Saturday, December 14, 2019

Upended

My cell phone buzzed. 

"I just got hit by a car," my wife said. "I'm in an ambulance." 

She said it with a tone of wonder in her voice, and a touch of adrenaline-fueled excitement, as if she might just as easily have been saying, "Turns out Moon Smurfs are REAL, and they're not blue, they're actually orange!"

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, heading to yoga class with her mat under her arm, Jen was hit by a car in a crosswalk. It was an actual, painted crosswalk, with the "Walk" symbol lit, and a green light, but a guy in a minivan made a left turn right into her. They locked eyes at the last second, she says, and he looked horrified, but could not stop in time. One witness said she was thrown about six feet. The impact gave her what they call a "crush fracture" just below her left knee. Her tibia and fibula were not broken so much as punched into bits. Her hip is the color of eggplant.

She remembers as she flew threw the air, she had the distinct thought, "Oh my god. I was just hit by a car. Am I going to die?" Being forced to think that thought 25 years earlier than you expected to is not cool. Finding yourself doing "downward-facing dog" pose on the asphalt 100 feet from your yoga studio is also not cool. 

Onlookers rushed to her aid and helped her to the sidewalk. The driver parked and came over, saying "I didn't see you!"

Jen replied, "Obviously!" which still makes me laugh. 

The officer on site said it was all "100% the driver's fault."

We did not do family Thanksgiving on Thursday like most people. We could not all get together, so Saturday was going to be the big family feast, and Jen had gone to an earlier than usual yoga class so she would be free to start the turkey work mid-morning. She was not supposed to be in that crosswalk. But you zig, and the universe smirks and zags.

And by zagging, I mean the universe says George, now you have to prepare a turkey for the first time ever. And hey, George, it’s about time.

From the emergency room, Jen texted me, "Watch the Gordon Ramsay video." Ramsay is a British chef, famous on TV for his tantrums, but he is passionate about preparing Thanksgiving turkeys. It's kind of like if I really, really mastered the art of a great Guy Fawkes Day Parfait. 

Not sure that's a thing.

Anyway, Jen's dad was coming up from San Diego for the gathering and my mom, who is 97, was coming, and who knows how many more of these she will be able to enjoy, so it was full speed ahead family feast. 

I watched Ramsay's turkey video, which was very detailed, and he made lifting a turkey's skin so you can rub your butter-garlic mixture underneath look effortless. Let me just say that lifting an animal's skin is another thing not cool. 

I picked Jen up from the hospital, her leg in a brace, thigh to ankle, late that afternoon. It was harrowing, her trying crutches for the first time on our rain-slick front porch, which is made of smooth, uneven little river rocks. She insisted on donning her new holiday find, a dress with adorable sloths all over it. The dress was part of the original plan when she woke up that morning, and the Grinch (the inattentive driver in a minivan) would not stop Christmas (Thanksgiving) from coming if she had anything to say about it. 

Our grown kids pitched in to set the table and make the dressing and potatoes and other assorted things. We feasted as planned, Jen's leg sticking conspicuously out to the side. It was a good time. Then she fell. 

Balancing on one leg with crutches takes practice, and Jen leaned too far left. There was nowhere to go but against the dining room wall and down onto the floor. We all just gaped. She was understandably embarrassed, but also upset. Upset that some careless stranger had put her in this position, our dog rushing to her side in sympathy. Or to get petted. Probably to get petted. If you are on the floor in our house, it means you are in petting position. It was sweet and irritating, both. 

She insisted on getting herself up. The evening went on. We bid goodbye to everyone, and made the couch into a bed since it was low and easy to get into and out of. 

Apart from yoga, Jen takes walking seriously. She likes to get to 10,000 steps a day. If she has only walked 8,000, and it’s after dark, she will still go out and walk 2,000 more. Consulting her walking app Walkadoo on her phone the next day, she saw her meager step total:

"Yesterday you took 1400 steps" the screen said.

To which she replied, F**k you, Walkadoo." 

Weeks earlier, she had bought tickets and planned to fly to Denver to see a concert. Now she had to cancel.

A lady from the driver’s insurance company called her with a slew of questions, like was she wearing headphones in the crosswalk? Basically poking around for any reason to deny her claim. I am pretty sure if you are in a crosswalk with a green light, you can be moon-walking and if a guy hits you with his minivan, he is at fault.

The thing with HMOs is, you can't just go get surgery because the ER doctor who x-rayed you says you need it if you ever want to walk normally. You have to go see your primary doctor, who will look at the x-rays and say you need surgery. So she did, and her doctor did. 

Five days after the accident, they knocked her out with anesthesia and she had a plate and a pin put in her upper shin. Thankfully it was done by a surgical clinic, not at a hospital, so she was in and out in five hours, a nerve block in place which rendered her entire leg down to her toes numb for what turned out to be about 20 hours. 

Woozy, she wanted me to drive her around a bit, thinking the movement and scenery would speed her lucidity. We had gone a couple of miles when there was a tremendous boom ahead of us, and we saw a car spin to a stop across the street, having been in a head-on collision with a pickup truck. Both drivers seemed O.K., but it was as if the universe was saying "Enough with the cars and the hitting already. Maybe bicycles?"

I became her caregiver. I made "Misery" jokes (a reference to the Stephen King novel in which an insane caregiver sadistically tortures her patient whose legs are incapacitated.) These jokes did not go over as well as I'd hoped. 

She has some PTSD. She revealed later that the car ride on the freeway to her primary doctor was terrifying. The speed, the proximity to cars. Getting back to normal will take some time. This is another thing not cool. 

Once the nerve block wore off, the pain was intense, "like someone is skinning my knee." Luckily the meds worked well, and half the prescribed dose every few hours turned out to be enough to keep the worst of the pain at bay, and to keep a clear head. 

She has gotten good with crutches, but you cannot carry a plate of food with them, so she was rendered joyful when I brought home a little office chair on wheels which she can sit in and scoot with one foot. You do not realize how much you take mobility for granted until it is gone. 

A week has passed since the surgery. No bathing is allowed. A friend drove her to Supercuts where they shampooed her hair. She has a follow-up with the surgeon next week, and six weeks on crutches keeping her weight off the leg. Six weeks for a teacher means missing the end of the semester and finals, and then the beginning of the next one. 

There will need to be physical therapy to bring back strength and flexibility to the weakened leg. That's more weeks. I'm sorry the humor has drained out of this column. Really, it's just a reminder that your life can turn on a dime, and it's not up to you. Jen is very grateful for not being killed, for not hitting her head, for having insurance and friends to help. 

My coworker was going to lunch today with a few others, just across the street. I warned her, "Watch your back in the crosswalk. Drivers do not see pedestrians. They just don't." She assured me she always does. 

When she got back from lunch, sure enough, she said she began to step into the street but stopped herself and looked left just as a car turning right at the corner blazed past where she would have been standing. The driver looked horrified (sound familiar?) and gestured "sorry" as she drove on. 

Everyone you know has as near-miss story, or a didn't-miss story, or you do. I don't have a funny wrap-up here. I guess I will just quote the old "Hill Street Blues" TV show police chief as he sent his officers out into the world after every morning briefing:

"Be careful out there."