Rough Neighborhoods

Monday, June 3 was my first day as a Blavatnik Fellow at Yale. Consequently, it was also the day I fell off my bike and dislocated my shoulder while biking in my new neighborhood.

I had been biking to meet a friend for climbing when I hit a nasty bump that knocked the bike lock into the front wheel of my bike and took me down in the middle of the street. I don’t remember much of the immediate aftermath, though I was conscious. I was just operating on instinct. I scrambled up and looked around; the car behind me had hit its brakes and people were gathering and asking if I was okay. With surging adrenaline, I lugged my bike to the side of the road and told them I was fine, but the accident must have looked pretty bad because people kept at it. One guy insisted on getting me water from a nearby store. Someone else waited with me while he went off, which was good because I experienced a minor bout of lightheaded-ness.

Ten minutes and a few gulps of water later, I felt better and a bit embarrassed about all the fuss, including a few offers to drive me to the hospital. I found a bit of blood seeping into my pant leg at the left knee and my right hand was scraped, but nothing seemed amiss. I could track a finger and wasn’t seeing double (and had been wearing a helmet. I did a lap around the store parking lot to test my body and my bike, and partly to demonstrate to everyone that I was fine. The guy who got me water insisted I take his phone number just in case I needed to go to the ED, and I tapped it quickly to save what little phone battery I had.

I left the parking lot and biked north toward the climbing gym, at first thrilled at having escaped without serious injury and annoyed I was so late to meet my friend. But three blocks up, I noticed that my left shoulder felt off. It started with a tightness, and then an odd sense of compacted crunchiness. I tried to lift my left arm and immediately felt nauseous. I pulled over and sat down hard on the sidewalk, waited for the feeling to pass. At first I was torn between biking onward, going back home, or going to the hospital. But that rapidly transitioned into trying to stay conscious, so I lay down on my back and put my feet in the air.

At some point a woman pulled up at the light nearby and asked if I was alright. I said I was just a bit dizzy, and I was fine, thank you. She responded I shouldn’t rest here because it wasn’t a safe neighborhood. I thanked her again, but she was insistent and began yelling it wasn’t safe. It was enough to knock up my adrenaline, and I got up and limped off in the opposite direction to get away from her.

I managed half a block before I had to sit down again. I called my friend at the gym to say I probably wouldn’t be coming because I fell off my bike and should go to the hospital, but had no serious injuries (she would probably like it to be known that I only
got her voicemail, or she would have been the one to drive me to the ED). I called my significant other, to let him know I was going to the hospital and to ask which was in network (he, being the gracious human being he is, stayed totally calm).

Then with my final percent of battery, I called that saint of a guy who got me water to ask if he’d still be willing to drive me to the hospital. Against all odds, he picked up the phone and came back to drive me to the hospital. He even helped me lock of up my bike near the hospital and get checked into the ED before leaving.

Five hours, two x-rays, and a few happy reunions later*, I was discharged with a diagnosis of a grade 1 acromioclavicular separation (a mildly dislocated shoulder likely not requiring surgery, or a cast, or anything beyond rest). I’ll be fine.

It’s interesting to reflect on how I felt toward the people who wanted to help me in the aftermath of the accident. Everything above took place in what would be called a ‘rough neighborhood’, though I doubt this is a reference to its crime rate so much as to the predominant race and ethnicity (black and Hispanic) in the area. I even had a (white) woman yell at me from her car that it wasn’t safe, which was more agitating than anything else that happened post-accident.

And why? Though the guy who ultimately drove me to the hospital was South Asian, almost everyone else who offered help was black. Everyone I encountered after my accident was deeply concerned and offered help. Nobody tried to take advantage of my very visible vulnerability, and I never felt like I was in danger. So I don’t get the labels of ‘rough’ and ‘dangerous’ for my neighborhood — if anything, it was a neighborhood full of regular people who care and want to help in an emergency.

* Through some grand luck, a good friend of mine from graduate school (who is also the husband of the climbing friend I was biking to meet) happened to be on shift in the ED. When I didn’t show up at the climbing gym and she got my phone message, she let him know I was coming and came to the ED herself. My significant other (who hadn’t seen either of them for ages) also drove down, and the four of us had a mini reunion in the ED.

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