Knocked Off Course: An Accident on the Run


Three weeks ago on a cold, windy early December morning I followed my usual morning routine.  I woke up at 4:30 am and sleepily made a pot of coffee.  I went over to the computer, logged on and started to write down my thoughts as they slowly formed in those early morning hours.  I thought of how relatively well my life had been going.  My running was progressing better than expected and I searched for upcoming races I could train for in the upcoming months.  As I got up to get my coffee I decided to write about the importance to me in getting out every day and running.  I reflected on the healing aspect of running and the integral part it plays in maintaining my physical and mental well being.  The words appeared on the screen and the lines stacked up and I grew excited and anxious to get out the front door.  

I looked at the clock and realized I needed to hurry up and get started on my run.  Outside it was cold, the streets were dark and briefly shuddered.  I went to my room and got my gear in order and started to get ready.  The act of putting on my layers of gear and gathering my gps, road ID, and headlamp awakened me further and my muscles slightly twitched in anticipation.  I followed the same ritual of getting ready for my run, without deviation, as I did every morning.  I stretched in the same way.  I put on my sneakers and outer layers in the same order.  I put on my bright greenish-yellow reflective half zip over my base layer and then put on my headlamp.  I turned off the lights in the kitchen and switched on the lumens atop my head, illuminating the entire room with their brightness.  I turned on my gps and head out the door.

Outside it was cold, in the 20s, and I shivered slightly as I shook out the kinks in my arms and legs.  I hit the start button on my gps and started down the dark street.  Sometimes the first steps feel heavy and my feet thud angrily against the pavement for the first mile or so.  Today, however, it felt effortless as I glided across the sidewalks and roads.  The wind picked up, but my core was heating up, keeping the cold outside my layers of clothing.  As I eased into the rhythm of my breathing and stride, I felt a sense of hope and gratitude.  The familiar houses and intersections seemed to zip by and I eased into a feeling of equanimity as I fully embraced the present moment.  It is rare when you are absolutely in the moment, the worries of the day are kept safely at bay and the thoughts of self doubt and uncertainty have left the forefront of your consciousness.  They are never completely gone, but during this time of elevated heart rate, increased breathing, and concentrated physical effort, they recede into the background and their constant dark whispers are momentarily silenced.

I picked up my pace as I left the outskirts of town.  I passed the last stop light and set a steady pace for the straight uninterrupted road ahead of me.  The traffic was slowly increasing as time was wearing on and I made sure to pay close attention to my surroundings.  There were clusters of headlights as the cars whizzed past me and I kept well onto the shoulder.  I thought to myself how odd that I considered this my safe place, my safe time, their congruence creating the conditions for daily healing, for a cleansing of what had previously occurred and troubled me.  And this was my space I knew I could return to day after day.  It was mine and I knew I could rely on these stretches of road and time to touch and feel a sense of wellness, no matter what else may be going on in my life.  During this stretch of road my state of mind was peaceful and calm.

Suddenly, the next thing I knew I was on the ground.  I was unable to breath in and was hunched face down on the pavement.  I opened my eyes and the headlamp brightly illuminated the ground in front of me, casting an orange glow around my face.  I looked up and the world in front of me was blurry, as if there was a dense fog encircling me.  I put my head down again and spit out a piece of a tooth.  A long string of bloody saliva hung from my mouth and swayed erratically in the wind.  I went to move and pain from my left elbow roared back at me and I remained still and started to shiver in the cold.  I looked to my left and there was a large man slumped over a bicycle, who was beginning to stir.  He looked over at me and I saw he had a bloody nose.  He blinked in my direction without saying a word.  He had hit me head-on and yet I had never seen him.  I could feel the blood running down my face from various spots and could taste the metallic tinge of blood in my mouth.  My teeth felt in disarray.  I went to move my legs to stand up and they howled in protest.  I was stuck in the position I was in.  I looked through the blur at the increasing traffic passing by.  I waved my right arm and gestured for help.  I watched helplessly as the cars streamed by, one after another, without slowing down or stopping.  I wearily put my head down and lowered my arm.  I was shaking from the cold and felt the urge to close my eyes and go to sleep.

“How are you doing there, buddy?” I heard from behind me.  I tried to turn around, but my body would not cooperate, so I mumbled and motioned to the man on the bicycle and indicated an accident had occurred.

“I”m going to call you an ambulance” he said, and I could hear him making the phone call behind me.  

After he made the phone call he came over and started asking me questions.  I told him my name was Matt and that my left arm was badly hurt.  My left leg was hurt and I was unable to stand.  He told me not to worry and that help was on the way.

Somehow I managed to take my cell phone out of its pouch and I attempted to call my girlfriend, Christina.  She didn’t answer, so I called her grandfather, who lives down the street, and briefly told him what was going on and that I was being taken to the hospital via ambulance.  I asked him to please let Christina know.

I got off the phone and looked around me.  There was no sign of the ambulance and I continued to shiver and grow colder by the second.  I looked again to my left and saw the man who had hit me was walking away, receding from my view behind me.  The man who had stopped to help told him not to move, but he continued to walk.  I stopped paying attention and looked ahead for the flashing lights of the ambulance.  My mind was not processing the world around me.  The cars continued to whiz by and I felt their lights shine brightly on my face.  I closed my eyes and put my head down and started to shake a little harder.  I thought of the medical bills and how I was going to pay for the injuries I had accrued, the extent of which I could only guess at the time.  These thoughts were occurring in a hazy cloud as I sat on the side of the road when off in the distance I saw flashing lights approaching.

I breathed a sigh of relief as the ambulance pulled off the side of the road.  Two EMTs quickly came over and I told them about my arm and my inability to get up due to my leg.  I told them I had briefly lost consciousness.  With both of their help I was able to stand up and lie down on the stretcher.  The man who had stopped to help me was talking to them about what he had seen.  I did could not make out everything he was saying, but I did him say he sees me running every morning along this stretch of road.

“I put my card with your stuff.  You call me and let me know how you’re doing.  Take care now” He told me and then he started walking off towards his car.

I was wheeled and then loaded into the ambulance.  Before the EMTs shut the door I looked out into the darkness and asked if someone was going to get the person’s information who had hit me.

“Don’t worry, they’ll take care of that” the tall, male EMT told me.  The doors then slammed shut.