Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Humpty Dumpty falls off the wall

I was riding my minibike one day in fourth grade. That puts me at about 10 years old. My mom had bought me a minibike, a mini chopper actually, and I would ride it nonstop around and around the land surrounding our house. The minibike was orange and had a normal lawnmower engine but it had long easy rider forks in the front. I think my mom could have been a biker chick if she had been born in a different era. I remember her knowing some biker types but it wasn't part of our family in any way. I remember going past a shop when we were in the car one day and we seen the minibike and my mom had to get it for me which was just fine with me. My granddad took care of it for me and I rode it any time I could pretending I was a superhero motocross star. I never rode it on the street and really wasn't interested in pavement. I only liked to ride it on dirt and do wheelies and jump it over little dirt mounds. I had a black helmet that was about ten sizes too big for me with a big fold around shield. I don't know where the helmet came from. It was obviously a hand me down from someone but I don't know who.

For a short time around fourth grade I actually befriended a kid who had moved in just up the street from me. He was a couple years ahead of me in school but he wasn't mean to me so it was fun to hang out. His parents had gotten him a minibike too and he rode down the road to see me and ride around my house. He lived at a house much like my own with lots of land to ride around. There was a long dirt road that led from his house out into the river bottoms where he would ride. I had seen it before when I had visited his house on my bicycle but had never been there with my minibike. He suggested we go to his house and ride and I was all for it. He lived about a half mile away up our little paved country road that was just wide enough for two cars to carefully pass. His house set atop a small hill that was a favorite to go over in the school bus because you had to go down and then up really fast and then down the other side just as fast and it would get you a little weightless in your seat like a roller coaster.

I don't remember getting permission to go up the road but it wasn't normal for me to ride on the road on my minibike. But I had been up the same road on my bicycle hundreds of times and it wasn't a big deal so doing it on a minibike shouldn't be any different. We started up the road carefully hugging the side of the pavement to be careful of cars. The hill was dangerous and I had learned to go to the top of hills and check both ways before crossing the road that way you can see cars coming from the other side of the hill. We rode to the top of the hill and when we got to my friend's house he turned left just before the crest of the hill and crossed the street to his driveway. I coasted to the top of the hill and took a cursory look both ways and started across myself.

And then the world vanished. Just disappeared. It was really quiet and I couldn't remember anything. I was laying on the ground but I didn't know where or why. I was numb all over and calm. I looked around but I really couldn't see much around me except for what was really close and everything just seemed out of focus. It was a lot like when you have fallen asleep in a hotel room after you were really tired and you wake up in the middle of the night in the dark and you know you aren't in your own bed but you haven't woken up enough to know what bed you actually were in. I rolled over and stood up and the world vanished again.

I opened my eyes and I was looking down the little country road where I lived. I was in the middle of the road about a half mile from my house. The road was pretty flat from my vantage point. I could see my sister running down the middle of the road. I think I might have chuckled because she would run with her hands all straight and tight like she was saluting over and over and over again. I didn't see anything or hear anything. I just seen her running full speed toward me. And then the world vanished again.

A young man known by our family who lived not far from us had been driving his car, presumably home, at the same time I was going to my friends house to ride my minibike in his back yard. There were no speed limits on the old country road and most people, especially teenagers in hotrod cars, drove as fast as they wanted to go. He just happened to be going so fast that day, 75mph if my memory is correct, that I never seen his car when I crossed the road. He was at the bottom of the hill out of my view and I thought it was safe to cross the street when I didn't see any cars. But he was going so fast that he managed to hit me when he crested the hill. He never seen me...I never seen him. The impact threw me all the way down the hill and I came to rest near the bottom somewhere right in the middle of the road. I don't recollect wearing my helmet but that could have been wrong. I may have just fallen off.

I only have memories in dreams of the crash, no cognizant memories. I see a movie in my head of slamming the side of the car and being airborne. I don't remember hitting the ground. I don't remember sliding down the pavement head first and face down. I don't remember the asphalt chewing away the left side of my face. I don't remember the pavement peeling the skin from both my arms. I don't remember the minibike landing on top of me. I don't remember the hot exhaust pipe of the minibike laying on my right ankle slowly burning and melting its way through the skin and muscle to the bones underneath. I remember seeing my sister run. I dream about people being around me but I wasn't really aware of them. I don't really remember anything till I was in the ambulance.

In the ambulance, at the accident site or in route to the hospital, I remember my mom and sister. I don't remember an paramedic or anything about the ambulance. I can't be sure my mom and sister were even there but I have a memory of them there and that I was making jokes. I had to have been crying or screaming or sedated or something but my only memory is that I was telling jokes and trying to cheer up my mom and sis. I have no idea if that memory is bedded in reality or not but it is a common theme because I have the same memory at the hospital. I only remember one thing and that was in the xray room. I have a memory of being on the really cold top of the xray table. I can feel the cold now when I think about it and I can remember my mom telling my sister to go lay beside me while I was waiting for the xrays to begin. And then I remember saying no and to go away and that I didn't need my sister to comfort me and that I was okay. I vaguely remember doing the same joking thing but it seems really weird for that to be true. I can only imagine that it is my mind giving me a pleasant coping mechanism for the horrible trauma I was enduring.

I should have died. But I didn't. I should be handicapped or a vegetable or in a wheelchair with a ventilator and a poop bag but I'm not. I don't remember seeing the car so I assumed it hit the back wheel of my minibike. The three ton 75 mph wrecking ball could only have missed my right leg by a few inches. Had it impacted my leg it would have torn it completely off. But it didn't. The accident was horrific and the consequences severe. But I am still here today with a few battle scars that you would be hard pressed to find by inspection.

The months after the accident are mostly lost to me but I have a few remaining memories. The crash peeled the skin off the left side of my face, both my arms and some of my legs. I had a hand sized burn on my ankle that went to bone. And I had a bump on the top of my head that remains to this day that almost seems like the front and back of my skull had been pushed together till a ridge formed and then it just froze like that. This was like 1975 and there wasn't nearly the diagnostics available as there is today. I don't know if I have significant memory loss from my concussions. I don't know if that accident will affect me in old age. Is it the reason I have trouble breathing out of the right side of my nose? Did it shove my nose sideways? Hmmmm. I never really thought about it but it may explain some issues. Interesting.

DeeDee Cantrell. She lived with her parents a few miles away from my house. Her father was good friends with my granddad and also with my dad. He was a kind man who always welcomed us to his house and I think we even went fishing with him a few times. DeeDee was in high school and volunteered or worked as a candy striper nurse at the hospital where I was after the accident. I endured daily rituals of scrubbing my wounds with medicated soapy pads full of yellow goop to remove the dead tissue and keep infection at bay. DeeDee was always there to take care of me. I'm sure her duties were light but my memory is of her being there to do all the painful work because it's just better if it's done by someone you know. I can't remember how long I was in the hospital. Interestingly I don't ever remember having any conversation or discussion or even random story telling about this event with anyone. It seems like I would have had a remember when moment with my mom or dad at some point but I don't remember that ever happening. I remember getting games to play in the hospital and my friend came to see me once. He had to endure seeing me lay on the road mostly dead which had to be traumatic. The event didn't make us forever friends. We just passed in the wind with that event and never connected again. In the hospital I could only see out of one eye most of the time. The left side of my face was swollen so bad my eye was pretty much shut. Nobody would let me look in a mirror until close to the day I left the hospital. I don't remember what I saw but I know it wasn't pretty.

I stayed at home for a long time after I left the hospital. I don't remember if I could walk or not because of my leg injury. My mom, and I think DeeDee at times, had to still scrub my wounds daily and cover me in gauze and antibacterial ointments and all other kinds of stuff. I don't know what she thought. It seemed almost certain that I would be disfigured. Who knew if I was ever going to run again like that little kid that terrorized the forest. It had to be really difficult for her, emotionally overloaded. Maybe we will talk about it one day. I will put it on my to do list.

I missed a good portion of fourth grade. I got a package from my homeroom with all sorts of notes and candy and junk from the kids but I don't remember any thing else. I only remember going back to school because I had to put my leg up on a desk chair or it would hurt really bad. Other than that, most of fourth grade is a blur mostly due to trauma. I wonder now how it affected a bunch of 10 year olds to know that one of their classmates was almost dead and wouldn't be coming back for a long time. Strange.

In the end I managed to not be horribly disfigured. The daily scrubbing routines that I'm sure made me scream and cry did their job in reducing the scarring and infection. I have a small scar under my left nostril, hardly noticeable, but the skin and muscles work a little different on the two sides of my face. Its obvious when I smile, at least to me. My arms are both heavily scarred. But they are so scarred that it's hard to tell because the scarring is consistent and covered both my forearms. I know they are all scarred up but other people probably can't tell. And I have a palm sized area above the outside of my right ankle that has really thin onion skin and is dead, no nerves or hair or anything. It's just a funny shaped dead dent that seems hardly noticeable to other people.

I was ten years old when Humpty fell off the wall and almost died. People who cared committed themselves to putting Humpty back together again as good as new.

I am grateful. Thank you.