by Robert C. Koehler
I had a breakthrough yesterday — and I don’t mean metaphorically.
Wars rage, countless humans suffer, the rich get richer, life goes on. I still have my morning coffee. But not yesterday.
What happened — about 5 a.m. — was a fleeting . . . oh so fleeting . . . insight into life beyond its small certainties and routines. When life suddenly spins out of control, the Great Unknown is momentarily present. I have decided to write about it, or try to write about it, to honor the vulnerable everywhere.
That hour of the morning is not my normal get-up time, but as I enter geezerhood (I turned 75 half a year ago) I find myself waking up throughout the night and heading with sudden urgency to the bathroom. No big deal. This is part of the routine.
Another part of my geezerhood is a condition called peripheral neuropathy, my special conundrum, once described to me as a disconnect between the nerves in my feet and my brain. I still have feelings there, I just lack a portion of control. My balance is iffy, especially if I’m barefoot. And the medical world is apparently clueless about it. Nonetheless, the condition is also only a modest deal — it’s part of my life. I work with it. I use a cane or walking sticks, at least some of the time. I’m also conscious of the need to stay focused and balanced. A nuisance situation is worked into the routine. Things could be so much worse. My life goes on.
But yesterday morning, 5 a.m., yeah, you guessed it. I got up, put my feet on the floor, started walking to the bathroom when . . . whoa! What? Huh? For some unknown reason I began to totter. For an unforgettable second or two, there were no parameters or certainties in my life. I was helpless. I was hurtling into the unknown.
I tipped backward, fell against the nightstand and — kersmash! — slammed my right elbow into the bedroom window, shattering it. This was my “breakthrough.”
Pardon the pun. This was an unbearably memorable moment of vulnerability. Amidst the chaos, noise and pain, I remember also feeling a sense of relief, crazy as that may sound — relief that I was alone, that I didn’t wake anyone up. That feeling passed in an instant as I struggled to get up, clutching my bleeding upper right arm. Oh! How come I hadn’t married a nurse?
I stumbled into the bathroom, held the bleeding arm up to the mirror. There were several cuts. I did my best — turned on the cold water, swooshed away the blood, dried the arm (no doubt ruining a towel) and smeared Neosporin on the wounds. Then I did the best I could, wrapping gauze around the upper arm. This calmed me down, at least to some extent. I even started picking up — carefully — the broken glass. And, surprisingly, I was even able to go back to bed. I slept for several hours.
Ah, morning! 8 a.m. Now what? For some reason I didn’t feel like pushing forward with the day’s normal routine, i.e., starting serious column research — reaching, yet again, to understand the suffering and horror in Ukraine, linking it to wars and suffering and starvation around the world, starvation in Afghanistan . . . staring into the eyes and soul not just of Putin, but of NATO, of the U.S. military. My right arm hurt like hell. There were splotches and splatters of blood on the floor. I knew that my bandaged wounds needed further attention, minor as they were compared to the wounds of so many around the world.
I drove myself to a nearby emergency room, figuring what they’ll do is bandage my arm more professionally. They did a bit more than that: They gave me an x-ray, determining there was no glass remaining in any of the wounds. Then a young woman named Bridget sewed up one of the wounds with five stitches, washed and wrapped the others. Now I sit here with my upper right arm wrapped in gauze. I can’t rest my elbow on the desk because, you know, ouch! But I feel back within the parameters of my life again — a life I think I understand. The problem’s under control, right?
Is it possible I managed to learn something yesterday? I don’t mean something in the “be careful” category, important as that may be, but rather, as I feel myself drift cautiously back to a sense of normalcy, a tiny sliver of that breakthrough moment — OMG, my life is out of my control — stays stuck in my consciousness, undetected by the hospital x-ray. In that moment, I didn’t know who I was or what would happen in the next second. It felt like a glimpse of life beyond the invented world: a stunned glimpse of way too much reality.
All insight ends here. I’m back to work again, reading about the vulnerable, feeling my heart race with outrage at what we do to one another. What we do to ourselves.