When I was 16 years old, I was in a motorcycle accident with a friend of mine. We were on the farm and headed out to check on the horses. The farm was about 40,000 acres nestled up against the Rocky Mountains and we needed a quick way to get a few miles through the pasture to the horse barn. My friend was driving the motorcycle and I was behind her. Neither of us had helmets on.
We didn’t get very far down the road, when we hit a patch of loose gravel and the back tire started to sink. I was losing my grip on my friend and started to come off the back of the bike because we slowed down quickly as the tire sank. I gripped my friends waist and pulled myself against her and the inertia of that and the back tire sinking cause us to spin out and we wrecked on the road.
I don’t remember anything that happened after that, but my friend was conscious and she told me what we did. The bike landed on her legs and the battery leaked some acid on her jeans that went through to her legs. She screamed for my help and I got up, moved the motorcycle off her and helped her up. She and I leaned on each other and made it back to the house which was only a half mile away. Once inside, she said we laid down on the couches and passed out. Her mother found us about an hour later and drove us into town to the local hospital, which was probably a twenty minute drive. I was unconscious for almost 24 hours. They dug rocks out of the skin on my face and my arm. My friend also had rocks embedded in her skin and she had acid burns on her legs.
I had a concussion and spent days being checked on. I remember having a terrible headache, but the worst was yet to come. I had seizures for years afterward; random moments when my brain would misfire and I would lose all feeling in my hands and feet and go down like a bag of cement. I was unconscious for 30 seconds to a minute seizing and trembling. When I came around, I was usually surrounded by strangers and then I slept for a day. This would happen to me anywhere, anytime; at school, in the grocery store, at church, when I was pregnant, and even a couple times when I was by myself. The first few years after my motorcycle accident the seizures were frequent and bad, but they became less and less frequent and they finally stopped about 10 years the accident.
When I was 16 years old, I thought I would live forever and that nothing bad could ever happen to me. I know in the grand scheme of life, I am lucky. I could have lost a limb in that accident, I could have suffered a debilitating traumatic brain injury or I could have died. That accident was a sign in my life that has stuck with me. It gave me coping skills that helped me when I found out I had Celiac Disease, an autoimmune disorder where the ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Finding out I had Celiac rocked my world. I made the best honey wheat bread in the world. Seriously! I could have won the state fair with that bread.
For most of my 30s I knew something was wrong with me. I’d gained 20 pounds even though I exercised. I knew that I was never hungry and that I looked like I was six-months pregnant all the time. I came to hate food. I knew I needed to eat, but my stomach would pop and groan regardless of what I put on my plate. I went through various food diets and phases. I took herbs and vitamins for candida (an over yeasting of the intestines caused by antibiotics, even though I hadn’t taken antibiotics for years). I drank apple cider vinegar in a shot glass without any dilution, every single day for six months. Ick. In a way it was a relief to find out that I had Celiac Disease, because I had been so ill for so long. That was another sign.
Illness hits us anytime, anywhere. It can happen to us or a family member. It can be quick or it can linger. Regardless, illness of any kind can be a wake up call that brings us to a crossroads. It spurs us to make life-changing decisions about our health, our diet, or habits. It is an important sign to pay attention to.
One final note, I am still in touch with the friend I was in the motorcycle accident with. We see each other almost every summer when I go home to Montana to visit. We compare our scars, we tell the story to her kids and my kids and her grand kids (if you can believe that). We are a cautionary tale to her family still out on that farm that no matter where you are going or how far the drive, grab a helmet. It is a beautiful thing that we are both alive to laugh about it now.