Last Thursday, during the umpteenth snow storm of the winter of 2015, I was walking down the stairs in my fuzzy socks, stepping over the barricade my kids had made to keep the baby from crawling up the stairs when I slipped on the hard wood and landed hard with my back against the bottom two steps. For about three hours I stayed on the floor, unable to move, screaming in pain. Finally, I called 9-1-1. And suddenly, my husband was a criminal.
If you knew my husband (and if you knew us), you would know he’s about as likely to push me down a flight of stairs as he is to rob a bank. He’s a pretty loving guy and has always been a ridiculously supportive husband, but I also understand why the cops who walked into my house with their guns and badges would think he’d pushed me. I am 70 pounds lighter than him and couldn’t move from my spot on the floor.
I am a runner. Most people who know me would describe me as tough. Too tough, maybe. I have had three completely natural births, run two fast marathons and countless half marathons at a less than 8-minute mile clip. I don’t break easily.
But I was broken after Thursday’s fall. I was also delirious. As the paramedics strapped me to the backboard, loaded me into the ambulance and took me to the hospital, my only concern was that my husband would get there in a timely fashion and bring me my phone. I also wanted him there because it was scary. They were shooting me up with morphine and peppering me with questions that I felt like I answered a million times. How did you fall? I slipped on my socks. How many stairs did you fall down? Two. Have you done this before? No.
It didn’t occur to me that what they were asking was actually: Did someone push you? Once my husband arrived with my stuff (shoes, phone, coat), he got the same kinds of questions. It was only later, three days later, once I’d rested my back and gotten off all the pain pills, that I realized what they’d really been asking.
“They treated me like a criminal,” my husband said. But we weren’t mad. More just shocked. Shocked at the fact that domestic violence is so terribly common that even an accidental fall, the kind that happens in thousands of homes all over the country, is subject to that line of suspicion. I am grateful to the cops and paramedics and doctors who protect women who really are in danger from their spouses, but brokenhearted over the reality that there are so many of them.
It didn’t take long for the doctors to figure out that I was not in danger. My husband wasn’t insulted by their questions or by the suspicion. Why should he be? We have nothing to hide. But it did make me hyper aware of all the women who do have things to hide. Women who go into the ER and claim they fell or that they hit their head on something or that they knocked their elbow into the counter. “Clumsy me,” they might say. It made me aware that these “other” women aren’t far away. These are women who live near me, in my community, who tell paramedics they fell because their husband hurts them and he’s standing right there.
I am beyond lucky to have never faced domestic violence. I am so grateful that for me it’s just a minor inconvenience to be questioned that way. There are so many women — too many women — who aren’t as lucky. For them domestic violence is a reality. And even though I know my pain will fade eventually and this will become a funny story we share with the grandkids, there are many women for whom the pain is a daily reality.
It’s a sobering, terrifying thought. So thank God my husband was treated like a criminal. If it stops a man who really is, it’s well worth it.