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TideWriters Tales
Coping After Accidents
by Catherine C. Brooks

     It was the Christmas of 1937 that I received roller skates as an unexpected gift. I would never have asked for them. But Granny Richardson knew how fascinated I had been in the summer, watching the Hampton youth skating on sidewalks in front of her house. So she put skates on my Christmas list, purchasing them a week before her Christmas visit. I thanked Granny and wondered if I would ever get to use them. We had sandy roads and no sidewalks except two miles away at Mathews Court House.

     Then a few days later I thought of a bright idea. “Mama, may I take my skates with me when we visit Grandpa and Granny Callis next week?” I questioned. “I can learn to skate on the tarred road because the gravel has worn until it’s smooth.”

     “We’ll see,” she answered. But I placed the skates with my other things to take just before we left. And when Grandpa picked us up in his Plymouth, I took them with me.

     Mama asked, “Will you keep out of the way of the traffic if I let you try to learn to skate?”

     “Yes Mam, I’ll skate like I ride my bicycle that Granny Richardson gave me last year.”

     Since the day was sunny and calm, Grandpa and Daddy left to oyster in Milford Haven on Grandpa’s shore. Leaving Granny, Mama and my younger sister, Lou, playing with her new doll, and bundled in my heavy school coat and knit cap with gloves to match, I left with my skates. Deciding to sit on the front steps to strap the skates to my oxfords, I made sure they were secure. But as I hobbled out the lane, finding it difficult walking on sandy soil with attached skates, I decided not to put them on until I reached the road next time.

     When I reached the tarred surface, there was practically no traffic. So I had full use of the two-lane road. Once I learned that to keep my balance I had to move along at a steady gait, I skated. There were a few tumbles but I had expected them. I could skate and by late afternoon, I would be able to move like the city children did. I didn’t stop to remember sidewalks and tarred roads with gravel were two different surfaces.

     I watched the time on my Mickey Mouse® watch so I wouldn’t make Granny keep dinner for me. (In those days, we ate breakfast, dinner and supper except in school when we took a lunch pail.) When my watch read eleven thirty, I didn’t feel as though I’d had any cereal for breakfast. I guess I was just plain hungry. So when I headed for home, I sat in a clean grassy area at the end of the lane, removing my skates. It felt good to be on my feet without the skates as I traipsed back to Grandpa’s house.

     After a large meal with roast beef, (a treat that we got only once a year when a farmer killed his fattened steer or cow) mashed potatoes and gravy, hot rolls, kale and pickles, topped off with both pie and left-over Christmas cake, I headed back to my skating territory. There was more traffic, but I kept on the opposite side of the road. At three thirty, I realized I could make only one more trip to the store, where Moon Post Office sat in the front corner, before I returned to Grandpa’s house. I must learn to coast this trip. Traveling in the middle of the road, I achieved my goal. Now one more time, I sped ahead. But I heard a car coming back of me. So almost to the store I advanced to the far left side of the road. Then another car appeared coming toward me, leaving just room for the two automobiles to pass. Before I knew what was happening, I had hit gravel on the roadside and down I went, catching myself on my right wrist. Snap!

     I raised my arm, realizing I could put no weight on it, my arm hanging like a dead rabbit. Feeling defeated, I made my way back to Grandpa’s house after a kind neighbor helped me remove my skates. Mama worked my crooked arm from my coat and pushed my sweater sleeve up. She swabbed the blood where bones had broken through the skin, bandaging it loosely. I needed the Doctor’s care immediately, and we had no transportation. With my coat on my left arm and wrapped around my right shoulder, we walked back to the corner store. The owner left all in the care of his capable daughter and drove us to Mathews Court House to find any doctor available.


     All of these events came back vividly on December 2, 2003. I live in an area attached to my son, Wade’s, house with pocket doors that we open only when needful between the living spaces. That morning I had overslept and the clock read 7:45. I thought, I should unlock the door before Wade stops. He often comes in on his way to his business, “Garden Creek Woodworks” that sits to the left, back of the house. Walking across the glossy-wide-pine-flooring boards that I enjoy, I tripped on a slight rise of one board, sailing headfirst a short distance. I banged my head into the heavy Jacobean-twirled-vine-like trim of my great-grandmother’s marble top table. Meanwhile my left hand flew into the side of a Morris chair, turning over a handmade magazine rack. It happened in a flash as accidents do. I couldn’t believe the crooked wrist with useless fingers that I tried to raise, seeing the damage through streaming blood. I had burst my head open in two places, bruised the other side and had severe damage to my wrist.

     I must get to the phone beyond the chair, I thought. So I pulled my body along on the floor until I could reach far enough to pick it up. I dialed Wade, who answered immediately. 

     “I have fallen and need help. My wrist is broken, and I can’t see,” I said in chopping sentences. “Blood is flowing in the floor from somewhere, blinding me,” I gasped. “Find your key because the door is locked.” 
Dazed, as my grandson. Bobby, lifted me from under my armpits out of the floor, while my daughter-in-law, Susan, held a cool-damp cloth on my forehead, I gave orders. Wade tried to tell me that I had to go to the emergency room. Finally I understood. Later I felt stupid for the way I had acted.

     As they x-rayed my wrist and stitched my forehead, things began to make sense. But I realize now, it was days before I could think normally. I had left ER with a temporary splint on my wrist and orders to make an appointment with my orthopedic doctor to put it in a cast in another week. 

     When I phoned my orthopedic doctor, he couldn’t see me. So my daughter, Susan Kay, called the orthopedic group in Richmond that she and her husband use. On December eighth, she drove me to Richmond to see Dr. Glowacki, whose specialty is “hands.”

     She had obtained the x-rays from the hospital and presented them. I learned that I had pulled the joint between the wrist and arm apart, as well as, breaking the wrist bone. So new x-rays were required to determine the present condition before they applied the cast. After he read new x-rays of the broken left wrist, Doctor Glowacki said, “We need an x-ray of her right wrist for me to compare.”

     When he showed me the x-rays, I sat stunned. My right arm, where I had the complex break with bones going in a Z pattern and breaking through the skin, had taken years to heal. One easily sees the evidence of its location when looking for it after 66 years. I had learned two years after I broke the arm that I’d have to live with the “jack-leg set” that the Country Doctor had felt sufficient. Calcium deposit filled the area of the break. But I hadn’t prepared myself for an x-ray picture, showing heavy calcium deposit from almost to the wrist to near my elbow.

     “If you’d broken your right wrist, you wouldn’t have used your hand again,” Dr. Glowacki said. “I couldn’t have set it.”

     “I just told Jason about the complex break I had in my childhood,” I replied, thankful and breathing a sigh of relief.

     On my third visit to the orthopedic center in Richmond, they x-rayed again. After six weeks, the break is only half healed, but the joint and bones lay in line. With a hump where the bend should be in my wrist, I trust therapy and exercise will prevent more calcium deposit. I’m able to type a few hours a day now, open and close the car door and do other things I couldn’t for weeks.

     Still I realized I had much in which to rejoice. While sitting in the parking lot in a shopping mall, waiting for Susan Kay after we left the doctor’s office, I saw the unexpected.

     A young attractive blonde, appearing to be in her twenties, drove into the handicapped parking area facing me. Though another driveway separated us, I saw no feet below the wheel chair when she wheeled across the parking lot to a store. About 20 minutes later, I saw her come out of the store. So I looked for legs as she wheeled across the driveway by hand. She had no legs.

     Yet she handled herself well. Reaching the two-seated truck that only had two doors, she 
opened the driver’s side, shoving a sliding door back. Then she swung up into the front seat, leaned over and folded the wheel chair, raising it backward to an unseen attachment to her left. Within minutes, she closed the front door, the back door coming to by an electronic device I presumed. All her controls had to have been hand operated since she calmly drove away in a slow lane of departing vehicles. Whether a birth defect or an accident caused the inadequacy, I don’t know. But it didn’t keep the attractive young woman from living a seemingly normal life.

     I think of other accidents: I lost my husband over 30 years ago when his van capsized due to an overload. Wade was married and Susan Kay only had one more year of high school. So I continued to operate the retail business in Mathews Court House until I retired at age 72. Other young women have faced life without their companions due to automobile accidents, drowning or other catastrophes when their children were small. Yet life went on. Some have gone to college and furthered their chance to make a better livelihood for their family. Many have remarried, remembering their first loves, but finding another with whom to share their lives. All must continue to live.

     So these days, in which I’m not able to do all I’d like, will pass and life will continue. I expect no major changes once I complete therapy like some accidents have brought. I’ve found that life isn’t always easy yet the rough places help us to be better people. I often think of the quotation, God doesn’t remove the trials, but he gives us grace to pass through them. 

© 2004 Catherine C. Brooks All rights reserved. Contact Catherine C. brooks at cbrooks@chesapeakestyle.com

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