I lay crumpled like a pretzel. Agony shot from my left knee to my hip. My right knee throbbed, too. My right shoulder hurt. For a moment, I didn’t know where I was.
It was a clear, dry, sunny Monday with temperatures flirting with freezing. I was driving back to Kearney alone from Aldie, Virginia, where I’d spent Christmas with my daughter. Needing a restroom break, I pulled into a travel plaza off I-70 east of Indianapolis, parked in the empty parking lot at the convenience store and got out of the car.
Suddenly I was on the ground, folded over on both knees, held up by my shaking arms. Wretched pain pierced my knees. I feared I’d cracked a knee cap. As I groped to figure out what had happened, I realized that the parking area was sheer ice, as smooth and invisible as glass.
I raised my head. Nobody was around. My head spun. How could I drive the 800 miles back to Kearney? If EMS had to take me to a hospital, who would drive my car?
I could not stand up on that ice, so I gingerly crawled across it on my tender knees like a spider. When at last I got to dry pavement, I managed to stand up.
I hobbled into the convenience store and limped around a bit to shake off the stiffness. The clerk was setting Cinnabon pastries on the shelves. When I told her I’d fallen on the ice outside, she smiled and nodded and kept on working.
I headed back outside and circled around the rear end of the car, clinging to it, to get to the car door without falling again. I managed to accomplish that. My left leg throbbed, but I needed only my right foot to press the gas pedal and the brake. Gingerly, off I went.
As I drove through Illinois and crossed the Mississippi, I blamed myself for the mishap. Sure, that ice was invisible, but why did I stop there? Pain chewed at my knee and my thigh. I gulped a couple of aspirin. I had no ice. I could not elevate my leg. All I could do was keep driving.
When I stopped for gas, I scrutinized the pavement for black ice before stepping painfully out of the car. I had an apple and potato chips in the car, so I ate lunch in a rest area parking lot. I wobbled as I walked to the restroom.
As I drove, my mind darted back to 1995 when I’d wrecked my left knee on a canoe trip in the Ontario wilderness, That night, as I laid in my tent, my knee felt like broken glass, but we were in the wilderness, far from medical help, and all I could do was wrap the knee in an Ace bandage for five days and keep paddling.
When I got home, a Cleveland Clinic orthopedist had imprisoned it in a brace and ordered therapy, but nothing helped until I went to Arizona six weeks later to visit my cousin Joe. Joe lives on the Hopi Reservation with his Hopi wife. He sent me to see Thomas, the so-called “Hopi bone doctor.”
Thomas, a medicine man, massaged my knee at his home for 45 minutes. He said immobility was ineffective. He said all parts of the body are connected, and they must all keep moving. He said my five days on the river canoing and camping after the injury were a blessing. Thomas was, too. His magic fixed my knee.
I focused on Thomas all afternoon. In Missouri, an ice storm had left glittering ice crystals on every tree, every branch, every bit of corn stubble. Its beauty took my mind off my knee.
At 5:30 p.m., I stopped for the night at Cameron, Missouri. I got a drive-thru burger and managed to limp through ice and snow into my motel room without falling. I got ice for my knee and elevated it, but pain kept me tossing until 3 a.m.
The next morning, the pain had ebbed a bit. I made it effortlessly back to Kearney. I think Thomas is watching from heaven. My knee is slowly healing.