By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 20, 2014
Ouch, I did it again.
Just as I’d started to forget all about my swollen ankle, I got myself into another mess.
On Sunday afternoon, I was bicycling around my childhood home. For the past four days or so, I had been riding about a mile to the end of the road that runs by my old elementary school and then turning around.
But in the interests of stretching my wings, I’d decided to change up things. Instead of turning to pass the school, I zipped along a road that carried me over a local highway. I started moving by side streets and extended driveways that I’d barely seen despite having frequented this road for decades of my life.
But my poor underutilized legs and lungs were feeling stressed, so I decided to turn around without exploring any of these obscure byways. There was little traffic, so I executed a lazy turn at an intersection and tried to begin building up speed for the uphill ride back home.
I ran into trouble at a T-intersection that I’m very familiar with from years of driving. My memory is a bit hazy, but I recall there being two cars at the spot: One waiting to make a right turn to go down the hill, and another waiting to move onto the road I was traveling. (Which direction? To the driver’s right, perhaps, but I’m not sure.)
I was moving at a pretty fast clip, so I decided for safety’s sake to slow down slightly. I also recall spotting a divot in the road ahead of me, which I tried to steer around. This, I think, was my big mistake.
Suddenly, the tires slipped. My two-wheeler tilted toward the road, and my body started dropping onto the asphalt. The exact sequence is lost to me, but in short order, my left knee absorbed no small part of the impact; the back of my left hand and wrist ever so briefly touched the ground; the right side of my right knee touched down even more briefly; and the outside part of my right hand and arm brushed the earth. I remember that at some point, the left side of my helmet hit the ground and glided for a few inches — possibly farther than that.
When I came to a halt, I was breathing hard, thanks as much to the exertion of riding as to the fact that my panicked body had just dumped roughly a gallon of adrenaline into my bloodstream. One of the first things I looked at was my left knee, where a patch of skin about the size and shape of a smartphone seemed to have boiled away. There were raw marks on both arms, especially the right one.
With no small measure of astonishment and bitterness, I noticed that the two vehicles that had been at the intersection — a white SUV and a blue sedan or small station wagon — had both motored away.
I shakily rose and moved to the sidewalk to survey my injuries. The fact that I was able to get up, however unsteadily, seemed a positive sign. The bike seemed undamaged, although I didn’t waste much time inspecting it as I pulled it off the pavement.
An SUV — not, I believe, the white one that had been at the intersection — pulled over, and a man got out. He asked me if I was all right.
Yes, I said. I may have added something about being shaken up and bleeding, but otherwise being uninjured.
The man — he later introduced himself as Mike, I think, although his name may have been Mark — asked if I’d been hit by a car.
No, I told him. I’d just fallen off my bicycle when the tires lost traction.
Then I asked him if he would mind driving me and my bicycle home. The house where I was staying was just a mile or two down the road where W— &c. meets another street.
The man asked me a question; he wasn’t familiar with W— &c. by name, even though we were on it.
At about that moment, a blue car pulled up. The driver rolled down the window and asked me if I was OK. We starting going through another iteration of the same conversation that Mike and I had been having.
Suddenly — perhaps it was around the time that the driver of the blue car definitely asked me if I’d been hit by an automobile — it occurred to me that the blue vehicle was one of the automobiles that had been at the intersection when I’d fallen. As I was attempting to explain to Mike just how close we were to my Parental Unit’s home, I tried to express to the blue car’s driver how much I appreciated his circling around to check on my well-being.
Mike agreed to take me and my spindly vehicle back to my P.U.’s residence. I attempted to remove the front wheel to make it easier for Mike to load in the trunk. For some reason, however, I was utterly unable to work it properly; fortunately, the bike ended up fitting into the vehicle even with both wheels on.
I sat down in the rear row, still wearing my helmet. A woman I hadn’t noticed was occupying the front passenger seat, right ahead of me. We had yet another run-through of the discussion I’d had outside the car.
I fumbled with my phone. Mike was scooping ice from a cooler in the trunk, next to my bike; moments later, he handed me a bag full of ice, which I began applying in sequence to my various wounds.
My phone connected to the Parental Unit’s house. When P.U. answered, I explained that my bike had crashed and that I’d need to go to urgent care; I asked P.U. to be outside the house and ready to go when I arrived.
Much to my surprise, P.U. said P.U. would go outside as soon as P.U. made a call to the company that had sold P.U. a new washing machine and dryer, one of which wasn’t functioning properly. I gently chided P.U., saying that my injuries took priority.
I hung up and explained with a chuckle to Mike and Ellen that my P.U. had just bought two appliances, which had had some problems. I thanked them again for helping me.
We chatted as Mike drove. I shifted the ice bag from my left knee to my left wrist to my left forearm to my right elbow to my right wrist to my right hand and back to my knee again.
I gave a few directions, and soon enough, Mike backed his SUV into my Parental Unit’s driveway. I hopped out; Mike removed the bicycle from his trunk as my P.U. came out. I again thanked Mike and Ellen, who had twice declined to share a phone number or e-mail address so I could better express my gratitude.
I wheeled my bicycle into the garage. Mike and Ellen drove off. P.U. and I debated who should drive to urgent care; P.U., seeing my wounds and my wincing and my eagerness to ice down the different injuries, volunteered to do so.
I got in the vehicle, icing and grimacing and groaning. P.U., who was coming off of cataract-removal and lens-implantation surgery and had not driven since Wednesday, took a moment to adjust the seat and mirrors. I tried to contain my anxious fidgeting.
Finally, we were going. P.U. tried to ask me questions about the accident. I answered curtly, as though the amount of conversation was inversely proportional to the time it would take to travel to the urgent care clinic.
Unfortunately, the nearby clinic that served adults was an invention of my mind, so we had to go a few miles farther, to a facility that actually existed. I shifted the bag of ice again and again and again, hunched forward in pain.
The parking lot was full. I dispatched the parent to reception to see if they could take me quickly. The parent returned to say that there would be a bit of a wait, but that this was probably a better bet than the emergency room. P.U. swung open the car door and I limped into the building and to the reception desk.
Two receptionists and my parent verbally prodded me as I shifted my weight, trying to find a comfortable stance. I continued to apply ice to my various wounds.
At one point, a receptionist said something that I misinterpreted. “Of course I have open wounds!” I protested loudly. Then it was explained to me that the receptionist was saying that the clinic had no open rooms, and therefore I’d have to wait in the lobby for a while. I apologized contritely and managed to laugh aloud at my mistake.
I went to the nearest chair and hunched forward, gasping and cringing with seemingly every movement. An older couple was sitting a few chairs over; after a short while, they moved, and my parent took a nearby seat.
Every so often, when I wasn’t busy cataloguing my injuries, I would gaze vacantly at the other people in the waiting room. A young boy stared at me, no doubt captivated by my freely flowing blood. (Actually, much less of it wound up on the surroundings than I would have figured.)
After 10 or 20 minutes, an employee ushered me into a vacant examination room. I plunked myself down on the table and continued applying ice.
We waited another 20 minutes at least, not counting a pair of brief visits from nurses who asked me my height, weight and prescription-drug intake. By the end of the wait, most of the ice had melted and dribbled down into small pinkish pools at the end of the examination table and on the floor nearby; all I was doing was moving a plastic bag containing a puddle of cool water from spot to spot.
Finally, the doctor arrived. He asked me if I had blacked out after the fall or if I had used my hands to break the impact; I didn’t remember doing either of those things. The doctor probed my vertebrae, which felt normal to me. (Excluding, for the moment, the fact that no one has ever touched my back like that since I was a kid being examined for possible scoliosis.) He dimmed the room illumination and used a penlight to check my pupil dilation, which evidently seemed normal. The doctor asked me to shift my arms, elbows, wrists, hips and knees. Except for my left knee, which couldn’t readily be bent all the way, I felt no pain in my joints, although the scrapes on my skin made some of the movements feel uncomfortable.
The doctor applied antibiotic ointment to the open wounds. It didn’t sting; apparently, that usually just happens when alcohol is applied. Then he bandaged up everything that was leaking blood: Both arms, both wrists and hands, and, of course, the left knee.
The physician promised to write prescriptions for antibiotic pills and a painkiller. He also asked me to wait for a technician to take X-rays of my left knee, to make sure that nothing was broken.
There was a pause of a few minutes. Then the technician came to escort me around the corner to the facility’s X-ray room. Walking was awkward but doable; my knee was sensitive about movement but capable of it. I posed as the tech asked, cringing only a bit.
Following that, it was back to the exam room. After another short interlude, the doctor came back and said that the X-rays looked clean — no breaks. Parent and I thanked the physician and we said our farewells.
More hobbling followed, this time to the checkout counter. We waited as the clerk took one of the scrips back to the doctor for a missing signature. And then we were off.
At the house, I sat down with a book, a blanket, an ice pack — for the left knee, natch — and my parent’s iPad. P.U. went out to run some errands, which included filling my prescriptions and bringing home a pizza pie.
The parent and I jointly took the dog out for her nighttime walk. Afterward, I cut away the bandages, showered — the water on my wounds felt like fire — and called my parent up to my bedroom re-dress the scrapes. It felt rather like a reversion to childhood.
But I survived, and for the most parts, my wounds seem to be knitting quickly. (The left knee is a bit too swollen and tender for liking.) All in all, I feel fortunate that things didn’t go much, much worse.