Day of the Apple

October 21st, 2008  |  Published in this mortal coil  |  2 Comments

This is a hard entry to post. Sometimes it’s hard to take a thing that happened and put the truth of it up for other people to have and prod at, especially because the thing written about in this case involves a few moments where I was out of my head with pain, so my account is necessarily affected by the inevitable slipperiness of memories about sudden and traumatic things. It wasn’t hard to write, though.

So, in a nutshell: I was riding my bike to Ben’s preschool last Monday when someone drove by going the opposite direction and threw an apple at me. It hit me in the face and it hurt a lot. I ended up with sutures in my right eyelid, a cut on my nose, and I ruined a new sweatshirt trying to keep the blood out of my eyes and mouth.

The route I was on when I was hit with the apple is the same one I’ve used to take Ben back and forth to preschool since we moved here last summer. We live right on the edge of the Sabin, Concordia and Alameda neighborhoods on NE Prescott in the 20s blocks. Ben’s school is just off Fremont in the 40s blocks. Google Maps says the route I take is about 1.8 miles long. That’s it over to the side.

I don’t like to ride on major streets, so I get off of Prescott right away and go down to either Skidmore or Mason, depending on the time of day. It’s harder to get across 33rd on Skidmore, and Mason has the benefit of a pedestrian crossing and responsive stoplight for people going back and forth to Wilshire Park. On this ride, I took Mason, cut down to Shaver, which is a block south, then rode to 37th where I went south to cross Fremont (which becomes Alameda) and turn east on Klickitat, which is usually very quiet and has a number of stop signs that seem to keep things slow.

I was approaching the corner of 40th and Klickitat going east when I was hit. I didn’t really register the car the apple came from. I was riding at a pretty good speed — not hurrying or racing but moving faster than a casual ride — and I saw the apple just before it hit me, entering my field of vision from above.

I’ve spent some time trying to figure out a literary way to write about the jump-cut shift in awareness between seeing the apple and getting hit by the apple, but I give up. It worked like this:

I saw the apple and knew it was an apple. I don’t know how long I could have been looking at it … not very long because it was thrown from a car I don’t remember seeing … but I registered that it was an apple and thought “that’s an apple.” Then the last frame of that thought was gone and the next frame begins everything after.

When the apple hit, it felt like two things I’ve experienced: hitting a low-hanging branch at a fast run when I was a little kid, and hitting the ground after having all the air dump out of my parachute while I was still 15 feet up, nothing to do but hope I didn’t land on anything the wrong way.

It reminded me of hitting the branch because more than one minute went by where I couldn’t understand what could have possibly hit me so hard. It reminded me of that bad jump because I felt an all-over sense of shock, like a part of me knew I might really be hurt but also registered that I needed to deal with some things and get myself to safety before I could stop and assess the damage. I stayed on my bike long enough to swerve over to the curb and pull the bike and trailer partially up onto the grass between the sidewalk and curb.

I couldn’t see very well, and one side of my face and nose really hurt. I was disoriented and I knew something bad had happened, but I couldn’t really put me getting hit by whatever hit me together with the apple I saw just before I was hit. It just felt like I’d been hit by something too big to possibly be an apple.

I got myself together enough to realize that something was in my right eye. I rubbed it and my hand came away with a lot of blood on it.

About the time I was coming to grips with the fact that I was bleeding a lot and needed to do something to keep the blood from getting in my eye again, I noticed another bicyclist. He stopped and offered to help.

He told me I looked pretty bad, that maybe my nose was broken because I was bleeding all over the place. I grabbed my bike’s rear-view mirror and turned it up to take a look at myself. I had a cut on the bridge of my nose that was pretty bloody, some abrasions on the right side of my face, and my right eye was bloodshot. I had a lot of blood coming from my nose.

While the bicyclist talked to me about what had happened, I took off my sweatshirt and started trying to get some pressure on the cuts. My eye kept getting blood in it, and I was still disoriented enough that I was puzzling over how the cut on my nose could be getting into my eye. I was also asking a lot of questions about what could have possibly hit me, and the bicyclist said he was sure it was an apple, which I simply wasn’t having. Surely an apple wouldn’t feel like that, would it? It wouldn’t make this much blood flow, would it? Besides … were there any apple trees around for the apple to fall from? How could I have been hit by an apple when there were no apple trees?

The bicyclist didn’t have many details to offer, but he did say he saw a truck — a green SUV — and that he saw someone throw the apple at me. He didn’t get a license plate number. He was pretty patient with me: I remained convinced that something besides an apple had hit me, but while he was talking, he noticed the apple that had hit me, lying in the grass a few feet in front of where I got the bike off the street. I got up and walked over to it. I thought it had a bite out of it, but on closer inspection I realized it had a wedge sheared out where it hit the front edge of my helmet. The apple probably didn’t hit with full force, considering how much of it had been sliced off.

The bicyclist stayed with me for a few more minutes while I called Alison at work. I was only a few blocks from Ben’s preschool, but I knew I’d need several more minutes to get myself together, and I needed to arrange for Lisa — Ben’s teacher — to keep him after the usual pickup time and hopefully keep him away from where he could see me until I could clean up the worst of the blood that was all over my hands and face, and get a band-aid or two to hold me until I could decide whether to go to the emergency room. I waited a minute or two more, still dealing with the blood getting into my eye, then called Ben’s preschool myself to make sure Lisa knew what had happened.

Once the bicyclist left, a few more bicyclists came by. One stopped to offer me some water. A woman wearing headphones and doing some sort of exercise walking asked me what had happened, then moved past. As I walked down the sidewalk she kept looking over her shoulder at me, and I wondered if I was frightening her. My beard was matted with blood, dried blood was smeared on my forehead and cheeks, I was holding a bloody sweatshirt to my head. Sometimes I’d hiss “fuck!” because I hurt, or because I was gradually absorbing the notion that someone — either from malice or simple stupid carelessness — had fucked me up with an apple, of all things.

I walked my bike the rest of the way to Ben’s preschool. By the time I got there, my head was clearer, I wasn’t muttering to myself, and most of the bleeding had stopped, though the sweatshirt kept coming away with blood when I pressed it to my eye. I didn’t feel stunned anymore, and while I wasn’t angry I was thinking I’d have to deal with Ben in a few minutes and I needed to quit thinking about how bad my afternoon had become. I didn’t want to put on some stoic front, but I also didn’t want him to be afraid, or worry about me, or be afraid of riding in his bike trailer. We had to ride home.

I went in the side door and down into the basement and cleaned myself up in the bathroom. At that point, I realized that in addition to the light abrasions on my face and the cut on my nose, I had a cut on my right eyelid, which was what was causing the blood to get in my eyes. My mood improved while I was cleaning myself up. Nothing looked deep. I stopped to take a picture with my phone.

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I put a band-aid on my nose, put my bloody sweatshirt into a plastic bag that I stuffed into Ben’s backpack, and went up to get him. I knew I probably looked pretty bad, but most of the bleeding had stopped and I doubted I’d be in any better shape if I waited around.

I talked with Ben about what had happened. He wanted to know if someone mean had thrown the apple at me. I said “someone mean or stupid.” “We don’t call people stupid, dad,” he said. I told him he was right. He told me next time someone threw an apple at me I should cover my nose.

I loaded him into the trailer and rode home the same way I’d come.

About a block from where I’d been hit, I realized I didn’t know where my glasses were, so I pulled off the street and looked around in the grass and on the street, but couldn’t find them. I don’t know if they were picked up, run over, or if I just didn’t happen to see them. Today Lisa told me she drove by the spot and looked around to, but didn’t have any luck either. I think that was very kind of her.

I made it home without any problems, though I did find myself pushing the bike across a few intersections I’d normally ride across. I had “green SUV” in my head, and I saw a few of those, and I found myself staring at them as they came and went.

Alison got home just as I was putting the bike away, and after taking a look at my cuts and getting Ben something to eat, we decided to go to the emergency room at Providence Hospital. We left Ben with our friends Justin and Dunetchka.

At the ER, it took a while — probably 30 or 45 minutes — to get through triage, then a few more minutes to handle insurance, then a lot more time — about two hours — before I was taken to a room in the ER. Once I was there we waited a while longer to see a nurse, then more time to see a doctor. Once he’d come in and gotten a look at me, we decided I should probably just catch a taxi home once I was done. Alison left to pick up Ben and take him home around 10:30.

A quick departure:

I had to talk to a number of people at the ER: two intake nurses, the triage nurse, another intake person who handled my insurance, the doctor’s nurse, the doctor, and another nurse. Their reactions were almost uniform: Nobody wanted to believe that my injuries were caused by anything other than a fall. Several kept trying to rearrange my narrative for me: “So you got hit by the apple and you fell and hit your face?”

“No,” I’d say, “I was hit in the face with the apple. I didn’t fall at any point.”

“So,” said one of the nurses, “you had your accident after the apple hit you, like you were shaken up and then … ?”

“No. I was riding my bike, I got hit in the face with an apple, I stayed on my bike, got off the street, and I bled all over the place. No falling. No ‘accidents.'”

Despite widespread trouble believing that an apple could cause lacerations, most of the staff were sympathetic. Several said they commuted by bike regularly.

I did a lot more sitting waiting for my stitches. The nurse put a topical anesthetic on my eye to prep me for injections, and I got a tetanus shot.

A little before midnight the doctor came back in and started injecting my eyelid with anesthetics. That wasn’t too bad, but there were a few times I definitely felt the needle pressing near my eyeball, and it really stung a few times. He got to work on the stitches without much comment and we chatted while he worked. He was done pretty quickly — a bit before 12:30 — and he had me wait while he got a nurse to clean me up and give me instructions on keeping my eye clean and following up.

The nurse came in a little before 1 a.m. and gave me some antibiotic ointment, then showed me how to find the hospital cafeteria. I ate a quick meal, got some money out of an ATM in the lobby, called a cab and waited around. I got home about 1:45 and spent some time talking to Alison before sitting down to write a few mails to clear my calendar for the day.

Fortunately, I’ve got the sick days at work, and I’m at the tail end of one contract and only in preparation for two more, so my clients took the news that I’d be down for at

least a day in stride.

I didn’t get to sleep until some time after 3 a.m. I don’t remember much of what I did after I wrote people and shut down the front of the house. I think I might have read a little … I recently got the latest Iain M. Banks novel from the library and I’ve looked forward to each chance I’ve had to spend time with it.

My nose hurt when I went to sleep, and I accidentally touched my sutures when I rolled over. I felt them tug a little and that stung.

Tuesday

Al let me sleep. She said goodbye to me when she left with Ben for the day. I got out of bed around 11:15, instantly regretting some vague promises I’d made in the previous evening’s mails to get something done in the afternoon.

I made pancakes and wandered around the house. Gretchin had encouraged me to take a picture of myself and write a brief account of what had happened so she could contact local media and bicycle activists.

I tried to watch The Deer Hunter, but I couldn’t really stay with it.

Tuesday afternoon picture

I decided it was probably time to try to get that picture for Gretchin, and it took forever to get everything to do it. I knew I was probably a little off because I kept obsessing about little details … where was the good tripod? Where did I put the remote? should I use the Canon because it was easier or the Pentax because it has a good lens? Should I stick the lamp with the long neck over the edge of the futon to help set up the focus? I was like that for more than an hour.

Then I gave up and started typing. Gretchin had asked for a “brief summary” of the incident, but by the time Al came through the door at 3:30 or so, I’d written about 2,000 words. Al helped me finish setting up the camera and took the picture for Gretchin.

After we took the picture and sat around for a little while, we picked up Ben and Al dropped me off at the doctor, who told me the eyelid looked good but that I needed to get to a plastics specialist right away. Sometimes they have to “make a correction” by re-cutting an eyelid and sewing it back up.

The Rest of the Week

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Tuesday was uneventful. Wednesday through Friday even more so. It was hard to get back to work on Wednesday. I didn’t have my glasses, so it was hard to read anything on the computer. I ended up zooming everything to read comfortably.

I called the police and they sent an officer over to take my report. He told me he’d seen the sort of thing I experienced happening more often lately, but I didn’t press for details. We both agreed that the report was most important for its statistical value.

At some point Ben got around to asking me about the stitches in my eye. He didn’t exactly understand why they were there or what purpose they served. He’s been into The Nightmare Before Christmas for the last month or so, so I told him the doctor sewed up my eye just like Sally sewed up her arm. He was very quiet after that, looking up at me that way little kids do when they’re processing something new. After a long silence I checked in on him:

“So what do you think of that?”

“That’s pretty cool, dad.”

“You think?”

“Yeah. When they take out your stitches will your eye fall out?”

“Nah. It’s in there pretty good.”

“Oh. That’s interesting.”

On Friday I went to the plastics specialist and spent more time filling out forms and waiting than I did talking to the doctor (about two minutes) or getting the stitches out (less than five minutes). They said everything looked good, that I’d need no corrections, and that my eyelid would itch for a while, but to be careful rubbing it, since eyelid stitches come out before the tissue is completely healed to prevent people from having marked up eyelids.

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The Next Monday

That’s today.

Gretchin’s campaign to contact local media and government types has so far borne three results: The office of Portland’s Mayor Elect wrote me a nice note expressing its official dismay and best wishes; a reporter from KBOO called this afternoon and interviewed me briefly for the afternoon news show; and I got a note from someone at bikeportland.org asking for a few details and expressing sympathy.

A lot of people were very kind to me when they learned of the incident, and many of them also got very angry. I appreciated the kindness and sympathy because they gave me permission to feel miserable for a few days. I have the kind of self-denial streak that doesn’t really blunt my desire for Moon Pies and Yoo-hoo but does cause me to try to shrug things off when I shouldn’t.

I also appreciate the anger, because it gave me the space I needed to resist my own anger and the accompanying demand it would have placed on me to hate whoever it is that hurt me. The incident gave me a small taste of what it’s like to know that some anonymous person was able to reach out and inflict physical harm with what appears to be impunity, and it made a small dent in my sense of safety. On some tribal level, it’s good to know there are people who wouldn’t stand for someone doing that to a friend.

On the off chance they’ll come across this, I should also say thanks to the bicyclist who stopped and stayed with me while I was trying to pull myself together, and to the other bicyclists who stopped and offered water or sympathy while I sat by the street.

And also thanks to Gretchin, who took the time to write a lot of local media, government and advocacy groups to tell them about the whole thing. There’s not much anyone can do, exactly, but as I talked about it with Al this evening she pointed out that people need to know, and that it’s good for me to know that people know. I agree.

As of today, my nose is still a little sore, the skin around my eye is a little yellow and the eyelid is still a little pink. This entry has been sitting around since late last week wanting to be finished, so now it is.

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Responses

  1. sven says:

    October 22nd, 2008 at 4:30 pm (#)

    GAH! Being hit in the face with an apple is no good!

    I’m glad you’re coming through this relatively unscathed. Sounds like if you hadn’t had the bike helmet to deflect the missile, things could’ve been lots worse.

    I’m glad you posted the write-up. Tribal instinct activated: mentally I’m simultaneously shaking my spear at the green SUV and cooking you up some faux chicken noodle soup.

  2. Xie says:

    December 9th, 2008 at 7:47 pm (#)

    Wow, Michael, that’s a crazy story. It’s sort of just like I pictured when you twittered that you’d been hit in the face by an apple while biking, except much worse. I hope you’re all healed up by now!

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