The Day I Broke My Brain
It’s been 4 weeks since I got my concussion. I was healing very well so far. I spent a week in bed after it happened, I avoided screens, I did everything right. But these last few days I feel like someone has engaged a vise behind my eyes. I can feel the pressure on the mechanics just behind my eyeballs, a consistent squeeze enough to cause pain but not enough to squeeze my eyeballs out of my head.
It was a scooter accident that caused my concussion. Todd and I bought some electric scooters this summer so we could use them when we sail somewhere and want to go ashore and explore. These days, due to a pandemic, we aren’t getting into taxis or ubers, so hopping onto these scooters made a lot of sense. We practiced riding them many times on the greenways and bike paths that stripe across Rhode Island. Bike helmets are worn, we worked out a way to communicate with the horns on our scooters so that we can ask “You OK back there?” when one of us is riding in front or “Hey wait up!” when the leader is too far ahead. Don't these look like fun! They are, I still think so even after getting into an accident on mine.
We did everything right. We were safe. And September 20th we went on a fantastic ride. It was starting to get a little chilly so we had jeans and fleece jackets on, I was also wearing gloves. We got onto the East Bay Bike Path in Providence, and headed south. We stopped along the way to sight see and rest our feet in Barrington, then in Warren for lunch at one of our favorite places: Blount’s Clam Shack. We rode all the way to Bristol, Rhode Island where the bike path ends near a massive park Colt State Park. Just before we hit Bristol we saw an entrance to an Audubon Society facility that had an entrance from the bike path. We decided to check that out and walked through their exhibit. I stopped in the gift shop to buy a long sleeved T shirt, as I was still a bit chilly wearing my T shirt under my fleece jacket.
After we roamed around Colt State Park we decided to head back to Providence. We still had about 15 miles to get back. All the way north I shifted my feet on the deck of my scooter. Riding it for a long time makes my feet ache after awhile. I tend to put my weight on my back leg and it’s fatiguing. We approached Providence and I longed for the passenger seat of Todd’s car where I’d sit and rest my feet.
I followed Todd up the S curve that led up to the bridge that runs parallel to interstate 195. There were concrete barriers on either side of the path. Todd was ahead of me as I rode up the incline toward the center of the bridge. Then it gets super fuzzy after that.
I remember seeing the concrete barrier on the right coming closer to me. I was probably going around 10 miles per hour. I remember stepping my right foot onto the pavement as the scooter was still moving, in an effort to steady myself.
Then the next thing I knew I was on all fours. My vision was blurry. My head was filled with static. I knew I was hurt. I knew something had happened. I knew something was wrong. My scooter was about 10 feet away on its side. My first thought was that Todd was riding ahead of me and probably had no idea that I had fallen. I wanted to crawl to it to press the horn button for one long beep and two short ones for “Hey! Wait up!” My hands were on the pavement beneath me I looked down at them as I tried to figure out how to coordinate my hands and legs to make the crawl. Blood flowed onto my hands from somewhere.
“Let’s sit on the curb, come on,” it was Todd. I knew his voice. Somehow my hands and feet managed to get their shit together. As I was sitting on the curb to the right of me I saw a man holding an electric one wheel. It occurred to me that I could have lost teeth, which terrified me at the time. I ran my tongue over my teeth and asked Todd to confirm that I hadn’t lost any. I looked down at my jeans, my favorite jeans, there was a hole in the knee and blood all over my thighs. I was still wearing gloves, my forehead itched and I swiped my hand over my forehead, then I felt the warmth of the blood as it gushed from above my left eye brow. Todd removed his shirt and his undershirt. He handed me the undershirt and told me to hold it over my bleeding forehead.
I asked him later on to piece together the story for me, and there are still big blank spaces in the story. He was riding ahead of me. There wasn’t room on the path for us to ride side by side because of riders coming toward us in the oncoming lane. He remembers there were three men in the oncoming lane, one on an electric tricycle, and two on electric one wheels. He had to swerve to avoid them, as the one that was close to him was flailing a bit. Then he heard me yell and turned around and saw me on the ground.
He went back to me. One of the men on the one wheels started to speak “I’m sorry, I tried to catch her.” His friend swatted him on the arm and gave him a look that said “Shut up.” Todd was more focused on me than he was on them. He asked me where we were, where we went that day, who he was and who the president is. I didn’t know the answer to any of those questions. My pupils were different sizes. I repeatedly asked him what had happened and whether I had fallen. I repeatedly asked him about the state of my teeth. I noticed the one wheel immediately to the right in somebody’s hands. I spotted my sunglasses mangled on the pavement. I started to cry because I couldn’t answer his questions. My hands shook. I saw the paramedics wheel the stretcher up the S curve. I didn’t see the one wheel guy anymore. I felt the blood gush from my forehead onto my face, and vaguely remember Todd taking off his shirt. There was a shard of sunglasses impaled in my forehead that I had swatted away when I swiped at my forehead. Head wounds like that bleed like a fountain. While all this happened the only people who even knew what happened, then men in the oncoming path on the one wheels, had disappeared. They took off quickly and quietly and Todd never got the chance to even ask them what had happened.
Somehow I got onto the stretcher. Todd deposited my phone onto my lap. I was strapped in and wheeled down the S curve to the waiting ambulance. We were only minutes away from our car. The stretcher was loaded into the ambulance. My first ambulance ride. By then things started to make sense. I held Todd’s undershirt to my forehead, my hands still shook, I told the paramedics I was cold and they placed a blanket on me. The poked an IV catheter into my left arm. They asked me my date of birth and by then I was aware enough that I could tell them. Then the asked me who the president is.
“Don’t make me say his name. Fuck that guy,” I replied. Seriously, he’s the last guy I wanted to think of in a time when I was struggling.
“Oh, so then you know,” they laughed. The ride to Rhode Island Hospital in downtown Providence was only a few minutes long. I was wheeled out and into the emergency room. A nurse introduced herself, she was wearing the Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissent collar earrings that I keep seeing advertised on Facebook. I saw them and started crying. She asked me why I was crying and I told her I was sad that Justice Ginsburg had passed away. She smiled sympathetically and encouraged me to focus on myself in that moment. I had my license, debit card and a tube of lip balm in my pocket, I handed her my license so she could do some paperwork with it.
While all this was going on, I had no idea whether Todd would even be allowed into the hospital with me. We heard that with the COVID pandemic that they weren’t allowing supporting family members into the ER. I learned later that he was trying to get to me, he managed to get one door away from where I was crying over Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and that door was locked. He was trying to look like he belonged there, but eventually he was caught and was asked to leave. They took his phone number so they could call him with updates on my condition. When he asked how likely it would be that they could call him the nurse lowered her voice and said “Not likely at all, actually.” Thankfully he thought to give me my phone as the paramedics were wheeling me away.
They put me into a room. They asked me the date. I remembered that the Monday before was the 14th, and I counted the days on my fingers until I arrived at Sunday the 20th. Then I looked up and saw that the current date was written on a white board in the room. They checked my blood pressure, put that blood oxygen thingy on my finger, asked me when my last tetanus shot was—January 2011.
The doctor doused some gauze with water and swiped my face. My left hand was covered in blood, I held it up to him so he could clean it. My left knee had a hole in the jeans. I loathe jeans with holes in them, and my favorites now had a hole. I told him to rip some more so he could get at the scrape on my knee. I had a scrape on my elbows. Here’s the weird thing. I didn’t have a hole in my fleece jacket, but I did have a hole in my long sleeve T shirt that I was wearing under the fleece jacket—the brand new T shirt I bought at the Audubon Society in Bristol earlier that day and simultaneously 100 years ago. They took out the IV catheter that the paramedics put in that I never used. They gave me a tetanus shot and 3 tylenols.
The ER doctor gave me instructions on what to do with my concussion. I have no idea what was even said, as I had a freaking concussion and was impaired. The doctor left, the insurance paperwork lady came in, then the nurse came in. “How well can you walk?” he asked. I stood up. I didn’t know I had a massive bruise on my thigh, I limped to the door. He handed me a paper. “There’s the discharge window. Give this paper to them then you’re free to go.”
My head was spinning. He walked away. I limped to the window. I handed the paper to the woman, she did something with it. I stood at the window and stared at her. “What?” she asked. I asked her what I do now. She told me I could leave.
“How?” I asked. Then I turned my head and saw a sign on the ceiling that said “Exit.” I followed it. Walking was painful on that bruise. I limped. The abrasions on my face throbbed. Todd called me to ask me if I was getting a scan and I said “No, I am actually trying to leave but I don’t know how.”
I spotted a woman wearing a hospital ID. “How do I… um… exit?” she pointed to a door that was hidden by a partition. I put my hand under the purell dispenser and limped out the door into the daylight. Todd was waiting in the car right there. The woman I asked didn’t seem at all fazed that I was literally hobbling out of the hospital.
He was on the phone with our primary care doctor getting me an appointment for the morning when I opened the passenger side door and flopped into the seat. I lowered the visor and opened the mirror and gasped. The whole left side of my face was abraded ad oozing. There was still dirt and dried blood on my face. They didn’t even fully clean my face. They smeared it with bacitracin, gave me 3 tylenol, told me I’d probably be sore the next day, and gave me a prescription for 4 tubes of bacitracin. (I marinated my face in it every hour for a week straight and still barely dented one of the tubes. I have 4 of them in my bathroom closet.)
“You didn’t see what it looks like when you were in there?” Todd asked. I never did. I never saw a mirror. This is what I looked like after I got discharged from the hospital.
We stopped at CVS on the way home to get more first aid supplies. I closed my eyes against the setting sun, the light burning into my eyes.
We got home, I took off my bloody clothes. He pulled out my hoodie that said “Life is good” on it. I laughed and he said “But it is good. You couldn’t have been hurt much worse.” I love him for thinking that. He cleaned my face. Dried blood was crusted inside my nose. I goobed it up with bacitracin and Neosporin. I felt it drip after a few hours.
The next morning I got out of bed and groaned about the soreness in my left leg and in my left arm where they had given me my tetanus shot. Really? The one place I wasn’t sore from the accident and they had to give me a shot? There was a piece of bloody gauze on the floor. I bent to pick it up and felt the pressure of my brain against my eye sockets burn in pain. I showered as gently as possible. I put on sweats and I sat on the bed next to him. Tell me again what happened, I asked him.
And that bugs me, the fact that I don’t remember exactly why I had fallen. I don’t remember the other guys coming near me. I just remember putting my right foot down. Could I have caused it myself? But if I had, wouldn’t those guys have said “She just fell, man.” Why did one guy start to tell me and then the other told him to shut up? This is what bothers me. They didn’t want to say what had happened, which leads me to believe that they were the cause of my accident. They left the scene as quickly as they could. I keep trying to picture it. I keep trying to picture them coming toward me and colliding with me. Or maybe they came toward me and I swerved into the barrier to get out of their way. Or maybe I just swerved into the barrier because I was tired and my feet were hurting. I will never know. I will never see those guys again. And I wonder if they ever saw me would they recognize me as the person they caused to fall and concuss herself on the East Bay Bike Path.
I stayed in bed all week. Todd had been in contact with my boss and he cleared my calendar. He propped bags of frozen peas on my head. He doled out my pain meds and tracked them with an app he’d made on him phone. I marinated in bacitracin and Neosporin. I avoided screens. I read a paperback. I slept. It hurt to chew for the first 2 days. By Saturday I managed to wash the dishes and tidy the kitchen. All week Todd worked, took care of me, the house, the dog too. I feel like it was a lost week in a blur with bags of frozen peas resting on my head.
I am now 4 weeks out from the concussion. I am still getting headaches. Google tells me that I’ll be getting them for 3 to 6 months. I still haven’t bought a new helmet, though I am dying to ride my scooter again. Maybe not til next year.
If I weren't wearing a helmet that would have been my skull that got cracked.
added on 10.19.20