Guest Commentary

A year after a serious injury, lucidity happens

About a year ago, I was thrown from my 22-year-old "bombproof" mare. Bombproof means, in horse parlance, absolutely trustworthy and solid. There is actually no such thing, but horse people like to believe there is in the same way people who pilot small planes tell themselves their skills are so much better than anyone else's, so they'll never crash.

I broke my collarbone and shredded most of my shoulder ligaments. This injury required two surgeries, metal hardware and Teflon straps to replace the shredded ligaments. The pain was so intense, I didn't notice my hand was broken in two places until the next day.

I still don't really understand what happened. I can come up with loads of theories: the wrong saddle, the heat, the fact that the planet Mercury was retrograde. But I've never landed on any one answer that feels right.

When you suffer an injury, you always tell yourself it's no big deal.

Having retrieved my mare, I continued my half-mile walk back to the ranch, thinking it odd I had to stop every five minutes and puke in the dirt. Upon arriving at the emergency room and being ushered in quickly, I concluded it was luck, that they must not have been very busy that day.

There is a funny question they ask you in emergency rooms: "On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the worst pain you can imagine, how much pain are you in right now?" I know a 10-year-old girl who had her hip crushed, and when asked, she said "one." I asked later why, and she told me, "I can imagine someone being tortured to death. That would be a lot more painful." They forget that 10-year-olds have great imaginations.

I however, don't. So I said 7.5. This was the right answer, and I won a bag full of morphine. Just as I was feeling better, in walked the doctor. So much for the buzz.

The last time I'd seen this guy, we'd had a humongous shouting match over money in which unfortunate epithets like "stupid motherfucker" and "crook" had occurred. Fortunately, he either didn't recognize me or professionally bypassed the fact that he did. Either way, he didn't cut off my morphine, and for that, I am eternally grateful.

The anesthesiologist seemed a nice enough fellow. He told me he was going to do a nerve block, which would paralyze the left side of my body, with general anesthesia afterwards. As he zeroed in on my neck with a needle the size of a walrus tusk, I said, "Why can't you do the nerve block after the general?" He said it didn't work that way and proceeded to skewer me. After about a millennium, I felt a tremendous vibration in my midsection, a rapid fluttering like a flag in a high wind. He said, "Oh by the way, this is going to paralyze your diaphragm."

Like most writers, I know a little bit about a lot of things. When I picture my diaphragm, it's the rubbery muscle that expands my lungs. Having my diaphragm stopped was, to my mind, the equivalent of stopping my lungs. This scared the shit out of me. The anesthesiologist noticed. He said, "Don't worry, you have two of them. Bet you didn't know that, did you?"

My last thought before losing consciousness was, "I'm in a room, virtually naked, surrounded by six total strangers." This was a perspective I hadn't experienced before. I thought of the movie This Is Spinal Tap and the guys standing beside Elvis' grave. Sometimes, there's way too much fucking perspective.

Sunday, a year later. I'm meandering through the scrub and creosote. Lucidity happens. Not very often, but it does. Virtually everyone I ride with has suffered an injury at some point, ranging from fractured arms to broken heads. Skill level is only sometimes in play. I've got a friend who does long ocean swims, and I've asked, "Aren't you afraid of being eaten by a shark?" He always tells me that, statistically, I'm way more likely to get killed by a horse.

Maybe so, but I doubt it. I've incorporated more safety features into my riding style. I never go out when Mercury is retrograde anymore, and when bad stuff happens, I shake my fist at the gods more emphatically than ever.

I figure that oughta do it. And if not, there's always morphine.

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