(From the Opinion section in the Globe and Mail)
August 11, 2009 | My near-death experience
I lay on the street, disoriented and in shock. The van not only ran me off
my bike, it dragged me 100 metres
Lying dazed on a downtown street, I looked up at the moving clouds. As I
began to focus, I saw a vast, empty road with vague figures in the distance.
I had been riding my bike to do interviews for a pilot radio show. The roads
were dry and the wind was with me. But as I powered ahead, one question kept
nagging me: What is this van doing so close to me?
It was narrowing the already slim space to the curb, leaving me with little
room. Then, after pulling away from an increasingly erratic driver, I turned
to see he was coming straight at me. There was no time to move.
The truck not only ran me over, it dragged me under it – for 100 metres or
so – before finally coming to a stop.
I knew none of this as I lay there, disoriented. I was thinking, “Phew, I'm
not sure what happened there, but I'm probably late now. I'd better find my
bike and get a move on.”
But as I tried to get up, my head bobbed up and down uselessly as my body
remained pasted to the pavement.
The initial shock gave way to the sick, dawning realization that something
horrible had just happened. I tried to move my legs. Nothing. How about my
feet? Not a twitch. Nothing moved. I slipped into a still and silent panic.
Am I paralyzed?
Finally I tested my fingers and watched them type on an imaginary keyboard,
as though they belonged to someone else. My life may be forever altered, but
at least I could write.
So there I lay, in the middle of the street, on my back, typing in the air.
The list of injuries was long. It ranged from the almost comically clinical
“degloving” of one leg – being shorn of skin and flesh – to fractures in the
other. My pelvis, two vertebrae and five ribs were broken. My chest had been
punctured, allowing air to rush into the cavity surrounding my lungs, which
would explain why I was gasping for air when the paramedics came.
As doctors in the intensive-care unit described my injuries, I listened from
deep inside my drugged stupor. I asked for a pen and paper to keep track,
“because,” I said, “we'll probably forget otherwise.”
It was a rare source of amusement for friends who stood around my bed in a
state of collective worry. My dad struggled to contain himself in the corner
of the room.
Some weeks later the doctor paused at the foot of my hospital bed, eyed me
and held out his thumb and forefinger close together. “You came this close
to dying,” he said.
In the ensuing weeks I set aside such thoughts of life and death in favour
of the ephemera that filled the books and newspapers that littered the room.
The mess was a source of wonder and work for the nurses – my nurses, men and
women of awe-inspiring strength, stamina and stoicism; the nurses who
shifted, lifted, carried and cleaned my emaciated body, who dressed my
wounds and brought drugs and water to my fluorescent-lit island.
But they would be complicit in efforts to get me out of bed, too. A rehab
regimen was announced long before I was in the mood to move. I had
everything I needed beside my bed, and yet I was told it would be a good
idea to get up and try dragging myself across the room on a high walker.
As I gained strength I drove more advanced vehicles. Late one morning I
bounced myself to the edge of the bed and into a big black wheelchair. I
rolled down the hall, into the elevators and downstairs, undetected.
Delirious with my newfound freedom, I crossed the street and, in the middle
of the road, the wheels got caught in the streetcar tracks, jolting me to a
sudden halt, almost throwing me from the chair.
To my right, a streetcar was heading straight at me. From out of nowhere, a
man rushed over and pushed me to the other side.
One year on, the driver who ran me over has yet to be tried. If convicted,
he faces a maximum fine of $120 for making an unsafe turn.
But my fury isn't focused on him as much as on a society that honours
pseudo-virtues of comfort and convenience at the altar of the automobile.
It's directed at people who profess a love for the environment while driving
distances a brief bike ride away. My ire is aimed at commentators who
characterize the building of bike lanes as part of the “war on cars.”
A year later, I'm back on my bike and the roads seem every bit as dangerous.
Vehicles career in and out of lanes without seeing or signalling. Where
close calls used to be part of the fun of a real-life video game, they now
trigger visceral fear and rage.
But a thought occurs to me, which is enough to dilute, if not banish, the
bile. Those less lucky than I am lie in graves. Or they're so disfigured as
to be robbed of normal speech, movement or thought. Only a moment of grace
or good luck saved me from a similar fate.
This thought returns as I walk the halls of the hospitals I called home for
two months, and now back at my flat, where therapists help me revivify mind
and body. And yet, I hold back from sharing with them the intense gratitude
that risks reducing me to a puddle of messy emotion.
In the meantime, shorthand words of thanks will have to do.
*Kyle G. Brown lives in Toronto.*