Collision with Reality*

'Any crash you can walk away from is a good one'--Launchpad McQuackI’m not sure how solipsists do it. I mean, I can understand reducing the universe down to your existence, a la Descartes**. I can understand doubting your senses, because any rational person will tell you that they can be fooled. We know that we’re not infallible.

But there are times when you’ve really got to have trouble denying the existence of the external, material world. Times when you realize that you’re not something else that starts with “in-” and ends with “-ible” and has a fall in the middle: indestructible.

See, I bought a new bike recently, in hopes of cutting down both on my gas usage and my weight. And ever since I started riding this new bike, I’ve been somewhat afraid of the maneuver that has often led to cuts and scrapes in the past. If you’ve ridden in a moderately urban area before, chances are you’ve stupidly tried something similar, where you’ve managed to ride off the sidewalk or the road, and think “it’s not that much of a height difference between the ground and the paved path on which I wish to ride, I’ll just steer slightly to the right and get back onto the concrete.”

And get onto the concrete I did. I got fairly intimate with that concrete. I think I may have left a small piece of myself behind on that concrete, some epidermal cells from my elbow and my dignity, to be specific. I stood up, checked that my iPod wasn’t damaged, and realized that I was. The abrasion on my elbow hadn’t yet started hurting, but my left wrist and the heel of that hand ached more than when I’d broken the same wrist in 5th grade. I picked up my bike and the scattered pieces of my not-yet-used headlight and walked back toward my building.

Once there, I cleaned my elbow and wrapped my wrist in an Ace bandage, and noticed that my right knee kind of hurt as well. And why wouldn’t it? But, bravely I decided that I’d get right back on my bike and pedal my ass to the grocery store.

I made it about ten feet on the bike before my wrist said “oh no you don’t” and my left shoulder said “mmm-hmm.”

So I called my parents about insurance information, did a little research on local care providers (and found out to my dismay that my insurance company’s website includes “homeopathy” and “chiropractic medicine” among the “specialties” you can search by), and went to the hospital. By this point, the ominous black clouds had rolled in and the rain was starting to spit down, and I realized that if I hadn’t humbled all over myself, I’d probably be a couple of miles from home on a sidewalk next to a moderately busy road, cursing the cruel skies.

Now, you may be unaware, but when you’ve spent the preceding weekend watching over a dozen episodes of “Scrubs,” heading into an actual hospital is a little surreal. You may find yourself whistling a song about Superman and wondering if the attending doctor seeing you is wearing green scrubs because he’s a surgeon, or if that convention is specific to Sacred Heart.

But I had a nice little chat with the nurse in the front office and the paramedic who took down my symptoms. When I told her what the weather looked like as I came into the hospital, and mentioned that if I hadn’t crashed I’d just be heading back from my errands at this point, she chuckled “See? Everything happens for a reason.”

And she’s right, you know. I mean, I doubt that my meeting with the sidewalk was the universe’s way of saying “hey, you’ll thank me when you’re dry.” To be quite honest, I think I would have preferred the moisture to the pain. After all, I’ve come home from most of these rides soaking wet, thanks to the heat of late. But the crash did happen for a reason, namely “my absolute stupidity in failing to think, brake, and lift my bike onto the pavement, instead doing precisely what I’d been worried would end up with me receiving serious injury.” I think that’s sufficient cause.

She asked me, as part of the interview, if I had any religious beliefs or objections that would require consideration in my care, and I said “none.” It occurred to me, though, that I don’t know what the baseline is in that regard. Is the starting point “all treatment is acceptable,” and then you subtract things if the patient is a Jehovah’s Witness or a Christian Scientist or a kosher-keeping Jew or a Muslim? Why don’t they assume organ donation, in that case? I mean, I can see fine arguments for making organ donation a conscious decision, but why opt-in when every other medical treatment seems to be opt-out? Is there a common non-religious objection to organ donation? I’ve heard the “if you sign your license, the doctors will give you crappy care because they’d rather have your organs” quasi-conspiracy theory, but does anyone really believe that? Enough to justify making it an “opt-in” option?

So, I waited and did a bunch of different movements to try to describe my pain in clear and specific terms. A nurse asked if I needed a wheelchair, and I declined, since I’d walked into and around the hospital without much more than an exaggerated limp, but she insisted just to be on the safe side. At this point, I’m hoping they’ll give me a cane before I leave, so I can look like House. Or, more specifically, like Dr. Cox in the episode where he’s making fun of House. I figure, if I’m going to hobble, I ought to hobble in style.

Given how much my mind fixates on fictional physicians when I’m in medical situations, you’d never guess that I spent a large portion of my childhood nose-deep in the American Medical Association’s Family Medical Guide.

While in the doctor’s room, sitting on the bed with the butcher paper upholstery, I spent some time trying to recall various bones, initially to figure out what might be broken (I’d resolved myself to having a fracture in a medial carpal or metacarpal, a sprained or dislocated shoulder, and a sprained knee, in my own amateur diagnosis), but continuing on for my own practice. I hit a snag when I couldn’t remember what vertebrae lie between the cervical and the lumbar (turns out it’s thoracic).

The doctor talked to me and did a couple of tests for my pain, and then a nurse wheeled me into the X-ray room. I’ve had probably an inordinate amount of X-rays done in my life; I broke my left wrist on the last day of fifth grade, I slipped on ice my Junior year of college and burst a bursa in my left elbow, and checked that out for further damage, and I’m reasonably certain that I’ve had at least one more X-ray session done on that and one on my other hand, not to mention all the dental and orthodontic X-rays I’ve had. This time, though, was a real treat. I’ve never had multiple body parts scanned before. I got a barrage of pictures of my wrist in different positions, and then laid down on the table with a lead sheet over my abdomen, allowing the technicians to slide me around and pose me as they saw fit. I found myself examining the machine, and thinking about the logistics of the whole thing. How much lead was in that apron (it really didn’t feel all that heavy, and I’ve handled lead strips and bricks before, so I’m a little curious as to how thick the lead has to be)? What did they try before they figured out that lead blocked radiation? Since we know that bone appears to block the X-rays, would it be effective (if impractical) to have a sheet of bone instead of a sheet of lead?

Eventually they wheeled me back to the treatment room, and eventually one of the nurses came in to share the doctor’s notes with me. I assume he was busy with Dr. Turk and The Todd, and I can handle that (preoccupation five!). Apparently no serious injuries or fractures showed up on the X-rays, so I was prescribed icepacks and ibuprofen. No wraps, no cane, no crutches, just “don’t do anything you can’t handle, and if it still hurts in 3-4 days, and the pain is increasing, let us know.” They’re going to have a radiologist take a look at the X-rays and give me a call if they find anything, but given the subsiding pain in my wrist and the low level of pain in the other injured areas, I imagine they probably won’t.

On one hand, I’m glad, because I hate being in a cast, especially in the summer. On the other hand, I’m a little disappointed, because I’d kind of gotten used to the idea of walking with a cane for a few days. On the other hand***, I’m kind of embarrassed; if I’d just kept ice on the wounds and waited a day or two, I might have avoided a trip to the emergency room. But better safe than sorry, I suppose.

So, I came back home, dinked around, and went to my Bio 100 class, where we went over Mitosis and Meiosis. Somehow, I’ve managed to retain most of the details about IPMAT, so it wasn’t much more than review. During the break, I walked around a bit (the ibuprofen they gave me really seemed to take care of things) and found a table with apparently (but not explicitly) free books, presumably discarded from the science professors’ shelves. I snatched a copy of Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, since it reminded me of my previous Bio class, in High School, where we read a little Ehrlich and learned about the Tragedy of the Commons. I also grabbed my second copy of Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods. I figured, better that I get it than someone who will actually be convinced by the contents.

I picked up my first copy of that swill at the library book sale here earlier in the year. Later, I discovered a copy of one of his sequels (maybe Signs of the Gods?) in my parents’ bookshelf. I also found one of Hal Lindsey’s books of unfulfilled prophecy in that same bookcase. One of these days, I should start a series of posts on the books in my parents’ bookshelf, because there are some doozies in there, from space aliens to ESP to the Shroud of Turin. Crazy stuff.

So, all in all, it’s been a day full of collisions with reality and fantasy, both big and small. But as much as you may try to claim that alien astronauts visited ancient Peru, or that the Hippocratic Oath is “first, do no harm; second, ignore the first part if there’s organs to be had,” or that God will smite you for accepting antibiotics or blood transfusions, or that the entire world is an elaborate fabrication of your solitary mind, reality is always ready, willing, and able to smack some sense into you. Reality is hard, unyielding, rough, and mostly gray, and when you come into contact with it, you’d better be ready for some painful realizations.

When I picked myself and my bike up off the sidewalk, my iPod’s Song Shuffle shuffled out the next song: The Human League’s “(Keep Feeling) Fascination.” Maybe everything does happen for a reason.

*And by “reality” I mean “the pavement.”
**Get it?
***I have three hands now, apparently.**** All those X-rays, no doubt.
****Or maybe that just moves it back to the first hand.

6 Responses to Collision with Reality*

  1. Infophile says:

    Kind of reminds me of those people who claim that they create the entire universe from their own minds. At this point, it’s fun to slap them and ask them why they’re hitting themselves.

  2. Doubting Tom says:

    That’s freakin’ hilarious. And so are the Choprawoo “What the Bleep” solipsists.

  3. Brendan says:

    a la Descartes…**Get it?Lol. Seriously, I laughed. Or at least snickered. That was pretty clever.I too, have desired a cane, for precisely that reason. Of course, he holds it in the wrong hand, though I imagine out of some perverse stubborness, rather than ignorance of any kind.

  4. Akusai says:

    A girl I know was once carrying on an engaging conversation with somebody when the topic somehow came around to his belief that only he exists and he created everything else in his own head. She stopped talking to him right then. I imagine it’s hard to carry on a conversation with somebody who seriously want to tell you that you are his own mind’s creation.I sometimes compare my allergist to J.D. He’s similarly goofy, but far more confident. And he has a private practice. And, as far as I know, he’s never slept with Amy Smart, Mandy Moore, Sarah Chalke (mmm, Sarah Chalke…), Tara Reid, Gift Shop Girl, Dr. Cox’s wife, and almost Heather Graham. I suppose it’s possible, though.I’d kill to see him do the world’s most giant doctor.

  5. Berlzebub says:

    she chuckled “See? Everything happens for a reason.”Me: “Yeah, I lost some skin because I wasn’t supposed to get wet.”I just love when people place blame on/give credit to some inobservable force that’s guiding the universe. How about the smart decisions or skills that got you to that point, or (inversely) the inept decisions and lack of ability that got you in over your head?If you sit around, waiting and wishing for good things to come to you, all you’re going to get is a large posterior.

  6. TheBrummell says:

    ***I have three hands now, apparently.Read Niven and Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye, then start refering to your third hand as the gripping hand.As for the nurse, perhaps she was trying to flirt with you.

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