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Anatomy Of An Injury

What a broken tequila bottle taught me

Yesterday, after running six miles along San Jose’s Guadalupe River trail, I slipped on a sliver of glass on the sidewalk and landed, knee-first, on a broken tequila bottle. I sat for a moment on the concrete, staring at the jagged gash on my right knee, stunned. I’ve had my fair share of tumbles and falls, but this was different. The cut was clean but deep. I couldn’t look at it. My iPod blared and my insulin pump was still safe on my hip.

I propped myself on the corner of the busy street and the trail, and within a minute had attracted a passing car. The driver was a man with a kind face. He asked if I needed help, and for a split second I considered saying no—I felt wobbly but was more shell-shocked than anything, and our apartment was only two blocks away. Some small voice inside insisted that I could do it—I could get home alone.

I looked at the man’s face. He looked like someone’s father. I thought of my own father, about the times he had been injured, and how he had, over time, learned exactly how and when to ask for help. “Yes,” I said, “if you don’t mind, I only live a block away.”

The man, whose name was Frank, sat me down in his passenger seat and gave me a t-shirt to wrap around my leg. He asked me a few questions, and told me that I’d be all right, and I gave him directions to our place, and he insisted on walking me all the way to our doorstep. The white tee he’d loaned me was soon red and brown. When I got to our door I sat down and cracked it open. Ryan was eating breakfast and watching the Olympics, and when I saw the look on his face reflecting it all back—the blood, the dirt, the sweat—I panicked.

Ryan kicked into high gear, wrapping me in towels and getting me water, helping me test my blood sugar, and packing a bag of gear to take to the ER. I sat on our rug, focusing on a mental checklist of everything I’d need—ID, health insurance card, extra test strips, water, ibuprofen, cell phone, glucose gel. I thought of that day thirteen years ago, when the doctor told me to pack my pajamas, because I’d have to spend the weekend in the hospital learning how to live with type 1 diabetes. I told Ryan to get a pair of clean clothes, and made him promise that no matter what happened at the hospital, he wouldn’t let the doctors touch my pump.

He helped me hobble to the car and we drove to the ER. I thought about the placement of my feet on the run. Had the tread disappeared on my shoes? Were there rocks hidden on the trail? How, exactly, had it all been orchestrated? For the duration of the run, I had been thinking of all the things I had left to do in the four months leading up to our wedding—all the things we could afford, all the things we couldn’t. All the things we needed, all the things we didn’t. I had been thinking of scholarships I had worked hard for and still didn’t get, meditating on all the half-finished stories saved on my laptop, the doodles I’d sprinkled around my office. I had been thinking about my nine-to-five job, daydreaming, really, of all the projects I’d love to do, if someone would finally give me the permission.

And then, suddenly, I was on the ground.

It must have been a slow morning at the ER because I was seen immediately. The doctor assured me that there had been no damage to the tendons or ligaments. They x-rayed my hands, which had spread evenly over glass when I fell. The x-ray technician told me that Ryan was cute, and I agreed. They wheeled me into a small room, where I was attended by a nurse and the ER doctor at the same time. They numbed my hand and my knee, and for twenty minutes one of them was on each side. By the time we left, I had eleven staples grinning in a jagged line across my right knee.

We stopped to get lunch on the way home, and I was aware of the stares we were getting. My white racing shirt had been stained with blood and dirt. My fingernails smelled of iodine. I hadn’t eaten since the night before. I changed into a spare shirt in the car, which is when I noticed another long scrape starting above my right breast and reaching almost as far as my belly button. I looked like I had survived a fight with a dragon.

Once home, I stood naked in front of the bathroom mirror, trying to figure out how to take a shower. I was amazed at all of the parts that still work. My knee still bends. I can bear weight. My hands are free of glass. My blood sugar is fine. The bruises will fade. When the staples are gone, they’ll leave behind a stronger skin. I heard Ryan bustling in the other room, setting up our spare bed in front of the television so we could watch the Olympics. How lucky I am, to live this life, to be outside on beautiful spring days, to spend time with people I love, to have a partner like him, to have gainful employment. How lucky that Frank stopped his car, that Ryan was ready right away, that there was no wait in the ER, that my overall health is good. This was the year I’d resolved to no longer observe my anniversaries as a type 1 diabetic—in four months there will be other more important anniversaries to observe—and yet it seemed that February had still left its lasting impact.

Yesterday I was reminded that when we refuse to slow down, our bodies slow things down for us. I love and respect my body—imperfect pancreas, stapled knee, scraped stomach and all. I’m just grateful to Frank, and Ryan, and the ER staff, and the world at large, for reminding me to focus on the goodness around us, to breathe it in and soak it up, because it has a way of multiplying, once you stop to notice it.

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