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I have to admit that when I first bought a bike after to moving to New York, I thought I was pretty cool.
I like to think I bought it because I really enjoyed riding, but in reality, I’m vain and the thought of showing up to all the cutest Brooklyn coffee shops on my secondhand cruiser was a fantasy I couldn’t pass up.
So despite the fact that the last time I had ridden a bike my mom had to pick thousands of pieces of gravel out of my knee while distracting me with goldfish crackers (oh yeah, and I was five), I made the precarious decision to take to the streets of Manhattan on wheels.
When I first bought my bike, I was absolutely terrified. I rode incredibly slowly, putting my feet on the cement to brake, and nearly toppled over each time I had to turn.
Needless to say, rather than gaining hipster street cred, I spent most of my time looking sweaty and scared.
But after a couple of months, I slowly got my bearings. I could finally ride across the Williamsburg Bridge without having to get off my bike and do what I considered to be the real walk of the shame. I could finally brake without grabbing onto the nearest street sign or pedestrian, and I was finally learning my route. I could feel my cool factor rising.
That is, until a car hit me.
I don’t remember much from the morning I was hit — what I do remember is making a turn, getting T-boned by a giant piece of moving metal, flying off my bike and landing smack dab in the middle of the road.
Even though I was wearing a helmet and had landed flat on my ass, the first thing I did was grab my head and check to make sure I was alive. The next part is a blur.
I couldn’t walk, so a stranger picked me up and carried me to the side of the road, where a crowd started to form around me.
Despite the enormous amount of pain I was in, what I remember most is feeling incredibly embarrassed and self-conscious. There were a ton of curious onlookers surrounding me, and I would have given anything to throw on an invisibility cloak and disappear.
The combination of pain, adrenaline and embarrassment made my vision completely blurry, and I remember saying to someone and to no one that I couldn’t see.
Standing next me, crying, was the driver of the car.
Although it didn’t register at the time, the fact that the driver stayed made me incredibly lucky. But in the moment, all I felt was the overwhelming need to resist the urge to tell her that it would be OK.
I was picked up by an ambulance and taken to Bellevue Hospital, where they immediately ripped off my clothes to examine me.
“Thank god I’m wearing cute underwear,” was my first thought. My second was, “Fuck, am I paralyzed?”
I wasn’t. But I had fractured my pelvis and broken my thumb, which required surgery and physical therapy in order to heal properly.
That night, I went home on crutches and in a cast, and proceeded to spend the next two months hobbling around Brooklyn feeling pretty pathetic.
Navigating the hospital was an extremely confusing and intimidating experience. In New York, every driver is required to have what’s called “no-fault insurance.” This law requires their insurance company to pay for medical expenses, wages lost, and property damage, regardless of who caused the accident.
This would have been great – if anyone had told me about it.
Even though I had insurance at the time, I wasn’t required to pay any of my medical expenses. But because I didn’t know that until after I was admitted and discharged from the hospital, I had to deal with months of paperwork to correct the issue.
Thankfully, in my pain-induced stupor, my parents were there to research my rights and make sure that, under this law, my medical expenses were covered.
I figured that paying these bills was the least the driver could do, and felt fairly satisfied knowing that she would.
I’m not the kind of person to start a fight. I hate confrontation and am pretty sure that my name comes up when you Google “female impostor syndrome.”
I spend most of my day feeling like a fraud, just waiting for someone to find me out. I find it difficult to speak up in meetings, confront friends or co-workers who have treated me unfairly, and aggressively go after the things I want. In my mind, it’s always been better to let a difficult situation blow over than tackle the issue head-on.
So when my parents suggested that I sue for additional damages (i.e., suffering and trauma), I was completely against it. Suing sounded abrasive, mean and totally out of character. All I could think was, Why start a fight if I didn’t have to? Why push my luck?
When I was hit, I felt a huge sense of guilt and embarrassment, as if somehow I had done something to deserve what had happened. I was too humiliated to even talk about the accident with my friends and family, and tried to pretend that everything was all right.
Lying in bed at night, unable to comfortably move, I would replay that morning over and over again in my head. I would feel my cheeks go hot and my body cringe as I asked myself, “What if?” What if I hadn’t bought a bike? What if I had taken the subway that morning? What if I hadn’t been so vain?
After the accident, my default was to blame myself. To add insult to injury (literally), every doctor I visited left me feeling like I had been the reckless one, because according to them, who in their right mind would bike around New York City in the first place? I may have been projecting a little, but my sense of guilt was overwhelming.
Along with the personal beating I gave myself, I was in severe physical pain. My pelvis had been fractured badly, and I became completely dependent on others.
For the first month I was basically bedridden, and for a month after that, friends had to help me shower, carry me up and down the stairs of my third floor walk-up, and escort me to an endless slew of doctor’s appointments.
To make using crutches even more of a bitch, my thumb had broken right at the joint, which meant it needed to be pinned back into place. I had pins holding my thumb together for about a month, and then had to go to physical therapy to learn to bend it again. Opposable thumbs were a serious evolutionary win and I will never take mine for granted again.
It took almost a year for me to feel like myself again, and two years later, I still get hip and joint pain after walking or standing for too long.
The severity of my injuries, and months of rehabilitation they required, was the driving force behind my decision to sue. Ultimately, against all of my instincts, I made the decision to put my pain and myself first, and reluctantly gathered up the courage to sue.
And now, I’m so grateful that I did.
Suing became a tangible way to step out of my comfort zone and confront and challenge my unwarranted sense of guilt.
The process of suing isn’t easy or fun. It involves lawyers, contracts and dragging out a terrible experience. With that said, the feeling I got knowing I was standing up for myself outweighed all the negativity.
I can’t lie, I’m grateful for the money that I was able to walk away with.
But more than that, I feel a sense of pride knowing that I refused to shy away in the midst of a really difficult and uncomfortable situation. Rather than curl up in a ball and wait for everyone to forget about what had happened (which is what I desperately wanted to do), I took control of the situation and went after what I knew I deserved.
I don’t have any plans to get on a bike again. And I certainly don’t have plans to sue anyone. But now I know, that when push comes to shove, I’m a force to be reckoned with, and anything but a fraud.