X-rays, Pain Medication and The Meaning of Life
(That’s not my x-ray, just a google image.)
The best thing about hitting the pavement at 26 or 27mph (or faster? I don’t know.) is the transmutation of time. Everyone talks about it, but you don’t ever get to realize just how cool it is until you’re there hovering just above the ground, marveling at your capacity to have one million simultaneous thoughts:
You’re headed face first into concrete.
Keep your hands on the bars.
This is really fucking going to hurt.
Did that squirrel really just run into my wheel?
Why did you brake? You hate squirrels.
You should know better than to brake like that.
This is a new helmet.
This is a new jacket.
I’m so glad I didn’t take off the gloves at the top of the hill like I’d meant to.
How am I thinking about all this stuff?
I’m about to end my ‘cross season.
I don’t know if you’re going to walk away from this one, Swift. Sorry.
“I” becomes “you” becomes “me” becomes “we” becomes “Swift”. The subconscious is not picky about tense or narrative details. It wants you to know as many things as possible before your soft body impacts a very hard world. It is trying to cram you with information that might help. None of it does.
I recall that I could envision myself exactly: front wheel locked, the back of the bike coming up and forward, the weight of me headed over the bars. I could see it as if I was standing and watching.
And then I hit.
I remember little between that moment and when I stopped sliding, but I do distinctly recall acknowledging that my head was going to hit the ground just above my left eye.
Giro sent me this helmet to test and promote.
This is an amazing helmet.
This probably isn’t what they had in mind, but let’s see how well it works.
I distinctly recall actually managing to be impressed as I registered the scraping noise it made as it slid along the ground, keeping my face up and out of the way.
This thing’s amazing!
I slide to the right and look to my left to see my beloved road bike cartwheeling off ahead of me.
It’s upside down.
It’s right side up.
It’s upside down.
So am I.
On the ground, the time warp suddenly seems much less impressive. Sound returns and I realize I am alone on the ground in Washington Park. The air is hissing out of the front tire of the bike.
Everything is broken. Everything is broken. I can’t move anything.
You’re fucked. You’re so fucked, Swift. Your legs don’t work. Your back is twisted. You’re so fucked.
No you’re not. Wiggle something.
So I wiggle. Toes then fingers then a knee bend then the arms. Everything moves. All limbs functioning.
Don’t sit up. Your back is fucked.
I’m laying in the middle of a descent, around a blind corner – I’ll get hit by a car.
Ok, maybe try to sit up.
Where is everyone? This road is usually filled with cyclists.
Someone has to be coming.
When I realize that my back and neck are sore but still functioning, I sit up halfway and begin to roll and scoot to the side of the road, dragging my bike with me like a war buddy I won’t leave behind. On the side of the road, I lay next to the bike and wait for someone to find me.
Please someone. Find me. Please? This is taking an awfully long time.
The someones finally come. They are recreational riders out for a ride in the late autumn sunshine.”I’m sorry.” I think to myself. “I’m sorry I’m ruining your ride.”
Then the traffic starts to back up and I realize that I am about to become a spectacle. This is the “Rookie Shit” exhibit in the museum of dumb-assed road cyclists. Please don’t touch the display. Doesn’t it seem real? Can you believe this actually once happened? Do you think she lived?
“Are you ok?”
The someones are talking to me.
“I’m actually not sure.” I manage. The first words out come less easily than the torrent of thoughts that have been mashing around in my brain. It’s a half gasp, half whisper. The fear in my own voice startles me a little.
Over the course of the next 20 minutes, I manage to sit up then stand. A stranger fixes my flat. Another stranger scours the roadside for all of the missing pieces of my glasses, which smashed apart on impact. Another stranger lets me borrow a cell phone because, for some reason, mine is not getting reception. We inspect my helmet. I wrench my shifter lever back into alignment and get the chain back in place, realign the rear wheel.
Three cyclists escort me as we start to roll out down the hill. 20 minutes ago I’d been on my way to meet Russell at his apartment for a spin and a chat. Now, Russell is in his car on his way to meet me for a rescue. Halfway down I see Sal, who is obviously doing an LT interval. I flag him down and the other cyclists say goodbye. Thank you, thank you, thank you. In my confusion I have forgotten to get their names. I’ll realize this later and regret it.
I hate saying this. I hate it because I feel like an idiot. I hate that I ruined expensive shit. That I just interrupted his intervals. He never crashes. Why can’t I be more careful?
“Jesus.” . He’s looking at the blood pooling on the inside of my jacket. “Are you ok?”
“I don’t know. My arm is fucked. Russell is coming to get me to take me to the ER. We were going to have a chatting date so I figure we’ll have lots of time in the waiting room.”
“Your jacket!” he points to the shredded back panel of my beloved cream Rapha stowaway jacket. I hadn’t seen that yet. What next?
“Which arm is the bad one?” he says next.
“Not my throwing arm.” I am amazed that although it has been more than ten years since I played college softball, I still define my arms in this way. Throwing. Non-throwing. Once you fuck up a throwing arm, it will never be the same. So far, I’ve been lucky. I might never again need to huck a zinger for a one-hop tag play at the plate but I would like to keep the option open.
We ride together down the hill until Russell arrives.
“Don’t get my car bloody.” Russell says with a smile. What a dick.
I love him.
Nothing makes those $600 per month health insurance payments seem a little less painful than a trip to the ER. “I’m getting my money’s worth!” I think gleefully as we walk in through the automatic doors at Providence. I have never been to an emergency room before. It’s all so new and shiny.
Amazing what I can get excited about.
“Now walk up to the counter and tell them that we are here for three things,” Russell says. “X-Rays, pain medication and the meaning of life.”
The woman at the counter laughs and gives me a big pager.
“Just like the Olive Garden!” Cree exclaims.
Jennifer Schweitzer brings me a peanut-butter-honey gluten-free english muffin and a little plastic baggie full of apple slices. It’s like kindergarten. I love her. I love everyone and they haven’t even given me the pain medication yet. Love love love love. There is nothing like a rush of gratitude to take the sting away.
“This is a stolen apple from Steven Hunter’s stash.” she explains.
Little known fact: stolen apples taste better than their honestly-procured counterparts. (Thank you, Shunter!!)
The doctor who treats me is concerned that my head hit the pavement at such high speed. I assure her that I’m ok. “I’m always this fucked up. Trust me.” She laughs, but I can tell she doesn’t think I’m very funny. I convince her not to blast my head with radiation. Let’s save the CT scan for another day, k?
Three hours later we walk out with pain medication and X-rays that tell us that I am officially unbroken. I have a slightly separated shoulder. It will heal. I can race as soon as the pain is manageable.
I can race I can race I can race I can race. Do you know what I do all year? I think about cyclocross. I would have survived if they’d told me my season was over, but it would have involved a thermo-nuclear emotional breakdown of grand proportions.
I can race! I can race I can race I can race I can race!
The meaning of life eludes us but I wager it may be hiding in some of these little white pills.
Rubber side down and lots of painful grit,