An Anniversary

comments: 179

Foot Today is the eighth anniversary of my accident. Exactly eight years ago I was plowed over by a garbage truck while I was crossing the street. I was in the crosswalk, crossing with the light, and the garbage truck turned into the street I was crossing and mowed me down. The guy said the sun was in his eyes and he never saw me, and didn't know that it had even happened until he heard the scream. I just said one word: "No!"

This was before September 11, or the tsunami, or Hurricane Katrina, those horrifying, unthinkable things we watched for paralyzed minutes thinking, "That can't really be happening, can it?" It's what I was thinking when I realized that the truck was accelerating and I wasn't going to make it entirely out of the way. I wish it had occurred to me just a few seconds earlier that indeed it was happening. (I'm grateful, of course, that it didn't occur to me one second later.) Sometimes I think that if I had watched those towers fall before the morning of my accident I wouldn't have wasted a single second believing that the world couldn't possibly blow apart in such a . . . prosaic . . . way as that colossal giving-over-to-gravity was. He got my ankle and foot. I hit the ground. I had what is known as a "de-gloving," and that's as literal as it sounds; the tire that ran me over stripped my ankle and foot entirely of soft tissue and skin like it was taking off a glove. Tendons and busted bones remained. It was 50/50 try to save it/amputate it. We chose try to save it, but it was a tough call. They amputated my toes, and reconstructed my foot out of a big muscle from my back, and most of the skin from my left thigh, all the way around, and butt cheek. I was 29, a newlywed, newly arrived in Portland. If you had asked me where the hospital was, I wouldn't have been able to tell you. We barely knew our way around town. I was still unpacking presents and putting them away.

I remember seeing Andy's face above me in the ER. I knew things were bad from the way the docs were acting. Everyone was moving very quickly. I truly believed that their IVs, their machines, wouldn't work on me; I wasn't like other people. All my life I had never felt like anyone else, and now that would bear out, and everyone would know what I had been trying to tell them -- instead of blood I expected to leak green slime. I had never been in a hospital before. I was shocked to wake up after -- to have survived -- the first surgery, absolutely shocked. I know it sounds bizarre, but I truly didn't think that the laws of nature applied to my physiology, and every day, as the doctors came in and said that things "looked good," I was filled with a sort of cosmic, timeless relief: I was human. My systems responded to treatment. I knew I would need every possible advantage I could get in order to recover, including professional encouragement, and regular human blood, which it turns out I do in fact have. If they said to me, as they made their rounds each morning, "You're such a good healer!" I would quiver with a sort of sobbing gratitude that was about so much more than a foot. If they forgot one morning to say it, I would ask desperately, seriously, "Am I still a good healer?" Yes, they would say, you still are. I felt entirely unequal to the situation in every possible way. Andy slept in a chair by the side of my bed every night. He met the docs at the door at sunrise each morning with a legal pad of questions. He held my hands and brushed my hair. He was not a nurse then, he was a geologist. We knew on the first day in the hospital that he would become a nurse, though. He had that look of epiphany about him. He did become one in 2003. Visitors came and went. Nurses, total strangers, cared for me so tenderly, changing my dressings and washing me, it broke my heart. I got a lot of flowers. I remember one day when I was getting a ton of them. On the fifth or so bouquet of the day, a gargantuan arrangement, I wailed, overwhelmed by the outpouring of floral support. The nurse who brought it in started to cry, too. We looked at the tag to see who the roses were from. Lo and behold, they were for someone else entirely; she had brought them to me by mistake. Oh God we laughed at that. It was the first time I'd even smiled in weeks. I don't remember many, many things about the hospital, but I remember that moment, when we laughed. I had a vision about the world when I was there. It came to me one night as if a little door opened and I looked through and eavesdropped on the truth. I saw that the world was constantly falling apart, it was always in a state of little things always falling apart, and then there were these brigades of individual human angels, with kind eyes, apples and stitches, repairing, fixing, mending, patting, bandaging the wounds of the world, and putting it back together, piece by tiny piece. I hadn't known that repair was done on a gestural level, a cellular one. It shocked me that I hadn't seen it that way before.

It was a sad, scary time. I cried constantly. I was very, very scared. I was in the hospital for a month. When I got home, it was suddenly spring and I was so grateful I hadn't missed it. I watched it roll into the yard from my bedroom window and I felt hopeful watching things bloom in slo-mo. I was in bed for months as my patchworked skin grew back, my re-routed blood vessels networked, my back muscle became foot, my bones reknitted themselves. The cat plastered herself to my side and growled if anyone got too close to me. Andy went back to work full-time, and continued to do all the cooking, shopping, laundry, and the general endless bussing and fussing required by someone who can't walk, not to mention the emotional coaching and salving of heartache, and panic. Every night he slept on the floor, next to the bed, and I woke, crying again, at 2 or 3 a.m., needing to be put on the bedpan. (Sometimes now, when I'm too lazy to get out of bed in the morning, I will say to him, "Hon, can't you just bring me the bedpan?" and he will scream, "Hon! No!" and we will think this is hilarious, the way that only people who've used bedpans in the first year of marriage do.) I don't remember him as anything other than cheerful, hopeful, confident, endlessly energized, though I'm sure that when he wasn't with me he was as scared and tired as I was. It took six surgeries over six months to fashion me a sort-of foot. I walked for the first time, unaided, almost ten months later, because I forgot my crutches at Thanksgiving. It took years before I had the wherewithal to think about other things. But I will wear this stuff forever. It protects my foot and allows me to walk. I don't take a step without all of it. Obviously I need some new stuff. I never see it from this angle.

Occasionally, I feel a weird nostalgia for my time in bed. The long quiet afternoons. The backyard cats quietly stalking each other under the bridal-veil bush. The absolute removal of all of my responsibilities. My intense focus on whatever I was embroidering. The imaginary world I created in the handwritten scrapbooks I made from my old travel diaries. The reassuring vapidity of daytime TV. The birds that came to the feeder a few feet from where I sat. Letters. No computer. The joy of short and long visits. I heard a story on This American Life several years ago about the strange longing for prison that sometimes affects ex-cons. (It's Act V of Episode 119.) It was really good. I feel that sometimes. It was an incarceration that felt a bit like childhood. You don't usually get to experience that sort of dependence, and boredom, as an adult. There was something incredibly decadent, and illicit, about it somehow.

Last week I could feel March 5th approaching. I'm not big on anniversaries in general, really, but of course, the subconscious always remembers the big ones, doesn't it. This may account for the hissy fits at home, in coffee shops, at work, and a-blog, or possibly I'm just psycho. I wasn't exactly pitch-perfect before all this happened, believe me. Nevertheless, I hope you will forgive my excessiveness lately. Posie means so much to me; it is the Second Alicia. The first one was nervous and flirty, a long-distance walker who had never owned a car, and traveled abroad by herself. This one makes gardens out of fabric, fusses about the house, and tries hard almost all the time. But you know this one. I absolutely do not believe that everything happens for a reason; I never did, and I still don't. I believe that we fashion sense out of the things that happen, and create a kind of meaning in the result. And at the end of the day, you just gotta plow on through! There is no time to waste or worry. There are so many more Alicias to be, I know.

Thank you to everyone who helped me survive, including Dr. M, my plastic surgeon, boy wonder, wherever you are. I am so happy to be alive.

179 comments

Oh, Alicia, I don't know what to say after reading your words today... such an exquisite soul, you are. And the writing!! I can actually feel everything you have expressed. I think you once mentioned that you had sometime in the past thought about becoming a writer. My dear, you are a powerful writer. Your words are like a delicate watercolour of a surprisingly evocative image that haunts for days and days.

I cannot possibly espress to you how much this meant to me today. I'm so happy you are alive, too.

(((hugs)))

LuLu

First of all, we all thank God that you are ok, with us here today & inspiring us with your wonderful words & art. I connect with your story so closely...almost exactly 6 months ago, when I was having my baby, things didn't go so well & I woke up one day in the ICU with tubes down my throat. The scariest moment of my life. It was a very rough month & I still can't go to sleep without thinking of the hospital...but, I just heard my little girl cry as she is waking from her nap & things are GOOD. Thank God for second chances & new lives. :)

I remember the first post I read of yours, it was about your father. I felt such a connection then. Now I read your blog because you have the ability to take the reader with you through your life, painful and beautiful. Thank you for being so courageous and truthful.

Alicia, you seem to have an inline to the truth. I know it's your truth, but that's what makes it so beautiful. I'm so glad you're alive, and my heart skips a beat at the thought that you might have been taken that day.

Again, such beautiful prose.

Alicia,

You have an amazingly powerful way with words and I read your story absolutely spellbound by your honesty and self-awareness. The history of the accident is a shocking counterpoint to the beauty and whimsy of your usual photos and prose, but it also explains your devotion to making life lovely.

Thank goodness you have Andy who sounds quite brilliant.

I'm a reader of your blog, but was moved to comment today. Amazing story. I was completely and thoroughly wrapped up in your telling of it. The noise from the sleepover and the hubby all but disappeared from my brain as I lost myself in your tale. My heart thumped with every word, even knowing that you are now safe and here. I'm so happy that you came out of this o.k., and thank you that you are now able to tell your story in this way. You obviously are a woman of many talents and your writing is just another inspiring piece of you! One of the best blog entries I have ever read. Thank you for this story.

lauren

Thank you for sharing this story. You just never know what's going on or what has gone on in someone's life. It always looks different from the outside. Thanks for letting us in.

{{{{{{{{{{Alicia}}}}}}}}}}}

Thank you once again, Alicia, for sharing another amazing piece of you. Your history is moving and inspiring, and how you weave your experiences in life is like a rich embroidery of words. You are a wonderful writer, a courageous and creative soul, and a beautiful person!

leslie schmidt says: March 05, 2006 at 01:13 PM

you take my breath away. You need to start the book you've always asumed you'd write now already..

leslie schmidt says: March 05, 2006 at 01:14 PM

ah, crap. assumed. I can spell, just having an indulgent white wine sort of sunday afternoon...

Wow, Alicia. You continue to amaze me. What an amazing person you are.

Wow. You are most definitely a writer. And a person for whom all of your readers are grateful. You make a daily contribution to our lives. Today was a wonderful reminder for me to be actively grateful for "fixers" and healers, for easy mobility, for steadfast love, for flowers and laughter in hospital rooms (I've had my share,too).
That boy of yours is a Keeper (but you already knew that!).

Alicia,
You are such a beautiful person- a beautiful soul. You have such a way of sharing your life and events and I'm always appreciative of your honesty. I am sorry you had to go through what you did but am so thankful you did realize in time! Your husband sounds like such an amazing person. My sister, Aimee, is studying to be a nurse and they seem to have some of the same personality. We are so blessed to be surrounded with beautiful, giving people.

PS- I *love* your skirt and tights!

...human angels, with kind eyes, apples and stitches, repairing, fixing, mending, patting, bandaging the wounds of the world, and putting it back together, piece by tiny piece...
Such a profound insight and such an amazing ability to put that insight into words. This story is honest and unpretentious and leaves your heart raw after reading it. Thank you for opening up this window into your heart to share this sad beautiful story. I echo the sentiments of others that commented before me, you ARE a writer and I am so glad you lived. "outpouring of floral support" loved that!

I agree with the other comments...such an amazing story and told so well. you are a very inspirational person and I feel that even more so now. it never ceases to amaze me how much depth a blog friend can have...

Congratulations on your suvival, and on your strength and courage.

You brave, wonderful woman. You shouldn't wish for a normal life; clearly you are cut out for something much more extraordinary than normal.

thank you for this. i'm another who's often read but never commented. i'm so touched by this post, it means a lot to me personally, but in ways i couldn't hope to explain.

i hope you realise how much your writing means to others as well as how much it means to you.

Dear Alicia... This could not have been easy for you. I feel so honored to be a part of an audience you wanted to share this with. You have left me completely speechless, and I'll admit this rarely happens. I will say that Jane has said it well about your devotion to making life a lovely place...for so many of us. Thank you for being who you are and for being here.

oh Alicia you write so beautifully about something so personal and so heartbreaking. Your husband is an absolute gem (but I'm sure you know that already!) and you are too. Sending many hugs for your Foot Anniversary and yes, knit yourself a foot cosy or something girl! :) I love your stripy sock, red shoe and skirt by the way. And that chair! See there is beauty in everything. Everything we have been through makes us who we are right now. You are precious. Jen

how eloquently said..in a way I know what you mean, I have had eight back surgeries and each one is like a painful mini life vacation...hmmm not something you would chose to happen, but you can make good of all things...

What a beautiful story, a beautiful photograph, a beautiful spirit.

What you write about convalescence is so true; I sometimes think back to my own recovery from surgery with such wistfulness and then guilt for feeling that way, since I couldn't 'do' much for myself either. But really, it is so hard to carve out moments and places of such peace and beauty in our daily lives -- how can we not long for that?

Let me tell you though: when that peaceful place feels far, far away, your work and words -- along with those of the other wonderful women sharing their life and work online -- remind me to try harder to make my way back.

Thank you for that, Alicia. And for sharing this with us.

xxoo

Ive been reading your beautiful words for awhile & never commented...good grief girl your words are so hearfelt & beautiful, honest & true. What a writer you are. Thank-you for sharing a real peice of your life with us readers.

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About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.