The City of Orillia recently brought me to my knees.
It wasn’t in a romantic way. In fact, it was quite unlovely.
It was also an education in the two different uses for manholes in the city. One is a storm drain and the other is placed near intersections to pack away the electrical wires that control the traffic lights.
It is the latter with which my fate collided Tuesday evening. Here’s how the story goes…
Excited about meeting up with a friend at Couchiching Beach Park for some treats at French’s Stand, I left my downtown apartment around 6:15 p.m. I walked around the corner and east on Coldwater Street to cross Front Street to take a short cut down to the park.
I was paying attention to the traffic. I had my phone tucked away in my bag. I had my water bottle dangling in my left hand. I strolled down past the HGR Graham Partners office exuding a sense of confidence and fearlessness.
I had some tune playing in my head; I can’t remember what it was, maybe something from the Marvel cinematic universe. I made the light to cross north onto the Shoppers Drug Mart corner.
As I stood there waiting for the signal to turn, dreaming of fries and ice cream, I held my head high. As soon as the light changed, I stepped forward — and then pavement dust became my lip balm.
I’d tripped on the loose cover of a manhole that is positioned right at the corner of the sidewalk. My left leg had been swallowed by the now gaping hole, as the concrete wall of the abyss scraped the skin all over my knee.
I froze in mid-action, using my hands to break my fall, letting my bottle clang to the road and roll over into the intersection. My bag had fallen off my shoulder and was splayed on my right side.
I looked back and saw the heavy metal cover ominously rocking back and forth threatening to boomerang and hit me on the back of my leg. Two passersby rushed to my side, one of them reining in the unrestrained cover and the other giving me his hand to lift me out of the hole. A lady who had been waiting for the bus to arrive ran after my refillable bottle, which was rolling around on the road.
I carefully moved my leg around to see if it was stuck anywhere and then pulled it out.
It all happened in a split second, but for me, time froze as it does for the Flash when he is going at hyper-speed. Only my super powers were a massive bruise the size of Lake Simcoe.
A driver turning west onto Coldwater Street pulled up and asked me if I needed any assistance, while others nearby asked me if I wanted them to call an ambulance. The lady who had efficiently retrieved my bottle from the road told me to call the cops and report the city.
The only matters on my mind were: do I have a broken bone and how long ago did I have my tetanus shot.
Clearly, my mandate didn’t match that of the kind people who helped me.
Suppressing my tears — yes, I tend to cry when it hurts like heartbreak — I collected my items and told everyone that I was OK and will just walk home and then drive to the after-hours clinic. Because who wants to be stuck at the hospital emergency department for hours and hours?
The gentleman who had taken hold of the manhole cover pinned it down to make sure it was no longer wobbly.
I hobbled back to my apartment, testing my knee joint and bones as I walked, noting it was 6:25 p.m. as I texted my friend to cancel our plans.
I grabbed my car keys and got into my car, consciously suppressing the yelp of pain that arose as I bent my knee to get in.
The entire incident began to set in as I thought about what I would say to the receptionist at the clinic about my injury.
“I, uh, fell into the gutter.”
Thankfully, the receptionist was very professional, as she not only kept a straight face when I said that, but even twisted her lips into a slight grimace. Two-and-a-half hours later, I had been reassured that my family doctor had given me a tetanus dose in 2016. It’s good for the next decade, I was told.
Now to go home and wash the grime and dirt that had been settling in my scrapes and mixing with the blood that had been oozing from the wound.
It wasn’t easy. I didn’t have my mommy with me; she’s way stronger in such situations than I am.
I managed to clean up the wound and put some anti-bacterial cream on it. Then I pulled out a tub of ice cream and set it on my knee so it could help abate the swelling in my bruised knee and ego.
I posted about it on Facebook and received an outpouring of support from the family: my Orillia family.
Then the question came: To sue or not to sue?
I decided that would depend on how the city reacted. The next day (this morning), Councillor Rob Kloostra called me around 9:15 a.m., asking me how I was doing and if I would be able to go out to the corner and point out the nasty manhole to the city staff he’d asked to look into it.
A few minutes later, I was hobbling down to the fateful corner, where I could see a couple city workers with a pylon next to the hole.
Kyle Mitchell, manager of source protection and operations, and another crew member, greeted me and inquired about my knee before launching into an investigation of the incident.
Mitchell explained to me the distinction between the two kinds of holes, as well as the fact that this one was missing some bolts.
Vandalism, I suggested? He wasn’t sure.
What he was sure about was that the storm drains, which are maintained by the operations department, are regularly checked to ensure the lids aren’t loose, lest a car tire falls through. This one, which contains electrical lines, falls under the purview of the facilities department, the crew from which wasn’t on scene.
The two assured me it would be marked off so no one else would get hurt and that it would be bolted as soon as possible.
And I walked home, satisfied and going with the “to not sue” option.
Another reason for that decision is that I’m not a fan of wasting taxpayer money in this manner. I feel the money should simply be used to put staff to better use in fixing all such loose lids around town.
A review of their practices is certainly required and I hope it will be done. It will help prevent any future falls of people who may not side with the option I took.