There’s been something I’ve been needing to write about, but didn’t feel ready to write about, until now. I still can’t reveal the details for several reasons, but I need to get the basic experience off my chest, because it feels like I’m not being honest if I don’t. It doesn’t feel honest because even though I’ve written several posts since this happened, none of these posts have reflected what’s really been going on in my mind. Since this happened there has been only one thing on my mind.
A week and a half ago, my boyfriend, Peter, was in a motorcycle accident.
Those of you who know anything about motorcycles know that the words “motorcycle” and “accident” don’t usually find their way into the same sentence without serious consequences. At about 40-50mph, his bike hit the right rear corner of a car that had stopped abruptly. His body slammed forward, crushing into the gas tank, before he flew over the handlebars and the car, striking the concrete about 20 feet away.
He was injured, and was hospitalized, and needed surgery. I don’t want to write more about the details of the accident because I know he doesn’t want me to. Let me tell you a little more about Peter so you can understand why.
I joke with Peter that he was meant to be born in a different era. An era when people lived on farms or in mountain towns, tilling the land and hunting their dinner with rifles. He’s tall – about 6’3 – with fiery red hair and red stubble that gives him the appearance of a mountain man. He likes to work with his hands. He has all sorts of random hobbies that span from Japanese woodworking to truffle farming to gourmet cooking. Watching him surf the internet is liking seeing a genius with ADHD in action. On second he’s looking up how to build solar panels out of mirrors and old video screens, and the next he’s reading about Nordic viking toolmaking.”Oh, you didn’t know I liked Nordic viking toolmaking?” he’ll say. “I’ve always liked Nordic viking toolmaking.”
He’s the youngest of his siblings, and is hilarious and good-natured. He’s not one to complain – ever. A few years back a feral dog bit his hand, causing a gash about 2 inches long. Instead of going to an ER like most of us would, he took some high proof whiskey, poured a few glugs onto his wound, drank a swig or two, and stitched it up himself with a sewing needle and fishing line. Judging by the lack of scar, I’d say he did a damn good job.
Peter doesn’t like to complain, and he doesn’t like people to worry about him, which is why he wouldn’t want to be the focus of the post. So this post is more about me that it is about him. And it’s more about the global experience of facing suffering and loss of control than it is about me.
When I took Peter to the hospital, I did everything to take control of the situation. He hadn’t wanted to get into the ambulance, so I took him to the hospital myself, to LA County, which is where I went to medical school. When we arrived, I drove straight up to the ambulance entrance of the ER, ran inside, and said in my most demanding voice,
“I’m a physician. I went to medical school here. My boyfriend was in a motorcycle accident. You need to bring him in right away.”
They did. Within 10 minutes they had rolled him in on a gurney into the resuscitation area.
I made sure to be as obnoxious as possible and tell everyone I was a doctor and that I had trained there. I wanted to know exactly what was happening, when it was happening.
For the first few hours, I felt like I was in control. It seemed like everything was okay. I figured he’d get a few xrays and we’d be on our way with a prescription for pain meds before we knew it. But as the hours unfolded, the gravity of his injuries became apparent. I began to feel weak, and confused, and helpless. I was so worried about him, but I could tell he was worried too, and the more I showed it the worse he felt. So I acted confidently even though I was afraid.
Overnight, after Peter had his surgery and was wheeled to the floor, there was a mistake in his orders and he wasn’t given any pain medications. He went from receiving copious amounts of morphine, fentanyl, Demerol and Dilaudid to being given nothing. I did everything I could to get the nurse to help him, to get the doctor on call on the phone – anything to get him what he needed – but the nurse treated me like an annoying fly she wanted to swat, and the doctor took 4 hours to come to the hospital to evaluate him.
I watched him writhe in pain for those 4 hours. If you told me I could have ended his suffering by cutting my own heart out, I would have done it. I know that sounds crazy, but I think I would have tried. I would have taken a scalpel, stabbed it just to the left of my sternum, and started scissoring away until I passed out from pain or cardiogenic shock. I would have done anything to not see him suffer like that. But I didn’t do anything dramatic or heroic and I didn’t save the day.
I’ve replayed those hours in my head about 1000 times. It happens unintentionally and unconsciously. Each time it’s like a daydream, and I imagine that I say or do something differently and everyone listens to me, “Yes, let me get the doctor in here right away, we will rush those medications from the pharmacy immediately.” But then I slip out of the daydream and remember there’s nothing I can do to go back and change what already happened.
Around 5am, Peter was finally given the medications he needed. Ten milligrams of morphine, 2 of Dilaudid, 30 of Toradol. When he could finally sleep, so could I. I pulled my chair up to his hospital bed and rested my head on his chest. When my body started to cramp up, I took a blanket and curled up on the windowsill.
Later that evening Peter was discharged from the hospital, and I took him home. Every day since he’s looked a little bit better. To be honest, it could have been worse, much worse. I know how lucky he was, and I feel grateful. Once he’s healed there will only be a small reminder that the accident ever happened. He’s in good spirits. His pain has improved, and he’s been up and walking around. He’s sitting next to me on his iPad right now looking up a welding class he wants to take when he feels better. “You didn’t know I liked welding? I’ve always liked welding.”
There Is No Wrong Action. There Is Only Wrong Intention.
I know it’s stupid and pointless for me to feel guilty for not doing enough, because I know I did a lot, and I know I did everything I could. When I start to beat myself up I try to remember what I already know. There is no such thing as wrong action. There is only wrong intention. Maybe if I had done something different the situation would have played out better. Maybe it wouldn’t have. Either way, it doesn’t matter. I did the best I could with what I knew at the time. My intention was in the right place, so by default my actions poured out of love.
Sometimes You Need To Let Go Of Control
No matter how much I want to be, I’m not in control of this situation. Every day Peter is better, but there’s still a lot up in the air. He doesn’t have medical insurance, and we’re waiting to see what kind of insane bill he gets. The driver at fault for the accident is still in dispute, and as I’m sure you can imagine, there is a lot at stake based on that decision. To a certain degree, there are actions I can take to make things run as smoothly as possible (and believe me, I’m on top of that shit). But beyond that I can’t forcefully control the road from here. Staring at his surgical incision isn’t making it heal any faster. Sitting in a constant state of worry about the bills won’t pay them.
I’m grateful to have him here with me, in good enough shape to look up welding classes. I’m grateful to have a person I love so much that seeing him suffer makes me suffer. And even though I’m worried about what will happen next, I’m appreciative to have the opportunity (an ongoing opportunity, really), to learn how to let go.
It makes me think of a quote by – you guessed it – Jack Kornfield, from his book A Path With Heart (yes, I know quote Jack Kornfield incessantly, but he’s awesome, so deal with it). He said:
“In the end, just three things matter:
How well we have lived.
How well we have loved.
How well we have learned to let go.”