The Weight of an Instant

One moment, your life is trundling along under its own momentum. In the next millisecond, so much has changed, including your perspective on that big portion of life containing all of the things you take for granted.

It was the mid-afternoon of a warm September Wednesday at the Northside Lexington coffee shop Broomwagon. My UnderMain partner Art Shechet and I had just wrapped up a conversation with Danny Meyer and Sean Anderson about an interesting video essay they have in mind.

Everybody had that “next thing” to get to on their schedule. We all rose from the shop’s community table and said our goodbyes as I headed for the corner door leading to the sidewalk at the intersection of North Limestone and Loudon.

The thing is, there’s a step down, inside the shop, before you reach that door. And for some reason, I didn’t see it.

In the next instant I was transformed from busy, ever-on-the-go and reasonably healthy to immobilized, in excruciating pain and only just beginning to comprehend the extensive disruption brought on by what happened.

I would soon learn that in that blink of a moment, the quadricep tendon in my right leg had snapped. Ruptured. Within a half-hour I was ever-so-gently lifted by a team of Fayette County first responders to a gurney and took my first ambulance ride as a patient.

Let me just say right here that it could’ve been worse. So much worse. This essay is not an appeal for sympathy – many others have been far more grievously injured in spur-of-the-moment events. This is about that instant when so much changed.

I am writing this ten days after that ride. Ten days of discovery. About myself. About my wife Sheila, who shows exceptional skill in providing the most tender and thoughtful care. About the zillion little tasks we do day in and day out that suddenly have become impossible or, at the very least, a significant challenge. About the wreckage that now is my planned schedule for weeks to come. About cabin fever and being an outdoors type who is suddenly and indefinitely confined indoors on what had to be one of the most beautiful weeks of the year. And about the interrupted routine of a cat named Millie who normally has the run of the house weekdays, but now that one of her humans is on hand and under foot, her feline sense of order is wrecked and confused, so she vacillates between studied aloofness and pouncing affection.

Back to early evening of that fateful Wednesday and gingerly shuffling on crutches out of the UK Medical Center emergency room, leg fully braced straight, a throbbing obstacle to the simple act of sliding into the front passenger seat of Sheila’s car.

Once home I managed to scoot on my butt up three flights of stairs to reach the familiar comfort of my own bed. I then bumped my way down those stairs in the same way in the pre-dawn of the following Friday morning to return with Sheila at my side and behind the wheel to the Medical Center for my first-ever surgery under general anesthesia.

The hospital experience is its own story – mostly positive – and I’ll get around to sharing it some day. But this is about the sudden arrival in life of instant, unanticipated, extensive change. Will I fully recover? How long will that take? How does this impact my work? What becomes of those hobbies or passions, like music, that keep me “sane” that are now suddenly and discouragingly difficult or out of reach?

I’m not yet sure of the long term implications of this injury, but I do know that I will eventually recover. So I do not pretend to fully appreciate the routine daily challenges of the permanently disabled. But, because of that Wednesday afternoon moment, my perspective was changed.  

While I’ve always respected the intent of the Americans for Disabilities Act, the legislation never meant more on a personal level than now.

I certainly don’t recommend injury as a way to more fully appreciate what it means to move about in this world somehow permanently physically compromised. But I do hope I can encourage you to take just a moment to think about the turns your life would take were something like this to happen to you or a loved one in your care. And how would you manage it?

One more thing: my friends have been great. Calls. Cards in the mail. Visits, some bearing lunch. All a reminder of how much genuine thoughtfulness really does matter in a time like this.

Above all, if you have your health, make the absolute most of it. Things can and do change remarkably in the blink of an eye.

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The author

Tom Martin is co-publisher of UnderMain and producer/host of the weekly public radio magazine program Eastern Standard on WEKU. Tom's 50 year career in media has included network news correspondent, newspaper editor, columnist, and student media advisor.