Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Gratitude.

On Saturday afternoon, February 4th, I had my first real sort of bike accident in ten years, and the second somewhat "severe" one of my life. No one hit me, and it was my own fault, a combination of wearing sunglasses and misjudging an uneven section of the road which I sideswiped and threw myself into the road onto my hands. In the moment I did not even really think, as others often pointed out in the days that would follow, "Thank God you didn't hit your teeth!"

It didn't really seem that bad at first, mostly just some scrapes on my knees, I looked my bike over and drank some water and relaxed to let my heart calm down. I had been planning on making this day be the first in several months that I was aspiring to bike 50-60 miles. For a brief moment after my accident, I almost was about to still attempt it after I just calmed down. But as a few more minutes passed, I began to realize that suddenly I could hardly use my right hand without pain, my left thumb not proving much more usable. Having been through ENOUGH dentist appointments in the past year to always carry a few pills with me just in case, I popped a Vicodin and I walked my bike another few blocks to a Circle K, knowing that if I didn't eat soon I would give myself a killer stomach ache, and also to get some ice.

By the time I reached the store and went to lock my bike, I realized that my hands were practically useless. I could hardly lift the weight of my U-lock without cringing, but I finally managed to get my bike locked. With the help of elbows and shoulders and mostly only using the fingers of my left hand, I managed to buy a yogurt and a Clif bar and get a cup of ice and a plastic bag. I sat outside in the shade icing my hands and trying to figure out what to do next, but realized pretty quickly that I could not for the life of me open my Clif bar package nor peal the foil lid from my yogurt with my hands, it was THAT painful. Then I did something a few years prior I would have NEVER thought of...I used my teeth!

After that I managed to reach a friend who came and got me and took me home. I made a makeshift splint out of a sock and tape, and continued to ice my wrist and relax on leftover dentist Vicodin for the remainder of the night. However, I woke up in quite possibly some of the worst pain I have ever felt as it wore off in the middle of the night and asked a friend to take me to Urgent Care the next morning. As you may recall, I have been through, well...I think a pretty epic amount of pain compared to some, but this was seriously up there with my worst infected toothaches. Never having really severely injured myself before, I mostly only went because I thought something MUST be broken if it hurt so bad.

I have never really liked doctors, and this would be my first appointment with one since I began my dental care in an entirely different type of health care providing institution, and let me tell you, it was a far cry from the dental school. First I was seen by the nurse to check vitals, then the Dr. came in to bend my wrist all over despite telling me it hurt, and seemed offended that I still had my makeshift splint on, nor was he even concerned to ever look at my left thumb. He left and made the nurse come back in to cut off my splint before he would look at me again, and then we took some X-rays. As it turned out, I only had a severe sprain, which seemed like good news? I just needed to get a fiberglass splint and take more painkillers and not use it. Now, here comes the shitty ironic part.

The nurse came back in for what took all of 3 minutes to unwind the role of fiberglass, cut it off and affix it to my forearm with an ace bandage. Guess how much THAT part alone cost me? $180 dollars! They destroyed the splint I already had on to charge me $180 for 3 minutes of their time and probably five bucks worth of splint material they get wholesale or something. Are you meaning to tell me that their nurse is worth like five grand an hour then? A hundred and eighty bucks--I have had 3rd year student dentists give me shots, take X-rays free of charge, surgically remove molars with broken crowns, file down my jawbone, dig out my roots and stitch me back up for just over a hundred all by themselves, but Urgent Care has the audacity to charge me over four hundred dollars for ten minutes of telling me it's not broken treating my like a number while never remotely acting as if they had a compassionate bone in their body. I'll tell you one thing, it gave me even more respect for my dentists. Every single student who has ever set foot near my mouth knows me by name and greets me with excitement and care every time I have ever seen them in passing in the clinic. Though the health care system in this country is definitely fucked, and I think that insurance should be paying for it, not patients out of pocket like me, I still actually believe that what my dentists have done to me is worth the money it costs. It is absolutely disgusting how victims of accidents and people who can't afford insurance or are not eligible are exploited. Which unfortunately for those who live in Arizona, basically means everyone in poverty unless you are female and pregnant. Try getting AHCCCS if you are a homeless male in this city, just try. And if you wanna climb an even higher mountain, try being a teenager who is trying to stop using heroin and change your life who can't qualify for rehab because you don't have AHCCCS, which you can't get. But there I go again, bringing my job at a homeless youth resource center home with me!

The days that followed after my accident were a challenge to say the least. That first day afterwards, when Katie brought me home from the doctor, I could not even turn the handle of the door to get into my house. We had stopped and got me groceries, the majority of which she had to carry, opening all of my packages I couldn't get with a knife, orange juice, soy milk, etc because I couldn't turn the caps without terrible pain. Though I was only officially on no lifting from work for ten days, I swear it took me over a month for me to feel remotely functional again, and even then it was still around 85 and 50 percent usage of my left and right hand. It was a few weeks before I really risked biking too regularly again, and in the meantime during the few initial days I had off from work, it was an interesting experience to figure out how to live my life without hardly using my hands and without biking every day for the first time really in a year and a half.

First time biking near my house, shortly after my accident. February 2012

It's funny, I know that biking has made me live a "slower" lifestyle, more aware of my surroundings, my community, living simpler than the 4 years of my life I owned cars, but compared to walking, bikes sure SEEM like cars. Even though I lived in the neighborhood for almost a year, I still biked by much of it every day during my commutes without really exploring it. Walking around after my accident was the first time I discovered the grass and the trees and the birds of the local park by the capital, and it helped me to reconnect with nature in a way I had been neglecting for the past year, so intensely wrapped up in my own physical healing of my mouth. I had been so overwhelmed with all I had been through and trying to even process it all that I had lost sight of some of the other things that truly mattered to me, namely, my spiritual side and my connection to the natural world. A few days later I took a bus to a used bookstore and bought myself several new books, including one about a couple who left modern technology behind to go live with Minnenites for a year and a half, and another about the first scientists and tree climbers to explore the giant coastal redwoods I so fell in love with on my bike tour which was the catalyst of me facing this journey. In the weeks of healing that followed, I ordered more and more books from, including two that I consider to be particularly profound and life-changing, Becoming Animal by David Abram, and Soulcraft by Bill Plotkin, and though I find A New Earth to be particularly repetitive and kind of old hat to me, it was a pleasant reminder during that time to always focus on the present, to live in the now and make the most of every moment, and try to live a more stress-free, less Ego-driven life filled with gratitude. I also discovered this tremendously moving video online that very much relates, which I think is quite possibly one of my favorite videos I have ever discovered on the internet:

It's four months later now, and though my hands are mostly healed, I still haven't regained the full range of motion in my right wrist. For most of my life as an artist, I have always considered my hands perhaps the most important part of my body, and after years of doing pull-ups, I always trusted my arms with my life. At the time of my accident, it was a pretty profound and powerful switcheroo to realize that for the first time that I can remember, that I could actually depend on the strength of my TEETH more than I could my right hand. A few years ago, I never would have believe that I would be saying that right now, but it's true. They are not perfect, and they will never be the strongest in the world, but they are mine, and I am very thankful that I could count on them during those awkward and painful few weeks when my hands were useless. It gave me immense gratitude for Rakhee and all my dentists who have helped me to trust them again since this journey began--both dentists, AND my teeth. One of those first few days when I was sitting in the park under a tree reflecting on all I had been through in the dentist chair and learned in the past few years and how I had changed, I wrote this in my journal with my shaky right hand. I hope it can inspire others to cultivate a mindfulness and gratitude in their own lives and to live in the moment, and never forget how fortunate you are, to even be able to open your eyes. Thank you for all of the time so many of them around the world have given me to share with me in this story. I am trying my best every day, to make it one that you will not soon forget.