An Anniversary

comments: 183

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.

183 comments

Wow Alicia....I'm speachless too....I think I was chocked though...
Very personal writing, very vivid.
What an experience...

Dear Alicia,
I am a regular French reader of your blog which i really like.
It was shocking and upsetting to read about your accident. You are such a courageous and talented person. Thanks for sharing your story with us.

i'm happy you're alive too! what an inspiring testimony of enduring and the dedication and love of a loving sweetheart!

Wow, what a generous thing to share with all of us. It is amazing to me to find a person who so willingly and lovingly shares the things that are so beautifully you.From your musings about Posy to this. It was so timely in that March 2nd is the anniversary of my daughter having open heart surgery. It always feels like such a weighty day and really brings to focus that here she is and I can't express how grateful I am for that. I am also grateful that you are looking back on your anniversary- still here and doing well.

*sigh* another wonderfully well-written and engaging post. thank you.

This post is so wonderfully insightful. Through all of the bad times it's always so comforting to know that things will eventually mend themselves. I'm so touched over Andy's love for you, and his becoming a nurse after this experience. What a special guy you have!

I think you were born to be something a whole lot better than normal....and I'm ever so delighted you're here. :)

So many people have already thanked you for sharing your story, told you what a gifted writer you are, and echoed a lot of my own thoughts... but I don't think it ever hurts to hear how much you're appreciated and cared for. We're all happy you're alive, and very, very lucky, as well.

you write so beautifully, each little story -- about an apron, a crafted bird, a bit of fabric -- has life and moves me. This one, though, made me cry. These blogs are such tiny vignettes... What is beyond the curtain over there in posie-land must be very amazing.

wow I would like to hear more about your store. feature you on my about others page which I am working on creating...
Powerful and amazing.

Oh my God, Alicia. What you have been through darling. You are a trooper, you are amazing. Clearly, nobody wishes for a life changing event such as this, but I truly believe that you get in life what you can handle; nothing more, nothing less. And handle this you did and have, and are; and in so doing, you have shown us all what is possible and what we can do. Above all odds. Thank you for sharing this. xo

Alicia, you're such a talented andgifted person, inspiring us with your beautiful work and now I also know that you are brave and strong strong and inspiring me to face life's challenges with optimism. I am so glad for you that you have your beloved Andy, who sounds like a tower of strength, beside you. God bless you both.

Oh My. There I was was, re-reading your post of 28 February. Wondering why you hadn't posted since. Worried that you were not ok. Then I realised I needed to click on MARCH... and read your post. Wonderful that you found something beautiful in your recuperation... and a generous reminder to us. Thank heavens you were not taken that day. I love you and your spirit Alicia!

Sorry about the typo's. It's 2am here (England) and I was typing thru teary, weary eyes.

I too have grown through your story ~ and have a better appreciation for your devotion to making life lovely. What an example of strength you are.

Your words, insights and hopes are as beautiful as your lovely photo...

I don't really have words at this moment. Your story is so touching, so transparent, so sweetly and painfully honest. Thank you for sharing such a personal part of who you are with all us, most of whom you have never met. xoxo.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. You and your work are both very special.

what to say - thank you for letting us into your private life - thank you for exposing your soul and giving so much to your blog - thank you for your honesty and for showing this side of yourself. and also what an amazing gorgeous wonderful photo - thank you for sharing yourself and your life

wow. i'm glad that you are with us. thank you for sharing your life with us.

I'm so moved by this. How very gracious of you to share so much with us. Thank you so much. What a amazing spirit you and Andy both are.

I'm crying. I'm so sad this happened to you. You must be such a brave, beautiful women. I also think it's a love story. You are blessed to have the strength of Andy.

What an amazing, brave woman you are -- and lucky (as always) to have Andy by your side! You've had to struggle with what most of us only fear, and yet you also create beauty that most of us can only dream about.

xx

Alicia you are amazing! I admire you so much for everything you have been through, for sharing this experience, and your talent in your craft and in your writing. You have so many gifts that you generously share with your readers, thank you for this, thank you for being you.

Somewhere out in cyber world I once came across a quote that spent years plastered to my bathroom mirror, "At the end of your life, no one will thank you for not having lived it." I didn't think much about the author, but the words became the mantra of my recovery.

After a radical mastectomy, a year in physical therapy, and over 30 surgeries that left me scarred and misshapen from thigh to neck front and back, I had to find my way back to normal.

No one will blame me for always living with my family. "At the end of your life, no one will thank you for not having lived it." (I let a once boyfriend back into my life and we’ll be married 6 years in May.)

It's OK to remain in teaching because you’re really good at it. No matter that it's stifling your truth. "At the end of your life, no one will thank you for not having lived it." (I leave the profession for good in 3 months.)

It's OK to find comfort in food. You have all that pain to deal with, your body has been through hell, and you are loved unconditionally. "At the end of your life, no one will thank you for not having lived it." (I've lost 17 pounds and haven't felt so beautiful and sexy since before my surgeries. I forgot what it was like to have strangers cut their eyes in order to get a 2nd look at the beautiful girl who just walked in.)

I understand tripping back to normal. Normal is when you take that first shower under running water after years and years of sponge baths. Normal is not explaining what a tissue expander is to every person who inquires why you have a hump growing out of your upper back. Normal is growing to define yourself as someone other than a miracle.

Normal is one day googling the name under that quote that helped you so often through the rough spots: Alicia Paulson.

Wow - thank you so much for sharing. You are a good healer :)

read this post more than once to grasp the depth, absorb the power. thank you for sharing the sense--and the beauty--you and Andy have fashioned out of what happened to you.

take care.

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About Alicia Paulson

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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Photography

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.