The Accident – Sept. 24th, 2016
What they tell me in the E.R. is the obvious – a dislocated ring finger, my dominant hand, the proximal phalanx separated from the middle phalanx and protruding from the underside after the impact between me on my bike and a four-foot metal barrier pole, at high speed with no time to brake, sends me crashing to the pavement. I cannot say if I put my right hand out to break my fall or even let go of the handle bar, the body slamming up against the immovable to my left, then to my right, forcing bones in my ring finger to separate, driving the middle one down and out through muscle, skin, the resulting open wound filled with gravel, dirt, grass, and they will have to enter it, an excavation of sorts, dig out, sterilize, a local anesthetic applied to take the edge off, though the doctor warns it won’t help much when it’s time to reset the bones one to the other.
Pain meds administered hours earlier, after they admit me, before they send me for x-rays, before the bruising begins, left foot starting with the toes up the length of the leg to the hip, before they clean and dress the lower and upper right arm that will scar and serve as a vivid reminder every time I look in the mirror or wear a t-shirt or cami, pain meds that I pleaded for, demanded as they lowered me from the bay of the ambulance despite how I mostly refuse medications, will afford me some semblance of courage as I hold my breath, bite my lip, squeeze my son’s hand, and turn away. The doctor jokes, he talks and talks, an attempt at distraction, grasps the finger, puts the pieces of this failed construction back the way they were meant to be, the bones at least, stiches it up, insists on a tetanus shot, an antibiotic shot which I refuse, refuse again, finally acquiesce under pressure from the doctor and my son, which means, by default, and against my so called better judgement, an oral antibiotic for the days to follow.
He tells me repeatedly I am lucky, that x-rays of the hip, leg, chest, arm provide no evidence of more serious injury. What I learn in the weeks, months, the year that follows, is what the x-rays missed, what they often miss – torn meniscus on both sides of the left knee, a shredded ACL, a fractured left knee which they would not have cast anyway, bone bruises, fractured left rib that will heal improperly and irritate the spleen with its constant jabbing stoking the unwieldy fires of worry until doctor after doctor, test after test, the most unlikely of them, the last one in a long series of office visits, MRIs, cat scans, puts a name to it, the source of the constant pain in my left side.
What the E.R. doctor hadn’t told me then, at the start, is how dark and unforgiving life will feel after months of unrelenting pain, how unforgiving I will feel that I am not stronger, somehow, than this, though my medicine cabinet overflows with vials of unused oxycodone. This much I accept – pain over possible addiction.
On a good day, preoccupied with work, my blog, an art class or art project, chores, visits with friends, a family gathering providing the fleeting illusion of normalcy, I can be sufficiently distracted. I have become more empathetic, how could I not, of others (and yes, we have a choice, always, to be bitter, irritated when faced with physical or spiritual (or political) challenges, or to deepen our awareness, our compassion). I joined a gym a few months back not hopeful so much as resigned, and grateful. And on the eve of a new year, as many of us do year after year, I consider my options. What do I want for myself in 2018, and not just for myself – peace, in particular, around the globe, that ego might take a back seat and give way to humility, compassion, solutions, rational thinking, sustainability, lead to the death of greed, intolerance, narrow-mindedness, stripping the planet for profit – obviously, I could go on. As for me, it’s simple – what we all desire, I believe, when everything else falls away – to be happy, well (or well enough), to realize our potential (acknowledge our limitations), to contribute, to recognize and appreciate memories in the making, to live life in the moment (even when it requires tenacity, perseverance), to recover from / transcend loss, disappointment, whatever holds us/me in its grip, whatever threatens to keep us down.
May we all find the light we seek.
Happy New Year.
“Let our New Year’s resolution be this: we will be there for one another as fellow members of humanity, in the finest sense of the word.” – Goran Persson
Image: “On the Trail,” 2005. © Peter Vicinanza (that’s me on the bike)