It only hurts when I laugh. It only hurts when I turn around. It only hurts when I hit the ground. Four weeks ago, I was on my way to Delhaize Supermarket, less than half a kilometer away from our apartment. I had ridden my bike thousands of times on the uneven, broken-stone, terribly engineered bike path, miraculously without incident. I was just going for a morning breakfast roll, and after only thirty seconds or so found myself on the ground writhing in pain. I went down sideways, in half-a-second, as if pushed from a third-story window or thrown to the ground by an irate 800-pound gorilla.
I remember my head bouncing on the bike path. Did I just split it open?
I was in shock and in tremendous pain after a few seconds as I looked up at the sky. It was nice and pretty and seemed to smile at me. Soon two guys helped me to my feet. I now felt that a telephone pole had been thrust through my abdomen. Maybe that same gorilla. What did I ever do to him? I mean, one little stone couldn’t have caused all this, could it? I couldn’t walk and thought that my hip was broken. It seemed that it had somehow worked its way into my chest. Maybe caused by that person who pushed me out of the window? The two good-Samaritans walked me the short distance home, each supporting a shoulder. It was a death house walk, the longest walk I ever took. I half expected that a priest would appear and quote the 24th Psalm.
The two-kilometer ambulance ride to Middelhiem Ziekenhuis was a trial by fire, as the vehicle unnecessarily high-speeded it along the bumpy uneven streets. As if someone was working me over with a blackjack. I thought I was in a police van and had refused to answer questions concerning a felony in which I was the chief suspect. While the x-rays later showed three broken ribs, and curiously a key that I had ingested who knows how long ago, it’s likely that I had only one or two broken ribs before the ambulance ride. Why did they have to drive so fast? I wasn’t a heart attack victim. But maybe I will be when I get the bill for the ambulance, x-rays and emergency room care. I was advised to move as much as possible, but every move I made caused pain, sometimes severe pain.
Lieve was a tremendous help during the first week, walking the dogs, getting my medicine, bringing me something to eat, driving many kilometers to pick-up a rental wheelchair, and especially for enduring my death bed moans of agony. Later she made a herculean effort to hopefully/eventually get compensation from the Stad van Antwerpen, by taking photos of the malevolent knife-sharp stones that caused the accident, and by saving all documents from the hospital and police report. These will be presented to the insurance company as documented proof that the city of Antwerp was at fault. She wins the Florence Nightingale award for putting up with me and attending to my comfort, such as it was.
I was advised by the doctors that it would take up to six weeks for a full recovery. Breathing is sometimes painful, but the frequent sensation of the lungs only filling up halfway is worse. Is there something stuck in there, like part of my rib? Pain-killers have their limits. The first prescription caused dizziness and appetite loss. The other, which I have continued to take, cause sleep problems. Recovery is an unreliable process. A little like the flu. One is assured that they’re getting better. Then they jump out of bed start to get active again, only to discover that their fever returns along with headaches and fatigue. Broken ribs are similar in that as the pain starts to recede here and there, you start doing things that were undoable the week before.
But apparently some kind of message is sent by the muscles to the original pain center (the ribs) saying something like: “This is Latissimus Dorsi, you know me, the big back muscle? We worked together before. This guy is working me to death. Can you shoot two or three thousand units of pain enzymes my way, so he’ll lie down? On the double? Gee, thanks, bub”. It’s now been four weeks and even mister Latissimus Dorsi doesn’t complain so much. I even rode my bike yesterday. On the same path. Do I now have brain damage as well?