Courage is Michael Schumacher’s middle name, writes Nirmal Shekar
So the legend not only continues to flourish well past a slippery skiing slope and near-hopeless comatose state, but is once again being built upon, its larger-than-life superman body armour shining yet again, long past the Grenoble gloom in which it seemed set to disappear into the pages of history last winter.
Beating the odds, however seemingly insurmountable, may be everyday business for great sportsmen. But then, on the field of play, which is also the theatre of dreams and nightmares, glorious life and gruesome death are nothing more than mere metaphors, ones demonstrably lacking in meaning in the larger context.
Victory like never before
In the event, Michael Schumacher has not just won again; he has won as he has never done before in his 45 celebrated years on earth; he has won as he would never perhaps — hopefully — be asked to win, ever again.
Six months after he stumbled while skiing at a leisurely pace — and certainly not during a dementedly ambitious slalom — with his son and hit a rock-face in the French Alps, suffered near-fatal brain injuries and went into a coma — a state that was medically stretched and sustained to help the brain’s recovery — Schumacher was discharged from the Grenoble hospital on Monday.
“Michael has left the CHU Grenoble to continue his long phase of rehabilitation. He is not in coma anymore. For the future we ask for understanding that his further rehabilitation will take place away from the public eye,” said his manager Sabine Kehm in a brief statement.
Even amidst all the euphoria surrounding Lionel Messi’s mesmerising first goal of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, and the football fever which has gripped large swathes of the habitable parts of our planet, the sheer improbability and extraordinary significance of the news emerging from Grenoble would not be lost on sports fans.
Sports hacks are sorcerers when it comes to turning the banal into the momentous; the day and age in which we live demand this of us for sheer survival. We seek the transcendental in the quotidian but are seldom required to dwell on the cruelty of the quotidian.
And Schumacher’s recovery — and his departure from his hospital bed — is not something that readily unravels in our understanding; it is not something that we are asked to explain and extol on a day-to-day basis. “These things [people with head injury coming out of coma after a long time] can happen. And the fitter and younger the person is, the greater the chances,” says Dr. M. Balamurugan, a Chennai-based neurosurgeon.
“In an induced coma, areas in the brain that control consciousness are switched off to help the healing process.’’
Asked if the person’s re-emergence into a conscious state was a natural process, Dr. Balamurugan said, “Yes, it is quite often natural but medical help also plays a big part.”
Happy turn of fortune
There can be no doubt at all that the happy turn of fortune for the long-suffering Schumacher family has come about because of the state-of-the-art, round-the-clock medical care that was provided to him and the great man’s own awesome level of fitness.
Of course, to go out on a limb and say that serendipity had nothing to do with it is to betray our own lack of understanding of life and its now-frightening, now-magical randomness.
No matter all this, what has emerged from the statement from the seven-time F1 champion’s manager is the most heart-warming news that sports-lovers anywhere in the world might have expected to hear even during the great Carnival of Football.
Only the clarifying distance of time would enable us to get to grips with its true significance in a world of here-and-nowness.
“Your tools [social media] have elevated gossip, hearsay and conjecture to the level of valid, mainstream communication,” says a character in Dave Eggers’ recent book The Circle.
This is never truer than in the world of sport where Neymar’s latest hairstyle trends on Twitter and becomes front page news and a few footballers’ foolishness in allowing themselves to be photographed without any piece of clothing in a hotel swimming pool vies for space alongside.
But on the other hand, don’t fall for the predictable hogwash that would dominate tabloid headlines vis-à-vis King Michael’s supernatural willpower.
For, that would be an insult to great champion’s supreme fitness at age 45, and to the committed team of medical experts who have attended to him for six months.
And the truth is, there is nothing called willpower that is present in the most complex organ known to us — the human brain with its 86 billion neurons and tens of trillions of connections — when it is in a comatose state.
But awe and admiration may not be out of place. After all, this is a man who, 10 years ago, drove and won a Formula One race at Imola in Italy when funeral arrangements were being made back home for his dead mother.
Were she alive today, Elizabeth Schumacher would be a very, very proud, and hugely relieved, woman.
Courage is Michael’s middle name; and few sportsmen of our times, perhaps of all time, have ever displayed it — courage — as often in the face of adversity as has Schumacher.