Reasons to be Thankful

Bike accident

By Robert Israel

They scraped me off the street, my bicycle in a heap nearby, and ever so gingerly placed me on the gurney. A crowd of curious onlookers watched intently, thankful they were not being loaded onto the ambulance.

The nurses at the hospital were calming as nurses are wont to be, and administered an intravenous tube of morphine, and soon everything around me became fuzzy and numb, and the florescent lights above the gurney where I lay no longer hurt my eyes. Another tube pumped fluids into me. The emergency room doctor slowly unraveled the gauze that held my almost-severed ear in place.

“There’s nothing we can do for you here,” she said. “You’ll have to see a surgeon at another hospital.”

Supposedly I agreed to this prognosis, but I’ll be damned if I remember any of this, or anything else that was said to me as I drifted off, the pain finally lessening to a throb. Someone bathed my bruises with mercurochrome, or at least it reminded me of that foul smelling liquid they used to apply to all my bruises when I was a boy, it was once stored in a small bottle with a wand attached to the cap and I must’ve gone through a gallon of it as a kid always tumbling, always getting scraped. But this scrape was deeper, cruel, ugly.

Soon I was in another waiting area, in another hospital, my tee-shirt all bloody, my head bandaged. The mercurochrome on my leg had dried into a dark ochre stain around the wound. I could feel something wrong with my head, a slow ooze around my lacerated right ear, a tug on my chin where the bandage closed another wound.

Within hours I was stitched up and sent on my way, the good doctors performed what all the kings’ men and all the kings’ horses couldn’t do for Humpty Dumpty: they put me back together again. And thanks to my wife I made it back to the house where we were staying, and I found my way to bed.

In the days that followed I heard stories of other injuries told by road warriors who had been victims of hit and run accidents in Boston, offered up by survivors I met in coffee shops or in restaurants near my home, who, viewing my stitches and bandages took me aside and freely and without provocation told me of their lives, their mishaps, the ensuing law suits, the tragedies of losing loved ones, the totaled cars, the ruined bicycles, the aches that never go away all these years later.

I had the stitches removed. I got back on my bike for long rides down the Minuteman Bike Trail, safe and busy, but nowhere near cars. I bought a new helmet. The wounds healed. The months passed, and the trauma faded from memory.

And then there were new stories on the news, reports of other tragedies far greater than mine, blood that was spilled in the city streets, accidents involving bicycles in the suburbs that claimed lives, children whose lives were full of promise meeting tragic ends, horrible reports that arrived with each day.

Over time I put my own injuries in perspective and moved on, thankful for the life that continues to unfold, more patient with the healing process that always takes longer and reminds us of our fragilities. 

If I wasn’t humble before the accident, I have been made more humble now. And if I find myself tearful at each report of a tragedy, or an accident, or a loss of life, it is out of grief for those that have been hurt, not self-pity. My tears stream down my cheeks without control, out of sympathy for those who have endured pain, and out of a recognized bond between me and others who struggle daily to maintain dignity and health.


Robert Israel is a Boston-based writer and editor. He can be reached at


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