Our theme for the month of November is “firsts.”
Amazingly, I escaped the first sixteen years of an adrenaline-filled life with zero broken bones, major sprains, or debilitating injuries. There were plenty of opportunities in that time—between heavy-machinery operations on the farm and an affinity for high-intensity outdoor recreation, a broken bone was practically imminent. Supplemented with a devil-may-care attitude toward danger, it was only a matter of time before the inevitable happened. I recall plenty of high-flying ski jumps ending in ‘yard sales,’ a slew of throbbing body-slams onto the high school wrestling mat, and one tree-trimming incident on the farm in which my fingers grazed the edge of my cousin’s limb-loppers in mid-snap. We looked at each other wide-eyed for a second, laughed off the near miss, and continued our careless trimming.
A lot of adolescent boys go through an invincibility phase, and I may as well have been leading the brigade.
Then in my sophomore year of high school, I was taken down a peg: I broke my hip. It’s not a very dramatic story, but it is the first. It didn’t happen tumbling off a rock face on a bouldering trip; it didn’t happen getting thrown out of a whitewater raft. Nor did it happen falling down the stairs or getting out of the shower (thank God), as is the case when most hips are broken, seventy years later…
It happened running track. Specifically, in Lane 3 on the curve of the 200-meter dash. It was a low stakes dual meet against Lowell High School, one of our conference rivals on the outskirts of Grand Rapids, and so Coach pulled up a few guys from JV for experience’s sake. I was called upon to run the 200.
This story also represents the first time I’d been pulled up to varsity, and so I was eager to prove my speed to my coaches and older teammates. Grand Rapids Christian High School has always been a historically dominant force on the track, and this was my time to shine, my moment to stake my claim in the legacy.
Like so many times before, I crouched down behind the starting line, spikes planted firmly into the blocks, poised for the sound of the gun.
I exploded out of the blocks, arms pumping like pistons, leaning into the curve with quick, light steps. I’ve always had slow reflexes; starts were somewhat of an Achilles’ heel when I ran sprints. My success usually came in the last hundred meters of the 200 or 400, where I could finally accelerate up to full speed and pass runners at terminal velocity. But this race had started perfectly; I was in first place exiting the curve and there was still a hundred meters to go!
That’s when I felt a distinct pop at the right ball-and-socket of my pelvis. The pain was sudden and inflammatory, like lighting a grill a few seconds after opening the gas valve. My first thought was that it was a pulled muscle or a sprain; I’d seen dozens of runners stop mid-race, a pinched look on their face and in their legs, before limping off wincing in pain. I actually felt a strange, casual calm as this thought came over me. ‘I guess I’m overdue for something like this…’ Seen it so many times, and now it was my turn. No big deal. Gritting my teeth like the stoic country boy I tried so hard to be, I jogged out the last hundred meters (and beat one kid!) and keeled over into the grass.
Coaches and teammates flocked over with their concern and condolence, and I shooed them away with my “It’s fine, I’m just disappointed I didn’t win” face. It was only until I tried to take my track spikes off that I realized I couldn’t even touch my toes without excruciating pain. If this is what pulled muscles feel like, I must really be a wuss, I thought with unease.
After laying down for the rest of the track meet, I finally asked a friend to take my shoes off for me. I distinctly remember Zach being gruffly polite about it, putting my sneakers on and tying them for me without much fuss over my condition. He knew me well. My parents were gone that evening, so Zach’s dad drove me home. Every action was stressful: getting into the car, driving over potholes, getting out of the car, walking upstairs into my living room, and crashing on the couch.
This is also the first time I ever took ibuprofen.
It was while sitting on this couch, waiting for my parents to come home, that I decided this might be more serious than a sprain. Machismo be damned; I resolved to seek medical attention. When my parents finally arrived around 11:30 p.m., they entered the living room and saw me lounging on the couch, still in my track uniform.
“How’d the meet go?”
“Good, we won… I think I need to go the ER though.”
I think I was more shocked than anyone when the X-ray results came back and the doctor relayed the news: “Well son, it looks like you broke your pelvis. How exactly did you say this happened?”
I’m still fuzzy on the details, but it sounds like a particularly long stride around meter 98 sort of twisted the ball out of the socket—not completely, but enough to where the muscle tissue between the two bones took a sliver of pelvis along with it when it was ripped out. “Imagine peeling the label off a beer bottle, and accidentally taking some of the glass off with it,” the doctor added colorfully.
He prescribed to me a pair of crutches and a bottle of Vicodin. “The healing process can be unpredictable,” he said. “In some cases, you’ll walk around on crutches for a few weeks and it’ll heal by itself. On the other hand—because it is a hip injury—we might have to put you in a full-body cast.”
My head was swimming. This was my first broken bone ever; I wanted to be counted among the middle schoolers with wrist fractures and boot casts, not bedridden grandmothers who couldn’t navigate their own dining rooms… What about my track career, would I ever be able to run again? Or would my speed be forever a thing of the past?
God was miraculously generous. I ended up going the crutches route, which became unnecessary after just one week. My track season was clearly over, but I came back junior year faster than ever. The X-rays showed healed bone tissue forming in the ball-and-socket gap, which the doc said would be forever a little misshapen, but not nearly enough to be noticeable or stride-altering. I thought that was kind of neat.
To add humor to humility, my grandpa (and boss at Versluis Orchards) just so happened to be getting his hip replaced by the same doctor that same week, so we shared a few laughs together about hip problems while our relatives trimmed apple trees without us.
When people ask me if I’ve ever broken a bone, I have the pleasure of boasting that I broke my pelvis once. Of course, when they unfailingly ask how, I have to follow it up with, “I just…ran really hard? I think?” followed by a less-coherent version of this story.
I haven’t broken anything since, and if anything my lifestyle has ramped up since then. The next one is due soon, I’m sure. But hey, at least I got the classic broken hip out of the way. Maybe when I’m eighty-five and struggling to walk up an icy driveway, karma will go easy on me and give me a sprained wrist instead.
Nick Meekhof (’15) graduated with a major in writing and a minor in geography. A farmer for the first twenty-three years of his life, Nick currently works for the Michigan Department of Agriculture. When he’s not traversing the state conducting orchard inspections, he can be found exploring the rivers, forests, and small towns all throughout the Great Lakes State. His current goals include kayaking one hundred Michigan rivers, swimming in Lake Michigan during every month of the year, and visiting as many Michigan breweries as possible.