I was only 11 at the time, but it was the most intense pain I’d ever experienced. It still is. Thinking back, even the memory makes me wince.
Every Sunday I’d play centre half for the Epsom Eagles. On this particular Sunday, the grass was slick as six day-old smoked salmon. I hoofed the ball up to the centre forwards, and as I turned to run back into position, my right leg slipped.
I collapsed like Bambi; an ungainly splay that caught the eye of the trainer who was standing on the touchline, bucket in hand. After that, I heard a voice I didn’t recognise, one that was shredded with pain. I looked down and saw, with some interest, that my kneecap had slipped its moorings and was now halfway round my right leg.
The onrushing trainer stopped in her tracks. She looked at my knee, glanced at the wet sponge in the bucket, then uttered the immortal words, “Well this isn’t going to be much use, is it?” Or words to that effect.
The first time this happened – and it happened several times over the following years (on another football field, at a CYFA summer camp, in a carpet warehouse) – I was horrified at the way the doctor dealt with it. He grabbed my ankle and pulled the bent leg towards him, which seemed to me to be the worst possible thing anyone could do under the circumstances. It felt like a hive of hornets had been shaken in a cocktail mixer and then poured under my skin. But then the kneecap would pop back into its customary position, the relief would be enormous, and I would feel like kissing him.
When the doctor straightened the leg the second and third time it happened, it still hurt. But knowing this was the well-trained doctor’s modus operandi made all the difference in the world. Knowing that the doctor was working for my good, and that the pain would soon end, made it so much more bearable. (In fact, though I would much rather have done without it, there’s no question that the experience of pain had the effect of making the eventual relief so much sweeter.)
Here’s Sinclair Ferguson on “Fatherly Discipline” (Children of the Living God, p118):
Through their submission to discipline, the lame, rather than being disabled, are healed. Setting a dislocated limb may seem to be a painful experience, but it is a healing act. To an untrained, inexperienced observer, it might seem to be an act of uncaring brutality. But to the person who is experiencing the pain, who realises the motives of his physician and trusts him, it is the first step back to health and strength.
In Psalm 30, the Psalmist acknowledges this same pattern: to get to the healing, the Physician must cause pain. “Lord, my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me… Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”
[Image: in my Epsom Eagles kit with my sister, Louise.]