Humans are fragile beings; our lives can change in an instant for reasons voluntary or involuntary. I would say that, like most 24 year olds, I had not given much thought to my own fragility, I was too busy having fun and enjoying life to reflect on how or when it was going to come to an end. Bad things happened to other people. I took risks but they were always, in my opinion, ‘calculated’ risks, tending to result in funny anecdotes which would entertain my friends and horrify my mother. I was invincible, untouchable, or so it seemed.
A simple combination of torrential rain, slippery cobblestones and the lack of a helmet led to a fairly rude awakening to the fact of my mortality.
For the past few months I have been living in the City of Love, Paris. I’m in awe of the beauty and charm of the city, I often find myself transfixed by the artistic skills demonstrated in many Parisian buildings. For this reason, in typical Parisian style, my preferred mode of transport is my bicycle, come rain or come shine.
On this particular night it was raining, as the French would charmingly say ‘comme vache qui pisse’, like a cow pissing, or in English terms ‘cats and dogs’. Being of Northern Irish heritage, I like to think that I can handle a few drops of rain or in this particular case, a heavy downpour, so I optimistically set out on a 20km cycle rather than face the homeward journey on public transport. Five minutes into this watery expedition I realised that it hadn’t been my most inspired idea; however my family-renowned stubbornness forbade me from turning around and admitting defeat.
Descending the Champs Elysees I heaved a sigh of relief, the weather had calmed and I was on the home stretch. I was unaware, as I cycled enthusiastically homewards that the finish line was further from my reach than anticipated, with an unexpected pit stop in a Parisian hospital. I was not privy to this information as I pulled on my brakes to slow my descent and I was still blissfully ignorant of the hospital bed that awaited me when my bike, usually so obedient and faithful, decided to engage in some acrobatic demonstrations, resulting in my unceremonious fall from saddle to earth on one of Paris’ most frequented avenues.
When I ‘came to’ in hospital, surrounded by medics, I was informed that my body was in perfect condition, without a single mark to show for my attempt at 2-wheeled gymnastics. However, the same could not be said of my head, which had taken the brunt of the fall, as blood flowed conspicuously from the newly-acquired hole in the back. The bleeding in the front of my brain and the fracture of a bone in the ear were less conspicuous but nonetheless existent and equally unsolicited. Although the doctors spoke of my injuries in a concerned manner and I heard the seriousness in their voices, I, the concussed acrobatic cyclist, was under the misguided impression that my full recovery was just a few days away.
Fast forward a week of drips, injections to counteract my high level of inactivity, vaccines to counteract possible infections from said injections, tablets ranging in high to very high strength to counteract the pain and nausea, tests every few hours to assess the effect of such treatment, and I was suddenly less sure of my own prognosis. 3 months later I continue to doubt my initial analysis.
I am lucky to be alive, this I know, but it is difficult to accept that, for the moment, my body is no longer the physically-able body that I knew 3 months ago and my brain is no longer capable of the same intellectual endurance. For now, gone is the energetic, independent and strong 24 year old and in her place is a watered-down version gradually learning to accept the physical and mental restrictions that have arrived unannounced and uninvited.