This road didn’t lead to Rome, it lead to the O.R.

This spring has been a mix of hot and cold. One week we’ll have moderate, even cold temps, and the next it’ll be a steam bath. Last weekend was one of the former and we were anxious to enjoy the weather with friends while celebrating a birthday. The plan was to bike the 25 miles from St. Charles, MO, to Augusta along the Katy Trail (once a railroad running from Missouri through Kansas and finally to Texas abbreviated M-K-T or Katy) then overnight at a B&B in Augusta and return the next morning. Augusta lies in the heart of Missouri wine country and is home to some of our favorite wineries, so we were really looking forward to the trip.

We’d planned all week and awoke Saturday to cloudless, crisp blue skies with a slight chill in the air. Following a hearty breakfast, we met our friends in St. Charles and headed down the trail at a leisurely pace. Four miles into our ride, we stopped for water break. While she was stopped along the edge of  the gravel trail, my wife’s front tire slid down the embankment taking her with it. Throwing her arm out to catch herself resulted in a stiff-armed landing that dislocated and shattered her elbow. She knew something was seriously wrong when we tried to get her to her feet and her arm flopped limply at the elbow.

Leaving her with our friends, I raced back to the car and within thirty minutes (though it seemed an eternity to her) she was in the hospital in St. Peters. The next seven hours included serious pain medication, resetting her elbow and an ambulance ride to the main hospital in St. Louis. Three days later, I find myself in a surgical waiting room with plenty of time to reflect.

Hospital waiting rooms are concentrated pools of human emotion. Worry, hope, fear, anguish, and joy share adjoining seats with humor dropping in on occasion to break the tension. The “conference” rooms occupy an ominous corner, like chambers of death to joy and hope they are scurried past and dreaded.

Two years ago my father died from complications brought on by Alzheimer’s (the result of a stroke). He spent the final year of his life living my personal nightmare of “life” in a nursing home. As hard as it was for us to watch him fade away, it gave us time to adjust to life without him. And while my wife’s prognosis is very good, this whole experience has given me a new appreciation for the trauma of life changing accidents. One second we were enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the next we were facing months of recovery and a change to our summer plans. Fortunately have good medical insurance and financial resources, but what if we didn’t?

Through all of this, I’ve also seen a new, even more inspiring side to my wife. She’s always struck me as a strong individual with great tenacity and determination and this accident has only steeled that resolve. Though faced with an extremely painful injury, she showed little more discomfort than a grimace, and when faced with the certainty of surgery, she never blinked. She simply told me that she intended to be an “A” student at this as well and would work toward a full and speedy recovery. And work ethic? With one arm in a cast, she still managed projects in Australia and Brazil. I believe she’d be checking emails in the OR if they’d let her. Though I did find it rather humorous that she styled her hair and picked out her clothing with great care this morning. After all, she’s still very much a woman.

They say you never really appreciate what you have until it’s gone, I think the same could be said if you are faced with the sudden possibility of loss, assuming you are wise enough to reflect on the situation. My wife and I have never taken each other for granted, and though I know she’ll recover and we’ll actually look back on this one day and laugh about it, like any loved one, I wish I could trade places with her. In an instant, everything can change. That’s a good life lesson to remember.  Carpe diem.

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