Inspired by Paul’s latest blog post, which recounts his story of breaking a bone, I thought of the earliest injury I can remember receiving. It’s also the earliest memory I have of physical pain. Disclaimer: if blood makes you uneasy, proceed with caution.
This isn’t a story of a broken bone, but of falling on shattered glass.
I was about 5 years old, and running full speed across a cold November ground, leaves crunching under my feet, in the Houtman and Phillip Green Park in Media. I can’t remember who, or what, I was running after, but I can remember what it felt like to fall.
My sister and I had walked to the park with our Dad and our dog, Chelsea, as we often did on weekend afternoons. As we completed the two and a half block walk from our house on Jefferson Street to the park, I can remember the excitement I felt for an afternoon outside, in a place that, to my 5-year-old self, felt like a far walk from home.
Once in the park, we found skinny tree branches and started throwing them ahead of us, enticing Chelsea with a game of fetch. I watched Chelsea’s black figure dash across the ground, growing smaller, until she returned with the prize. Chelsea, a 60-pound Irish Setter/Lab mix, was an obedient dog, patient and kind, and very tolerant of my and my sister’s games. We’d throw these branches to her for what seemed like hours, and without fail, she’d bring them back. That day, however, my mom had bundled me up in a pink and purple puffy neon coat, gloves, and a hat that covered my ears, and eventually, the puffiness of the coat made throwing the branches rather difficult.
I still can’t remember why, but I started running next, picking up speed quickly. I could feel the chilly air on my face, and the breeze that cut through the thin material of my gloves. I could hear the stillness of the park (we were among a few brave souls who ventured out on this cold day), and the crunch of the brown and orange leaves under my feet.
All of a sudden, my feet slipped on those leaves, and I fell forward, landing flat on my stomach. Still in shock, I quickly pushed my hands into the ground to sit up and felt something wet on my palms. I flipped them over and saw that they were covered in slashes of bright red blood. My blood! The shock I’d previously felt wore off after seeing this, and I was overcome with a searing sensation of pain in both of my palms.
Tiny shards of glass covered my palms, each one marked with blood.
I started alternating between screaming and crying, stuck in that state of overwhelming emotions, until my Dad appeared by my side.
So This is Pain
Somehow, we made it home and to the kitchen of our house, where I stood over a large white basin. Cold water poured out of the spicket onto my palms. Every drop felt worse than the vaccine shots I received at the doctor’s office.
Our next-door neighbor, Joan, who had been at the house visiting my Mom when we arrived, stood next to me. “Sarah, I know this hurts, but we need to remove the glass,” she instructed. Joan was working quickly to remove each tiny clear piece with tweezers that stung each time she pressed them into my skin. The sting as each piece was extracted hurt more than anything I’d previously experienced.
“Think of something else, sweetheart,” Joan urged. “Tell me, what did you eat for breakfast today?
I did think about it, and I remembered that I had eaten Corn Flakes with milk.
“That sounds good,” she said. “What is your favorite cereal?”
I thought about this answer, deciding between Frosted Flakes and Cheerios.
“I guess…Frosted Flakes?” I replied.
Maybe I should’ve said Lucky Charms, I thought. But my parents wouldn’t buy them because they said they were “too sugary,” so I rarely ate them. Then I remembered that I had completely overlooked Corn Pops, which my parents did buy occasionally.
“All done!” Joan exclaimed.
“What?” I said. Then I looked at my hands. Yes, they were still raw and red, but they looked glass-free!
In thinking about cereal, I’d distracted myself from the pain.
Even to this day, when I need an idea for how to tolerate pain, I remember standing in my parents’ kitchen, shattered glass covering my hands, thinking about cereal.