A year ago last Friday, my life came to a screeching halt. A violent, jarring, me-screeching, “OH SHIT” halt.
I crashed on my bicycle.
I wasn’t going to write about this, but Friday night I had a nightmare that was an exact re-play of those horrible few moments, and I take that as a sign that I need to continue my efforts to release that awful memory.
My physical recovery, while not perfect, is as good as it’s going to get. My emotional recovery has been less predictable, more elusive, and stubbornly resistant to ‘closure’. I’ve had other bike crashes with broken bones and measured recoveries. This time is different.
This memory feels like a dense, heavy boulder deep inside me that requires a shot putter’s strength to heave it from my core. I haven’t yet found the strength. I try to visualize the movement, seeking release from this burdensome weight. I’d like to cast that weight elsewhere.
Anywhere but here.
To set the stage:
Granddaughter Raqi had finally gotten comfortable and confident on her two-wheeler. She was eager to show she could ‘hang’ with us on a ‘real ride’. Grandson Sparks had ridden his bike at the skate park with his Dad, and sought off-trail routes for a few thrills and challenges.
And the kicker?
I bought myself a new bike – one with shocks. Having been thrown off my old bike the previous summer by a well-concealed pothole, I wanted all the protection I could get to cushion myself from further mishap.
Eager to get Raqi out on a trail and show her the joy of riding alongside the fast-flowing creek, in and out of shade trees; and catching glimpses of horses, cows and tall, waving golden grasses, we cruised along for about an hour.
On the way home, Raqi wanted to visit her favorite park. The park has a cozy gazebo, and Sparks and I amused ourselves riding down the gazebo steps several times. Not only did I want to impress them as ‘the cool grandmother’, but I wanted to show them that I don’t just spout the mantra, ‘Be Brave’; I live it.
Apparently my bravado impressed Hub, because he said, “Let’s ride over to the skate park.”
“Uh”, I thought. “We’re all getting a little tired.” (warning #1)
“OK”, we all agreed.
When we got to the park, there was a large concrete plaza leading up to the arena. As I passed a sign, I slowed to glance at the rules to make sure bikes were allowed.
The first paragraph read something like:
DANGER, SAMMY !!!!
(or at least it should have). Nevertherless, the actual, more subtle message ‘… at your own risk’ should have been my warning #2.
Did I mention my lifelong propensity for getting carried away by moments of exuberance?
Our grandkids were with us, fulfilling one of my dreams to have them share my passion for biking. How much more exuberant could I be?
A series of 12 wide steps appeared in front of us. While Hub and Raqi veered off on the plaza, Sparks and I rode down the stairs like superstars. What other grandmother does that? How much more exuberant could I be?
A series of semi-circle loops appeared in front of us. Sparks and I rode into them and started up the loop – Sparks turning one direction and I the other. As I came out of the loop, the mirage I saw was a level concrete plaza just like the one at the front end of the arena.
What actually existed was something quite different.
The moment my front tire touched the 6-inch ledge (nowhere to stop; nowhere to go), my forward momentum propelled my bike over the 4-foot drop to the concrete slab below.
My tires hit the pavement; I bounced – violently – bounced again; flew off my bike and … next thing I remember, I was on all fours saying, “Sparks, go get Papa.”
I knew, without a doubt, I had fractured something in my neck and broken my left hand. Beyond that, I could move all my parts and needed to get myself into a prone position. (I know … I should not have moved with a neck injury, but somehow I knew it was ok to do so, and I had to lie down before I passed out.)
I carefully crawled to the shade of a nearby pine tree and very slowly – moving my neck and head as a unit with my body – rolled myself onto my back. By then Hub, Sparks and Raqi were by my side.
My main concern – my only concern, actually – was not to traumatize my grandkids. Although they were both calm, I knew how frightened they were. How Hub and I reacted would leave a big impression on them about how to deal with life’s setbacks. We’ve always told them to ‘be brave’, and I sure didn’t want that to change now.
That concern, combined with my reluctance ‘to be a bother to others’ (thanks, Mom and Dad!) meant I didn’t want Hub to call an ambulance. Our house was only a 15-minute, pedal-at-top-speed ride away, and off he went to get the car.
Hub left his cell phone in Sparks’ hand, saying, “If Mima passes out, call 911.” I never opened my eyes, but I’m positive Sparks had a death grip on that phone.
Sparks and Raqi, who usually talks a mile a minute, were both seated as close to me as they could get, and neither spoke a word. I realized my lips were on fire and asked Sparks if they were bleeding.
“Yes, Mima. You have blood all over your face.”
I asked him to pour some water on my lips from my water bottle. I sensed the bottle above my face then heard a tearful, “Mima, I can’t”, and I knew he was near his breaking point.
Eyes still closed, I reached out my right hand and asked them both to hold it. I said, “I know you’re scared, and I have some serious injuries. But everything is fixable. Do you understand? We will go to the hospital, and the doctors will fix me. I will heal, and we will ride our bikes together again.”
My ER visit and overnight stay were routine, and my outcome was the best it could be. My vertebrae were intact; I had snapped off one of the stabilizer spurs on the exterior of a cervical vertebrae. Multiple facial stitches, a neck brace, a hand cast, and I was good to go. X-rays two weeks later showed both my neck and hand bones healing in the desired alignment, so no surgery was necessary.
The ER staff provided a couple of light-hearted memories:
One of the nurses, a young muscular buck with dark curly hair and full beard, grimaced when I explained what happened.
“Did you brake when you hit that ledge?” he asked.
“Oooh, that was your big mistake,” he commiserated. “You should have accelerated over the ledge to leap further out in your landing.”
He was serious! As if I was a legitimate trick rider who just needed a few pointers to fine tune my landing!
The middle-aged female nurse who transitioned me from the ER to the overnight ward was a tad more realistic, “We’re awarding you the Coolest Grandmother of the Year, but you must promise any future visits to the skate park are spectator-only.”
A year later, I know my effort to minimize the trauma for my grandkids was successful. Not only are we back on our bikes, but a few months ago, Raqi told me about her friend who had suffered a serious injury.
“But she’ll be ok,” Raqi said confidently, “because it’s all fixable, Mima.”
The downside of working so hard to minimize the trauma for them (and admittedly downplaying the extent of my injuries to friends because, frankly, I was embarrassed at attempting something so risky ‘at my age’) meant I was in denial about how badly injured I was. I no longer weep uncontrollably as I did for a few months, but I still panic at what look like looming collisions in the car, and on the steep slopes in the golf cart when it feels like we’ve reached the tipping point – that sensation of plunging haunts me still.
My neck creaks and crackles, and I just completed six months of agonizing splint therapy for a jaw alignment problem we didn’t discover until I was done wearing my neck brace. I am determined to clear the cobwebs of lingering bad memories.
But no worries. In time, it’s (almost) all fixable.