Friday, January 10, 2014

I Fell. Hard.

The gift of humility is usually a surprise. In my case, it was a pretty Christmas package that I tore into a few weeks ago. Under all that wrapping was a sweet little pair of new, white figure skates.

I was thrilled. I've been working on getting better acquainted with the Moira that's under all of these teacher/mother/wife labels, and time at the rink is a big part of the fun. I absolutely love ice skating, and while I'm no Dorothy Hamill, I'm a solid skater. Lately, too, I've been enjoying a lot of time on the ice with both of my boys who love lacing up their hockey skates and doing laps around the rink.

There is such freedom in skating. A letting go. A fluid rhythm and flow that can be compared to how it feels to ski, swim, do upward bow or break through that first mile running. Once I let myself tune out my surroundings and let my body--rather than my brain--lead the way, it's meditative. 

Certain conditions can get in the way of good ice time, though. Chief among them: crappy ice that needs to be Zamboni'd and a crowded rink. Last weekend, my son Sean glided up next to me and whispered over the pop music echoing throughout the pavilion, "This isn't a rink, it's an obstacle course!" Then he zipped away between little girls pushing milk crates to stabilize themselves on their skates. Grade school hockey players showed off their speed and skill by darting and cutting across the rink in front of novice skaters who wobbled and shook at the surprise. Teenagers held hands and stopped dead-center in the path of other skaters so they could kiss (awww...NOW MOVE!). The rest of us just tried our best to give each other a little space as we sliced our way around the ice. 

Now, I'm a strong skater, but I'm not immune to falling. I've fallen maybe twice in the past few years, each time landing on a knee as a I caught myself after being cut-off by some little half-pint with a hockey mullet. I haven't had a real fall, like fall-and-break-your-face fall, since I was a kid. And those falls don't count; they never really hurt anyway. Not like when you're, say, 40. 

Schools were closed Monday in New Haven for observance of Three Kings Day. So I expected the rink to be jammed, but it was quiet. Such a nice surprise. The boys and I laced up and headed onto the rink, saying hi to some friends and classmates we happily spied on the ice. The public skate is open for 90 minutes most days, and we were about 30 minutes in when the ice started to get a little choppy. It was still in pretty good shape since the rink wasn't that crowded, but I noticed it. My brand-new figure skates have some gnarly stoppers on the front, like little shark teeth, that easily catch onto any chunks in the ice if I am at all lazy or dragging my skates. And they work--they STOP me. More than once since Christmas I've done a little two-step trying to pick my skate out of a divot in the ice. I've remarked to the boys on more than one occasion that I almost took a digger from my stoppers catching and throwing me temporarily off balance. 

I'm sure you see where I'm going with this.

So Monday, roughly 30 minutes into our happy, carefree skating, I rounded a corner with more speed than usual. As I straightened out pushed off with my right skate, the stopper caught--and caught me by surprise. My body wanted to keep moving. As I pulled my skate free and stepped forward, my left stopper caught. With all the grace I've never had, I went down hard and fast. 

There's falling on the ice, and then there's feeling like you've been pulled down on the ice. This fall felt like the latter. I went down face first, slamming both knees into the ice, bracing with my forearms, and smacking my chin. My little head rattled. I had an instant, splitting headache. Fortunately, the scarf I was wearing cushioned my jaw, or it would have felt worse. Stunned, seeing stars, I got up and glided over to a bench. I could not jump right back out on the ice. I needed to catch my breath and regain my balance. And my head was really pounding. 

The boys sailed over and said hi. I told them I wiped out, but that I would hop out on the ice any minute--and I did. Within a few minutes, I was back out on the rink, gliding around and enjoying the relative quiet of the place. My head still hurt, though, and after 20 minutes without it feeling any better, we decided to go. The boys were ready to leave, anyway. 

I had planned to run two errands before going home, and as I did I felt progressively worse. My head hurt more and more, and then I started to feel queasy. As the boys and I wrapped up some deposits at the bank, a little anxiety kicked in: what if I was actually, like, injured? What if it got worse while I was out with the kids? I drove them home, sent up a few flares, and within minutes was on my way to urgent care with my dear friend and neighbor, Madelin. Me, one who rarely calls the doctor for anything unless something persists for weeks, was going to urgent care. Those who know me well know that this little thwack on the ice and its subsequent headache had to be of serious concern to me in order for me to go to urgent care. I. Can't. Stand. Urgent. Care. 

Once there, I waited. After a little while, Ian showed up and relieved Madelin.

And I waited. My head was swimming and my belly was tossing. 

And still I waited.

And after almost two hours, I was finally seen by a doctor. There were eye tests, arm tests, balance tests, and other tests. There were vitals and questions and answers and a lot of bad jokes made by me. After what felt like forever, the doctor gave me the prognosis: it was good I came in. No obvious evidence of brain bleed or concussion, but I was told to keep an eye on symptoms for 24-48 hours. No ibuprofen or aspirin for pain, as that will thin the blood--very bad if one has a brain bleed. "Oh, and don't skate or do anything else that could put you at risk for a head injury. At least for a week. We don't want you hitting your head again any time soon."

I wobbled out of the doctor's and went home. I was glad I had heeded my gut instinct and went to the doctor, but I was annoyed that I fell, that I had smacked my jaw, that it hurt--a lot, that my head felt like it had been knocked off a tee, and that I still felt woozy. I was annoyed I couldn't skate for a week, and most of all I was annoyed that I'm 40 and that a hard fall on the ice was, well, a bad fall. I'm not 20 anymore. My pride, maybe more than my head, was injured. I'm a strong skater! I can skate! Really, I can! And my balance is great! I do yoga! Are you listening? I'm not old and feeble! Don't you believe me? Still, I kept the knowledge of the fall mostly to myself. I didn't even call my mom and let her know, because she'd spend that 24-48 hours of "observation" very, very, very worried about my little noggin. In the wake of recent events in our family, I decided I would spare her that stress. 

The rest of the night was quiet, and I spent a lot of it on the couch preparing to finally go back to school on Tuesday after two weeks of Christmas vacation. My knees were sore, but the rest of my body didn't feel the effects of the fall until the next day, when I woke up feeling like I had been in a car accident. I cannot recall feeling that beat up by anything--not even three-day yoga intensives, which left me sore enough--in recent years. I went to school, taught and had a great day, all the while noticing that I was spacey, had a mild headache and was extremely sore. But, no ibuprofen for me, and I don't like acetaminophen. Just hot showers and a lot of gentle stretching got me through the week and back on track. 

Sometime in the next few days I'm either going to take my skates out to the driveway and beat the crap out of the stoppers on the asphalt, or I'm going to take them to our local skate shop and get them dulled more "professionally". Either way, I'm looking forward to getting back out on the ice. 


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