Thirty years ago I drove my mother’s stationwagon through a stop sign that I didn’t notice, or noticed too late, or didn’t take seriously enough, and into the path of a red pick-up truck. My friend in the passenger seat was cut in a few places by flying shards of glass and sprained her wrist in the impact. The driver of the pick-up fractured a few ribs. A man driving a third car experienced whiplash. In a swerve away from the stereotype, I, the driver who caused the accident, was the most hurt. I split my head open, took the entirety of the driver’s side window in my face which ripped my eyelid nearly off, struggled to breathe through my collapsed lungs, and broke my arm in 4 close-together places just above my elbow. My head was stapled back together pretty quick, though that injury may be why I don’t actually remember the accident, putting my faith in the stories of it that others have told me. The plastic surgeon used a skin graft to repair my eyelid and sewed in what felt like a million little stitches on the left side of my face. Still, I was still picking little pieces of glass out of my cheek three months later, a phenomenon the nurse called “normal.” And the orthopedic doctor did what he could with my arm. I was in some level of a cast for almost a year. It took six month before I could move all my fingers, another three months after that before my thumb would respond to my brain’s commands. If you feel my arm, you can still find the outcropping of bone that never did heal in the right direction.
I’m thinking of this accident not because of year-end nostalgia but because my arm hurts. My arm has hurt at some point every year for the last thirty, at varying levels of ouch. But the long-lasting cold snap we have been living in since Christmas seems to be the worst thing for a thirty year old break and I have been in constant discomfort, with regular jabs of pain, for three days. It hurts more now than it has in a long time and I’m hoping that this will not be my new reality as I leap toward fifty.
Pain like this can stop you from doing things. It makes it hard to shovel snow or open jelly jars or keep a civil tongue. When you are in pain you get grumpy, you get impatient. Perhaps that’s where the stereotype of grumpy old folks comes from. I don’t want to be that grouchy old lady that folks tolerate. I have plans for my next 50 years and they do not include family members avoiding my company.
Nor do I want to be that old lady who talks about every ailment the same way some folks comment on the weather. But I feel like, for myself, I need to acknowledge that I have this injury, that I did not hypochondriacally make it up, and that the pain is real. And, doing that, I can move toward dealing with it.
On this last day of 2017, I’m feeling the pain from thirty years ago, looking ahead to another year, grateful that I’m here to feel it.