Death and the Bus Driver

Well, I was all set to write a marvelous little essay for LRC about the foolishness of "We the People" and the idiocy of popular sovereignty. It’s been bumping around in mind for several weeks, and in between mixing songs for my new CD of mostly original songs (which should be formally released to a hungry and desperate world soon) and trudging to and from work, I’ve have been meaning to write it.

But then BLAM! Wednesday night, my wife got run over by a bus. So that essay will have to wait.

It may sound like s sick joke — and getting hit by a bus was always my stock line for anything randomly bad that could happen to you. For example, when I was in Saudi Arabia, the week after the big attack on the residential compound in Riyadh in November, 2004, my boss made clear to everyone of us frightened Americans that, in fact, you could die anywhere. So don’t be too worried about dying in Saudi Arabia, he continued.

"True enough," I thought. "Still, I’d rather get hit by bus back home than get gunned down or blown up here."

It was a good joke. But now I’ll have to find another.

Jennifer is fine. Well, as fine as you can be having been driven down by a city bus. She was crossing the street on her bicycle at the crosswalk when the bus, seeing the same green light, decided to make a right turn without checking for pedestrians. The driver, oblivious to the cyclist suddenly underneath his wheel, did not stop until her screaming and pounding on the side of the bus forced him to. By that time, her right foot was already pined underneath a front wheel. Folks came running, and the police and paramedics showed up quickly too. In fact, one police officer had to prevent the driver from moving my wife after the driver stopped the bus and got out to check exactly what the commotion was all about.

I have all this second hand, from my wife and the police report (the police officer doing the investigation told me he had cited the bus driver). I was not there, I was on my way home from work at the time, and only learned that something was up when I noticed one of my business cards stuck in the knocker on the front door of our apartment with the words "Call the Alexandria EMS Supervisor" and a phone number. That began my meltdown, with horrid visions of Jennifer on life support in the ICU or lying dismembered on a cold slab in the county morgue racing through my mind. Seeing only one bicycle in our apartment (I had taken the bus to work that cold, windy day) intensified it. It took some struggling with our crummy phone line (Jennifer keeps the mobile) before I could figure out where she was and what was wrong. Friends from church — some of the kindest people I know — helped get me to Fairfax Hospital and stayed with me until the wee dark hours of the morning, when, doped and sewed up, she was sent home.

As I said, she’s fine. Only two small fractures, one each in her two smallest toes. Her foot is fine, more or less, though it was pretty torn up and it took the internist more than two hours to sew it up (It looks a little like some mad doctor put a new-found foot on her, but it was just the gash, which I watched the internist stitch). Considering how badly it could have ended — she was, after all, run over by a bus — she’s very, very fortunate. She’s resting now, her foot propped high on the arms of one of our sofa, her big gray eyes having gotten back a little bit of their wonderful sparkle. We have alternately watched Wallace & Grommit shorts and Firefly episodes today, when I wasn’t out getting her meds or trying to catch a few winks between her walker-assisted trips to the bathroom.

But her eyes, right now, the eyes of a small, very frightened child. "Chuckie, will it ever not hurt again? Will I ever be well again?"

Of course you will be well, my dearest little one. You shall walk and dance again. And we shall get you another bicycle, too. The manager of the bike shop where I sometime moonlight has already said you can borrow a bike when you’re ready to ride again. And somewhere there is a big inflatable suit or a giant gerbil-ball that we can get that will keep you safe from all the errant bus drivers of the world.

(Am I negligent in wanting to get her another bicycle? Tell me, dear readers, are there not also grizzly and unpleasant ways to be injured and die in automobiles? Do you not remember those films from high school? You pay your money, you takes your chances. There are, as my boss at the Saudi Gazette said, a myriad ways to die. An anvil could fall on you, for example…)

In between here and there, I shall take care of you, help you to the bathroom, dress your wound, tell you stories, make you dinner, and keep you company. While the Vicodin dulls the pain of the gazillion stitches in your foot, the rum does a pretty good job for me, and probably put that pink back in my cheeks you said a few minutes ago you were so happy to see. I’m sorry I cannot make the pain go away. If I could take your pain as my own, I would do so. In an instant. I’m sorry I cannot.

I owe a lot of people thanks. To the young man who my wife said held her hand while she lay injured in the street, before help arrived, who told her everything was going to be okay, I am very grateful for your kindness and compassion, whoever you are. For all those others who heard her screams and rushed to her aid, I am also thankful. It is things like that which assure me that human beings are capable of helping those in need. And — gulp! — for the police and the paramedics, for the flight crew of the medical evacuation helicopter, and for the staff at the Fairfax Hospital Trauma Center, I also thank you.

And for all the people at Peace Lutheran Church in that netherworld between Alexandria and Falls Church, thanks for being there and thanks for helping me take care of Jennifer.

I need to go make dinner now. Eventually I hope to get some sleep. And then, eventually, Jennifer and I will figure out what to do with the City of Alexandria and its bus service.

In the meantime, if you could include Jennifer in your prayers, we would both appreciate that greatly.

Charles H. Featherstone [send him mail] is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist specializing in energy, the Middle East, and Islam. He lives with his wife Jennifer in Alexandria, Virginia.