There is a saying that your life can change in a blink of an eye.
I’d like to argue that; it’s really more like four blinks.
Blink one: you see the car coming at you, you know you’re about to be hit at 70 miles per hour so your first reaction is to swerve into the next lane.
Blink two: there’s a car in that lane, you realize as you almost smash into it, so you jerk the steering wheel left, slamming on the brakes, everything you were taught not to do. And go spinning across four lanes of traffic.
Blink three: you’ve been hit, your airbags go off, you jerk forward and see you’re headed straight toward the wall.
Blink four: you close your eyes and keep them closed, whispering a silent I love you to everyone you’ve ever known and brace yourself to find out what death feels like. Is it nothing? Is it everything?
And then somehow, miraculously you open your eyes and realize you’re alive. You can’t see because your glasses have gone flying, you can’t breathe because you’re in shock; because your ribs are broken and bruised. Somehow, your car has spun at the last minute just one more time to send your back end into the wall, where you still have a bumper to brace the impact.
A couple stops on the side of the road, assessing you and hurrying you out of your car because gasoline is leaking and whats left of your front end is sticking out in traffic and you keep saying I’m fine, I’m fine and point to a small cut on your thumb which you believe is the extent of your injuries.
You call your mom, you text your ex boyfriend who you still love and your three best friends, telling each one; I’m fine.
The female half of the couple who stops rubs your back and offers you water and says; it’s ok to cry. You barely see her, looking through her, you feel nothing. You tell two EMTs and one fireman you are fine, you don’t want to go to the hospital and it isn’t until the state trooper points out the futility of getting a ride off the side of the freeway that has been shut down that you realize it will be less of a hassle to go.
And it isn’t until you are in the back of the ambulance, blood pressure cuff on, pulse ox on your finger that someone finally realizes you haven’t taken a real breath since the accident. Breathe deep the fireman gently coaxes, you try and can’t, your lungs just won’t fill with air.
And then you’re there, in a room with twenty people asking you questions and poking you and scanning you, they are cutting off your clothes, (your favorite jeans!) they are pressing places you had no idea were sore and are sure they are stabbing knives into you, they wrap you in warm blankets and you didn’t even know you were cold and there’s your family, worried and huddled and your amazing sister-in-law points out that you look like you’re in pain and finally there is some relief.
And they are wonderful and kind, your entourage, you don’t know how long you spent with them but you will always remember their compassion.
And now your days are spent learning about Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, Hydromorphone. Things as simple as a shower take an hour and require ice and a nap and so they don’t happen nearly as often as they should.
You breathe into a tube with a ball that is supposed to measure the breath you take and no matter how hard you try it still isn’t where it is supposed to be. And even that is exhausting, ten times an hour, each breath agonizingly painful.
You can’t sh*t and don’t for days, now in addition to counting the clock for narcotics and anti-inflammatories and patches you count the clock for stool softeners and laxatives and Metamucil. You look like you’re 4 months pregnant, swollen from the injuries and narcotics, stomach hard and distended.
And through it all everyone tells you how lucky you are, you can’t complain, you can’t talk about the things you can’t do, how every breath every movement, every second is sheer pain, even numbed by heavy narcotics that make you repeat stories and lose your temper and not remember things. Because you are alive and you are supposed to be grateful and it could be worse. And of course you know you are lucky, of course you know it could be worse but this sucks and you wonder why it had to happen at all and maybe, just maybe, people should say that instead of talking about your luck.
Your injuries are not visible, the ones on your body and the ones on your heart. Broken ribs and collarbones have no treatment beyond rest.
A broken heart is the same.
Even your own mother doesn’t understand your pain until almost a week later when she comes with you to get some things from your car, her breath a sharp inhale as she sees the damage, her arms around you as you sob, both of you amazed you somehow survived that wreckage.
And you learn the importance of family, a sister-in-law who makes you tea when you shower for the first time, crying from the pain, a brother who rubs your feet when you take a second trip to the emergency room, terrified because once again you can’t seem to breathe. A mother who would give anything to trade places with you.
And while there are friends who you expected more from who barely call and if they do it is only to get the gossip, they act as if nothing happened but there are those who drop everything, who are by your side in the hospital, who cook meals and clean your kitchen and are there all hours of the day to listen, sometimes those are the ones you expected nothing from.
You learn how many people love you in a world you sometimes felt alone in.
And not a lot else matters right now, not the peace corps, not the potential job in Abu Dhabi, what matters now is waking up tomorrow in maybe a bit less pain than today. And sweet kisses from your niece and hugs from your brother and good conversations with your sister-in-law. And your friends who you realize are like your family. It took slamming into a truck and then a wall at 70mph to get you to become present, it took daily constant pain that is barely masked by the strongest of drugs to make you slow down and cherish each moment.
There are lessons to be learned in everything and you will find that lesson in this pain, you will do great things, you’re sure of it, there is a reason you lived but for now you will cry when you need to, laugh when you can, and merely be.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock