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Justin Tade Wednesday, 28 December 2011 07:49 TWEET COMMENTS 0

A Shot in the Dark - Page 3

Later that afternoon, my surgeon tells me that the bullet passed two to four millimeters from my femoral artery and missed my femur by six to eight millimeters. The bullet took out chunks of all four quadriceps muscles; the surgeons had to cut even more away.


The wound dressers arrive and remove gauze the thickness of a motel-room bible. Fear is a stone in my stomach. The entry wound is a clean hole about the size of a half-dollar. The exit wound is the diameter of a large coffee cup and half as deep. A white maggoty-looking thing curls at the bottom of the wound, cradled in bleeding flesh. I flex my thigh and the maggoty-looking thing tightens like a guitar string—it is a tendon. The wound dressers use a long Q-tip to jam wet gauze into the wounds then leave me with my thoughts and my morphine.

I cannot stand lying here. I click the morphine button once, twice, three times. I raise my bed, roll back the bedside table, and peek out of the small window in my door. The coast is clear of prying nurses. I lift my leg to the edge of the bed, slide my feet onto the cold tile floor and pray, to whatever gods will listen, that I can stand. I do stand—prayer answered—but then collapse back onto the bed contemplating the best way to break a running date when my excuse is that I was shot in the leg last night.

Monday. Washington Redskins safety Shawn Taylor dies of a gunshot wound to the thigh.

Tuesday. "Hmmm," the nurse cogitates as she studies the display that shows how much morphine I am self-dispensing.

"I'm a little concerned that you're not using your morphine. I'd expect you to be using a lot more," she says.

"Oh, I'm using it. Recreationally," I deadpan.

"Maybe we should switch you to Oxycodone?" she wonders aloud. She leaves the room, and I blast morphine for the rest of the night—might as well get a little fun out of this deal.

The nurses and doctors are all about pain management. Several times a day they ask me about my pain. I am probably not the best guy to ask. I run trails for kicks, which means my tolerance for pain is high. Sure my leg hurts, it hurts like hell, but so did Pikes Peak and Alaska's Mount Marathon and dozens of other races and training runs I have done over the past 30 years. I tire of the questions and start telling the nurses that on a scale of one to 10 the pain is five, always five—seems like a good enough number to score some Oxycodone to stash and use after long runs in the future.

Thursday. Released. The nurses bring a wheelchair to my door for my ride out. They leave. With the help of a cane, I quietly limp to the wheelchair. I break the plastic bracelet around my wrist that reads "Trauma alert Ocean," which was the name they gave me while I was there. They try to keep gunshot victims anonymous for fear their shooters will try to find them in the hospital and finish the job. I throw the wristband onto the chair and, squaring my shoulders, limp to the elevators and out the door better off than when I arrived four days earlier.

On this first post-shooting run, it feels like a hot fork is being jabbed into the top of my patella, and golf balls are lodged in my abused thigh. My knee and Achilles tendons twinge as they compensate for their trashed teammates. My lungs burn. Every step hurts, like every single stride of the final 10 miles down Pike's Peak.

There was a time when I might have cursed the pain. I would have wished my body to be stronger and tougher. But not now. Today, running in razor-sharp spring sunshine, I repeat the words "thank you" with each agonizing stride, grateful that I still have a right leg that can hurt. One foot in front of the other.


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