Happy: A Quest for Life After Death

Friday, November 07, 2014

The truth about bike accidents

Selfie with a slightly misshapen shoulder.
I recently discovered that I like to bike to work. I’ve been trying to get on this bandwagon for years, but my old mountain bike is heavy and slow, and the brakes are out of alignment so they rub against the rim of the tire. I try to tell myself the extra resistance is making me stronger. It’s true, but it’s not much fun. And I get tired of being passed by pre-school children on tricycles.

Everything changed when Ian turned 13. I’m not sure how much Ian wanted a new bike, but he had outgrown his old one. It also did not escape my notice that a bike that fit Ian would also fit me.

So I got “Ian” a bike for his “birthday,” and I was off.

I totally drank the koolaid. I started riding with friends on Friday mornings, to my therapy appointments, and to work every chance I got. By fall, the air was crisp, the bike path was a tunnel framed with brilliant red, orange, and yellow leaves, and I could climb that last hill right before home without stopping.

I knew riding a bike is dangerous, so I tried to stick to the bike path wherever possible, but there are some missing links in the route between my house and work, and I hoped for the best.

And then one especially pretty afternoon, riding my bike home from work, I was hit by 2001 Honda minivan.

I was hit on my left while crossing the main road through town just after a confused thought, “I thought he was stopping! He’s not stopping!” and then thrown onto the ground, hard, onto my right shoulder.

I lay writhing on the ground, trying to assess the damage. My hip hurt, my knee hurt, my head hurt, my shoulder hurt. My shoulder really hurt.

Things blur from there. I’m tangled in my bag and my helmet and my bike and another biker is helping me and the police are there and an ambulance is there and somehow I’m freed from my bike and my bag but I don’t remember how and people are telling me not to get up but I’m trying to get up but then I look down at my shoulder and it’s not at all the same shape that it used to be and it’s not at all the same shape as the other one and suddenly it seems like a good idea to go to the hospital.

I start to panic a little. How am I going to get my kids? For the gazillionth time I curse the fact that Mat is gone. I can’t think of anyone who can help me with my kids because I just can’t think. I can remember my name and my address and what day it is and who the president is but it does take me a second to come up with those facts.

And then the EMTs are explaining that they’re going to lift me onto the stretcher by my pants. The kids will have a field day with that. Atomic wedgie!

In the ambulance I am finally able to clear my head enough formulate a plan. Very unusually, Ian and Colin are both at after-school, so I call the director, Michelle, and tell her what happened. She’s impressed because she’s never been called by a parent from an ambulance before and says she will keep them at after-school until the boys can be picked up by the boys’ Aunt Hanna. I’m still not thinking clearly and am trying to keep the call short because the EMT is glaring at me, so I don’t have the presence of mind to tell her to tell the boys what happened.

At the hospital, I get a text message from Ian. “Why is Aunt Hanna picking up me and Colin?” His question is direct and short.

Predictably, Ian and Colin are worried about the news that Aunt Hanna will pick them up. Aunt Hanna never picks them up.

Ian, bless his heart, has his phone with him. He hasn’t had his phone with him for a month because it’s always plugged into the charger, always charging but never being used. And he will never have his phone with him again because the next day – literally the very next day – he drops his phone and it breaks in pieces and the battery falls into the sewer. But that day he has his phone and so he texts me.

The boys do not know what has happened, and without the details they are imagining the worst.

I text him back immediately even though the nurse who is helping me has said he wishes he could destroy all cell phones because they’re annoying. I text him back because I need to reassure my fatherless children that they are not also about to lose their mother.

I think but do not say to the nurse, ‘Kids these days text, that’s what they do, that’s all they do, they text and can you understand that the fact that I can text my child at this moment is a gift from God?’

I text Ian back and say, “Little bike accident. I think I dislocated my shoulder. I just have to get an x-ray and then I’ll be home. Always wear your helmet, my young Jedi.” I look at my helmet later and it has a very long scrape on it. My 13-year-old is not impressed because 13-year-olds are hard to impress.

I text him for awhile longer, making light of the situation even though it’s hard to move and my neck is in a collar, but I’m slowly realizing that there are at least as many body parts that don’t hurt as that do and probably more.

The next day an after-school teacher apologizes to me. She says, “I’m so sorry Ian was texting you yesterday when you were at the hospital. I saw him on his phone and I thought I should tell him to stop texting, but I didn’t quite know what to say.”

I think to myself again, do you not know that Ian’s ability to text me at that moment was a blessing? I try to explain that I was happy to be able to reassure him and even though I hurt all over because I just got hit by a car my fingers work fine and it was taking my mind off the long wait because two cardiac patients came in ahead of me.

Later Michelle said that when Ian was done texting me, he went straight to Colin and said, “Colin, mom got hit by a car.” And Colin started to panic and said “What? Why didn’t you tell me?”

And Ian knelt down by him and said, “Colin, it’s going to be OK. Mom is OK. I just found out. She just hurt her shoulder so Aunt Hanna is going to pick us up. She’ll be home later tonight.”

Ian knows, even if adults don’t know, that children need the truth and the truth is comforting even when it’s terrible. And this particular truth is not so terrible, because later that day we were all in the king-size bed together, as we are every Wednesday night, watching our favorite TV show, even if I kept yelping every time the boys bumped my shoulder.