterskiing terrified me, and I once went fishing but became so bored I spent the entire time observing the bait wriggling in the plastic container.) It’s especially surprising, though, because this is the first time I’ve attempted any shoulder-based sport since I first dislocated my shoulder eight years ago.

The initial dislocation was at my friend Steve’s wedding; or, more accurately, at the pre-wedding japes in the Canadian Rockies (he married a Canadian. If only he’d hooked up with his high school sweetheart from Hitchin, my shoulder would have been saved).

I was 29, had never been skiing, and took the advice of my snow-sporty mates that I should do a trial lesson on a dry slope first, before heading out to Lake Louise. To my astonishment, I found the dry slope lesson relatively easy, and didn’t fall over once. So, when I got to Canada, full of false confidence, I over-enthusiastically donned my skis at the rental centre, attempted to ski over to where the lesson was due to begin, lost my balance, and fell backwards on to hard ice.

The pain was harsh, but relief came quickly as my shoulder was popped back in by an on-site doctor (you’re never far from a medical practitioner on a ski slope). But then my arm had to sit in a sling for the next six weeks. So, aside from the obvious embarrassment of having obtained a “sports injury” without actually attempting the sport itself, I then had to discuss it with all the guests at Steve’s wedding, all highly amused by my sling. I smiled weakly as I posed for numerous photos recording the moment they met that English guy who fell over and injured himself, despite having never set a foot on the mountain.

"As I dangled above the ground, blood draining fro my face, I tried to slot my shoulder back... and failed"

In the years since, my shoulder has repeatedly dislocated. Notably at my friend Ben’s stag do on a zip wire at one of those stupid treetop adventure parks.

The first hour of swinging and jumping had proceeded without incident, but, as I attempted one of the more precarious leaps, I reached out for a net to catch myself in—and, as my bungee rope snapped me backwards, it pulled my arm clean out of its socket. As I dangled 30 metres above the ground, blood draining from my face and shaky with adrenalin, I tried to slot my shoulder back, and failed.

I did a little puke in my mouth as I was told that there was no quick way to get me down from the wire: the fastest way to find sanctuary would be to complete the treetop course. I somehow then completed six bungee jumps in a matter of minutes, holding my right arm aloft with my left, until I reached ground level, relocated my shoulder lying face down on a park bench, and continued on to the Wetherspoons.

 

The most recent dislocation, in 2015, was the least remarkable: I was running for a train after having a few drinks, and managed, bizarrely, to fall up a staircase. But the more your shoulder pops out, the more likely it is to happen again, and the harder it is to put back.

A steely-eyed surgeon advised me that surgery would be the best option. I ignored his advice, and chanced my arm (pun intended) on a regime of: a) never again doing weird outdoorsy activities and b) jogging, not running, for trains.

For two years I followed my own advice, and my shoulder remained in place. But this summer I’ve been a little more lax. I’ve risked running on a cross-trainer. I’ve carried multiple bags of heavy shopping. I’ve even been on a rollercoaster (counter-intuitively, so long as there are shoulder restraints, it’s fine—it’s actually the coasters with lap-bars that bash your shoulders).

Then, last month, I was invited on a long weekend to Croatia with my wife’s friends—all of whom are younger and sportier than me. The whole itinerary was finalised ahead of time (and I do mean the whole itinerary: a fortnight before departure, a PDF of the menu at the pizza restaurant was circulated amongst the group via WhatsApp), and sea kayaking was the Saturday morning activity, booked and paid for. So, I thought, I should at least give it a go before backing out. And so, yesterday, I found myself standing in my trunks on Bene beach, with an oar in my hand, boarding a two-person kayak with my wife.

Coordinating our rowing technique nearly cost us our marriage, but I’m pleased to say my shoulder didn’t feel remotely vulnerable, and still remains in place. If anything, I suspect the rowing may have strengthened the muscles around my shoulder. I got to see the beautiful Marjan peninsula, and take part in some outdoor sport for the first time in eight years.

It’s all made me feel rather dislocated.