There are no words that can accurately convey the extreme shock and disbelief of being hit by a car. As soon as I felt the impact but before I hit the ground, two thoughts simultaneously fired: 1. I am going to die now. 2. This is not real.
To make a long story short, I obviously did not die but it was — and still is — very real.
It’s difficult to talk about without getting bogged down in the whole overwhelming and captivating experience of being severely injured. Most people I’ve encountered don’t know what that’s like, so the temptation to describe the fascinating pain or the precise clonking sound bones make when displaced often derails the narrative into a long list of grisly minutiae.
The gruesome details are certainly a part of the story, but not the most interesting. After all, gore is pretty predictable. How one will comprehend and come to terms with massively altered circumstances is not. The most difficult part of being wounded hasn’t been the pain, nor the difficulty in doing what were previously simple tasks, nor even the anxiety over what a realistic recovery looks like. The worst part, by far, has been the abrupt severance of my connection to the “normal” world.
My injury was dramatic and sudden; I unexpectedly transformed from an athletic person to someone unable to wash without help. My recovery has been the opposite: slow and steady. My bones are knitting together at their own pace — one that doesn’t mesh with regular life.
Before my injury, a bad day or mood could easily re-frame my whole life into one that wasn’t enough. I’d spend hours berating myself for choices that put me in what seemed like the worst place ever. I didn’t just wallow, but often dove right into any puddle of misery or despair.
Now that I’m housebound, it’s been easy to feel isolation and boredom pressing a little too firmly on a soft spot somewhere in my throat. To recognize how far away I am from the people who deeply care. To fret that I depend too much on those who are near, mainly my boyfriend. But even in these moments, it’s difficult to connect with the pre-smashed version of myself. I have a newfound inner resilience. A stamina for distress that I never experienced before being hit.
Where I once would have drowned, I now float.
The wonderful thing about being put so thoroughly through the ringer of injury, hospital, surgery and recovery is that it’s a fantastic character-building exercise. Almost dying has granted me this cool power to separate what actually matters to me from what is secondary.
When I reflect on my much-improved coping ability, I often return to a distinct and bizarre experience from my first wakeful night after surgery: the sense that I had literally split from my previous self — and that previous self still somehow existed.
One version of me continued through the crosswalk unscathed and was currently sleeping peacefully in her own cozy bed. That Emily didn’t have to deal with the trauma of being run over, but, weirdly, I did not envy her. Instead, the other version of me — the real Emily — marveled at my reaction, one that I would have judged unlikely just a day earlier: Despite my incredibly painful and frightening evening, despite the long road ahead, I was happy. Deliriously, uproariously happy to still be alive. My broken bones, battered ribs, lacerated hip and crushed hand have been a heavy price to pay, but without them I wouldn’t be here, like this. My mind is strong — even if my body needs some time to catch up.
Graphic by Madeline Montoya.