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Hit by car, bicyclist adjusts her attitude

The Winston-Salem Journal: Hit by car, bicyclist adjusts her attitude

By Scott Sexton | Journal Columnist

Published: November 29, 2009

One minute on the morning of May 27, 2008, Peggy Haymes was minding her own business, thinking about work as she took a quick bicycle ride from her house to Reynolda Gardens.

The next, she was sprawled out in a turning lane on Polo Road. Her body, she recounted later, felt as if it were made of stone and "one with the asphalt."

Thanks to a boneheaded motorist who apparently mistook the universal hand signal indicating a left turn for an invitation to zip by in a narrow traffic lane, Haymes suffered pelvis fractures in three places, and blood clotting in her abdomen.

Rather than see her own patients that day, Haymes -- a psychotherapist -- became one at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. A long, painful rehab lay in front of her.

You’d expect her to be angry, bitter and perhaps even depressed.

But grateful?

Attitude over obstacles

It took a little while for Haymes to realize just how bad she had been injured. In a self-published book she wrote about her experience (Didn’t See It Coming: How I Faced Bouncing Off a Buick and Other Assorted Stuff, available at www.amazon.com), Haymes talked about her surprise when she learned that she would have to spend two months in a wheelchair and another three on crutches.

From time to time over the next six months, frustration reared its head. The lack of wheelchair-accessible curb cuts near her parents’ house was upsetting. A cable-television customer-service rep got an earful once, and her physical therapists helped her through tough periods.

Then there were the unavoidable what-ifs. What if she had taken a different route that morning? What if her injuries had been permanent?

In the end, attitude overcame the obstacles. Rather than a woe-is-me attitude, she decided that the best move was to focus on the things she needed to do to heal.

Little things that might have gone unnoticed before became clearer and more precious:

The Winston-Salem firefighter who took her bicycle back to her house when she was taken to Baptist. Members of her church who brought her food while she was confined to the chair. Her brothers, sisters-in-laws and elderly parents who looked after her.

"I had all the other feelings -- getting angry and frustrated when I couldn’t do what I wanted to do," she said. "But it all came back to gratitude. I didn’t have the time or energy to spend on ‘poor, pitiful me.’

"I couldn’t change what happened."

Small things

Along the way to physical recovery, Haymes suffered other losses. A close friend and colleague died after a massive heart attack. Another friend died after battling cancer.

Haymes grieved her losses, yet managed to let go of the small stuff.

"Laundry’s not so bad when you can walk," she wrote.

Just as she had turned a corner and finished her rehabilitation early this year, Haymes’ mother, 83, became gravely ill and had to be hospitalized.

Even then, Haymes was able to apply lessons from her long, painful ordeal.

Rather than be crushed by the situation, Haymes was grateful that she’d had time with her mother, and happy that her close-knit family was with her mother at the end.

"I wouldn’t trade anything for my accident," she wrote, "because for all that it took away, it also gave me time."

As she makes her final preparations to run in next weekend’s Mistletoe Half-Marathon, Haymes’ physical journey is at an end.

"I’ve always been grateful for the small things in life, but now I’m so much more aware of what a gift it is just to be able to walk my dog," she said. "I think a big thing to realize sometimes is that gratitude is a choice we make."

A fitting choice for this time of year, don’t you think?