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Jack Zaleski, Published March 06 2011

Zaleski: Flat on my back in Sakakawea’s shadow

I don’t do pain well. But last week, gravity and ice conspired to deliver a dose of hurt and slow recovery that reminded me I’m not a kid anymore.

After visiting some folks in the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck, I decided to spend an hour or so at the Heritage Center. I walked smartly across the parking lot, enjoying the cold, clear winter day on the beautiful Capitol grounds.

Then: whoosh, whack! In a nanosecond, both feet flew out from under me, and I came down like a sack of Red River Valley potatoes, flat on my back. “What the hell happened?” I asked out loud. There I was staring up into the bright, blue sky, not yet understanding a patch of ice had sent me flying. I glanced at the nearby statue of Sakakawea and her infant. I swear she was grinning.

When my wits returned, I realized the wind had not been knocked out of me. I had not cracked by head on pavement. So far, so good. I jumped up like the athlete I once was. I felt a little pain along the left side of my back, but nothing serious. Legs, arms moved normally. OK, I said, no problem. I continued to the Heritage Center and strolled leisurely through the exhibit hall. Nice time.

That evening after dinner, my wife, Sandi, and I attended an ice cream social for the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. The slight pain in my back was, well, slight. We had a good time.

The next morning I could not move. If I tried, the pain shut me down. It was so debilitating, I could not drive back to Fargo. When we got to town, our first stop was the Sanford emergency room. My worry was I’d cracked a rib or two.

The X-ray said no ribs were broken. A severe muscle bruise was the culprit. The doctor prescribed pain pills and a muscle relaxer.

Didn’t work. Every time I tried to move, pain pills or no, the damaged tissues screamed. I clenched my jaw so tight, I’m sure I wore enamel off my teeth. Every stab generated a wave of nausea and squeezed tears out of my tight-shut eyes. I revived the talent to string together curse words – in a teeth-grinding whisper – I hadn’t used since college. Helped a little.

It’s been a week. Healing has proceeded apace. The pain is minimal now but still a reminder, a lesson.

No matter what shape you think you’re in, the ice will take you down. No matter if you have never fallen before, the ice is out there, waiting for a misstep. I was lucky. No broken bones, no concussion, no permanent damage.

Unless, of course, I count the mortification of landing flat on my back in a public parking lot – and being laughed at by Sakakawea.

Be careful out there.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at (701) 241-5521.