On Outdoor Action, our leaders told us about the process of getting “McCoshed” (admittance to the student health clinic overnight for being drunk), that if we were found to be even more dangerously intoxicated, we would be “PMCed.” I had no idea, as these senior Princetonian backpackers conveyed this information over gorp at Harriman State Park, that in three months I would be PMCed, admitted to University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro (the acronym was a false one, it should’ve been “UMCPP”), and worse, I would be admitted on a Tuesday. The saving grace? At the very least, I was not hospitalized for being drunk.
A couple weeks later, I joined the Princeton Running Club. I had run cross country in high school, but my last year had been plagued with injury, and I envisioned the opportunity to run club XC races as a way to recover a lost senior season.
NIRCA races are 10 km (6.2 miles), double the length of the 5k endemic to high schools. When PRC hosts meets, the location is invariably the varsity course embedded within the West Windsor Fields, a flat-AF trail among cornstalks in which almost anyone can PR (that is, achieve a new “personal record,” runner jargon for “personal best”). The 2026 Campus Plan suggests the forthcoming Lake Campus will displace this terrain in the near future, but given West Windsor Fields’ supporting role in my accident, I won’t be terribly sad to see it go.
On that unfortunate Tuesday, we were training for NIRCA Nationals, that year to be held in Hershey, Pennsylvania. I was extremely excited to run in a high-profile meet for the first time in years; finally, I’d be able to overcome the “ghost of my fraught athletic career” or so I conceived it then.
Not so fast. Daylight Savings had recently ended, and Princeton fell dark early that night. PRC paced out to the fields, where we ran a tempo run along the varsity course. Given the short workout—Nationals was that weekend—I thought I would have just enough time to shower, eat dinner, and attend my night seminar. I remember seeing some deer, spooked by our movements and raucous conversation. Then, as our main workout concluded, we headed back to campus.
At night, Princeton is not exceptionally well-lit. The occasional lamppost does not a spotlight make; I always recall nights when I’d walk past Nassau Hall, brilliantly lit up like it was the Lincoln Memorial, while everything surrounding was in pitch darkness, reminiscent of a night frame in Citizen Kane or Touch of Evil.
And so, it was as we ran up Elm Drive, I fell to the rear of the pack of runners. This was not unusual for me; in high school I had always been fast enough to be a sort of “utility man” on varsity, but never the star; I was the guy on an NBA team that played for one minute, made a single free-throw, and returned to the bench.
At the corner of Elm Drive and the Dillon Gym parking lot there is a sign. It is a large rectangular sign, black with white lettering, announcing “Dillon Gym” (because a castle cannot be immediately associated with the function of a gym), and the sign is attached to a lamppost, stretching out to a tree.
Runners are notoriously bad at following paths; runners love jaywalking, runners can never resist shortcuts. This pack of runners was no exception. They collectively made the executive decision to cut the path and run through the narrow opening between the sign and the tree. And I, at the rear of this pack, could not see the sign. It was dark. The sign was black. Naturally, I ran right into it.
The first thing I remember is being on the ground, my eyes opening, my friends standing above me, faces ashen in horror. I was told not to move. A P-Safe officer put his thumbs in my ears and kept my head stable, worried I’d snapped my neck. “Is my nose broken?” I asked, but no one could say for sure. There was a cut, someone said, but that’s about all anyone offered.
The ambulance came a few minutes later, and the P-Safe officer finally released my head. Paramedics loaded me onto a stretcher. My assumption before this was that when you’re put on a stretcher, you’re probably like, dying, so you’re not paying attention to the whole process of it. I was pretty lucid though, which made it more weird, this passive, disembodied observation of what could be the end of my story.
At the ER, a nurse on call remarked, in thick Jersey accent, “Oh, honey, your nose is ruined.” So much for bedside manner? I dreaded seeing what had become of my nose.
They took an X-Ray, did a concussion test, bandaged my sniffer, handed me an ice pack. Just writing this, I can still feel the dull ache in my nasal septum. I was forced to sit through an episode of Agents of Shieldwhile I waited on the results.
They were negative. The nose was not broken, and I was not concussed. Finally, I was allowed to look at myself in the mirror. My nose was not ruined—rather, it just looked the way it always had. I have an aquiline nose, which is a polite way to say it is quite large with a prominent bridge, and while it is not the Michelangelo’s David of noses, it is a nose nonetheless.
As I was apparently medically fine, I showed up late to my seminar that evening, where I drew gasps from my classmates and professor. Also feeling fine (with the help of Advil), I ended up running Nationals in Hershey that same weekend, running one of my better times. But that 10k did a number on me, and I felt dizzy and lethargic for more than a month afterward. Despite the science, I’m pretty sure I had a concussion.
What does it mean to have your friends turn away from your fallen body and assume the worst? To have complete strangers remark on the apparent ugliness of your injury—while what they are commenting on happens to be just how you look normally? The way I understand it, people are eager to play a part in a situation they have seen on TV. For an evening, I was the friend in the movie who has apparently fallen off a cliff, and the friends bemoan my absence, and then I miraculously climb up through the aid of an opportune tree root. Then it’s all hugs, no trauma, except in movies people don’t have lingering concussion symptoms or ongoing insecurities about their nasal structures.
But yes, dear reader, I was PMCed on a Tuesday. And happily, I never returned to PMC again.
Harrison Blackman ‘17 is a former contributor to the Nass and an MFA Candidate at the University of Nevada, Reno.