How I Got Run Over by an Eighteen Wheeler—and Survived

The last thing I remember before actually being run over was the hollow sound of my fist banging the side of the truck, and then I felt as though I was tumbling. All I could think was, Sweet Jesus, please let this man stop before the second set of wheels comes for me.

familySai MokhtariSo, how do you get run over by a truck? My first recommendation is to ride a bicycle.

I live in Brooklyn, and all the hipsters ride bicycles: they have messenger bags and wear vintage glasses, and they make riding over the Williamsburg Bridge look cool and effortless. I figured if those pasty-skinned music lovers could handle riding their bikes in Brooklyn so could I. I mean, hello! I was an all-county track champion in high school. I knew I could own that bicycle. I’m not just talking about owning it in the actual “I purchased it” kind of way—I mean own it in the frat-boy way, e.g., “We totally owned that keg last night.” That was the way I was going to own that bicycle.

I actually did, for almost a year. I rode my bike for errands. I rode my bike to work. I rode my bike to my friends’ apartments in the neighborhood, locking it to stop signs and feeling eco-conscious and thoughtful. In the summer I even took myself on romantic bike rides—and let me tell you, that bicycle had moves. Stopping in McCarren Park at twilight made me feel like I was in a foreign film, sitting on a park bench in a black beret and a scarf, drinking wine—when in fact I was sitting on patchy brown grass, wearing sport shorts and running shoes and drinking a Bud Light tall boy in a brown paper bag.

When I woke up early on October 2, I won’t tell you that I had a premonition or that there was a hand on my shoulder that told me not to go out that day—because that would be untrue. But there were signs from God, three, in fact: 1. My bike tires were flat; 2. I almost fell down the stairs trying to get my bike out of the apartment; and—most important—3. I decided not to wear any underwear that day.

As a child I was told to always wear clean underwear. My mother’s reason was always the same: “What if you get into an accident?” This never made any sense to me, because I always assumed that if I got into an accident I would wind up peeing my pants anyway. I had just gotten up, underwear-free, and the idea of putting on a beautifully pristine pair of undies just to get them dirty made no sense at all. I figured that on this point, God and I were on the same page.  . . . I was mistaken.

It was an unbelievably beautiful day. There was the smell of fall in the air, the sky was a deep blue, and there was no one on the streets. The morning felt like a secret; it was so dark and quiet, it gave me shivers. The few trees left on my block were beginning to change from dark green into a golden yellow. Fall has always been my favorite season, a time of new beginnings, a new year of school, a new fall jacket—a chance to start over again.

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I walked my bike one block up and over another to the Hess station on the corner of Metropolitan and Humboldt. I had a quarter tucked into my sock to pay for the air. By 6:15, tires fully in inflated, I was riding down Metropolitan without much of a plan. I knew I wanted to ride for forty-five minutes and just explore the neighborhood.

About a half hour into my ride, the sun was starting to rise over the low buildings on Vandervoort Avenue. I decided that watching the sunrise as I rode out the last fifteen minutes would be a perfect conclusion to my morning workout. I wanted to take this morning and make it mine. I wanted to see something beautiful and then be able to keep it in my pocket all day. It would be my secret to keep.

Stopping at the light at the corner of Maspeth and Vandervoort, I looked back at the car behind me, a black Mazda sedan. I waved at the driver and pointed to the right, letting them know which way I was going to turn. The truck that was next to me didn’t have its indicator on, so I assumed the driver was going straight. Just in case he wasn’t, I waved in his side mirror anyway. I pointed to myself and then I pointed to the right. I always communicated with truck drivers via their side-view mirrors. I spent a lot of time behind trucks on Interstate 80 on my trips from college in Ohio back to my home in New York. Every one of them had a sign that specifically said, “IF YOU CAN’T SEE MY MIRRORS, I CAN’T SEE YOU.” My assumption was that the opposite was also true: “If you can see my mirrors, I can see you.” I was wrong.

When the light turned green, I took my right turn wide and easy, without a thought about the eighteen-wheel vehicle to my left—because it wasn’t turning, and for that matter the Mazda wasn’t either. I thought I had tons of room.

I didn’t.

The last thing I remember before actually being run over was the hollow sound of my fist banging the side of the truck, and then I felt as though I was tumbling. I don’t know where my bike had gone. I knew I was on the road, and there was this moment when I thought, Am I in an action movie? This is the kind of shit that happens in action movies. What would Bruce Willis do? What can I do to stop this?!?

The answer was nothing. There was nothing I could do.

Before I even really realized what was happening, I felt pressure and then heard a cracking sound. The realization that the cracking was my bones shocked me. I squeezed my eyes shut, and I felt the first four wheels of the truck run over my body. I didn’t have time to process the pain. All I could think was, Sweet Jesus, please let this man stop before the second set of wheels comes for me.

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“No, no, no, please God no,” I shrieked before the second set of wheels rolled over my already crushed middle.

This time I kept my eyes open. I watched this second set of giant wheels run over my body. I heard more cracking and felt the grooves in the tires on my skin. I heard the mud flaps thwack over me. I felt gravel in my back. I was a sparrow that had lingered too long in the road, no different from every slow bird, every irresponsible squirrel, every wayward dog that just wasn’t fast enough.

Then there was the sound of a horn—a one-note beep that didn’t stop. This was the kind of horn-blowing you hear on the BQE during rush hour, the kind where you know the horn is being punched out of frustration. When I heard that horn, I thought to myself, Now you beep. You couldn’t have beeped before your death machine crushed my body? Hearing something meant I was still alive. I was still here and—as long as I stayed awake—I was alive. As long as my eyes were open, I was awake. So I barely blinked.

I lay there waiting for something to change, to get better or worse. I waited for a break in the silence that kept ringing in my ears. I remember looking up as the early morning sky went from that deep blue to a sunlight-pale, pale blue—the clouds looked as if they were whipped out of cotton candy.

I screamed out for someone to call my mother. If my mom was there, she could fix it. As soon as she was notified, all this could be undone. Because this was not reality. Reality was the fact that I had to get back to my apartment and iron my button-down shirt. Reality was that I had a big day at work, and I was nervous about getting really sweaty in my new suit. Reality was not that I was on the precipice of losing my life—that was not what was happening. I refused to close my eyes.

familySai MokhtariAs the initial shock of impact began to wear off, my body reacted with crushing pain. It was unlike anything I could have imagined. I was confused by it. I couldn’t believe there could be a sensation so horrible and intense or that it would continue to radiate out of my body—usually the pain of dropping something on your foot or running your knee into a door fades, even if just a little. This excruciating pain stayed right where it was, doing relay races up and down the length of my body. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to stop it. I couldn’t shake it off, or massage it, or walk to a place that I thought would somehow give me relief. I had no choice but to just lie there, trying not to drown in it.

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I remember a young woman who was about my age came over to me and said she would call my mom. She asked me if I knew her phone number. I did. I remembered it as a song that my mom had taught my siblings and me to help us learn all the numbers. This young woman, the one who was calling my mom now, had been in the black Mazda. Her boyfriend had been driving. He was directing traffic around me, around the accident scene. They were saving me.

He put up orange cones, and flares were lit around me. Everything changed. I watched as this woman took responsibility for calling a perfect stranger’s mother to tell her that her daughter’s body had just been crushed by an eighteen-wheeler. I heard her say that her name was Gisele; she sounded scared. Her voice shook as she told my family’s answering machine that I had been in an accident and that whoever got this should call her back as soon as possible.

I knew then that I was broken. My mom wasn’t home. She had been called and nothing was better. Plus, Gisele was so frightened—she couldn’t even feign calm as she left that message. I was stricken with terror, but I couldn’t give in to it. I thought that if I let myself fall into it—fall into the fear, the loneliness, the hurt—I would be lost forever. I had no cell phone, no ID, and, Jesus Christ, no underwear. If I didn’t manage to stay conscious, I would become a whorish Jane Doe who rode a bicycle. I couldn’t go out like that.

My one job was to stay awake. I needed to stay awake.

My brain kept whirring as I lay on that Brooklyn street: What do these people need to know? What do I need to say? “I can move my toes and my fingers—if I pass out, tell the paramedics I’m not paralyzed.” I spoke with the authority of someone who actually knew what they were talking about, not a theater major who could barely put on a Band-Aid. Thank God for all those TV movies I watched—you know the ones, where someone gets into an accident, and then they freak out and say, “I can’t move my legs, I CAN’T MOVE MY LEGS.” Well, I couldn’t move my legs either. But I could move my toes, and I knew that counted for something.

“Please, can you hold my hand?” I asked Gisele. “I’m scared.” I didn’t want to say it. I wanted to be strong and funny and to let this just roll off me. I wanted to believe that this wasn’t a big deal—that I could put a Band-Aid on this one, all by myself. But after telling another person I was frightened, it became clear to me that I wasn’t tough enough to do this on my own. My mom wasn’t there, and I was surrounded by strangers. So I did what made me feel like I was close to my family: I began to pray.

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I asked Gisele, the stranger holding my hand, if she would pray with me. Without knowing if she was Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, or Muslim—I began to pray the Hail Mary. I prayed to Mary to not let me die. I really didn’t want to die.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” My voice usually quivered at the hour-of-death part when I said this prayer out loud—this time it felt as if the words were shaking my entire body. Was this it? Seriously? Was I going to die, here on this street in Brooklyn, because of a wrong turn on a f*cking bike ride?

The only thing I could control just then was my eyes. They were the only part of my body that wasn’t hurting. I kept them open for my mother, for my father, for my sister, for my brothers, for my boyfriend, for my friends—I knew if I closed them I would be giving up on ever seeing those people again, on seeing anything else in my life again. I would never see a little kid with an ice cream cone or a leaf blowing like a confused butterfly in the wind. If I closed my eyes, I would never see the way someone looks right after you hug them. If I closed my eyes, there was the possibility that I would be in darkness forever. So I stared unblinking into the sunlight, fearfully gulping up as much light as I could. Plus, if God was going to take me, I wanted to see Him coming.

When I opened my eyes, everything was white. The afternoon sunlight was blindingly white, my sheets were white, and I was feeling white-hot pain. My whole body felt like the tip of a flame. What was happening was beyond anything I had ever felt before. I had heard people use white-hot as a descriptor, and it had never made sense to me until now. Before, when I thought of hot things, the color that came to mind was red. Now, when I closed my eyes I could see the color of my agony—and it was white. It was a reminder from my broken body that now everything had been flipped. I could no longer slip into the cool darkness behind my eyelids; even there, only bright, bright white lived.

I came to discover tubes sticking out of every one of my orifices and wires extending from my fingers. I felt like a plastic octopus. The machines all around me, which these tubes were no doubt attached to, wouldn’t stop beeping. Was the stuff running in and out of the tubes causing the machines to beep? If that was the case, then I would like for the tubes to tell the machines to tell the nurses I was thirsty! Exhausted from this thought exercise, I closed my eyes and fell back into the whiteness.

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When I opened my eyes again, my mom and dad, Conor, and my boyfriend, Bak, were standing at the end of my hospital bed. My father’s face was bright red, and he had his fist up to his mouth. His shoulders shook as he sobbed. Tears slipped down my face as I waved at him and my mom, and then I pointed to myself and curled my fingers into the okay sign. I didn’t actually feel okay, but I didn’t think that a thumbs-down sign was appropriate—they looked worried enough as it was. In reality, having them there did make everything seem a little more okay.

“Hi, baby,” my mom said as she pinched my toe. My tears didn’t stop, but I felt soothed knowing that I wasn’t alone anymore.

As happy as I was to see everyone, my need for water trumped any other thought I had. My thirst was so great that it created a miracle—I finally found a way to use something of what I had learned from 11th-grade chemistry class. I tried to make the chemical combination of H2O with my fingers, but my hands and arms felt heavy. It was like they had fallen asleep and my attempt to wake them had promoted an attack by thousands of pins and needles. My finger acrobatics left me exhausted, frustrated, and still thirsty. Defeated, I closed my eyes.

Four hours later, they removed my breathing tube. I was now able to tell them what I wanted. It was such relief to be able to speak and to know that I wasn’t paralyzed, but in that moment the best part was knowing they were going to bring me some water. They brought me ice chips instead. I was only allowed a small cup of those lovely little things, but they were magnificent. I know everyone always knocks hospital food, but I have to say that they do ice chips beautifully. That first glorious chip I chomped into had more give than a regular ice cube, and then it broke apart into hundreds of little melting snowflakes in my cardboard mouth. I was elated.

A week after the accident I was moved out of the ICU. The doctors felt I was stable and ready to be in the regular part of the hospital. I didn’t want to leave. The ICU was so bright, and people talked quietly and treated me delicately, as if I was special. But I guess I didn’t need their intensive care anymore, so I was kicked out. There wouldn’t be people watching over me at all times. No one would be checking in on me, making sure I felt okay, asking if I was thirsty, or pushing the hair away from my face.

On this floor the doctors did rounds about three times a day, with the morning rounds being the longest and most important. In that meeting they would tell me about what was going to happen during the day and do a once-over of me and all my medical biz. The rounds lasted about five minutes or so and, in that time, they threw as much information at me as possible.

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One morning a group of three doctors came in looking more serious than usual. There was a lot to brief me on—first and foremost that was the day we were covering pain management. The phrase pain management always made me laugh a little. It sounded as though it was a department in the company of my body: “And on your left is where Katie manages her pain, sets up schedules, hires and fires, and sets standards and goals for her pain.”

If there really was a pain management department, I was a crappy manager. My pain was all over the place. No one showed up on time, no one followed the dress code, and not one person filled out their W-2 correctly. It was a shit show.

Every morning they checked in to see how good a manager I was by asking me my pain level, and every morning, I told them it was a ten. Every time. It was always ten—that is, unless I was feeling like a smartass and felt like dropping an eleven on them. Those were usually the really slow mornings.

“Katie, do you feel like your pain comes in waves?” one of the doctors asked that morning.

“Yeah, it gets worse sometimes. Like when I move, or breathe too hard, or do anything with my body. But, if I am completely still and barely breathe, it is a steady pain.” I was really good at explaining how I felt to doctors—when I breathe, it hurts. When I don’t, I feel much better. According to my synopsis, all I had to do was barely breathe, and I’d be just fine.

“Okay, so what we think will be best for your pain management would be if you got a morphine drip that would be attached to a pump, so you can use more medicine when you’re in a lot of pain and less when the pain is not as intense.”

The idea of a morphine pump made sense to me; this way I could get the meds I needed, when I needed them. I could try to manage what was happening to me better. No one understood my pain like I did, so having this pump as a weapon in my managerial arsenal seemed like a good idea. The doctors left me feeling confident that this would be the answer to my problems.

Later that day the nurses brought in this huge hulking machine, offering startling little instruction. They inserted the IV in the vein on the inside of my elbow and attached it to the pump. This machine would allow morphine to be pumped directly into my veins every six minutes. They were giving me the maximum amount of morphine my body could take without overdosing. If I got any more, I could unintentionally kill myself like an ’80s punk rocker. I figured I’d be floating on a cloud of feeling better.

I was mistaken.

The nurses took off the fentanyl pain patch that had been excreting medicine into my bloodstream slowly, carefully, and without me having to work for it. They put the clicker that was attached to the pump into my hand. It was cylindrical and had a button at the top that fit my thumb perfectly. Left with this huge machine, and the instruction to press the button when I felt pain, I assumed my pain would somehow oblige by making an appearance every six minutes or so.

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My body knew the patch had been removed about a half hour after the doctors and the nurses left. The lightning bolts were brighter, stronger, more frightening than anything I had felt thus far. I simply couldn’t comprehend that my body could feel this bad without me actually dying. In my first act as official pain manager, I forcefully pressed the button down with my thumb until I heard the click of the pump. A second later there was a rush of cold that spread down my left forearm into my fingers and all over my body, dulling the pain.

Relief and release: this pump was a manager’s dream. The pain was still there, but it felt controlled. It felt like it could be handled. It felt amazing.

But then five minutes after pressing the pump, something changed. The morphine and its numbing fingers wore off, and when I pushed the button again, there was no click, no rush of cold, no relief. The pain was still very much there, and it was pissed. I kept pushing down the button with my thumb over and over again, waiting, hoping enough time had passed. It has to have been one minute already. Sixty little seconds. They must have passed. THIS IS THE LONGEST SIXTY SECONDS IN HISTORY! When I was about to lose my mind and rip the pump out and beg for the patch back, I heard the click, and then the cold rush, and finally the relief. It became crystal clear to me how people could become addicted to morphine. I felt the craving and the desperation.

Those last sixty seconds became the worst moments of my day. Wanting it to be six minutes, needing for it to be six minutes. I stared up at that clock, feeling the pain invade my body and fearing that it would never go away. I made up excuses for why this wasn’t working: Maybe the doctors messed up the dosage? Maybe they just didn’t realize how tough I am? I know my chart says I can’t take more morphine than this and not have my heart explode, but I know I can.

I begged for more medication, for a little higher dosage to get through that sixth minute. They told me they were sorry I was having this pain, but they couldn’t give me any more morphine because there could be serious complications . . . like me dying. I knew the truth though: my doctors were a bunch of unfeeling pansies—Okay, Katie might die—gotta be careful. Bullshit. At this point I didn’t care if I died. I just wanted to stop hurting.

This whole situation was complicated by the fact that I was never very good at math. All the adding up of minutes confused me. Luckily, I had been pretty decent at my multiplication tables up to the tens, and miracle of miracles, six was within that realm! So, one day I began my pumping at 6:00 a.m. exactly, and from then on I knew at what position the big hand
134 Katie McKenna on the clock would need to be at when I could get my medicine again.

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I wrote out the numbers on a napkin: six, twelve, eighteen, twenty-four, thirty, thirty-six, forty-two, forty-eight, fifty-four, sixty. Those were the good numbers. Every other number was a bad one. I stared at that clock, wishing for multiples of six, worshipping them, dreaming of them . . . which, on top of being sad, was a little creepy.

I would click the button and hope for a glitch. I would pray for the machine to break and give me a little more, just a little more to keep the pain away. When my six minutes were up, I would hear the click that made the pump go, and I would stare at my forearm and watch my veins take in the painkiller. I believed I could see the pain actually being killed, everything easing, my muscles and bones healing, all that was wrong becoming right again, at least for the next five minutes.

As time went on, the space between the electric shocks of pain lengthened. And as I became a better pain manager, I tried to stretch out the periods of time between pumps. It was a game I played with myself, trying to stave o pressing the pump. I would try for twelve minutes instead of six, and if I made it, I would feel excessively proud of myself. If I got to fifteen, I would call a managers meeting with myself and offer me a raise, an award, the promise of a promotion.

One day I set a goal for myself—a serious I-am-not-messing-around goal. I was going to wait thirty minutes between pumps. The lightning bolts of pain came at around fifteen minutes, but I breathed in and out, concentrating on what was happening on The Golden Girls. From what I could tell, Rose was dumb, Blanche was slutty, Dorothy was sarcastic, and Sophia was just sassy. As diverting as this show can be, I willed the ladies to be dumb, slutty, sarcastic, and sassy faster. I wasn’t sure I could hold out without pushing the trigger, but time crept by at its own stubborn pace with no interest in how I wanted it to roll.

When the last joke was uttered and the canned applause began, I felt an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment. I had fought it. I had fought the pain! I had fought and won! I felt flushed with my victory. That afternoon, I threw myself a little party in my body’s conference room. There was a sheet cake with World’s Best Manager written on it in blue frosting. And I don’t know much about much, but if something is written in blue frosting, you have a moral obligation to believe it.

So I did.

I hated that I couldn’t walk. I hated that I was helpless and listless and had no control of my body; but I hated the idea of leaving my bed way more. I had become well acquainted with the pain I was in when I was in bed. I knew what it looked like. I knew what it felt like. I knew what was hurting and why. In my bed I knew where the remote control was. I knew how far I could tilt my bed before the shock waves of pain would start, but I didn’t know anything else. It had taken me weeks to get accustomed to this hurt, and I wasn’t sure I could handle a new kind.

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The idea of the pain was terrifying, but more than the pain I feared the doctors would be right, and maybe I wouldn’t be able to walk again. I kept the hope I would be normal again tucked away in my heart. Maybe I will be able to sit up on my own. Maybe someday I can stand. Maybe someday I will be able to walk. That maybe was what I clung to. With physical therapy there was no maybe—it was either sink or swim. I wanted to crawl under the cardboard sheets and never come out again. I wanted to live in the hope, let it surround me, untested. If I had my way, I would never have to try; it would just happen. I would wake up one day, and I would be able to walk, and every- thing would be normal again. I would be just like Pollyanna.

It turned out there was no need for me to be as scared of my first physical therapy session as I had been. My therapist’s name was Lou. He had an Italian last name that I don’t remember now, and in my opinion no concept of the gravity of this situation. This was a big deal for me. Not just a big deal, a HUGE deal. If I did this physical therapy business correctly, it would bring me to another level of my recovery. If I didn’t, I would sink into a deep, dark abyss that I wasn’t sure I would be able to climb out of.

The thing that made it super clear to me that he didn’t “get” what a big deal this was for me was that he was whistling. Whistling? This is not a happy occasion, friend. This is not the bridge in a country song. Are you not aware of how desperate my situation is? Don’t you feel sorry for me? Aren’t you worried I won’t be able to do this? Get with the program: Katie + Trying to Sit + Right Now = Potential Heartbreak.

Both my parents were in the hospital room with me at the time, covered head to toe in protective garments because the staph infection wasn’t completely healed yet. Everything around me was yellow—all their protective gear, the head caps, the apron-gown things. The walls and the lights in the room were all different shades of yellow. It was like being inside a box of Lemonheads. They were expectant, they were nervous, they were hopeful. I hadn’t told them I was scared. I was so sick of telling them I was scared or incapable or sad—I had decided this time I would keep it to myself. I hoped somehow I would be able to pull myself up by my own bootstraps, even though I wasn’t wearing boots at this exact moment, and just get it done. If the whole bootstrap thing didn’t work, I had a plan B that included chickening out and then crying like a huge baby.

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“Okay, Katie, you are going to sit up on your own now,” Lou said to me breezily. He started to tilt the bed slowly upward, the mechanical hum lifting me closer and closer to change. With each inch toward sitting upright I became more and more aware of my rapidly beating heart and my sweating palms. It felt like I was about to go on a first date, but I couldn’t text my bestie saying, OMG—So nervy! I hope that my legs still work!!!! Xoxo Katie.

I was almost upright when I suddenly became very aware of how my fixator looked attached to my body. When I sat upright it stuck out like a twelve-inch-wide boner coming from my belly, but there was no time for embarrassment—Lou was a man of action. He took his huge bear paw of a left hand and put it behind my shoulder blade, and then looped his right hand underneath my knees. His face was about a foot away from mine when he said, “Now we are going to sit you up.” More out of habit than pain, tears sprang to my eyes as I moved. As I leaned forward, I felt a wisp of cold air on my back, and I realized that my gown was completely open in the back and that everyone in the room was going to see my ass. Before I could move my arm to at least attempt to close my gown, Lou had rotated my fragile body ninety degrees to the right. I was sitting up on the side of the bed with my feet dangling off the edge!

The room was different. I could see two corners of the ceiling at once, and I could see people walking by the open door. I was so excited! It was a new world! Then I started to feel as though I was falling to the right. “I’m falling, I’m falling,” I screamed. In actuality, I had only tilted about two inches, but my equilibrium was off after a month horizontal. I had no sense of myself or my place in the world. My body couldn’t process what was happening. After Lou steadied me, I waved at my parents. “Hi, I’m sitting up.”

Now that I had been successful in step one, there was no going back. If I had failed, I would have been allowed to temper-tantrum my way out of this day of PT. But I hadn’t failed; I had succeeded. Fuck. Me. I stared at the walker that had been placed at the right of my bed and decided it was time for us to have a chat—time for me to lay down the law with the walker, if you will.

“You are my Everest walker, did you know that? I’ll bet you never thought that one day you would be the biggest challenge in a twenty-fve-year-old woman’s life. I’ll bet you thought your whole life was just going to be assisting old people, or serving as a prop for kids to use when they are pretending to be someone’s grandma. I know, I know, I didn’t think we would be here either—but there you are, and here I am . . . and I think that we should just kind of go with it. I only have one rule in this new relationship—‘Your front wheel brake has to be on.’ I know I should have complete faith in the fact that you are not going anywhere, but I have been fooled by seemingly benign wheeled vehicles before. I feel it is necessary to tell you, if you make a move, literally one move, I will stab you with a welding iron and feel no remorse about it. . . . None.”

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After my little mental chat with the inanimate object, I listened carefully to Lou’s instructions. I leaned over my bed and took hold of the top of the walker with my bony hands. They looked so small and fragile on the gray plastic handles. The last time I had gripped something metal this tightly was my first time on the monkey bars when I was five. My knuckles were just as white then as they were now.

I gripped the walker in my hands and straightened my arms. I willed my forearms to lift my body, and with Lou’s help, I touched the ground with my feet, which felt like plaster of Paris. It was as though my feet would sink into it, and then the floor would mold around them. Lou circled around, spotting me as I lowered myself into a real big-girl chair. Its back was still, and it was totally uncomfortable. I wondered how I had ever sat in something that didn’t recline. The blood started to return to my legs, and it felt like they were waking up after I had crossed them for too long. I loved it. I loved the feeling of ANYTHING in my legs. They felt like they were a part of me again. They weren’t just lifeless rag dolls attached to my torso. They had worth; they had feeling.

In that instant I stopped being so frightened of my future. Living a seminormal life became something I could wrap my arms around, something I was actually capable of achieving. I had willed myself to sit up, to stand, and then to sit again. I did that. No more waiting and hoping for wellness or happiness or mobility. I had been able to go and get it on my own. I wanted it, and I made it happen.

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