|If you can find the cracks, you should go to medical school|
On February 23rd, 2007, I could have died.
This statement is as close to meaningless as you can get. I could have died on December 1st, 1982 or August 15th 1996. I could have died yesterday, I could die today, and I could die tomorrow. But could have died feels more honest than saying I almost died.
True, fire rescue doesn’t airlift you to a trauma center specializing in car accidents and gunshots for fun (or for free), but when I hear “almost died,” I think of heart attacks and strokes, sudden collapses, defibrillators and emergency surgeries. If the other car had been going faster, if he’d struck my car at weaker point... but those thoughts end with could have. Almost feels like an exaggeration.
Semantics aside, what I want to talk about this anniversary is pain.
Doctors told me most breaks heal in 6-8 weeks, which is not nearly specific enough when parts of you are sweating pain. I spent much of late April and early May of 2007 Googling broken ribs. Nothing I found encouraged me. Most posts began with, “I broke my ribs a year ago...” or “I broke my ribs two years ago...” and the posters were still in pain.
Yes, there’s still pain in my ribs. No longer a constant arthritic ache, it comes and goes depending on what I’m doing. Sit up straight in my chair at work for too long and the rib I broke up near my armpit feels the pressure, like a throat that can’t quite clear. Slouch too long and the rib I broke down by my stomach feels the pinch, like an over-tight belt. Ignore the discomfort long enough and it will deepen and stretch into a dull thrum.
When I imagine my hip, I always think of a wide-faced gremlin gnawing the end of one of those state fair ostrich legs. It crackles on and off throughout the day; only rarely does it shoot all the way down to my knee.
Even more rare is the dull nutcracker feeling clamped around my pelvis. That doesn’t seem to have a trigger, it just throbs up every now and again to say, you broke me too, remember?
Winter, even such as it is in Miami, intensifies both the level and frequency of these aches. The rainy season is just as bad. It’s a steady hum, like a chorus of strings, occasionally deepening to a throb of brass, every once in a while punctuated by a quick clatter of drumsticks over cymbals or the plaintive moan you might hear in a Pink Floyd song.
My body has aged beyond its years, but I’m less concerned these days with how all this will hang together on the seventy-year-old version of me than with how it’s affecting me now. Recovering from the accident, when I could barely move, I promised myself I would never take my healthy body for granted again. Well, guess what? I’ve been driving to work more than I’ve been biking, and it shows. It shows in my waistline, in the longer recovery time once I get to work, and my negative attitude.
Getting back on the bike consistently this past week has meant more than a rush of endorphins and sweat, it’s told me that my aches and pains are not as bad as I think they are. Just like when I pushed myself to start riding in the first place, the ache is temporary and the reward goes on.
Some lessons I need to learn again and again before they sink in. That’s why the pain it still here. Its most important lesson is that each day is a gift.
After all, I could be dead.