The Day Jill Fell Down and Broke Her Crown: On the Best Laid Plans of Mowers and Munchers

August 25, 2011 at 11:24 pm 3 comments

At the risk of sounding like I’m channeling Rod Serling…Imagine, if you will, the following scenario:  A respectably fit “woman of a certain age” returns home from church on a beautiful Sunday morning in August.  She walks the dog, changes into work clothes, and heads outside to mow the lawn before lunch.  She makes a dozen passes over the rough back yard terrain, then stops to empty the clippings from the mower-mounted collection bag into a large, molded plastic yard waste container with its hinged lid already open to receive deposits. 

As she wheels the 90 gallon cart toward the gentle slope leading to the spot where the mower sits, something goes horribly, freakishly wrong.  Her hands resting on the hinged edge of the open bin, she nudges it forward.  Then, in a flash of lost control, the slant of the hill pulls everything off balance:  The bin is ripped out of her grasp as it falls flat on its back, splaying out the hinged lid and inserting it under her right, forward-marching foot, which pins the bin in place, bringing it to a sudden stop and hurtling her forward at whiplash speed.  Her head whacks with incredible force into the far rim of the open bin. 

The perfect storm of body weight, momentum, and gravity work together to impose lethal power on even that rounded plastic edge, as it peels a five inch swath of flesh away from the underlying skull. 


So there I stood, or rather sprawled.  My reflexive instinct was to raise my hand to my head and measure the damage.  I wish I hadn’t.  To my inexperienced touch, the two ridges of flesh separated by my fall left a divot so deep that I was absolutely certain what I was feeling was a dent in the skull itself.  “Dear God, dear God, dear God,” I heard a voice ringing out from somewhere.  As it turns out, it was my own, but if ever I could aptly apply the overused expression “surreal” to personal experience, this would have been the moment.  Talk about spontaneous prayer. 

Crazy things flash though your head – no pun intended – when you are propelled by terror through the back door into your own kitchen, gushing the enormous amounts of blood that a scalp injury can produce.  “Stupid, stupid, stupid,” I scolded myself aloud.  “Now I’ve done it,” I thought.  “A dent in my skull.  How are they gonna’ fix that?  And will I live to see them attempt the repair?”  Images of prominent people who’ve succumbed to head trauma whirled through my brain like a newsreel on hyper-speed as I simultaneously bemoaned having messed up the day’s itinerary:  tidy up the yard before toddling off to Taco Bell for our ritual summer-Sunday midday meal with my husband, whose name really is Jack, then run our weekly errands. 

I am not hysterical by nature.  This was probably as close to that state as I have ever been.  But I managed to stay collected enough to hold my hemorrhaging pate under cold running water from the kitchen tap, my poor husband not knowing whether to grab his car keys or the smelling salts.  His first sight of me had been as I stood in the middle of the tiled floor, Lady McBeth-like, my hands dripping with blood and screaming that I needed him, now.  By the time he got to my side, my heart was pounding so dramatically that I had trouble explaining what had happened.  Heck; it took me three opening paragraphs to try to put it into words here, twenty-four hours after-the-fact. 

And Jack Came Trodding Calmly After 

Once he has determined that this is not a pet-involved tragedy, level-headed spouse gathers cold wet compresses for the patient to press against the injury, and off we go in the little green Saturn, with its bad muffler announcing our urgency all the way to the emergency room entrance – a blessedly mere two-mile trip.  I have the shakes.  I look at my free hand and see no tremor, so the sensation must be entirely visceral.  “They’re going to have to shave my head,” I whine, finally convinced that I am not, in fact, going to die on the spot. 

Surely all this blood will get me to the front of the line, I tell myself as I trudge toward the swooshing automatic door, but the waiting room at Emergency is completely empty.  Aside from a testy Front Desk clerk who insists that my employed husband must actually be unemployed because, “That’s what the internet says,” everyone is wonderful.  The triage nurses are gentle, comforting, and calm.  They remove the two layers of blood-soaked washcloths and re-wrap my head with the high tech equivalent of vinegar and brown paper; reassure me that head-shaving will probably not occur, since often staples can be used to close the scalp; ask about prescription medications and if I am abused at home.  “Absolutely not,” I say; “Only by me,” I think. 

Ushered efficiently into an exam room, I haul my Jack in with me, and prepare for a lost afternoon.  After all, this is where the tedious wait usually begins in earnest.  But a nurse soon appears, asking, “How are you?”  “Dumb,” I respond.  She sweetly assures me that if anything could have been done to avoid the accident, I would have done it; that these things happen, and are not the fault of the victim.  I soak up her kind reassurance like the thirsty, quivering sponge I seem to be at the moment, but I question, in my heart, the veracity of her words.   “What if I had just…” 

“You’re accident-prone,” my mother used to tell me – probably not the noblest mantle of self-fulfilling prophecy to lay on the shoulders of one’s already self-conscious child.  She also used to tell my risk-taking brother, “You’ll split your head wide open some day.”  At the time, I pictured something like a cantaloupe, or even what supermarkets now call a “personal-size” watermelon, dropping from a height of three stories to crack wide open on the cement below.  My current situation was probably closer to what she had in mind with her warning. 

She also used to offer the classic, “In anticipation of an emergency, don’t get caught in shabby underwear,” advice.  For those of us who insist on wearing things until they fall off of our bodies in a ragged heap, that’s a daily spin of the roulette wheel.  I am hopeful it won’t be an issue today. 

The doctor arrives within fifteen minutes of the nurse’s visit, serene and intelligent and inspiring of confidence.  He answers our questions and speaks not down to us, but using his grown-up voice.  After flushing and scrubbing and cleaning and deadening, he explains that my skull is indeed exposed, and that he will first close the membrane covering the skull, which was also torn in my explosive head dive, then deal with the scalp.  Four stitches go in before the outer layer is addressed. 

Now he begins work on the scalp tissue itself.  “We sometimes use staples, but I’m using sutures today because I think you get a better cosmetic result,” he explains.  “At my age, I can use all the help I can get,” I respond.  As I slowly conclude that no one here fears the worst for me, my tensions fade – and my inherent flippancy clicks back into high gear. “Oh, and while you’re up there, could you give me a little lift at the jowl-line?”  Feeling the subsequent tug of needle and thread, I observe, “Now I know what Frankenstein must have felt like.” 

Another wash-up from the ER tech reveals the need for a few more stitches and another smart remark from the patient.  (“Oh, if my hairdresser could see me now…”)  Final tally:  eighteen stitches, four internal, fourteen external.  And after only two hours and ten minutes, we are released back into the glinting sunshine of this glorious summer day.  

On the way out, I am half-tempted to stop at the adjacent exam room and offer advice to the sainted mother of the eight-year-old girl we have been listening to for the full length of our stay.  Little One had stuck a bead in her ear, which took the family first to Urgent Care for a two-hour visit, where Missy had refused to allow anyone to get anywhere near her to probe the situation, and now to the emergency room, where the same scene was being repeated.  Thirty painless seconds was all the doctor needed, he promised, to remove the foreign object, but the diminutive drama queen was all agitated sobs and mad speculation about how she’d “rather die.”  It was hold still for a half a minute, or be put to sleep – which carries much greater risks, of course.  But she was inconsolable, and beyond reasoning with, wailing, “I don’t want to be put to sleep.” 

By the time we were sprung loose ourselves, I was ready to give the youngster a Hollywood-style “snap-out-of-it” slap and say, “Look, kiddo.  You have two choices.  You can calm down, hold still for half a minute, and we can all go home, or you can continue to drag this out, they’ll have to put an I.V. in your arm, and we’ll be here all night.  It’s entirely your choice.”  I guess I’m feeling more like myself. 

Home to change clothes and put a scarf over my head, and then off for a late lunch at Taco Bell, where we just happen to run into…my hairdresser, whom I never see outside of her shop, and who thinks I look “really cute” in my red bandana.  I find myself telling everyone I encounter the whole ghastly tale.   Talking about it pulls it out of the Twilight Zone back onto the plane of reality and saps some of the horror out of it.  At least for the storyteller.  

It is late afternoon.  I sit in my living room recliner and ask myself what I have learned today.  Something about planning, for sure.  I had a neatly scheduled day laid out, before I laid myself out. But perhaps I could learn to slow down the pace a bit, and focus my thoughts on the task at hand.  (I was mowing in the first place partly to save the few hundred dollars it costs to hire the neighbor’s son to do it all summer, and now all of that plus some gets eaten up by the emergency room co-pay and our 20% co-insurance responsibility.  Scratch one good intention.) 

I also check for trip hazards and for open cabinet doors at home, remind myself that I can never be grateful enough for wellness and wholeness, and conclude that no matter how much energy I put into staying fit and healthy, things sometimes happen to wrest you of your confident control over that area of life.  But most importantly, I see with crystal clarity the real “what ifs” of this minor catastrophe:  What if…I had impaled myself on one of those sharp branches that were in the waste bin before last week’s pickup?  I had come very close, four days ago, to deciding not to set it at curbside for so few items to be hauled away.  What if… I had detached a retina rather than skinning my head?  A trickier repair, for sure.  What if…I hadn’t had a devoted guardian angel watching over me?  What if… 

As I settle in to bed at 11:00 p.m., I still haven’t felt any real pain; a little tightness at the suture site, and a bit of throbbing when I bend over, but no actual pain.  Still, it is 2:30 a.m. before my pulse calms enough for me to lay my own personal-size melon gingerly on its left, less-damaged side and drift off.  

As I finish out my week costumed as Rosie the riveter – complete with denim Capri pants, Aunt Jemima-style kerchief, and a look of steely determination – I continue to find bumps and scratches here and there.  So far, no black eyes, as the attending physician predicted might happen, but an interesting pattern of subcutaneous fluid moving about the left side of my face, first closing my left eye in a puffy little pillow of swelling and then shifting lower down my cheek each passing morning. 

Meanwhile, back in Jack and Jill Land, my husband jokingly asks me if I want a bicycle helmet to wear for future mowing attempts.  I am seriously considering his suggestion.  That guardian angel of mine could probably use the peace of mind.

Entry filed under: Advice For Life. Tags: , , , , , , .

On the Blessed Silence of Holding One’s Tongue Fall Notes and Quotes

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Keith  |  August 26, 2011 at 12:02 am

    oh my, that’s one for the record books.

    glad it came to an okay end and it appears that there is no permanent damage. goes into the category of “you never know”.

    the young ones in the family will love the stitches and scar.

  • 2. Craig  |  August 26, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Another well written article/event. Good luck on Monday when you get the stiches removed.

    • 3. kirkhams  |  August 26, 2011 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks, Craig.


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