I can’t say for certain what sparked it. Maybe it was the over-the-counter allergy medication I started taking. Maybe it was the warm fall day or my approaching birthday. Maybe it was the new moon or the sun moving in Libra. No matter what it was, almost overnight, I was beset with the urge—the need—to play tennis.
On an ordinary Wednesday night, I grabbed my tennis racquet and shouted, “Let’s go!” before heading out the door for the nearby tennis courts. Hubs was obliging. After all, I couldn’t play by myself. So for the next thirty minutes, I hit the ball—mostly into the net—with a ferocity I hadn’t felt in ages. “I got a demon in me,” I repeated over and over like a mantra. By the time we got home, the demon had fallen back asleep. She would wake again the next night. And the night after that.
In my entire life, I’ve only had a marginal interest (and less aptitude) in the sport on the court. I played doubles on the tennis team in 9th Grade and won a total of ZERO games (apologies to my doubles partner, Nicole—it’s wasn’t you, it was me). Even as an adult I rarely picked up a racquet—and when I did, it was my Prince Jr., made with a smaller grip for kiddie hands, I’ve had since I was twelve. I could hardly be called athletic and I wasn’t even remotely competitive. And yet, now, the feel of smacking a fuzzy ball over a net with as much force as I could muster seems as satisfying as eating a Reuben sandwich. (Yeah, that good!)
The “Demon” showed after work like clockwork. We’d walk the dog, get dinner ready, then head out, making sure to pick the court furthest away from the “pros.” No need to embarrass myself just yet. After only three nights, I noticed I was getting better. My backhand was tighter and my forehand improved considerably, especially after I asked Hubs how to hold it. (I mean, the racquet, ya pervs.) I was quicker on my feet, volleys got longer; I was even out of breath—“exercising,” I believe they call it. I felt a deep, if delusional kinship with Serena. I factored in how many games I could get in before the tennis courts closed in December. I mentally tallied up the cost of new shoes and winter workout gear. I checked for nearby indoor facilities.
And it wasn’t just the novelty of hitting a ball over a net. I felt plugged into something. I could see deep lessons in how I could control the ball instead of reacting to it, how my shots got weak when I lost focus, how I could move myself towards the most advantageous spot instead of letting the ball pass me by. I grew quiet and contemplative when I played. This is more than a sport, I thought, this a map to living. When I asked Hubs, “Do you notice that I hardly even talk when I’m playing tennis?,” he replied, “Why do you think I keeping heading out there with you every night?”
A week later, the night of my birthday, Hubs and I went out to dinner instead of hitting the court. No worries, I told myself as I checked the next day’s weather report and contemplated the mechanics of a “slice.” But at five o’clock the following morning, I awoke and felt a sharp pain in the ring finger of my right hand. In fact, the entire finger had become nearly immobile and curled up. I was half-asleep, but conscious enough to use my left hand to snap my finger straight. Within moments, mobility returned and the pain subsided, and, logically (my logic), I played tennis the next night. I was certain that my finger cramp and my tennis game were unrelated.
The next few weeks were a succession of splints or wrapping my finger as I slept. My primary care doctor had no clue was what wrong and sent me a link on “tennis elbow.” My chiropractor prescribed hot water soaks. I eventually allowed a teeny-tiny possibility that tennis may have aggravated, if not caused, this condition and stayed off the court. I felt terribly impaired; I couldn’t even snap my fingers to order the Beast back into the house. The Demon grew surly and scattered. All the nuggets of wisdom I’d found on the court were suddenly lobbed out of the picture (bad tennis pun intended). When, after almost two courtless weeks, I awoke in the middle of the night with the same cramped and painful tendon flare up, I…well…I said, “Screw it! Let’s play!” and went back to playing tennis that night.
By now, I’d Googled enough symptoms and went to a specialist to confirm my worst fear: I have Trigger Finger. It’s a thing. An actual malady, not just something Yosemite Sam gets over protecting his gold. In short, the passageway for my finger’s tendons has narrowed due to inflammation, limiting dexterity. I’d first heard about the condition years ago, when a friend shared that her mother had it—only, her mother is from the Bronx, where it’s called “trigguh finguh.” It sounded terrible—okay, it sounded hilarious—and also like something I’d never, ever in my entire life want.
While he couldn’t say with certainty what caused my trigger finger—the tennis only likely “triggered” the inevitable—the hand doctor told me that diabetics and the elderly are prone to getting it. I’m not diabetic…. He also told me there were two ways to fix it: An injection of cortisone and/or surgery. I worried, if that worst-case surgery scenario came to pass, I might never play the ukulele again. I got the shot and crossed my remaining functional fingers.
For now, my tennis career is on hold. “On the DL,” as they say, whoever “they” are. My season over (okay, the hand doc says I can play in a week). The Demon is, momentarily, too inconsolable to get worked up into a frenzy, tennis or otherwise. But, if experience tells me anything, it’s only a matter of time before the next obsession shows up. Watch this space.
Anyone ever have trigger finger? Itchy or otherwise? Or maybe a different absurd—not necessarily stomach-churning—malady you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments, and get well soon!