An excerpt from “Don’t Ever Quit: A Journal of Coping with Crisis & Nurturing Spirit,” by Mike Keenan, a member of the NOTL Writers’ Circle. From Part One – Epilogue As Prologue.
Special to The Lake Report
I was tired. Perhaps that helped me acquiesce, adopt a passive mode, not of resignation, but rather a calm objectivity that saved my life. Speed was the other contributing factor. Once initiated, impossible to stop, concluded in mere seconds. Ordinarily, those brief fragments of time don’t seem to carry much import, yet, in mere moments, life dramatically changes. The bang from a gun. The thrust of a knife. The diagnosis from a health care specialist.
All day long, I’m roofing on our house, as long as there is light. I finish the first storey, and ever so proud of my handyman talents, I work majestically higher on top of the second storey in the thin air with the birds and large deciduous trees that inhabit the blue sky. What a view! I survey the entire neighbourhood, watch cars drive by, admire children play, scrutinize quarrelling blue jays. Worn out, I decide to pack it in and make my descent. It’s rapid. About 32 feet per second if my high school physics is correct. I cover the 25 feet to the ground in less than two seconds. What happens in that interval is remarkable.
A cautious step on the ladder, and the entire contraption, connecting second storey to first, gives way. Support legs, moments before, firmly dug into the finished first storey shingles, slide over the precipitous edge of the eaves, dispatching me towards a mean collision with destiny below.
Extraordinary phenomena rapidly ensue, reminding me of a parallel sequence twenty-five years earlier– an automobile accident when I traversed an elevated, icy viaduct in wintry Toronto. What transpired then as on the falling ladder is that I experienced each affair from outside my body, dispassionately – like an objective observer, culled for jury duty.
In less time that it takes for me to vocalize my name, I instinctively adopt a strategy. Incurably presumptuous! A strategy! I’m amazed how my inventive mind swiftly works during this catastrophe. Initially, I try to make contact with the first storey roof, slow my rate of decline and minimize impact. In microseconds, my forearms and elbows, rigidly extended, make violent contact, but fail to slow down my plunge.
Next, I perceive solid concrete, close to the house and farther out, softer ground. Again, in milliseconds, I lean forward, causing my body to hit and roll like an old high school football drill. The concussion is shattering, akin to that of a detonated explosive. The aluminum ladder bangs crazily off the eaves and slams into the ground below. It bounces several times before ending in a noisy halt near the roadway. Falling off the ladder, my halt is immediate: THUD!
Flat on my back, squinting skyward, immobile, breathing slowly, speculating whether or not my back is broken, perhaps my neck. I worry about my lower trunk, considering my earlier troubles with disintegrating lumbar discs, but the impact transports me into unfeeling shock.
Neighbours who hear the thud and terrible clanging of the run-away ladder, scramble across their grass yards towards the crater. Someone instinctively summons an ambulance. I hear Diane from inside the house cry out, “Oh, no!” I hear feet scampering in my direction.
Fearing gross movement, I decide it’s best to carefully assess damage. Already spread-eagled, I meticulously move the fingers of each hand slowly in succession to ascertain if they function and also the toes of both feet. Mercifully, all fingers and toes respond with movement and only the foot that took the bulk of the impact when rolling is extremely painful. Am I in such deep shock that I’m incapable of assessing my plight? Clad in shorts and T-shirt, I’m filthy, bleeding, covered in dirt and tar from the shingles, scraped against during the fall. Body tattooed with abrasions, I’m a mess. Nonetheless, I miss the calamity of concrete by mere inches. Leaning during the fall occasions my escape from severe injury. Instead of sculpting concrete, my impact destroys a harmless bed of flowers. Perennials I hope.
The ambulance arrives in record time. After examining my vertebrae, head and other vital parts, the attendants splint my wounded foot in a pillow, following prescribed St. John’s Ambulance protocol. They snugly attach me to a spinal board, and the two gaunt attendants, straining from my weight, lift me into the rear of the ambulance. Ludicrously, after all that has transpired, they almost drop the spinal board on its way up. Again, in burlesque fashion, they transport me over the bumpiest roads in town to the hospital where x-rays are taken and a doctor methodically surveys my battered parts.
The astonished doctor pronounces that the x-rays reveal no fractures, and that I’m intact, but to be sure, to use crutches for a few days. Despite the fact that it’s Sunday, he says that I can work on Monday, and that in a few days I can revert to one crutch. By Friday, no crutch.
Why was I saved? Who saved me? Me? For what purpose? How can the human mind work so quickly, so powerfully? I know one thing for certain. As soon as the pain and soreness subside, I will put my knee pads back on, my baseball cap, the blue building-supply apron that carries my nails, and I will ascend that unfaithful ladder and finish off the upper roof.
* Mike Keenan's “Don’t Ever Quit” is available in paperback format from Amazon: https://tinyurl.com/tokod5r ($19.99) and in e-book format: https://tinyurl.com/yeybavvj (Kindle), https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/don-t-ever-quit (Kobo) and https://tinyurl.com/vp6vd4w (Barnes & Noble) at $9.99.