About three months ago I fell off my bike and hit my head. It was a beautiful balmy Friday evening on bike-friendly Rae Street. I left the house at the time that I was actually meant to meet my friend, putting me 20 minutes in the red. I was accelerating hard, thinking, I bet I can make it from Fitzroy to Brunswick East in 15 minutes, then I’ll only be 15 minutes late, which is socially acceptable! Shortly afterwards I lost my balance and rocketed through the air, landing first on my ribs and winding myself. I thought, I’m falling hard. This seems like the worst fall I’ve had. I really don’t know what’s going to happen. At the end my bike fell onto my head. It all seemed to unfold in slow motion. I can even remember the shocked faces of bystanders watching me tumble, which must surely be an invented memory.
Everyone was out on the street because it was such a beautiful night, and because Rae Street is so pleasant. Kind people gathered around, shielding me from oncoming traffic, untangling my hair from my bike. The neighbours Phil and Jean invited me into their house but I couldn’t move, so sat there on the curb. ‘Did you hit your head?’ a man asked. ‘Yeah, my bike hit my head but not very hard.’ His gorgeous little kid was right in front of my face, staring at me. Then the kid’s face started going blurry and I felt myself losing consciousness.
Could this be dying? I wondered. Seeing as there were no obvious wounds I had no idea why I’d be dying. Maybe internal bleeding? So this is how it can happen, I thought, shocked. A dumb, mundane mistake and your whole life, that felt so big and important to you at the time, is easily obliterated. And you can’t reverse it. For some reason the death scene from the movie Margaret came into my head. The dying actor is CJ Cregg from the West Wing so you feel like you know her, making her death especially unbelievable and tragic.
I got up on my haunches in an attempt to regain a grip on the world, and it helped. My vision gradually came back but I still felt like I was swimming in the world; my head was soupy and everything excessively bright. I wasn’t sure how this was all going to turn out. There was this sour, metallic taste in my mouth. I thought maybe it was blood from internal bleeding but the neighbour, Phil said it was probably just concussion – he played rugby so he knew. Phil and Jean helped me into their house and offered to drive me to emergency. At first I refused but then agreed, figuring that the human race is definitely screwed if you can’t accept favours at times like this (I was to need – and actively seek – many such favours over the following few months).
‘The injured person needs to sit in the front seat,’ said Jean. ‘That’s the one thing I remember from school.’ We drove a kilometre to St Vinnies emergency. My friend was with me by that stage. In the waiting room, he tried to cheer me up by explaining the plot of the movie playing overhead. I pretended to be entertained but actually couldn’t follow what he was saying. Neither of us had eaten dinner so my friend bought me some hot chocolate and chips from the vending machine, and we shared them. I googled concussion on my phone.
The triage nurse, when we finally got to see her, was reading a magazine, chewing gum and looking bored.
‘Were you wearing a helmet?’ she asked.
She looked annoyed. ‘You should always wear your helmet,’ she said. ‘If you were wearing a helmet, you wouldn’t be here.’
‘That doesn’t help me much now,’ I said mildly.
‘Well part of our job is education,’ she said with a sense of importance.
‘Is it really the right time for education?’ I asked, bewildered.
After about ten minutes they took me into the emergency room, where the nurses, young girls, asked lots of questions, like what year it was, and how old I was, and of course, whether I had been wearing a helmet. They looked at each other, worried. ‘I don’t know, she seems a bit confused. I think we might need to collar her.’ I remember thinking they seemed really sweet in their worry. Then I was collared and forced to lie down while I waited for them to X-ray my spine.
A male nurse, about my age, asked me about the accident, did some tests and felt my head for damage. ‘Hmm…there doesn’t seem to be any blood, but can’t really see much with all that hair.’ His arms were lean, muscly and tattooed. He said he was a cyclist too. ‘Please don’t lecture me about not wearing a helmet!’ I pleaded. ‘I don’t really think that’s my job!’ he said. Then he left me for a moment, giving my feet this little pat before he left the room.
While we waited, my friend, sitting at the side of the bed, looked at Linus bikes on his smartphone. He showed me an image. ‘I know this is kind of a weird time,’ he said, ‘but what do you think about this one?’