Warning: this is gross, but there’s no pictures.
I was happy I’d remembered my bathing suit. It was a hot day, and Mondays mean heading straight to my grandmother’s house after work for a swim and family dinner. I turned down my uncle’s offer of a gin and tonic, uncapping a beer to drink as I changed. The lake was cold, but pleasantly so. The water is high right now, flooding up the patio stairs and across its concrete surface. Our banister – usually running down the stairs to help my grandparents get into the water safely – ripped off in the windstorm, and its two metal support poles stand unmarked, the lower one submerged a foot or two below the surface. I curled up on the stairs in the water, happy.
I decided to go for one last loop before heading up for dinner. My dad was in the lake to my left, but I could hear the rest of my family up on the deck – starting the barbeque, opening wine. I curled my toes around the concrete step and pushed off hard to streamline out into the lake, a motion familiar to my muscles from years of swimming competitively.
A foot out, my body grinded to a halt. I was caught. No thought, I wrapped my hands around the pole and wrenched myself off the metal ruler-like support soldered to the top of the submerged banister pole. I came up in a half scream – “dad dad dad dad dad dad dad dad dad dad dad dad dad.” I couldn’t move – the metal had pierced my abdomen and travelled south through my body, exiting about four inches later, literally impaling me. I could see the yellow fat lining my soft lower belly flipped out onto the outside of my body. I shook as my family surrounded me, called an ambulance. I tried to make the paramedics laugh – I’ve always wanted to lose weight, I said. Just a bit of self-liposuction.
I was extraordinarily lucky – while the metal stabbed through deeply, I wasn’t bleeding internally. I missed all of my organs, I missed the arteries that run through that area. All night, I kept hearing how bad it could have been – could have bled out in ten seconds, could have cut my bowels up, could have gotten my neck instead. The ER doctor stapled me up and sent me home, happy with a CT scan showing nothing major had been scraped. My obliques had some nicks, but I’d be okay. I was discharged with strict instructions to return on the first sign of infection – redness, fever, anything.
Getting up from my hospital bed that night was ok. I slumped out of the hospital, laughing with the nurses about how stupid I looked in the scrubs they’d given me to wear. I made Dani take a photo of me with my bloody bed. On the five-minute car ride to my apartment, I started feeling faint – stars bloomed in the sky and in my vision, and I leaned against my hand to let the midnight air course over my face as my dad drove. He and Dani held me up as I stumbled into my apartment, feeling like my bones had been replaced by ghosts or static buzzing on an old TV. I collapsed onto bed, I gritted my teeth against the pain.
Suffice to say I wasn’t alright. I spent the next day passing out repeatedly as Dani tried to help me to the washroom. I couldn’t eat. My fever starting spiking in the middle of the afternoon as both my parents and Dani sat on my bed, taking turns feeling my forehead and trying to ask me how I felt. I was lethargic, I felt heavy with heat and daze. My parents texted a good friend, an ER doctor. I don’t know exactly what their exchange was, but my impression was that it was something along the lines of “get back there, now.” My family carried me out of my apartment in a wheelchair, totally unable to stand by that point.
The following days are a haze of chills followed by fevers, of IV antibiotics, of friends bringing gifts and magazines. I celebrated the first day I walked to the bathroom by myself, dragging my IV pole. I teased my dad for bringing me a stuffed husky because I’m not TWELVE, dad, and then snuggled it every night and every needle. I glowed with pride when the quiet med lab tech told me I was strong as he drew blood from my foot. I described myself as jaunty as often as I could, usually while trying not to fall asleep mid-sentence.
I was moved to Rehab on Friday. While I’m not technically a rehab patient (like the many lovely broken-hipped retirees in this ward), there are real beds here and it’s quieter than the mania of ambulatory care. I have to stay until Wednesday, apparently, and I’m just waiting for another CT scan to see what’s happening inside of me. The infection seems to be receding, pummelled by the antibiotics pumped through my IV port four times a day. I’m going to be fine, I’ve always been fine.
I’ve always been fine and invincible – landing alone in Serbia with no place to stay, finding a rope swing and launching myself out under a waterfall and over the rocks, diving headlong through the world seeking incomparable beauty. I’m fine, still, I’m totally fine – but as I round day seven in the hospital, I’m realizing with no small amount of double checking and grace that I might not be – and am not and have never been – invincible. Just lucky.