True story - My nose and I have always had an adversarial relationship, part four in a four part eye-blackening melodrama.
Incident #4 - Age 33, Central Middle School, Columbia Heights, Minnesota
**Note I'm missing from the team photo as it was taken the day of my surgery. I was going to show a picture of the actual nose, but couldn't find it, which is probably for the best**
It had been 10 years since my last nose-altering experience. I'd like to say that the gap was caused by my being more careful and being smarter, but it can more accurately be credited to the fact that I was now doing a lot more coaching of basketball and a lot less playing. Even when I was playing now, it was usually in tandem with coaching. It's pretty difficult to be elbowed in the nose by a bunch of kids that can barely reach that high (getting hit below the belt is another matter). My nose was still only semi-functional due to the incident explained in the last post, but I was accustomed to it and seldom even remembered I was breathing a bit different than most other people.
Al was now in sixth grade and his first year of traveling basketball. I happily volunteered to coach the team and enthusiastically dove into the job, determined to have the smartest - if not most naturally athletic - team around. The team was stacked with legendary talents such as Al, Cole Holmes, Aaron Crosby, James Ericson and Samuel Paulson, names widely known now, but at the time nothing more than lumps of clay waiting to be molded by my great basketball mind. I was dead set on teaching this team the wonders of a back-door screen. For those not up to speed on basketball terminology, a back-door screen is a set play where a player will come up behind an opponent and set a stationary "screen" so that his teammate will be able to streak to the basket wide-open for a lay up while the person assigned to guard him turns around and is hopelessly stuck behind the screen which has been set. This may still not make sense, but trust me it is awesome when executed correctly. It is especially awesome when a group of sixth graders learns how to successfully execute the play as we could easily get several open lay-ups in a row before the other team would figure out how to stop it. So, a good portion of our practices were set up drilling the back door screen play over and over again until it became second nature. The kids, to their credit, did learn the play, but their sixth grade patience levels quickly tired of having to repeat it over and over again as I would stop and correct them and make them start it from the beginning.
One practice in particular we were drilling the play really hard. We had a poor showing in a tournament the previous weekend and looked completely out-of-sync so I was devoting our entire 90 minute practice to boring, monotonous fundamental drills. With about 20 minutes left in practice it was obvious I had lost their attention. Their eyes were glazing over, they demanded water every three minutes and they would not stop chit-chatting and focus on basketball. Knowing that continued drilling was futile, I promised them that if we could run our back-door screen flawlessly just one time, we would spend the rest of the practice scrimmaging, which was far and away their favorite portion of practice. I even volunteered to play the role of point guard to make sure the play started properly. I split the team offensively and defensively, took the ball and called out the play. Because we were focusing on offensive execution, the defense was supposed to be simply going through the motions, making their presence on the court known but not giving 100% effort to stop the offense from scoring. I had assigned Al to play defense on me and was paying little attention to him while I waited for my teammates to get in position and run the play yet one more time. Al, sensing my distraction and his opportunity, jumped in, cleanly stole the ball away from me and headed the other way for an uncontested lay-up.
Oh. Hell. No. There wasn't a chance in hell I was going to let some little sixth grade shit - let alone my own son - show me up by stealing the ball from me and coasting the length of the court for a lay up. I quickly (quickly for me is a relative term, but you get the idea) turned around and gave chase determined that Al would not make the basket. To me, at the time (and still now I guess), there was nothing more humiliating than allowing a sixth grader to own me on the basketball court. I simply couldn't let it happen. Al neared the hoop with a shit-eating grin on his face as I quickly closed ground and swooped in behind him, my arm reared back and ready to swat the ball as soon as he released it. Everything played out perfectly - Al, aware I was coming, but not aware how close I was, leisurely lined up his lay up and let the ball fly. Like an NBA highlight reel, I timed my jump magnificently, jumped as high as I possibly could and emphatically spiked his shot out of bounds with an intimidating Kevin Garnett-style scream. It - and I - were spectacular. I was still in the air and already gloating over my magnificent shaming of a sixth grader when I realized I hadn't quite thought this over. Looking down, I realized that now that I was up in the air, gravity was quickly doing what it does and my 220-plus pound frame was about to land on and hopelessly crush Al's scrawny (he took after his father) 95lb. body. Wanting to avoid adding injury to my just unleashed insult, I attempted to shift my momentum in the opposite direction. Fortunately for Al, I was somewhat successful and instead of landing directly on top of him, managed to only land awkwardly on his feet. While this was fortunate for Al, it spelled trouble for me. Our feet got tangled, it tripped me up and my body was now going full speed towards the closely approaching wall. It was beyond negotiation now - a collision was imminent. My best bet was to angle towards the padded mats directly behind the basket, no doubt installed for exactly this kind of scenario. I frantically attempted to push my momentum towards the mats but managed nothing more than further throwing my balance off and putting my arms in a position that made it impossible for them to shield the rest of my body from the wall. Stumbling forward, my nose caught the full impact of the collision, a full 10 inches away from the padded sanctuary of the mat and directly into the brick wall.
I remember two things in the direct aftermath of the collision. First was the sickening (if now somewhat familiar) sound of my nose being pulverized like a fat, juicy bug squished underneath a shoe. The second was the collective gasp of the parents who were seated just a few feet away and had first row seats for the debacle. As was often the case for me, embarrassment was a bigger motivator than pain and I quickly jumped up, hoping nobody had noticed my slightly less than graceful ballet. As is also often the case, everybody noticed. A quick glance in the direction of the parents revealed several looks of horror, as if they had collectively just witnessed a horrifying car crash. At least three parents had their hands covering their agape mouths while two others quite literally covered their eyes when they saw my nose. I quickly spun around to look at my team and noticed the ball rolling slowly away while every pair of sixth grade eyes were twice their normal size and transfixed on me. I had their full attention now! Like my previous break, very little blood came out of my nose. Despite what I had heard and the pain I was feeling, I interpreted the lack of blood as a sign that I was fine and others were simply momentarily shocked at the sight of a large man essentially running full speed, nose first, into a brick wall. My eyes were full of tears, making my vision limited, but I was determined to persevere. "Let's scrimmage!", I bellowed, expecting the team to erupt in satisfied cheers now that the fun part of practice was beginning. Nobody cheered, however. In fact, nobody moved. They all stood slack-jawed staring at what used to be my nose.
After a few minutes, Sarah Crosby, who is a friend and a parent of one of the players, slowly stepped onto the court and said, "Ahhhh...Paul? Do you maybe want me to drive you to the hospital?" I was confused and determined to finish practice with my fast dwindling pride intact so I said, "No, thanks - I'm fine". Sarah, bless her honesty, said, "You haven't seen your nose - you are not fine." At this point I grudgingly admitted that perhaps I shouldn't continue and although I still refused a trip to the emergency room, I ended practice a few minutes early. Driving home from practice, I made Al swear secrecy as I plotted whether or not to tell Katethat I had once again made mincemeat of my sniffer. Al mentioned I did have a noticeable gash on the outside so I knew I wouldn't be able to hide it and decided to come clean, but to minimize the impact. When I entered the house, KT's back was turned to me and she asked how practice went as she had a hundred times before. "Good", I replied, "But I bumped my nose a little bit. Can you take a look to see if you think it's broken?". She turned around, let out a slow, sad chuckle and begin slowly shaking her head side-to-side and burying her face in her hands. From experience, I knew this meant only bad things. Coincidentally, KT had been playing around with our new digital camera when I arrived home. Without saying a word, she motioned me closer, snapped a few photos and, still silently shaking her head, showed me the indisputable evidence that my nose was indeed severely and savagely broken.
Although it wouldn't be my last break, this one was definitely my most severe. My beak was pointing in all sorts of different directions and was crushed to the point that I abandoned my deeply ingrained "no doctors" policy and made an appointment for the next day. A week after that appointment, I was on the operating table for my second septorhinoplasty. And, like a broken record, it was a few weeks after I was fully recovered and no longer wearing a brace that I unceremoniously snapped my septum sideways once again during a basketball game. That's where my septum sits today - fully blocking one nostril and causing all sorts of interesting night breathing noises. Someday, when my feet, knees or back finally and definitively tell me my basketball career is over I may have it straightened out again. I'll just need someone to drive me home from the surgery as KT has made it quite clear she isn't interested.