Going from the sublime to the — well, maybe not ridiculous, but rather somewhat mundane and a little bit gross. WARNING: Grim photos follow. Longtime readers of this blog may recognize that the title of this post harks back to “Whacked by an Owl” from July 8, 2013. That was a better story with less dramatic results.
Friday before last, Tam and I headed out for our usual morning walk. The routine: After reading in bed for half an hour or so (while Tam checks up on me from time to time, and occasionally jumps up on the bed), I get up, throw on my caftan, give Tam his breakfast, then go downstairs to the bathroom to pee and brush my teeth. That done, I come back up, zap the last of yesterday morning’s tea, get dressed, and take a few swallows of hot tea. Then Tam and I head out.
On the way back, I dropped Tam’s leash so he could charge across the backyard, pounce on his soccer ball, and play zoomies to his heart’s content. Tam always wants to do this, but I don’t always let him because his impulse control is a work in progress. This time I did, and just for the hell of it, I ran after him.
Whereupon the loop from one bootlace caught in the hook of the other boot. Down I went. No harm done: I’m here to tell you that landing on grass is much better than landing on asphalt, which I did a few years ago.
However . . .
As I started to get to my feet, Tam slammed into my head. I did not see stars but the impact was major. Force = mass + acceleration. Tam weighs about 80 pounds and was, as they say, bookin’. When I got up, blood was dripping onto my hand. Better check this out, I thought. Tam didn’t get why I didn’t want to play.
I could walk. I could see. I wasn’t dizzy. I knew what day it was and who (unfortunately) the president was.
Back in the apartment, I applied pressure to my eyebrow till the bleeding stopped, which didn’t take long, then wrapped an ice pack in a dishtowel and held it against my eye. “Twenty minutes on, twenty minutes off” I’d been told, which is good, because it’s hard to do much of anything when one hand is holding an ice pack to your eye.
Over the next 24 hours the eye grew steadily blacker. Dramatic as it looks, it didn’t hurt exactly, though it felt very puffy — and it did not want to be touched. In the morning I like to splash cold water on my face to wake myself up (even though I’m pretty much awake as soon as I open my eyes). I discovered that it is impossible to do this without hand coming into solid contact with face so I dropped that part of the ritual for the duration.
What’s remarkable is how steadily my body healed itself, with some help from an arnica cream borrowed from my neighbor. The puffiness went down; the blackness receded. Today, June 22, it’s almost back to normal, but the bone under my eyebrow is sensitive to the touch — I guess “bone bruise” is a thing? (Yeah, it is. I just looked it up!)
What’s taking longest to disappear is the bruising along my nasolabial fold, aka laugh line. (I just looked that up too. Nasolabial bruises, it seems, are commonly associated with Botox treatment and facelifts. I hope you can tell from one look at my face that I’ve never had either.) At one point it looked like Harold had drawn my laugh line with his purple crayon.
Once I knew I’d survived in pretty good shape with, most likely, no lasting harm done, I could think about how much worse it could have been. Like what if the retina in my left eye had detached? In 2004 the retina in my right eye did detach — twice. For years the fear that the left might do likewise was never far from my mind. I know that detached retinas rarely result from blows to the head, but it could have happened. (I wrote at some length about that experience, in “My Terrorist Eye: Risk, the Unexpected, and the War on Terror.”)
Concussion could have happened. Brain damage could have happened.
I’ve had a couple of other could-have-been-worse mishaps. In 1999 I was trail-riding with a friend when the mare I was riding stumbled, went down, and flipped over me. I’m not kidding: for an instant I felt like I was inside a washing machine. She then used my right thigh as a launching pad to get up. I still have what looks like a hoof-shaped brand on my thigh. The bruise, which extended from my groin almost to my knee, has long since disappeared.
Then a few years later, on a horse-sitting gig, the ladder I was climbing to the hayloft slipped out from under me and down I went, 10 or 11 feet. My dog, Rhodry, and the client’s dog came over to check me out; there were no humans anywhere within hailing distance. Around that time a carpenter in my town fell about 25 feet, broke his back (or maybe his neck), and was laid up for months.
If you can dwell on how much worse it might have been, it means you’ve survived.