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How long does recovery take?

We’re all familiar with the terrible trope of action movies (and cop shows) where a guy takes a bullet, and then in the end of the episode, he has his arm in a sling, but he’s all better by the end of the movie / very next episode. In the really real world, people don’t end up with a little artistic bruising or smudge of blood or soot, and walk, run, and fight perfectly…acrobatically and dramatically.

They certainly feel it the next day, too, and it only gets worse as you get older, or accumulate more damage. (It’s not the years, it’s the mileage… and the years.)

Two weeks after the last ER visit, my husband was complaining to a nurse that he shouldn’t still be this limited and in this much pain. Said worthy looked him in the eye, and said firmly, “You’re over 60. You’re not going to heal like you’re 20. It takes longer!” (She works with cowboys, truckers, and all sorts of other stubborn old coots as you’re likely to see in North Texas. She’s worth her weight in gold, and also not inclined to coddle. At all.)

In Science Fiction and Fantasy, we often employ handwavium – healing spells, regen(eration), nannites, divine favour, what have you. And that’s excellent, when needs must, the plot drives, and it’s worldbuilt in. (Who wouldn’t go to the clinic if they could?)

…Actually, that last sentence is an interesting source of complications. Who wouldn’t? Why would they be unable to get there, or to use it? What’s it like to be a person with more consequences for every risk than those around you, and how does that change their plans? As Brandon Sanderson put it in his Second Law of Magic, “Limitations are more interesting than powers.”

Sometimes, it’s really fun to read a book that takes you away, makes you into a character that can climb the heights of Mars, or sail the Kon-Tiki across the ocean… and sometimes, well, there’s Miles Vorkosigan, who spends his entire life throwing himself full-throttle against the limitations of his body, his society, and every star system nearby…

And sometimes having a character be a bit banged up helps build that suspension of disbelief. Building in old injuries, scars, arthritis, and an increasing awareness of one’s own limitations and mortality counts as things that made King’s Champion well-received by its readers.

So keep that in mind, as yet one more tool in your toolbox, to throw at your characters and make them struggle, and really make that victory hard-won!

27 Comments
  1. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    One aspect of “being OK at the beginning of the Next Episode” is the problem that most television shows have to operate on the “status quo is god”.

    The reason is that Episode A may be filmed before Episode B but Episode B may be shown before Episode A.

    Thus the viewer may see George in Episode B with a cast on his arm but won’t know what happened to George’s arm until they see Episode A “next week”.

    On the other hand, one long-dead-now comic book series had NYC badly damaged at the end of one story but the next story started with NYC undamaged.

    The idiots answered complaints about that with the line “this is fiction not real life”. 😦

    September 22, 2019
    • Joe in PNG #

      There’s a good reason for that. Older shows tended towards each ep being a stand-alone, with the idea that viewers may have missed the previous ones. Which, in the olden days of broadcast TV, could very likely be true.
      So, a lot of the time each TV episode was meant to stand alone, with perhaps a bit of loose continuity.
      The modern habit of binging didn’t really start until streaming became a common thing. Which is a good thing, as 10-24 hours is a way better medium to tell a complex story.

      September 22, 2019
  2. All ties in to keeping eyeballs glued to the page. You can write superheroes. You can write insta-healing superheroes even. But humans are flawed creatures, and without the flaws there is no story. The Superman series back in the last century is a famous example.

    They are also hidden obstacles for your characters to overcome. If there is a psychological block in character Z’s head and you don’t know explicitly know about it beforehand, it can throw a bit of a curveball into the plot. But if you do it right, you can make these little nuggets become the engine that drives character growth… OR makes a good (bad) villain. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.

    September 22, 2019
  3. Rada Ni Drako – “I can still do this!” Rada’s body and mind – “Go on and try. We’re going to be over here watching and don’t come whimpering to us when you’re useless for the next week.”

    Not that the author has ever forgotten (until either something goes “pop” or the next morning) that she is no longer 17.5 and still under warranty. Nooooooo.

    September 22, 2019
    • Brett Baker #

      I always was annoyed by guys over 40 saying they were tired. Now I unfortunately know why they said that.

      September 22, 2019
      • Wait until 60. That’s when you have a couch in the shop because you have to stop in the middle of things and go sit down for 20 minutes. Super fun. 😡

        September 22, 2019
        • Heh. I spent 9 hours fencing in competition this past Sunday.
          I spent all Monday hobbling around when I wasn’t sitting and groaning about the aches and pains, All the Motrin did was take the edge off a little. 60 sucks compared against teenagers and college students. But it still beats the alternative; at least until we get twin medical miracles of regeneration and rejuvenation. The social ramifications of those two things should be able to drive a multitude of What-if stories.

          Bruce Wayne would be a wreck at 40 if it wasn’t for magic in the DC universe.
          At least John McClane in the Die Hard series of movies is pretty much all used up at the end of each movie and needs a couple of years to recover.
          Wolverine bits the bullet finally in Old Man Logan; and looks like Rambo is going down one last time in the new movie coming out soon.

          September 24, 2019
          • Fencing? Oh my aching knees! Kendo, -maybe- I could go a round or two. I can still do rolls on concrete though, so all is not yet lost.

            Have you seen the latest Terminator movie? Watching Schwarzenegger trying to do those stunts made my back hurt in sympathy. Stallone’s got to be in similar shape, poor bastard probably walks with a cane these days.

            Looking forward to the Old Man Rambo version though, how to git ‘er dun when you have to plan ahead and running is an iffy proposition.

            September 24, 2019
            • Mike Houst #

              (True confession time. While the knees and the feet are a bit sore, it’s really my butt that hurts the most! Damn modified t-stance for fencing on-guard position.)

              September 24, 2019
  4. carlton mckenney #

    Nora Roberts’ Eve Dallas is a prime example of someone who has to be coerced to see a medic and anesthetized to get her into a hospital. She also doesn’t bounce back immediately even with the advancements in medicine shown in the books. The attempts of hubby Roarke to get pain killers and treatments into her when she is concious are constant bits of comic relief thruout the series.

    September 22, 2019
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      Well, at least Eve is getting better about eating. (Pizza in her office food machine helps). 😉

      September 22, 2019
  5. How long does recovery take? It takes a long damn time, let me tell you. Physical therapist here, I have seen that show. Damage accumulates.

    The average sports injury, you take that to the grave with you. Surgery will make the multi-ligament knee injury functional again, but the patient is not going back to running four-minute miles. If they’re lucky they’ll be able to run a mile, but it’ll hurt.

    Psychological injuries, that’s a whole different thing. You can’t go through a battle where friends get killed and not be marked by it. You can’t survive a catastrophic accident like a car crash or a fire without being marked. Hell, normal life is enough to make half the population depressed.

    Two things I’ve done to combat this reality of accumulating damage in my adventure stories.

    First, miraculous nanotech medicine and mind-reading level psych treatment. Otherwise your hero is good for one crisis and then they’re done. Also, most of the characters are under 30. They still bounce when they hit the wall. One guy is over 30 with a lot of miles on the odometer, they’re all pretty careful with him.

    Second, compressed time window. Six books in, they’ve saved the world five times and they’ve only been going at it six months. The standing joke is that they never do a damn thing unless the world is going to end, because the end of the world comes every couple of weeks.

    September 22, 2019
  6. Been watching Magnum P.I. lately, and I noticed that a big white bandage he had on his finger lasted three episodes, while a huge cast on his shoulder only lasted one. 😒

    September 22, 2019
  7. “You’re over 60. You’re not going to heal like you’re 20. It takes longer!”

    Heh, too true! I had oral surgery at the beginning of August. The surgery had complications. The surgical complications caused recovery complications. My pain levels were so high that I was forced to rest and recover for the better part of 6 weeks.

    Now, at long last, the pain has diminished to mere discomfort, but I am so physically weak after all that inactivity. Feh! If I’m on my feet for too long, I get faint and have to lie down. Hate it! Clearly it’s going to take some time and work to regain my strength. (I’m 59.)

    September 22, 2019
    • Jane Meyerhofer #

      I’ve heard, no idea where, that you lose strength at 6% a day when you are incapacitated but you can only get it back 3% per day. Really depressing as I age.

      September 22, 2019
      • Jane, that sounds about right to me. Oddly, putting numbers to my subjective experience of weakness is comforting. Maybe it’s because that 3% sounds so definite and means that it can be done.

        If I lost 6% per day, that means I lost something like 252%. Ugh!

        Still…at 3% per day, I could be back at 100% in 33 days. Honestly, I know it will take longer. (Experience, alas.) But so long as it can be done, I will do it.

        September 22, 2019
        • Mary #

          Possibly 6% not of your normal value but of what’s left?

          September 22, 2019
          • No doubt. 😉

            My 252% was hyperbole, but it certainly expresses the subjective feeling well!

            September 23, 2019
        • Just remember, if you or your protagonist spend too much time not moving, someone is going to come along and start shoveling dirt on top of you.

          September 24, 2019
    • Mary #

      Scars take longer to vanish even when they do

      September 22, 2019
    • RCPete #

      I had bunion surgery; the doc cut a couple of toe bones, spliced and pin. The major pins were out by 6 weeks, and the doc thought I’d be released at 8. Nope. At age 67 and with type II diabetes, it’s another 4 weeks. Minor pin waits 6 months or so before he goes in to pull it.

      I’m supposed to be off my feet as much as possible, but there are a few things that have to be done by me. Whee. And after an hour of medium light chores*, I’m done for the day. At least the To Be Read queue is getting a bit shorter.

      (*) The joys of Intermountain West living; had to prepare for a hard freeze Wednesday night. At least it waited until after the equinox, and the water could go downhill this time.

      September 22, 2019
      • When I broke my arm at the age of 40, I drank a lot of whey protein as well as other calcium foods, under the theory that I needed calcium and protein. It helped a lot. My doctor was kinda shocked that my bones grew back so well, since I was middle-aged; and there was a study a few years later that said it helped other people’s bones grow back too.

        Of course, my other luck was falling on my broken arm on the choirloft stairs, and inadvertently pushing things more into position, instead of making it worse. So there’s good luck and bad luck in recovery.

        The other thing is that if you start out flexible, you can do all sorts of things that you shouldn’t, even while you are recovering. And sometimes that helps, because you push your muscles a bit; but sometimes you can hurt yourself (as heroes might tend to do).

        September 24, 2019
        • Oh, and I ran funny for a couple of years, because I was subconsciously trying to spare my arm from hurting. (Yes, I was stupid enough to try to run places with a broken arm. I do not recommend it.)

          September 24, 2019
  8. Joe in PNG #

    I have to remind my age cohort (mid 40’s) of this fact frequently, especially when they try to keep up with the teens on the soccer field.

    Your body has a long memory, and holds grudges. It will pay you back for all the things you did to it during your youth.

    September 22, 2019
    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

      About twenty years ago, a guy my age found out the hard way that he wasn’t a teen anymore (playing basketball with some teens). 😆

      September 22, 2019
      • I threatened a student with chasing him around the building. He grinned and pointed out that he’s on the track team. I observed that I’m older, sneakier, and was wearing good shoes. He was in slick-soled dress shoes. He allowed as how the odds might not be in his favor.

        September 22, 2019
    • I’m stealing that part about your body holding grudges.

      September 24, 2019

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