Without a Net

December 13, 2007

Last month, the day before Thanksgiving, I was pumping gas into my car, or trying to, anyway. After a few tries, the gizmo still wasn’t working. I was annoyed. I turned to step over the hose and head into the station to get an attendant.

Suddenly I heard an eerie sound: it sounded just like the thwack! of a baseball and bat making contact. But it was neither bat nor ball, it was the sound of a human head—mine—slamming into concrete. I’d tripped on the hose, and I was face-down in blood.

It’s so easy to forget, but this is exactly how life operates. One second you’re standing upright, absorbed in a petty annoyance, and a split second later you’re lying prone on concrete, bleeding profusely and marveling at how utterly and instantaneously your reality has changed.

People have asked me, “What lessons did you learn from having your head cracked open on a filling station pavement?” I ponder this.

Lesson #1: Concrete is hard. Also, be careful how you step over things. These are two parts of the same lesson, and it’s a good one.

Lesson #2: That stitching thing they do at hospitals, that’s amazing. I’d never been awake for stitches before. It makes me immensely grateful that we have doctors, antiseptics, and hospitals. (Of my six stitches, Ana successfully removed five, ten days later at home; the sixth was coy, and I eventually ended up having the local doc coax that one out.)

Lesson #3: Life is shockingly fragile. And, astonishingly resilient. I was flabbergasted to find myself so suddenly, unexpectedly and irrevocably at the center of an emergency room event. And equally flabbergasted, just hours later, at how little damage had occurred, and how quickly recovery came on the heels of trauma.

No concussion. No swelling. No pain medication at any point, not even a Tylenol, not then nor in the days that followed. (A horrific ugly yellow-purple shiner by day #4, but that soon vanished.) And now, three weeks later? You wouldn’t even know it had happened. The scar is half-hidden behind my left eyebrow. At the hospital that night, the triage nurse looked in my pupil with a flashlight and said, “Do you feel confused?” I replied, “No more than usual.” That’s still true.

How human beings are built to heal—it’s astonishing.

Then again, we have a friend who has a cousin, a fellow my own age, who fell the other day, slipped on the ice and went down on his head. Bat, baseball, trauma—and no recovery. Two days later, he was gone.

It is both terrifying and marvelous to contemplate how it is we actually live each day: suspended in thin air, without a net, between the two poles of frailty and resilience. We know frailty will ultimately win out and declare our mortality. So while we’re here, we throw ourselves into creating works, connections and footprints that will stay on past our departure, declaring our resilience.

1 Comment

  1. Tim Wysong

    Ah yes, the “trials & tribulations” of being human.

    June 26, 1989, I bent over and stood upright, that was all it took. Within 24 hours I was paralyzed from the waist down to my feet. Not knowing what had just happened, the dr’s in the ER told me upon reviewing the photos that I’d had suffered severe trauma to my lumbar region, a true double-levelled herniated disc, L4 L5, L-5 S-1.

    I was sent to the best neurosurgeon in his field and he performed an MLD (micro-lumbar disectomy), which he not only designed, he patented this procedure as well.

    Life’s greatest miracle, which we as humans take for granted, is walking, as we think nothing of it from our first steps. Learning to walk all over again, now there’s something to be experienced! In total, I’ve had 4 surgeries, the third one was to “install hardware” or fusion. This is all good and well unless you happen to be the recipient of defective hardware, also known as the pedicle bone-screws.

    In 1996, after closing my businesses in Las Vegas, I relocated to southern California to get married. One afternoon, my fiancee was admitted to the hospital as she was suffering from upper respiratory problems, and having been an asthma baby since the age of 13 months, this was known to happen.

    While staying with her, somewhere between sleeping in a chair and on the floor, one of the pedicle bone-screws exploded in my low back. The pain wasn’t as bad as the inability to walk. After what seemed like forever, I made it over to the dr’s office and went directly in for a consultation, and as we spoke, surgery was scheduled.

    My fiancee recovered and I went under the knife yet one more time. The up side was that my dr removed the majority of the hardware, with the exception of a “surgical stainless-steel screw fragment with a locking nut attached” that had now lodged itself into a “non-retreivable muscle group,” as it had exploded in such a manner that made the removal of this impossible.

    Sure, if the dr wasn’t a man of integrity he could have gone in and gotten this fragment, but he refused to do so, saying that he would rather not see me in a wheel chair for the rest of my life. To this day, I thank him, and yet wish he would have taken the risk to remove it. The reasoning behind that is that the more strenuous activity that I do, the more this surgical stainless-steel screw fragment has its way internally, ripping and cutting through anything that it comes in contact with.

    Yes, I come from the “old school of hard-knocks” as I am a business owner here in Sun Valley/Ketchum Idaho, doing the business that I designed and created going on 4 years now, and the best part is that no one else does what I do which eliminates all of the competition. You may ask yourself “why do I continue to put my body through this” and my answer is simply put, “I enjoy helping others benefit and saving them money”. My business is a “no wax ever again” for automotive finishes, and it is guaranteed for the life of the paint on the vehicle. Yes, while it is gruelling and very demanding on my body, I enjoy it.


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