Broken Ribs

Older man in a hospital bed

Eric Clipperton/Flickr

On the warm, rainy evening of August 19, 2012, I traveled to the Church of the Epiphany to have dinner with youth volunteers in the YSOP program, to tell them about Street Sense, our capital’s newspaper for the homeless. When the rain let up, I entered the DC subway system at Metro Center. While waiting for the train, I struck up a conversation with a teacher at Wilson High School who is working on her Master’s degree. We continued our conversation on the train, discussing the state of our schools and of teenagers, some of whom I taught 40 years ago.

The red line train stopped, and I stood up to get off and said goodbye to my new friend.

Suddenly, without warning, the train jerked to a start again. I flew forward several feet, and hit the lower left part of my chest on an armrest of the subway car.

I got up, feeling stunned, and shook myself to see if I was dreaming. After exiting the train, I wandered aimlessly for a couple hours. I began feeling some pain in my chest. I mentioned my accident to a guy at a bus stop, and he urged me to go to the hospital.

I took the bus to George Washington University Hospital ER. I told the doctor what happened.

She had my chest X-rayed. I had rib fractures.

The doctor kept me overnight for observation, since broken ribs can be fatal if a lung is punctured. She gave me a Percocet for pain, and a plastic inhaler to clear fluid from my lungs.

At sunrise the next morning, I was discharged from the hospital. A happy birthday indeed!

I couldn’t sleep for a couple nights, because when I shifted, the pain woke me up. Every time I breathed, my chest ached. Late summer and early fall allergies added to my misery. Coughing and sneezing were not just annoying, but painful as well.

I did not feel well enough to stand up and talk to people in order to sell my Street Sense newspapers. The aches and pains slowly subsided over the coming months, but I will always remember my 61st birthday as the time of broken ribs.


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