One year ago today, I was out for a run. It was an unusually gorgeous, warm autumn day. It was the day after my birthday. It was Black Friday. It turned out to be a day that would affect many days to come.
I thought I’d just go one more mile. With winter weather on the horizon, I knew that warm days were going to be few and far between. When the temps go down and the snow falls, I jump on the treadmill instead of the streets. I wanted just one more mile in the sunshine.
I have no idea how it all happened. Maybe I didn’t lift my foot high enough. Maybe I hit some slick leaves or a bump in the road, but I fell. HARD! My hands couldn’t take the hit and collapsed quickly under my weight. My face took the brunt of the blow as I smashed onto the pavement. You know those moments in cartoons when the character sees stars? That was me! When I was able to scramble to my feet, I knew that I was hurt. As luck would have it, our neighborhood mail carrier was nearby. I stumbled over to ask for a ride home, only to learn that it’s against policy to allow anyone to ride in the delivery vehicle. She provided tissues to use for my bloody hands and I set out for the walk home.
Out of my peripheral vision, I could see the left side of my face swelling. Fortunately, I had an odd absence of pain even though I knew it was probably serious. As I walked, I held those tissues on my bloody hands, tried to figure out how to get home and cried. I didn’t even think to stop my Garmin or my music. I didn’t even notice the earbuds hanging from my neck. I didn’t even realize that I could use my phone to call my family. I just walked home.
As soon as my husband laid eyes on me, he prepared an ice bag and loaded me in the car to head to the ER. We dropped our daughter off at my mother’s house on the way. No reason to make her wait with us at the hospital. Seven hours and one CT scan later, we learned that I had a massive hematoma, slight concussion and a fracture in my face–the bone under my eye. The reason I didn’t feel pain was because I had smashed all of the nerves on that side of my face. That was my silver lining.
I woke up the next morning to find my face every shade of purple and navy from my eye down to the lower part of my neck. It was swollen and distorted. There was going to be absolutely no way to hide this injury. No amount of makeup could cover this. No cast for my face! So much for trying to look my best. Talk about character building!
My face was colorful and inflated for several months. The black eye stayed black much longer than I ever imagined. The recovery of the visible injuries was slow. Emotional pain took a toll on my overall health as well. Even when I had the doctor’s blessing to start running again, I was scared. How could I set out to enjoy the very thing that caused all of this? I gripped the treadmill handles with white knuckles. Running on the streets caused even more anxiety. This was the scene of the crime, so to speak.
It was fascinating to see the reactions from people. I have to say that kids were much more honest and kind when they saw me. They asked what happened and genuinely wanted to hear my answer. They would tell me that it was gross or that I looked scary, and that was awesome. They acknowledged exactly what I already knew and we could move on. Adults had strange reactions. Some wanted to make jokes. I laughed, but deep down it bothered me. This was really traumatic. Don’t laugh, dammit! Others acted like there was nothing wrong. Uh–I know you see it, just say something instead of averting your eyes to your shoes! Still, there were actually adults who gawked and pointed at me as I strolled through the grocery store or sat at a restaurant. Really? Have you ever had someone point at you? It gave me a new appreciation for people who have to deal with these situations every day. I knew that my injury would heal over time. I was lucky.
The nerves eventually started to function again, which brought on a new kind of pain. A pain that I felt 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for a few months. Sleeping with that side of my face on the pillow was out of the question. Washing my face required the lightest of touches. I altered my makeup routine because it was too painful to put certain things on my face. Mixed in with the all over throbbing were burning sensations and shooting pains. After that fun for a few months, it started to feel like my face had fallen asleep–you know–that tingly feeling.
As I sit here with my computer one year later, I can still feel my face. The left side, especially near the eye, doesn’t feel like the right side. Any facial movements- from smiles to sneezes to blinks- cause odd sensations that move throughout the injury area. No more pain, just strange sensations. My left eye is a bit droopy now, more pronounced when I’m tired. It’s okay if this is as good as it gets. I fully understand how lucky I was to only break my face. There are a million things worse than breaking your face.
I’ve come a long way in the year since my accident. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about people. I’m tougher than I thought, physically and emotionally. I broke my face and never missed a day of teaching middle school! I hope I taught my students about perseverance and self-acceptance through example. I proudly pushed through my days despite the pain and the stares. That extra mile led to a year of growth that I never expected. And, the mail carrier who gave the tissues to me for those bloody hands? She stopped by the next day and many days after my accident to check on me. She also waves out the window of that delivery truck every time I pass her when I’m out on a run!
If you’d like to know more about recovering from the emotional aspects of an injury, check out the article I wrote for RunHaven website: