The paramedics and emergency room staff worked efficiently and with kindness. Archive photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne

The paramedics and emergency room staff worked efficiently and with kindness. Archive photo: Matic Zorman/Maison Moderne

Saturday 14 October is so far, quite possibly, the worst day of my year.

After a night of rain and wind, the sky on Saturday morning was light blue and the air was crisp. We decided to take advantage of the nice weather (it’s Luxembourg, after all--when the sun is out, you have to enjoy it) and go for a bike ride. There’s a cycling and pedestrian path through the forest between Bonnevoie and Hesperange that follows the Alzette River, and my husband and I often take walks, go for a run or bike along this trail.

You could smell autumn in the air--it was a little bit damp, as is often the case after a rainy evening--and although the trees and bushes in the forest were still mostly green, there were piles of dead, brown leaves scattered along the path.

After around 20 minutes of leisurely cycling came catastrophe. In the space of just three seconds, my bike wheel slipped on some dead leaves, and I veered slightly off the asphalt into the dirt to the right of the path (a few centimetres lower than the asphalt). I swung the handlebars hard to the left but ended up overcorrecting--my bike’s front wheel hit the back of my husband’s back wheel and I went sailing over the handlebars and crashing into the ground.

Three seconds. That’s all.

Everything happened so fast; I had no time to react. I heard--felt--an excruciating “crack” along my top row of teeth as I hit the asphalt and overwhelming terror, total horror, sweeping through my body as I sat up, put my hands to my mouth and saw deep, red blood spurting like a fountain. Running my tongue over my teeth (or their sharp, jagged remains, at this point), I realised what had happened and screamed. And screamed. And screamed.

I couldn’t stop screaming; all I could think about was my teeth and how my smile--I had braces and headgear as a teenager to straighten my teeth and had diligently worn a retainer every night for nearly 15 years--was ruined.

(It’s vain, of course, and perhaps silly that that was the first thought that came into my head, but I was so proud of my smile and of my teeth and I put a lot of work into maintaining them--flossing every night, careful brushing, regular dentist appointments, and so on and so forth.)

I went into shock, my legs shaking as I lay on the ground, completely destroyed. My screams resonated far throughout the forest as I began scrabbling through dead brown leaves and wood chips and twigs on the asphalt--now decorated with large droplets of crimson blood--trembling all over and desperately, single-mindedly searching for fragments of my teeth in the crazy, unrealistic hope that a dentist would be able to glue them back together and that everything would be just like before. Was that a tooth chip? Nope, just a piece of blood-covered leaf. Wait! There’s a large white chunk! Maybe the dentist can work with this!

My husband phoned for an ambulance, and in the meantime, a runner--dressed in a dark top and black shorts--stopped to make sure I was okay, telling me about his own experiences with broken teeth and helping me in my anguished quest for the pieces of my teeth.

I screamed so loudly and for so long that a woman tending her garden across the river came over to see what was going on, in fears that I was being attacked. When she arrived, the situation was clear: blood was still streaming from my mouth, all over my hands, my scarf, the ground and I was still shrieking about my teeth. She knelt down next to me on the ground and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, staying with me until the ambulance came.

I was whisked away to the CHL in Strassen, where I was seen by an emergency room triage nurse and given a plastic wristband. Then, oddly enough, I was seen by two police officers who tried to give me an alcohol test (standard procedure, they explained), but my lips were so swollen I was unable to complete the test.

A few minutes later, I was placed in a room, where I was left alone with my thoughts, still clutching the latex glove with the fragments of my teeth, hands and face covered in blood, and still in shock.

The ER doctor came in, took one look at me (after ensuring that I hadn’t hit my head or lost consciousness), and declared that I needed to see a dentist.

A nurse then accompanied me and my husband to the dental services of the CHL, where I was seen by the dentist on call and who started the procedure of recovery. At the time of writing, the situation stands at one tooth extracted (it was too damaged to save and will require an implant), one tooth fractured in multiple locations (and which may be able to be saved, time will tell; if not, it will also have to be extracted) and two teeth that may “only” require crowns. It’s going to be a long process.

My fall happened so quickly that I didn’t even have time to put my hands out to stop myself from hitting the ground. I was wearing my helmet, and beyond a slight abrasion of my left knee (and the row of broken teeth), all things considered, I made it out of my bike accident okay, thank God. Looking back, it could have been much worse--my uncle had a similar bike accident a few years ago and ended up losing his teeth, as well as breaking multiple bones in his face (nose, cheekbones, etc.). I could have ended up with tooth fragments piercing the palate of my mouth, my tongue, my lips, my cheeks; I could have fallen at a strange angle and broken my neck; I could have ended up dead; the list of “could-haves” continues on.

And then there’s the overwhelming regret, the guilt, the thoughts of “I should have just stayed home,” or “I should have been able to react faster” and the horrendous flashbacks and nightmares that I keep having about the moment of the accident. But that’s the thing: had we stayed home, or had we taken the car to do something else that weekend, perhaps we would have been in a car accident. Maybe I would have shattered the bones in my wrist. Would a faster reaction on my part have saved my teeth? I don’t know. But I cannot--and must not--dwell on that for too long.

Despairing online searches tell me that the loss of “natural teeth,” whether as a result of an accident like mine or tooth disease, can bring about stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Am I at the acceptance stage yet? I don’t think so. I’ve asked my husband to cover the mirrors in the apartment and it’s tough for me to look at pictures of myself from before. Recovery is a long process and the dental procedures can take months. I’ll need to be patient, I suppose.

But I also need to be grateful that things weren’t worse. And, after writing all of this, to help me process the trauma, I wanted to especially highlight the assistance and kindness that so many people showed me that day, and hopefully through this, thank them.

Thank you, anonymous runner, for stopping, for your compassion and for your words.

Thank you, gardening woman with the long brown braids, for your concern, for coming to check on me, for your calm support and soothing back pats.

Thank you, paramedic in the first ambulance, who checked my pulse, took my blood pressure, saw that my heart rate was at 155bpm and very sternly told me to take deep breaths. And thank you for letting me squeeze your fingers so tightly that I feared I might break your phalanges.

Thank you, team of the second CGDIS ambulance, for your care, your attention and your kindness while transporting me from the site of the accident to the emergency room, and for letting me--still in shock and completely desperate--keep the blue latex glove with the fragments of my teeth.

Thank you, triage nurses, for your efficient work.

Thank you, police officers, for your understanding when checking in.

Thank you, turquoise scrubs ER nurse, for your kindness when placing me in my room.

Thank you, ER doctor, for your rapid evaluation.

Thank you, purple scrubs ER nurse, for taking the time to accompany me to the dental department, winding through all the construction works and different units at the CHL.

Thank you, on-call dentist and on-call dental nurse, for your rapid, professional work and compassion in treating me.

Thank you, dear husband, for your patience, for your hugs, for your unending support.

And thank you, to all the healthcare workers and first responders, whom we may take for granted until the moment we need them--I am ever so grateful.