I woke up very early the morning of Wednesday, July 14. My mother had recently gone back into the hospital due to a heart issue, so I attributed the day’s early riser status to stress. I made the best of the situation; committed to the early up, made breakfast, got some practice time in, took care of business-related tasks, and then hit the home gym. Despite waking up early and my mom’s current situation, I felt relatively upbeat. The day was kicking off to a productive start. The dopamine jolt from both the elliptical and practice time was helping lift my mood.
While working out, a commotion started on the stairwell. A wasp came flying up the stairs into the workout area with two of the cats right behind in hot pursuit. Lieu and Pepper were tag-teaming this hunt, both overly enthusiastic about exercising their natural-born predatory instincts.
I thought to myself, “This isn’t going to end well for someone.“
I completely failed to consider that the statement could also apply to me. I truly thought this would be a simple “catch and release” before either wasp or cats are injured. The stuff that opposable thumbed beings were created for…right?
I got a chair and a cup. And this strange “Final Destination”-esque series of events continued to unfold. Yup, you can guess what happened next. Gravity…and other inconvenient laws of physics like that….ugh.
Less than a minute later, I lay on the floor next to my mountain bike, which was still bolted into a heavy steel Cycle-Ops stand. My tailbone and lower back had connected with the side of the stand, testing the sturdy nature of the frame. True to form, the bike was still locked in as I slid down the floor brace rail on the stand. I didn’t even realize I had bruised my tailbone when I landed on the rail, because the subsequent events took precedence.
As I landed, I saw my left wrist fold up underneath me. I winced and thought, “Fuck, that’s not supposed to look like that.” I had no time to continue the thought further. Landing on my side, my hands unable to soften the fall, my head connected solidly with the side of the treadmill base. Dazed and gripping my left wrist…I could feel my head starting to bleed and swell.
In seconds, that productive, peaceful morning had shifted to “now I am screaming my head off in agony”. I also now have empirical evidence that my neighbors will never check to see if I am murdering someone in my own home. Good to know.
At this moment, despite yelling my damn head off, I realized a few more things:
- I was starting to shake, my skin was getting pale; I was going into shock. I needed to move to make sure I was not going to pass out and no one would know I had head trauma. Damn those not-so-nosey neighbors.
- There was some swelling…I needed to get some ice on my wrist… stat. I moved downstairs in the kitchen, towards the fridge, still shaking, and wrapped my wrist in dish towels, then two packs of Daily’s Margarita drinks. (Don’t ask, you have your COVID quarantine guilty pleasures. I have mine. Adult Slurpees, if you would.) They had one surprising quality which made them a logical choice (other than their convenience in their actual intended use as an adult slurpee); they were long, the width of my arm/wrist, and not overly bulky. I overwrapped that whole bundle of dishtowels, swelling flesh, and frozen bagged adult beverages into a bath towel…and stumbled to my sofa.
- I collapsed on the aforementioned sofa, downstairs, close to an exit. I had no idea if this was an “emergency room” level event or not yet. Was I just shook up? Or did I need a trip to see a doctor? Was this a sprain or a break? Was I still possibly going to pass out from the head trauma and no one would know?
I hit “record” on my phone, made a short video, and sent it to a cohort of musician friends who are in a FB Messenger group together.
And I kept going, making short one-minute clips with my one good hand. Asking my friends that if I should stop sending these clips, someone needed to call 911 and get help.
I was shaking harder now, teeth sometimes chattering while I talked. The shock got worse, and then slowly better. I watched the area on the side of my head swell as I made successive videos, stopping to move an ice pack to the swelling over my left eye occasionally. I dabbed up some blood…thankfully it was a shallow scrape that just knew how to bleed quite a bit. But there was still swelling.
I just wanted the shock symptoms to stop long enough so I could do a clear-headed assessment of myself. It felt like forever to just catch my breath and stop shaking.
Meanwhile, my cohort was moving through different phases of their individual schedules; one friend, the night owl, was still sleeping. One friend was having his car inspected. One friend was mowing the lawn. The friend waiting at the garage picked up and kept comms going with me. My other friend came in from mowing…he saw my video shorts and hit me up on FaceTime. At some point as we talked, we went over my injuries; the swelling on my head, now no longer bleeding. And then I lifted the towel on my right hand. My heart sank. My friend on FaceTime went even more deadpan and grave than he already was; “You gotta go to the ER or Patient First…that looks potentially career-ending.”
I struggled for a moment; I finally had gotten health insurance through the Marketplace a few years back. Now I would see how it works. I was grateful and nervous at the same time. My friend started calling around to find me a ride. In the meantime, we decided a Patient First location would be more ideal than the ER.
Meanwhile, the hunt to find me a ride to the doc was going somewhat nationwide. The first call was made by someone in Wisconsin to someone who was (unknown to us) vacationing in Maine. But that person in Maine then found me a ride; a former student’s parent who was in town. That person got to my house surprisingly quickly. I had enough time to look at my insurance online, get some info together, and make myself a sling out of a scarf.
Patient First went pretty much as one would expect…I was lucky that there was no line at 11 am on a Wednesday. I joked with the doc that I was making him drinks while I was waiting for my x-ray. When they unwrapped my towel bundle, he and the staff had a laugh when the pack of defrosted Dailys was produced.
The doc sees the fracture clearly on x-ray (hell, we all do). The staff puts my arm in a half cast and wraps it up; in two days I’ll need to see an orthopedic surgeon. They load me up with a bottle of 800 mg Ibuprofen.
Then comes the critical mistake that set up the second half of the day. The nurse comes in and sees me preparing to go.
“Do you have a ride?”
“Do you want a sedative?”
I smile. “That sounds great.”
My ride drives me back to my house and helps me in. I thank her profusely…it’s now around 2 PM or so. She pretty much dropped everything to get me here and stayed with me to bring me home. My classes were now canceled for the day, thanks to a bestie who took care of things for me. I make it to the couch, prop my arm on my chest, and put my phone down….
…I was sleeping, enjoying that sweet, sweet sedative shot I had just gotten at Patient First. Such a sweet nap, I slept through the severe thunderstorm notification on my phone. I woke up…groggy. Something felt…off…
Things were already well underway. This was really like any other thunderstorm for a short while. I pulled a few things into the house with my one good hand…trying to clear my sedative-induced brain fog as I worked…but things were going downhill rapidly. This storm was getting its act together faster than I could work with my one good hand. I tediously worked the cover off the frame for the EZ Up used in the outdoor teaching area. EZ Ups left with their covers tend collapse from tearing themselves apart in the wind or…even worse…go fully airborne.
I drug the EZ Up cover off the frame as the wind escalated, went inside and put it with my supplies. I went back out and saw my Pigtronix Mothership 2 pedal sitting on the stoop, waiting to picked up and shipped out for a repair. I grabbed the box with one hand and tossed it in the house.
The mailman had just pulled up to pick up the package…the storm is worsening. The mailman opted to close the doors on the truck and hit the hazards. They are parked streetside, in front of the neighbor’s house, but at my property line. They saw me take the package in…we’re both waiting it out.
I felt dazed. My van…I look outside, and it’s tantalizingly close. A quick few steps down the brick paver walk to the driveway…
See, every storm for the past two years or so, I had moved my van away from my neighbors’ tree…which, as they say, “had issues”. Like “sketchy as fuck” issues. I warned guests and students alike to not park near it, under it…to park elsewhere on the street or be prepared to move their car if severe weather fired up.
I had that moment; I’ll go move the van.
But I was dazed, tired, hurting, struggling with the idea of driving with one hand and a foggy thought process…hesitating.
I hesitated to grab the keys and hit the remote start. I found myself hesitating because I was staring out the window at the last few seconds of what started as a normal day. The sky was now whipping…it gave me pause…something was happening…this storm was escalating.
As one of my students pointed out later, this is quite possibly where that wasp saved my life.
Because as fast as the thought came, “I’ll go move the van” and I felt the urge to grab the keys, then hesitated because of what I saw…I realized it was too late. Hail started striking the windows and roof.
What happened next is best described as “the sky opened up and laid the trees down”. The trees were mowed down by sheer force. The world went white. The mail truck was absorbed into a milky haze of rain and the fleeting shadows of airborne tree shrapnel. The power dropped…I heard a series of bangs…
A piece of the canopy from that old sugar maple tree was ripped clean off, pushed into the air, and then slammed downward…hitting the front end of my van, slamming into my house, cutting the power and internet.
It ripped the power lines clean out of the meters on both houses, leaving a dangerous tangle of electrical wires over my van, the driveway, the chain-link fence, and the neighbor’s front yard.
At the same time, a mulberry tree came down across the back of my driveway, breaking at the base and leaning into the house..hung up on a bent section of the fence and some overpowered grapevines that the neighbor had let grow out of control. The mulberry was balanced in a tangle of fence and vines…but still completely capable of breaking loose and coming down.
To get out of my house, I would now be forced to climb either neighbor’s chain link fence…with a broken arm. I was now effectively cut off any exits from the house to the road.
Meanwhile, what I didn’t know was how bad it now was across the area in general. The police and fire were called and were already en route to my house. They were also setting up a command center on the next block over because the entire area had so much damage. The police had also begun closing the main road that cut through this area. To be clear, this road was one of two major arteries that serves as a connector road for the neighboring county and downtown Fredericksburg, with thousands of houses and dozens of neighborhoods along the route. Many of my neighbors who commute told me they were minutes from being home, only to reach police blockades that had sprung up to divert traffic.
We had just gone through a microburst. Trees had come down through homes and on cars all over the region. Some houses were cut in two by old-growth fallen trees in counties an hour south. East of my house, trees had caused extensive damage in other subdivisions built close to a National Park. The subdivisions had a lot of beautiful mature hardwoods, blending in with the character of the nearby park. Those trees came down and punched through houses and cars.
Power had just gone out, my exits were blocked, I had a broken wrist, my vehicle was buried under a tree trunk, and the average daily daytime temps were reaching 100 degrees easily.
And my mom was still in the hospital.