In 2005 I thought my license was suspended. I don’t remember why I thought this, and it’s not important except to know that I was riding my bike to and from work every day. Interestingly enough, I found out that my license was not suspended long before I stopped riding the bike, but I couldn’t do anything about it. My mother’s car had gotten totaled, so I told her she could just take my car to the airport when she went on her mission trip to Ireland. So my car was in the long term parking at the Columbus International Airport, and I was getting some fresh air and exercise.
I decided that I wanted to go to Arby’s for my lunch break, and I rode across the ten lanes of traffic to get there. I enjoyed my meal, spending a little extra for a cup that I could use at home, and then I started on my way back to the Polaris Fashion Place Mall, where I worked as the assistant manager of an EBX (Electronics Boutique, now a Gamestop).
The light turned green, but there was a long line of cars waiting to make a right hand turn. I made the foolish decision of letting them go first. Still green, I stood up on the bike, put down my head, and peddled hard. When I had picked up steam, I looked up in time to watch the light go from yellow to red. I was flying past the median by then and had no choice but to try and clear the intersection.
I did okay. Even though I suddenly found myself in an unwanted game of Frogger, I made it across eight and a half lanes before I got hit. The mind is a funny thing. As the car came toward me, time froze, and my brain said to me, “Well, I guess I’m not immortal after all.” And then action and bang. I’m off the bike now, flying onto the hood of the car. I see the look of shock and horror on the driver’s and passenger’s faces through their windshield. And time freezes again. I think, “That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I’ll just be a cripple the rest of my life.” They slam on the brakes, and I’m flung off the car. I see the pavement blurry beneath my outstretched hands when time freezes a third and final time. My mind says, “Now this is going to hurt.”
I gathered myself off the road and pick up the bicycle I had borrowed from my roommate. I remember being worried that it might be damaged but thinking it was okay even if I couldn’t make it move by pushing it. The car bumper had hit my hip and bent the bike. Realizing that I had dropped my take-home Arby’s cup, I turned to fetch it but decided better when I saw the cars flattening it beneath their speeding wheels.
“Should we call an ambulance?” the driver of the car asked me.
“No,” I said. “You couldn’t have been going that fast. Like – what? Five or ten miles per hour.”
“It was fast enough for you to break the windshield.”
“I broke the. . .?” I search my body for an injury, finding blood streaming down from my elbow. “Oh. Huh. I guess, yeah, probably call the ambulance then.”
I was starting to get dizzy. The world was pulsing in my head, and my vision was getting hazy around the edges. One of my friends from high school came running up.
“Dave!” she cried. “I saw someone had hit a bicyclist. I can’t believe it was you! Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Could you tell them I’m going to be late back from lunch?”
The initial injury was nothing more than a bruise that stretched across my entire right side and a limp that lasted a few days. I got some X-rays the next day, and they didn’t show any major damage.
That was the only sick time I took from that job in five years. I’m a dedicated worker, a workaholic that’s afraid of being homeless if I don’t work my butt of and have near perfect attendance for my employer. That will be important a bit later.
The Army Cot
At the time of the accident, I bounced back pretty fast. I was young (twenty four years old), and though I had always had a sore back, the accident had only made things marginally worse. Yeah, I was seeing a chiropractor about lumbar and neck pains, but it was really just a manageable inconvenience. Until 2011, which was when I introduced my girlfriend to my family.
Stella and I took a trip to Florida, where she met my father (she already knew my sister and nephew from when Elizabeth and Gabe lived with me in San Diego) and my mother, who we would later travel to Ohio with. While staying with my mom in Buckeye country, I slept on an old Army cot. I was actually really excited about it. I had loved sleeping on during my Scouting years, but it ended up being for one night only. I woke up and could barely stand. I took another look at the cot and saw that it was higher in the middle than it was at the head and feet. Something about sleeping that way made my back go from annoying to a mess.
At least I think that’s how I got this way. Honestly, it’s just guesswork on my part, but this is the way I remember it.
The New Job
Despite more visits to chiropractors, physical therapy, visits to the orthopedic doctor, and even amateur Youtube hypnosis videos, things have just gotten worse. They’ve gotten so bad, in fact, that I have had a few scary periods where my back has made getting out of bed and walking around so difficult that I ended up taking every sick day allotted to me for the last three years. I had to be taken out of the store one night via wheelchair by a coworker. I told my orthopedic doctor that the pain was reverberating throughout my body, including in my chest. I was instructed to follow up on that unusual symptom and ended up in a hospital for a couple of days after my EKG readings scared my primary care physician. While that’s a whole other story, the hospital bed was terrible for my back, and I was off work yet again.
Recently, I was asked to take on a new role at my job. I would be managing the external warehouse. The position I was in is certain to become redundant and this new opportunity wasn’t going to go anywhere with the management shake-up the company has planned, but I was reluctant. They asked me about my hesitation, and I told them it was my back. After all, logistics is a physically demanding part of the business, and the day they called to ask me I was out again because of my back. They assured me that as a supervisor, my back wouldn’t be an issue. Still, I made sure to bring it up with each new person I spoke to. I’m not one to complain, but things were getting bad.
I couldn’t bend down without holding myself up. My right leg was turned to the side. My right hip was jutting upward. My right shoulder could sometimes slump a full two inches lower than my left. My left leg would sometimes go numb. I would have sharp pains in my right buttocks, thigh, and calf. I didn’t see a way to change any of this. When people would ask me how my back was doing, which they were doing with a greater frequency than ever due to how I walked, sat, crouched, and stood, I would say, “It’s just my back. It’s screwed up.” And that’s how it would be for me. I had seeked out the alternatives, and nothing had worked. I would just get worse and worse until I died.
While everyone I talked to, including my new boss, had shown concern, none of them were deterred by my back issues. The head of logistics, however, was deeply disturbed. He began to question my abilities, referring to the physical aspects of the job that I had brought up as my concern but had been told would not be a part of my role. He was right, but it didn’t make my situation any less precarious. He told me to go and observe the business needs and then make the decision whether I thought I could live up to his expectations or not. At this point, the machine was already in motion. I would be taking over the warehouse in a week, and someone else would be doing my current job. I didn’t see this as an option, and I was stressed out that fact that having me take control of this decision in such a way was a no-win for me. It would mean I would be saying I could perform tasks I had already said I could not and would absolve the supervisors of the guilt of making the decision.
Stella had to help me get dressed. Doing my job was becoming more and more difficult. Heck! Getting to work was becoming hard. Not one for saying this of a religious nature, Stella said to me, “Maybe this is God’s way of telling you something.” If you have read “Sick Day” or know anything about my goals and passions, you know what He’d be telling me.
The Sunday before last was supposed to be my last day at the store, I couldn’t get out of bed. I called out and texted my new boss, letting her know I would be at the warehouse on Wednesday “even if I have to crawl.”
Tuesday was my appointment to see my orthopedic. It was my third or forth visit with them, and I expected to simply get another prescription for physical therapy. When they saw me come in this time, their shock was evident. They gave me an X-ray, and the results were the same as always. The bones are fine. But this time, the doctor decided I needed an MRI. He gave me a note for work, saying I would need to take three weeks off.
I went to work on Wednesday. I did my best. It was fifty degrees, and during that first hour, as I limped like a zombie behind my boss, I sweat until my hair was drenched. And then I had a total emotional breakdown. My worst fear, that I would become so physically disabled by my back that I could no longer earn a living, was coming true.
Of course, a lot of my worry was totally in my mind. Despite the terrible timing, I could take a medical leave. I just didn’t want to let anyone down. I wanted to do what was best for the company. The thing is, my back was forcing me to change. I now realize that I have to do what’s best for me first.
So I’ve been off since then. The first couple of days were excruciating. I would lie in bed, getting up three times a day to use the bathroom. My sciatic nerve would cause me more pain than I have ever felt in my life each time I got up. I would shake, sob, and just want return to bed, where I was trapped like a turtle on his back. I sent Stella a few dark texts, informing her that I couldn’t live like this anymore. I have never contemplated suicide in my life, but this was surely the closest I have come.
The day I had my MRI was a turning point. I decided that morning that my bed was a death sentence. I would do whatever I could to remain sitting as much as possible, and I would not lay flat if I could help it. Stella made me a make-shift Posturepedic bed on the couch, and we found the one chair in the house I could somewhat comfortably sit in.
Getting to the appointment proved to be difficult, I ended up in a wheelchair after struggling in agony through the parking garage, across the street, through the lobby, up the elevator, and down most of the long corridor. The things I had taken for granted as a young man were now becoming impossible. Not one to give up, it was becoming a growing habit nonetheless.
I was told my results wouldn’t be ready until Monday since it was a Friday, but not long after I got home, my orthopedic doctor called. It was his day off, and he was out of town. He had seen the MRI and wanted to know if I was okay. He told me to go to the emergency room if I couldn’t make it to my appointment on Tuesday. He told me he could see me on Sunday night, even with his office closed, because he would be back in town then. He hinted that I would need surgery.
This brings me to yesterday. I’ve had a lot of people tell me to get a second opinion, to do anything I can to avoid surgery. I have heard the horror stories about people that have worse problems since their back surgery.
The orthopedic surgeon who had always prescribed me physical therapy and suggested I see a chiropractor again despite my insistence that I felt my chiropractors have made no progress with my back and have quite possibly made things worse told me that at this stage, there’s really only one option: surgery
I have a severe hemorrhaged disk, twenty percent of which is now pinching the nerve in my spine solidly against the bone. He said that it was fortuitous that the nerve had found a way around the obstruction, because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to walk at all. I would just fall down like a rag doll. He would need to remove the obstruction surgically, but afterwards, my back would be as good as new.
All of the advice for second opinions – all of the terrible stories – everything crossed my mind, but I feel relieved. I see an end to my suffering. You see, this issue with my back has grown steadily worse. It has made me feel old and weak. It has made me wonder if that thought that popped into my head as the car was hitting me – that I would “be a cripple the rest of my life” – was true. It has made me seriously consider whether my life was worth living if it was going to continue down this road. How could I ever act again? How could I make a living? How can I do anything if I can’t even get off my back?
My back stole my thirties, but I also feel like it has given me a future. The experiences I have gotten from this will help me write my stories with more depth, and this medical leave I am on right now will literally give me the time I’ve needed for so long to write “Home Street.” It’s finally time to turn a new page.
So all of this. . . This is just my backstory.