I used to take some things for granted. Many things, in fact. I used to play my clarinet without a thought and type without batting an eyelash. I could write novels for hours and never have to set down my pen. I look back and wonder why I didn’t savor those things while they lasted. But I was carefree, doing things with my hands that never caused the slightest twinge of discomfort, things I will never do again without pain. I had no idea that one event, one second, would set off a ripple effect that would haunt me forever.
I was eleven. My mother and I were picking wild violets - another thing that makes me marvel. How could something that innocent end up causing such mental and physical anguish? An acquaintance called us over to pet her dog, a drooling behemoth of a Rottweiler. We petted the dog for a moment, and then the owner got some treats. She handed me one, and told me the command to make Buster sit up and beg. I did, and gave him the treat.
When my mother and I started to walk away, I turned to say, “Bye, Buster!” but hadn’t finished speaking when the dog lunged and sank his teeth into my right hand. I screamed, apparently, though I have no recollection - the pain that exploded like a hydrogen bomb from my hand made me oblivious to everything else. The dog’s owner grabbed my hand, which was dripping blood. Although she wanted to take me in her house for ice, my mother refused and we started our short walk home. Pain radiated from my hand into my wrist like invisible fire.
After filing a police report, my mom drove me to the hospital. There were three deep puncture wounds, but also smaller lacerations on my wrist and arm. My ring finger couldn’t move and my pinkie was numb. The doctor took x-rays, and emotionlessly informed me that my fourth metacarpal had been cracked by the dog’s jaws. He sent me home with a thick bandage, a sling and pain medication.
The next day, I saw an orthopedic surgeon. He did more x-rays and concluded that the growth plate, not the bone, had been broken. If it didn’t heal correctly, I would face growth problems in that hand and finger, or possibly deformity. It grew fine, but today I am missing a knuckle (it’s completely flat where a knuckle should be) and there is a large dent in the bone where the break was.
The dog bite caused permanent, irreversible damage, and my life has been changed forever. I have tendonitis in my wrist and arthritis in my hand. I had to learn to use it all over again. While it was in a cast for a month, the muscles atrophied, so my hand looked like that of an elderly person.
That injury set off a ripple effect in my life, my mind, and the way I look at the world. I no longer take basic skills for granted. When I play my clarinet, each note sounds like a musical triumph. When I type, every letter is a blessing. And when I write my beloved books, each character that I conjure, each chapter I finish, brings me unspeakable joy. I savor every moment.
I wouldn’t change what happened to me if I could. Overcoming the dog bite has made me who I am today. It has caused me pain, but I have triumphed over it. Every time a storm comes, my hand and wrist throb with fiery pain. Every time I type a long essay, pain shoots through my metacarpal bone. I triumph over it when I tighten my wrist brace and slam a volleyball over the net. Though the attack wasn’t life-threatening, it helped me realized how one wrong move can change everything.
Before my injury, I was more worried about the latest rumor swirling at school, not whether or not there was a weather front coming through that would make my hand swell and ache. Now I realize there are more important things to worry about. I’ll never look at a strange dog without thinking, Look at the teeth on that canine. I’ll never look at the scars on my wrist and hand without feeling an echo of the fear I felt that day. Although I would not change it, I can’t help thinking that if I had taken two more steps, I would have been out of that dog’s reach.
I now understand more about what really matters. It’s the things that we never notice until they are taken from us. When something like this happens, it makes you slow down and savor each minute. So, take time to enjoy the little things, no matter how utterly insignificant they may seem. Stop and admire the intricacies of a spider web, the exquisite blending of color when the sky becomes streaked with crimson at sunset. Don’t let the tiny things that bring that innocent, unsullied joy slip by you ever again; they are too precious.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.