September 17, 1987 is a special date on the calendar for me. You see, it was 21 years ago today that my life took a major hit. While driving our Kawasaki 550 motorcycle I was broadsided by the car of a young lady performing an illegal U-turn. My life as I had known it (had planned) would never be the same.
It was just before the impact and I was waiting for morning rush hour traffic to clear from one of the two major one-way streets located at the end of my commute to work in beautiful Santa Barbara, California. I knew that I had to wait a few moments more before the traffic cleared. So I took the opportunity to shoot up a praise to God. “What a gorgeous morning it is Father. There is not a single cloud in the sky.” Additionally I am going to be early for work, and I am excelling at my job.
Looking back on that moment now, I realize that was the last minute in which I had no chronic pain in my life. I really do forget what that felt like. Perhaps God answered me with ” Oh sure, you think it’s beautiful and hunky dory now, but let’s just see what you think in a minute.” I believe that in Heaven, God was gathering the angels to watch what was going to happen next.
After crossing the intersection, I noticed that a car traveling in the opposite direction quickly pulled along the opposite curb as it going to park. But then it happened. The sudden impact broadsided me full force as the black bumper of the Civic instantly crushed my Left Ankle. I found myself startled (WHAT just happened), in great pain as my foot was hit by the car then pushed off the peg, and dragging along the pavement. On top of all that, my head was wizzing by the bumpers of cars parked on my side of the street as I was still moving forward although at an angle of a track bike (like the GT racers we just saw here in Indy).
I jerked with all my might to keep from going down. All the while it occurred to me that I am now driving on the wrong side of the street (from jerking up), my foots dragging, and I must stop in just a few yards BEFORE I enter the intersection with the other major one-way street. AAAAAAH!
This is where I testify to the miracle on my motorcycle. God was at work greatly in my life. He got me to stop the motorcycle before getting hit again. I did NOT go down even though broadsided. I think part of the credit for that goes to the fact that I raced bicycles at Major Taylor Velodrome and in racing class and training we would purposefully jam our bicycles into each other to learn how to avoid wrecks and react to unexpected pedal in your spokes.
Once I had managed to stop the forward movement of the cycle, I was standing there with both hand squeezing the calipers on the handlebar (clutch and brake). I was managing to stay balanced on my one right leg, but it was heavy and my other foot was mangled. What was worse is that I couldn’t shift the cycle into neutral because it would have been done by my useless left foot. I was stuck there!!
Just then, a VERY pregnant woman came up the sidewalk to help me. I remember thinking that the gutteral screams that came out of me were not very feminine (surprised that I sounded like a guy) and that I could even scare her away if I didn’t quiet them.
She came up to me and saw that I had a problem, but couldn’t hear me very well through the running of the motorcycle and due to the fact that the visor of my full face helmet was down. So she was fumbling around trying to undo my helmet. I swallowed all screams of pain and yelled, “PUT… the KICKSTAND…. DOWN!” Once she did that, I killed the bike by turning off the key with the assurance of the kickstand there to keep me from falling over.
I took off my helmet and looked down at my foot. It looked like the ends of two of my toes were missing and I knew that my ankle foot was broken. The lady had called the police and ambulance and wanted to help me to the sidewalk. I initially declined since she looked like she would deliver her baby if she lifted half of my weight. However the incessant throbbing convinced me that I should accept her offer.
We managed to get me to the sidewalk, a couple of very painful steps, and then I was down. Only then did I see that the only damage to the motorcycle was to the left case guard that helps protect the engine… a $50 part!! Another miracle.
Yes, God saw to it that I did not go down, that I had NO other damage to my body other than my left knee, leg, ankle and foot. Do you realize that if I had gone down I wouldn’t have been able to even use crutches?
May I just say something about crutches. When I am using them I get the “oh, you poor thing” look from everyone. Others using crutches say, ‘don’t you just HATE having to use crutches?” My answer is a resounding “NO.” I love these crutches. This is the original pair and if they had an odometer on them it would have tripped over the 100,000 mile mark about three times. I don’t know what I would have done without them.
When I am on crutches I can really move!! Just ask my friends. Unfortunately, right now I am recovering from a shoulder injury and can’t use them yet. So I appreciate them all the more, because without their use I am much more limited. Still I do have the famous “black boot” that I can throw on when I am expecting to be “slammin'” (on my feet or walking a lot). Again, I get the looks and the questions “what happened, did you have another surgery?”
I know that people are generally caring and tend to think that injuries are supposed to get better. But the sad fact is that some of us are never going to recover from our injuries. Not in this lifetime anyway. These appliances (crutches, canes, boots, funny shoes) are just our ways to cope in the meantime. To try to live a productive life in spite of the physical challenges.
I now joke that I have been through probably about a dozen sets of guardian angels. They draw lots up there to NOT have to get me as a client.
Almost half of my life has now been in constant pain.
As a competitive long distance runner I used to just push through the pain. No pain, no gain, right? Maybe so, but you will notice that I don’t run anymore. I can’t. If it’s an emergency or something I can lope along with the understanding that I will have to pay a physical price. I’ll be “lame” for a few days, and have to go back to using my crutches.
Worse than that, I often don’t realize that I’m overdoing until after it is too late. Again because my way of dealing with pain was to mentally ‘shove it aside’, I use a kind of self-hypnosis that worked well for me as an athlete, but that can do damage to me now.
Since I am allergic to almost all pain medicines, I can take none. So I really am in constant pain every moment I am awake. But there are a couple of coping skills that I have learned that work for me. Music is the biggest one. When I sing or play, it is a painkiller for me. It helps that I like to sing praises to God with our church worship team and jam on mandolin and guitar with friends. That’s why you’ll hear me turn almost any sentence into the lyric and break out into song.
Another painkiller is laughter. My friends help me with this one. Laughter is the best medicine is tried and true. I know that depression is just a natural outcome when someone is dealing with chronic anything. There are chemical things happening in the brain with seratonin and endorphins and such. Since I am unable to be as physically active as I was as an athlete it’s even more important that I laugh. Like exercise, laughter increases the endorphins; the body’s natural pain killers.
So that is why when you first meet me you may think that I am very silly. I am learning to roll with the punches and not take things too seriously. I realize that things could ALWAYS be worse. And, in many people’s cases, they are. However, I also realize that no matter what happens it is all under God’s control.
Let God be God: get out of the way.
So my plans to be a nurse practitioner were trashed, as were the ability to participate in a lot of the exercises and sports competitions that I enjoyed. Now I have a permanent disability that prevents me from enjoying the life I wanted to live. Besides the walking, standing, foot down time and distance limitations, I have the physical drain of the constant pain. Think about it, when you are in pain you get tired more easily, don’t you. I think part of that is from swallowing down the pain, not expressing it through some means. The other problem is the emotional drain. Frustration of not being able to do what I once did, it’s never going to get better than this, the extra time that adaptability methods require. It just takes more time to do things.
For me, with my bent toward perfectionism, I need to get rid of the “would have,” “could have,” “should have” statements. It just is what it is. I am not God. I am learning more and more the importance of the Serenity Prayer:
“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things that I cannot change [past, not in my control], Courage to change the things I can [focus on what I CAN do, and learn new ways to adapt], and the Wisdom to know the difference.”
Over the last 21 years, I have learned a lot. I would not have chosen these events. But I now see where God was in control the entire time. “I know the plans I have for you…. plans for hope and a future,” is what God tells me in Isaiah. It is not the path that I would have willingly chosen for myself… motorcycle crash, crushed leg, 31 surgeries, pain and disappointments…. “sure, sign me up.” Nonetheless, I am blessed beyond measure. I have become a stronger person who is learning to take my value less from what I do and more for Who’s I am.
I joke about the fact that with so many surgeries and stuff, the guardian angels have to draw lots in hopes of not getting me as an assignment. I’m sure I have worn out at least a dozen sets. I know that like Paul, God has allowed me to be molded through trials. That if I hadn’t had all this happen TO me, because He cares FOR me, I would probably have been a prideful, arrogant, competitive jerk. So when the trumpet sounds, get ready to eat my dust… cause I’m going to be running into glory!
But for now, I’m going to keep on placing my faith in Him and do my best to help others to meet my Saviour so that they can come with me. You wanna come???