October 16, 2002
Damage Control

miles to go: 399.19

"I'm one tough son-of-a-bitch, aren't I?" David says grimly.

It's Saturday afternoon, and I've been following behind him on the Canal Trail for the past ten minutes -- mostly to keep an eye on the situation, in case I need to whip out the cell phone and dial 911 -- but now I crank the Butt-D-Luxe up a notch and ride along beside him. His face is very pale, and he's riding at about a third of his normal oomph-level. It's hard to tell whether he's grinning ... or grimacing. I suspect it's a little bit of both.

"Actually," I reply, "I think the word you're looking for is 'idiot.' "

I never went to medical school. I've never seen more than one or two episodes of "ER," in all the years it's been on television. I never even finished earning my First Aid merit badge: *Junior Girl Scout Secra* found all of that icky blood-and-iodine stuff a little tough to handle. (So she earned her "Young Hypochondriac" badge instead.) But even without benefit of a formal medical education, I'm pretty sure that you're not supposed to ride a bicycle on a sprained ankle.

Especially on an ankle that's been sprained for less than ten minutes.

"I think we should turn around now," I insist for the 43,897,621st time. The Subaru is only a few miles away: the nearest emergency room, less than twenty blocks. (His parents' house is actually still within limping distance. But perhaps we'll save that as a last resort.) All we have to do is find some place safe and comfortable, off-trail, for him to park his bike and elevate his ankle. I'll ride The Butt-D-Luxe back to the car: then I can come back and pick him up and drive him to the hospital for x-rays. But for the 43,897,621st time, he insists that he's fine, he can do this, he wants to finish the ride ... let's just keep going, OK? We've already racked up forty miles: another five, and we'll have met our goal for the day.

"Besides," he says. "It doesn't hurt when I'm actually riding." And to show me just how much it doesn't hurt when he's actually riding, he leans forward on the Cannondale, digs his left foot a little deeper into the cleated pedal ... and screams like a little baby girl.

Jesus H. Christ on a dorsal horn.

They say that men and women react differently to pain: physiologically, intellectually, emotionally, every way that counts. I've heard a bazillion different theories about why this is so. Epidermal thickness. Nerve fiber density. Brain biochemistry. Hormones. Childbirth. Parallel flange indicators. I find all of these gender-difference studies fascinating, but ultimately useless. It's a little bit like debating the differences between male and female orgasm: fun to talk about, interesting to debate, but how on earth can you ever really prove anything? What I do know for a fact, though, is this: when I feel pain -- or when I sense that someone I love is in pain -- my first response, as a woman, is almost always How do I fix this? Other women I've discussed the subject with tell me the same thing. Pain, for our gender, is like a call to action. We immediately want to get started looking for solutions ... for help ... for ways to provide comfort and relief and damage control.

A man's first response to pain, on the other hand, appears to be How can I immediately make the situation much, much WORSE?

We're still not exactly sure what happened. One minute David was standing at the busiest intersection in Walnut Creek, reaching for the crosswalk button ... the next minute he was flat on his back in the middle of the traffic island, with his bike on top of him and his leg twisted beneath him like a Wetzel's Original Unsalted. I knew before he even hit the ground that it was going to be bad. This wasn't going to be like the puny little spill he took at the Navy Base last month: this was going to be one of those slow-motion, gut-wrenching, tendon-twisting Agony of Defeat Moments. For about thirty seconds after he hit the pavement, he just lay there ... moaning, pale, drooling, flopping around on the concrete, unable to form sounds into actual words. I knelt beside him until he was finally able to speak again, and then we eased his cleated bike shoe off his foot so we could assess the damage. His ankle was already blowing up like a prize eggplant, but at least it didn't appear to be broken. We checked to see if he could wiggle his toes. (He could.) We checked to see if he could move his leg, and then we checked to see if he could stand up. (He could, and he did.) He drank a little water, and I rummaged around in my bike bag and found an ancient Band-Aid for the gash on his finger, and I sort of poked him and prodded him all over, checking for further injury.

And already I was trying to figure out how I was going to *fix* the situation.

"So now we're heading back to the car, right?" I said hopefully, once we'd figured out that nothing was broken/nothing was hemorrhaging/nothing was lawsuit-worthy. If he wasn't going to let me take him to the emergency room, I could at least take him home and fuss over his sprained ankle for the rest of the day.

But he had other ideas. "No," he insisted, wincing a little as he climbed back onto the Cannondale. "Let's keep riding."

I thought he was kidding at first -- nobody could be that stoopid, could they? especially someone with as many years of riding experience (and riding-related-injury experience) as David, right? especially someone whose mom is a NURSE and whose wife is a *Young Hypochondriac,* forcryingoutloud?!? -- but five minutes later, here we are back on the trail. I must say, however, that we're not exactly breaking any land-speed records. We'd already been riding for five hours by the time David had his accident, and I am worn out. Plus my idiot husband is riding with a freshly-sprained ankle.

Plus ... he's singing.

"Keep on SMIIIIIIIIIIIILIN' thru the rain!" he bellows, in his big booming Fozzy Bear voice. "Laaaaaaaaaughin' at the pain! Just floooooooowin' with the changes, till the sun comes out again!"

That's the other big difference between David and me, when it comes to pain. My husband -- like 99.999% of the men I've ever known in my life, including my son and my first husband and The Oregon Boyfiend and that UPS delivery guy I knocked over with the wheelbarrow during the summer of 1994 -- seems to view pain as a minor inconvenience ... something to be avoided and ignored and run away from as much as possible, the way you'd run away from a psycho ex-girlfriend at a high school reunion. Men don't seem to have any concept of how valuable a good, juicy, wholly unintentional/completely verifiable/non-life-threatening injury can be, in terms of sympathy, attention, message board/Internet journal material, sanctioned time-off from work. If it had been me laying on the pavement with my ankle twisted beneath me, ten minutes ago, you'd better believe that I would be milking it for all it was worth. As a matter of fact, I'd probably be calling JoAnne on my cell phone RIGHT NOW, negotiating next week's sick leave.

Instead ... David just blows it off. "Nah," he says. "I'll be fine."


"We'll put you in bed and elevate your ankle as soon as we get home," I muse aloud, as we make our plodding, torturous way along the Canal Trail. If I'm going to be forced to ride for another forty minutes, I'm at least going to amuse myself by planning my *Damage Control* strategy. David hates being fussed over -- I think he hates it more than he hates being injured in the first place -- but once we get home, I plan to out-Florence-Nightengale Florence Nightengale ... whether he likes it or not. I've still got an ice pack in the freezer, left over from the last Ridiculous Bike-Related Injury. And I think we've still got half a bottle of ibuprofen in the cupboard. Although now that I think about it ... do I want to give him ibuprofen? Or Tylenol? 

"I can never remember which OTC is the anti-inflammatory," I say, stealing a sideways glance at him to see if he's paying attention. "Do you remember?"

This time there's no mistaking the expression on his face. He is definitely grimacing.

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