So here’s what happened…
It’s been five weeks. I was putting away a freshly folded cycling jersey and it became clear how bad things were. I had been “staying positive”, constantly telling myself how lucky I was, how things could have been much worse, that I was fine and I would power through whatever I had to—and all of that was true—but suddenly I could see past those coping lines. Holy shit.
I was just going 800m. I jumped on my city bike and I remember consciously deciding to take the back road because it was quieter, a road mostly used by cyclists and pedestrians. I came up to an intersection and deliberately went on the far left of my one-way way. I had the right-of-way but I slowed down just in case. I looked and continued but then there was a white SUV almost on top of me. Given her speed, she had blown right through the stop sign. I remember my eyes widening as I tried to turn left and go with the car, the bike wobbling. I remember the loud slam as my ribs smacked into the side of the vehicle just by the front wheel. I remember laying on the ground and the incredible hot sting of pain throbbing through my whole body.
I didn’t cry. I took charge of the situation as I directed strangers to call the ambulance and call Edward. Call Edward. Call Edward, I kept repeating. I could hear the driver uncontrollably sobbing and I could see what I thought were her feet. “Don’t touch me. Don’t move me,” I sternly instructed everyone. My back and head were in so much pain I kept wiggling my toes to convince myself my spine was okay. I could feel myself drift into shock as the kind stranger who called Edward held my fingers. After what seemed like a long time, the police and firefighters arrived and took over my care and the scene. It was only when Edward arrived that my eyes filled with hot tears. I was scared and I told him so.
The following two weeks were a blur of pain. I couldn’t sit down. I couldn’t stand up. I could barely walk. I couldn’t turn my head, lift my arm, or bend in anyway. It hurt to lay down so I could barely sleep and I couldn’t get out of bed by myself. I was in constant pain—that alone has changed me forever. My back pain proceeded to get worse so it was decided I needed a follow-up MRI. The worry my back was actually broken was a dark heavy cloud of fear like no other. On top of that, I kept hearing the accident and reliving it over and over. I was on the edge of sleep and tears the entire time and just felt alone and scared.
I also started baking, my favourite stress-reliever. I couldn’t use my dominant right hand so I got good at mixing with my left hand. As I started to move, I realized I had a chronic case of butter fingers and, since I still couldn’t bend down, I seemed to leave a trail of household items wherever I ventured. Pillows, socks, carrots, shampoo bottles, keys…each drop accompanied by a defeated sigh. Still, I became the master of the vertical non-spine-bending squat and even better at picking up things with my feet.
Holding it together with tape.
Somehow, I had muddled through the worst of it but when I opened my closet to pack away that cycling jersey the mess inside was overwhelming. My closet had become a chaotic pile of fabric. I hadn’t been physically able to put my clothes away properly for weeks. It looked like a garbage bag of clothes had just been dumped on my shelf. My running shoes lay jumbled, forlorn, in a pile at the bottom of my closet. Across the room, my Garmin sat patiently in it’s charge cradle. My bedside table was still strewn with arnica, tiger balm, anti-inflammatory creams, turmeric, and pain tablets. My life revolved around physio, napping, and rehab. Standing up and walking felt like big achievements. It was completely manageable but I still had a nagging dull ache of pain that didn’t shy away from reminding me what had happened. I was so happy to ride my bike again, even if it was just for a little while, but being closer made me see how far away I was. That messy closet made me think:
I could’ve died.
I wrestled with that for a while. It seemed ridiculous and hyperbolic yet it wasn’t an opinion, it was a fact. If I compare to other athletes, other accidents, I was even more lucky and really I couldn’t not be positive; but, staying positive isn’t about ignoring reality or hiding pain, it’s about choosing gratitude. Over and over and over again. I wasn’t fit to reorganize my closet so I just placed my neatly folded cycling jersey on top of the messy pile, smoothing it out with my hands. It didn’t make my closet any cleaner but I knew in time the mess would be replaced, one jersey at a time, and for that I was grateful.