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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Counting on My Fingers -- Three Weeks

At sunrise every morning I lie awake, wiggling the fingers of my unbroken hand with the glee of an infant testing the joy of movement for the first time.
I had watched those fingers wiggle as the operating room approached two weeks ago, wondering if they ever would wiggle again.
"You understand there are serious risks associated with this surgery?"
Yes, I did.
When you lie immobilized, first by a brace screwed into your skull and later by morphine, there is nothing much to do. Unless a face is peering down, as though you are trapped at the bottom of a fish tank, there is nothing to do but think.
Thought begins with the basics: It is good to be alive.

In the aftermath of the operating room, I awakened to another revelation that now reoccurs daily. Call this schmaltz and I will tell you you've never felt truly vulnerable, that your body has not flown 20 feet through the air, then skidded another 20 down the highway.
Fed a daily dose of of mayhem in the news and indifference in
our own encounters, we all hunger for evidence that there is love in this

world and that it will arrive dramatically in our hour of need.
Here is the proof.
From the first moment I lay on the pavement -- "Please lie very still, sir" -- to this moment as I type with the hand that still works, I have been buoyed by love and kindness.
Some were no more than voices through the morphine haze. They can set screws three millimeters into your skull without killing you. Who knew? It keeps the head from moving, but the people around you are reduced to their voices and their touch. The voices of intensive care didn't belong to people putting in another eight hours until quitting time. They sensed the pain; they shared the intensity.
Every couple of shifts they would ease me upright to perform some task and cheerily tease, “Want to see our faces?”
There are seven bumps in the hallway between intensive care and the X-ray department, and every trip, I was told about every one of them.
Can it be that only special people work in hospitals? Or does working there bring out in people the loving nature that you and I pray resides in all of us?
I awakened to familiar faces, friends hanging blimplike above me, and drifted off to sleep with their smiles. Friends who had never come closer than a handshake held my hand for an hour. Comrades from the triathlon club dropped by. One day, most of the bike racing team assembled outside my room.
Friends I have yet to meet filled three Internet bulletin boards with prayers and encouragement.
Much closer to home, two gutsy young kids hung tough at the sight of their dad pinned to a hospital bed.
And that stereotype of busy surgeons devoid of bedside manner? That they cared showed on their faces. The near miralce they performed in the operating room only now is beginning to sink in, as I piece together information from a people who know a lot about these injuries. I came so close to never walking again that the thought is so chilling that I have to flush it from my mind.
Two surgeons, four hours later, the fingers still wiggled.
Imagine your greatest possible expectation of close friends, then multiply it by 10.
The force of their love has been a counterweight the worst pain cannot surmount.
Not allowed to go home alone, I was swept from the hospital and nursed over day and night. When finally they delivered me to my own house, it had been made fresh from top to bottom. The door stays open and friends troop through, spoon-feeding me at first, changing dressings and bathing me, filling the house with so much fabulous food that I try to feed each new wave of guests with some treat left by the last. They have taught me that everyone folds laundry differently, that the purest friendship flows from a bottomless well.
I have been thrust into that world you yearn to read about, awash in the kindness of strangers, overwhelmed by the love of friends.
The last three weeks leave me with a lifelong debt to repay, and I will find joy in doing that once the last surgery is out of the way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Read about your ordeal in the WPost this morning. Whew! Get well soon. Anthony Harris

February 10, 2008 9:39 AM  
Blogger BreeWee said...

You are brave... I enjoy reading your blog. It reminds me to be so very thankful and appreciative... I love your smile through the pain...

February 11, 2008 10:18 PM  
Blogger Jana Lee Frazier said...

Ashley: It's me, Jana. I am so very sorry to hear about your accident. I had no idea, having not read the Post for several days. You must have had such a terrifying time but you have been thrust into the mist of miracle and grace, a holy place to be for sure. I am so glad you have received such love and support. You are in my heart and in my prayers. God bless.

February 14, 2008 11:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ashley,
Glad to see you are getting around better. When I first saw your article I was worried you had damaged your spinal cord. Wishing you a speedy recovery and hope you are back on your bike (with a new helmet) soon.

February 18, 2008 12:48 PM  

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