Coming to a full stop.

April 13, 2012 § 11 Comments

I was singing scales when I got into the turn lane, warming up my voice for a Hot Tamale rehearsal with my singing partner Craig.

The light was green. The car ahead of me made the turn onto Lakeshore and I followed.

The oncoming truck was a monster but I thought I could outrun it.

The slam of impact and the sensation of being violently thrown were replaced by silence and a dazzling pattern of fractured light through the spider-webbed windshield.

Someone asked me if I was all right. They said an ambulance had been called.

I dug the cell phone out of my purse and told my husband, “Ray, I totaled the car.” He called Craig, and Craig’s wife Laura, who were just down the street. Their concerned faces appeared briefly on the other side of the windshield. Someone told them to step back. I was in the ambulance when I saw the top of Ray’s head through the small window in the steel door.

Later I learned that the homeless guys hanging out at the gas station on the corner promised to pray for me.

Later I learned the truck that hit me was so new the first payment hadn’t even been made.

Later I learned the driver and his two passengers were fine, which made the accident bearable since it is my fault. The light was green, but only a green arrow would have ensured that no one was coming. I’d turned automatically, my mind already at practice.

The orthopedic floor of TMH is a grey silence punctuated by an occasional agonized scream. On Tuesday, March 27th some of those screams were mine. My pelvis, broken in three places, shifted with each move from bed to gurney to CT scanner, the broken bones grinding. “Would you please remove your fingernails from my arm,” said the very professional nurse doing the scan.

I begged her to leave me alone. The endless list of things I’d planned to do had been reduced to one. Lie motionless.

I watched the lights pass overhead as I was wheeled back to 622. In each of the rooms along the hall were others, all  remaining as still as rabbits with a hawk circling. For each of us, continued life depended on doing nothing to grab the vengeful attention of our broken bodies.

They sent me home with a bar screwed into my hips, an external towel rack that has me wearing stretch everything. My feet are a foreign country. Putting on socks requires minutes of effort and strategic planning. The three inch step that separates my house and yard is as effective as cage bars. A couple of nights ago I dreamt I was being held captive in a wire pen.

“Everything happens for a reason,” is one of the cruelest assertions ever made. Your husband died? Your child was born with Down’s Syndrome? Everything happens for a reason! The victim not only suffers the misfortune but must search for the logic behind it and scrape up the required gratitude.

My view is much simpler. Things happen. If there was a reason for what happened to me you can find it on the ticket written by the TPD officer: careless driving.

But once the disaster has happened the victim has the choice of how to respond.

As a member of the Mountain Division my father was training to join the worldwide conflict that was World War II when he fell off a mountain.

He was the second man in a string of climbers that hit what he called “rotten rock.”

The lead man fell, peeling the entire string off the mountainside. The butt of my father’s rifle broke the lead man’s neck and killed him. My father spent six months in traction unable to do anything but think. He contended that those six months made him who he was.

Putting on my own socks will be a challenge for a couple of months. I will be unable to take the walks that connect me to the neighborhood I love. Plane tickets to Chicago and Missouri, trips to promote my newest book—all canceled.

Like my dad I have been reduced much of the time to thinking.

What have I gotten out of the sudden shrinking of the available world to my own home and the space inside my head?

A lot.

Life rarely comes to a full stop. The chorus of things that must be done is persistent, like tinnitus, but for me it has gone briefly silent.

And this is what I’ve learned.

The people in my world are incredibly kind. My husband lifts my legs with infinite patience so it doesn’t hurt. My neighbors, all good cooks, are willing to sit down and talk when they walk food over in the evening.

If I leave my guitar case unlatched I can lean over the side of the wheelchair and pick it up. If my Guild rests against the pegs of my external bar I can feel the notes deep in my bones.

From the chair on my porch I can watch the clivia flowers blom and fade. I have time to follow the progress of a jumping spider as it creeps along the edge of the step.

My wheelchair can execute elaborate maneuvers in a very small space, a dance on wheels.

Most of all, although constrained by my suddenly limited body, I’m alive.

I hope that when I am once again asking “How high?” when instructed to “Jump!” I don’t forget to appreciate that simple goodness.

And every now and then, when the world is too much with me, to have the wisdom to come to a full stop.

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§ 11 Responses to Coming to a full stop.

  • Adrian, I have often thought those who said “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’s God’s will” haven’t a clue! My interpretation of these “happenings” in life is a bit different. Simply put: When things happen, make the most of them.” And this means the good and the bad. I am a Christian, but my interpretation of God’s message and love for us means that he does NOT will bad things to happen to us, but does help us find ways to cope, survive, and thrive.

    I believe your are taking advantage of your situation in the best way possible: learning what you can do, but doing it slowly; learning to ask help when you need it; enjoying the visits from friends and their food (don’t forget to get the recipes of those casseroles you really like, too); and thinking (we never seem to have enough time for that these days!).

    The important things I learned when I was sidelined for many months as the result of an infection that set in after surgery, were these:

    1. Loving husbands are priceless.
    2. Having to step aside from volunteer responsibilities allows new volunteers to step up. Other people need a chance to give besides me.
    3. When someone offers to help, anyway they want to do it is my favorite way to do whatever it is they’ve offered to do!
    4. Doing everything the physical therapists told me to do would help me gain my strength back.
    5. Stop asking “why” and start asking “what’s next”!

    We are with you, friend!


    • One of the biggest lessons a person can learn is how to be the recipient of kindness. We all want to be the giver. To receive with grace is so much harder. Being completely helpless has made me lower my resistance and feel nothing but gratitude.

      As for God, you and I seem to be of the same opinion. God does not afflict us or micro-manage our lives but he does help us to accept and learn from whatever comes.


  • KM Huber says:

    For me, it is all an experience to discover what is possible, which widens one’s perspective and increases one’s gratitude for just being. In living what some consider a confined life, I find freedom, for what is possible now is something I would not have thought before–so many worlds, so little time. Always, I remember Blake’s “to see the world in a grain of sand,” and I smile every time.

    As I imagined, you are living fully through this moment and on to the next. Good for you, Adrian. I am cheering you.



    • I’ve thought of you often during this time of recovery. I know from reading your blog that you find that world in a grain of sand all the time and that confinement is a part of your life with which you have made peace. Thinkinng about you has reassured me that I too can find the good and even grow in response to adverse times.


  • Jane R. Wood says:

    Ouch! I will think of you before I make one of those quick left turns which we all tend to do.

    Perhaps you can use this situation in one of your future books. You know what they say about lemons and what you can do with them.

    Hang in there!



  • deb reilly says:

    “But once the disaster has happened the victim has the choice of how to respond.” Bingo.

    I enjoyed your post, and hope you feel 100% soon!


  • We have all done this same maneuver at intersections Adrian.
    We will all likely practice more care because of your experience, so lyrically told here for the awful event unfolding that that it was.
    How wonderful that Ray is the best nurse in the world.
    Paolo & I are returned from a weekend away where we met someone who went thru a similar pelvic crush car wreck a few yrs. back.
    She is running, bike-ridiing & being just as bizee as you will be physically again. Details on that soon…
    You are already bizee writing & singing. We loved listening to you warble so well Monday nite at the Mockingbird. What an amazing creative spirit you are. We tip our hats to you!


  • It may sound modest, but I look forward to being able to walk around my neighborhood most of all. Fortunately my neighbors keep coming to me (like you often bearing dinner). If it is good for nothing else, my disaster has made clear how many true friends I have.


  • Eden says:

    Having been far too blessed in the “quick left turn” scenario, I consider this a gracious plea to caution. And the way your tale flows through history and life and new exeriences….

    Even had you not written it, I would have suspected you were a musician. This post is music in itself. Thank you.


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