Stopped

by

08/16/2011

Neighborhood: Murray Hill

Stopped
Photo by Will Tung
My body fell victim to silence the minute I made impact with the ground that paved the intersection of 39th and 3rd. In the heart of Manhattan, time stood still. The everyday chatter of New York City; the yellow taxis squawking at pedestrians and the orchestra of shoes pounding the cement suddenly came to a screeching halt.
  Simon said, “everyone stop.”
Shocked, stunned, and starved for breath, I lay awake but was quickly dying. I was a senescent corpse frozen in the space separating past and present. 
Was I dying? The pain fluctuated like waves and buzzed tediously throughout my body.  With the grooves of its front left tire, the bus crushed the intricately pieced bones of my left foot and tattooed my body with the word “taken.”

Marked, my muscles twitched and then stiffened. Stamped, saliva collected into pools at the bottom of my throat. Branded, the sweetened stench of newly drawn blood scented the air.  
Without my permission, contradiction occurred. An intensifying hum of pain traveled from toe to brain, ironically sending waves of warmth along the spine but chilling my blood. My pulse faded as the lights in the house I had lived in for eighteen years dimmed and slowly began to descend to a more hollow uninhabited space.
I lost control as my face leaked color and my body funneled liquid into my intestines and purged its bowels. My bladder released toxic urine the color of bile. I reeked like the subway elevator’s interior on 42nd street. All dignity was lost.
I could no longer stand because I was terrified to move. Was I paralyzed? My limbs failed me, which I had to accept. But that took time. 
My arms shot to either side of my body, and the hot chocolate I had just purchased was now splattered across the street. An ocean of brown collected above my head; the puddle looked lonely and underappreciated. “What could have been” played a teasing song and tiptoed past my body, successfully crossing the street. 
My right leg scissored left. Cockeyed. Crooked. Askew. Mimicking a neglected puppet, I waited for direction. Eventually, sirens sent strobes of warning into my ear canals and painfully beat their drums. My body continued the battle to stay alive.  
Hovering above, voices boomed orders like guns firing bullets and I was caught in the crossfire. To cope, deafness appeared.  Sight slipped beneath the canopy of my eyelids and white surfaced. Ducts gathered a collection of tears that skimmed the surface but did not fall. Feeling was out of the question. I had become road kill.
Lying like a limp vegetable, my body became an experiment as white latex gloves tore through my button down black pea coat, faded blue jeans and black shirt. After four cuts with a knife, my entire being was exposed. 
The crisp February wind force-fed itself through my slightly gaping mouth and fear howled against my ribcage. Then, it left with my breath in tow. I was scared beyond concept and in pain surpassing words. 
Once again I surrendered, but this time into the arms of strangers as a white sheet quickly covered my naked body.  An uncloaked hand grabbed my wrist and warmed my fingers. They spoke, “stay with us sweetheart you have the entire city of New York behind you.” Mother Mary had appeared. 
As my body was elevated onto the stretcher, circumstances no longer condemned me to death. The double doors slammed behind me and I was taken from the sentence I had been serving and reeled into the unknown. 
Science collided with God after I was strapped into the ambulance. Like artificial insemination, a machine began to pump oxygen into my lungs, and then something clicked. My mind and body were still conversing. Air swept through the map of my veins and cells and began to gently caress the escaping beat of my heart. I was brought back to earth.
In the emergency room of Bellevue Medical Center, my now sweating body slithered afloat on top of the silver examination table. Lying face up, I was told not to move, “Doctor’s orders.” My own fear prevented any movement from occurring. Focusing on the luminescent bulbs in the ceiling, I tried to dilate my pupils with their light.  At the most crucial of times, blindness is an acceptable remedy to dilute feeling.  
A circus of sounds cluttered my thoughts and I tried to desperately hold onto something tangible. Nothing was recognizable and thinking was almost impossible. Like bees, the ER doctors and nurses, and the remnants of the EMT team, swarmed over my body.
Even though I was not wearing any clothes, I did not feel any degree of temperature when they removed the sheet to examine the damage.  Pain corrupted my comprehension; causing sentences to break into fragments strung with the words I fought to hear. Biting my tongue through the pain, I heard the voice of a question; emergency contact? followed by, mother? followed by father?
The word, mother froze time and parted the ocean of uncertainty that had overcome my body. 
And then I screamed her name.  My mother’s home telephone number rippled from my tongue and I began to choke on the nagging desire to have her near. My ability to speak coherently caught the doctors off guard. A flurry of activity surrounded me as they looked for a piece of scrap paper and pen to write down the information. As loudly as possible, I repeated my mother’s name and her home telephone number.
Although the bus struck my right shoulder, the doctors were able to conclude I did not suffer any upper body injuries. Using their fingers, they poked and prodded their way down the length of my body.
“Can you lift your head for us Margaret?” I slowly lifted my head. 
“Do you feel us touching you here?” The doctors continued spreading their palms over my neck, shoulders and arms. 
“Yes,” I whispered. Deeply and cautiously they began to massage my stomach like bread. 
“Your abdomen? Does it feel like you have broken anything in your upper torso region?” Their questions began to melt into one another. I did not understand the extent of my injuries. 
Before she had been taken by the police, my college roommate, who was with me at the scene of the accident told me my left ankle was broken. There had been no mention of other injuries until I was taken to the Emergency Room.  
The doctors’ hands moved past my pelvis and began to descend down my legs. Pain followed and the farther down they traveled the more intense it became. 
“Your right ankle has been fractured, Margaret, and we will have to operate.” Fine, I thought. This injury I had already accepted. I was more concerned with what I didn’t know.
“My left leg, what’s wrong with the left leg?” A stale pause answered my question. The team of doctors and nurses stood still. 
“My left leg. Something is wrong with my left leg.” No one said a word and it felt like I was talking to the air. Finally one of them spoke.
” Your left foot has been significantly damaged. Your toes have been crushed. It’s too soon to know the extent of the damage.” 
They quickly went to work but the degree of what they did remains a foggy memory. 
“Can you feel us touching your leg here, Margaret?” I felt nothing. 
“No.”
“And here?” Again I felt nothing. 
“No,” I repeated. 
“You’ll have to go upstairs for an x-ray, which means we’ll need to move you from the table to the stretcher.” 
I knew this was going to hurt. Bracing my body firm and squeezing my eyes shut tightly, I was hoisted onto a stretcher that had been rolled next to my bed. 
“It’s Ok,” the doctor who had been speaking to me most said, “I’ll come with you. My name is Dr. Ruby.” 
Standing behind me, I took note of a yarmulke fastened to the crest of his head. The yarmulke was my focus point as Dr. Ruby pushed the stretcher down the hallway and into the elevator. Lying there on the stretcher, it felt odd to be moved around without having to lift a finger. I imagined this is what it felt like walking on water, or on air.
I watched as Dr. Ruby stood in the corner of the elevator. He crossed his arms over his chest and lowered his head. At this point, I had still not been administered any medicine, and the pain was still intense. I used my breath and remained calm. 
“I am so sorry this had to happen to you,” Dr. Ruby apologized from his corner.  His comment caught me off guard and I did not know what to say. It was interesting he felt personally responsible for my accident. He kept his gaze on the ground. 
“You’re so young,” he continued. When people are sad, I tend to console them. Biting through the pain I whispered weakly, “it’s o.k.” 
At the door to the x-ray room, Dr. Ruby and I were met by a large Hispanic man who wore a red tie. As one usually does when they first meet someone, the technician attempted to smile. The corners of his mouth winced upward.
I do not remember having my x-rays taken. Because of the level of pain I was experiencing, the extent of my injuries started to dawn. The technician accompanied Dr. Ruby and I back downstairs. He was to explain the results of the x-rays to the medical team and they in turn, were to explain the results to me.
Doctor Ruby looked up from the black and white prints, ”like we told you before, your right foot had been badly crushed. Your toes are gone. We are not sure how much we will have to remove, but at least half of your foot will have to be amputated.”
I swallowed the word amputated as he put the frames down. The diagnosis hung in the air and I thought it must be a morbid experience for doctors to remove a portion of someone’s body, even if it was their job.  To me, the responsibility was not fathomable. 
As the doctors reviewed the x-rays, an ER nurse came to my side and clasped my hand in hers. Without saying a word, I knew this gesture was an invitation for me to use her hand as something to squeeze and release some of the pain. 
“My name is Sarah,” she whispered into my ear. Her voice was soft and comforting. A quiet sensation overwhelmed my body. As I squeezed her hand, Sarah continued to whisper in my ear. “You’re so brave, you’re so brave. You haven’t even shed a tear.” Sarah spoke the truth. Since being lifted from the scene of the accident, I had not cried. 
Again, Dr. Ruby repeated, “we will have to remove a portion of your right foot, Margaret.” I knew there was no other way. IV’s were inserted into my forearms as medicine began its journey through my veins. I kept my eyes open and focused on the ceiling. 
“That’s O.K.” I answered, “I will just have to get a new one.” 
Turning to Sarah, I looked into the pupils of her eyes and knew I was safe. My body relaxed more as she continued to run her fingers through my hair. 
My words became more and more hushed. All I wanted to do was sleep and I asked Sarah for more medicine. In a few moments, it was given to me.
In all of our lives there is a fall from innocence, a time after which we are never the same. After the darkness, sleep came. 
My parents were the first people I saw when I woke up from the initial surgery. My father stood next to my mother. Their faces were stricken with worry. Dad’s lips moved for a few seconds before I had the ability to hear what he was saying. ”Hi, hi,” he said covering my hand with the palm of his. It was as if at that very moment in time, a pact was made and we promised one another we would do whatever it took for me to stay alive. 
Mom stroked my arm as tears glistened in her eyes. My parents were all I needed to see before I allowed myself to once again close mine. 
Margaret Westley is a Washingtonian D.C. native who moved to New York City to follow her dreams. Those dreams were cut short when she was hit by a bus during her freshman year of college. As a result, she broke her right ankle and eventually lost her le six inches below the knee. Though challenging, this experiences has been transformational and is being included in her latest project; a memoir. In addition to writing, she is a yoga teacher and a fundraiser.

 

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§ 7 Responses to “Stopped”

  • Mary Floyd says:

    Dear Margaret: You made me sad. and then you comforted me. Thank you. Mary

  • Emily says:

    Wow – I’m speechless – what a beautiful, poetic, moving piece. You are gifted. Thank you for sharing.

  • james hue says:

    I read this before but never to this extent it’s a moving a powerful piece of your life. Thank you for sharing.

  • Dobie says:

    Great writing , you are such an inspirational person. Well done Margaret!!!!!

  • Irene says:

    This is a beautiful tribute to Margaret’s bravery as well as her love for her parents and her amazing values she holds. I almost lost my leg. But because of three surgeries on my knee, I was able to keep my leg but I don’t think I was quite as brave when it came to holding up through the pain as Margaret did. I had to wait quite awhile to see a surgeon admittedly. But pain is pain and I don’t think I could have withstood Margaret’s pain without some tears. I know life changed for me after my accident.

  • Phyllis Papadavid says:

    Congratulations Margaret, you are a very talented writer. My favorite part: In all of our lives there is a fall from innocence, a time after which we are never the same. I cannot wait to read more. I hope to see you soon in London. x

  • Sidney says:

    I am deeply moved by your story and particularly the way it is wrtitten
    Bravo Margaret,
    and thank you

§ Leave a Reply

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