Thursday, November 15, 2007

A life-changing moment

I was riding along, minding my own business Wednesday morning, enjoying the great weather and cruising down the road for a few easy miles.

Heading south in Corte Madera on Tamal Vista, just north of Tamalpais, I briefly glanced to my right to check out four little kids in a red wagon. I turned my head back, looked up the road, and...

OHMYGOD!!! WHAM!!!

A silver SUV, going north, made a left turn directly into me. I slammed on the brakes, tensed-up for the impact, and tried to turn to the right so I wouldn't hit the vehicle straight on.

I screamed at the top of my lungs as we crashed into each other. I was going about 20 mph, he was going nearly as fast.

The next thing I knew, I was sprawled out on the road. I landed hard on my left side, with my legs still wrapped around the bike frame. The front fork had been torn off, and came to a rest about 10 feet away.

I blacked-out for a moment, and when I came to, the driver of the vehicle was standing next to me. "Are you ok?" he asked. "No," I replied. I was too dazed to say, "Jesus, dumbshit...you just hit me with your car...I'm laying here in the middle of the street...my bike is in shreds...and you ask me if I'm OK? Are you freaking blind?"

Instead, all I wanted to do was throw up. I felt nauseous, and didn't want to move. At that point, I had no idea how seriously I'd been hurt.

Within just a few seconds, one off-duty paramedic arrived, then another. Thank God. The first one asked me my name, the day of the week, and wondered if I knew where I was. I gave all the right answers (I think), so he proceeded to give me the once-over, to make sure I hadn't broken my neck or back.

When we were both confident that I could move without causing any more damage, I tried to get up. Forget it. I damn near threw up again, and as soon as I tried to move, I realized that my left shoulder was hurt badly.

After a couple more minutes, one of the off-duty paramedics told me that I should really get up and out of the middle of the street, so he helped me up. DAMN I was hurtin'. Left shoulder, right knee, both hands...all in major pain.

I limped over to a short rock wall near the sidewalk, sat down there, and tried to get my wits about me again. At about that same time, both the Twin Cities police and paramedics arrived. One paramedic gave me the once-over...again...while the other shielded my eyes from the sun. Off to the side, I could see the police officer talking to the driver of the silver SUV.

Someone took my helmet off my head, and noticed that it was cracked in three places. Great.

Minutes passed...I have no idea how many...and it was decided that I should go to the ER at Marin General. As a precaution, the paramedics put me in a neck collar and brace, lowered me onto a back board, strapped me in and put me into the ambulance.

As they were strapping my head, arms and torso down, I looked up and said, "I feel like freaking Gulliver. If I look up and you guys are all of a sudden real small, then I know I'm in trouble!" The paramedics laughed and remarked about the fact that I could keep my sense of humor at a time like this.

Always, boys. I'm never short on wise-ass humor.

The trip to the hospital took much longer than I expected, and the waves of motion-induced nausea made the ride pretty uncomfortable. Add to that the IV they stuck in my right arm, and the EKG leads they taped to my legs and body, and I was getting a bit freaked by all of it.

One of the paramedics told me, "The good news...because you were going more than five mile per hour when you were hit, you've triggered a 'trauma response'...that means that when we arrive at Marin General, about a dozen people will descend on you right away."

Oh, great.

The ambulance pulled up to the ER at Marin General, and as the paramedics were lifting me out, one of them said, "Don't worry...I haven't dropped anybody all day"...to which I replied, "Yeah, but it's pretty early in the day...don't start now!"

Once inside, I was impressed with both the quantity and quality of attention I received. The best news...the doctor, Jason Ruben, was a cyclist. We spoke the same language, so he understood better than anyone what had happened to me, and I knew the right ways to communicate with him.

I was still in my Paradigm Cycles kit...the one I got for my birthday...so when they told me that they wanted to cut it off of me, I protested. But as I first tried to slip off the jersey, and then take the t-shirt off over my head, my left shoulder hurt like hell. The shock of the crash was wearing off, and at the same time, the pain was setting in.

We eventually got the jersey and t-shirt off, and the bibs down, much (I think) to the delight of the three nurses who were attending to me. I think I recall one of them saying, "You're 52?" while another said, "Wow...look at his calves!"

Thanks, girls.

Dr. Ruben wanted to get x-rays of my back, shoulder and left hand, so after a few minutes, the x-ray tech came to get me. She wanted to put me in a wheelchair, but I refused. So I walked through the ER, with my bibs half way down my butt, and limped to the x-ray room.

I soon realized that the injuries were getting the better of me. After a couple of chest x-rays, it was obvious that I was in pain, so they had me sit down for the remainder of the films. Good call. I felt like crap, and I was afraid that I'd pass out again.

I asked one of the techs how the x-ray looked, and she said, "We can't talk to you about that...the doctor will have to tell you." Great. That's never good news.

When they finished, they wheeled in the chair, and I gladly accepted the ride this time. I was rolled back to the exam room, and waited for the doc.

After just a few minutes (it could have been longer, but I was still a bit whacked so my time reference was off), Dr. Ruben showed me the x-rays, and explained that the break was both clear and clean, and it would be about six weeks until I was healed.

Ugh.

But...as long as I could stand the pain, I could get out and about. Remember...Tyler Hamilton rode most of the '03 Tour de France with a broken clavicle. OK, Tyler might have been on something stronger than vicodin, but heck, if a weenie like him could tough it out, I should be able to ride soon too, eh?

I called my long-time friend Tom Guerin to come and pick me up. Out of all the people I know, Tom has the least demanding work schedule..he lives semi-close to Marin General...and because he and I do a lot of riding together, he would be a good audience for my recap of the incident.

All things considered, there are many ways that this could have been worse. In a strange kind of way, I'm actually kinda glad that it happened. It reminds me how vulnerable and exposed we all are, and it also serves as a wake-up call for everyone on who rides a bike.

Life can indeed change in a moment. Savor every moment, and do all you can to ensure that those moments continue.

3 comments:

Granny's 30 said...

that looks awfully familiar bob...i can empathize.

Mistress Julie said...

gave me chills reading your story. to this day, i still don't know how i didn't get more damaged (or my bike) with my collision.

we are LUCKY.

Robert said...

Had a similar injury 3 1/2 years ago... broken clavicle, separated shoulder, road rash, helmet cracked in 4 places. The shoulder still gives me occasional pain. It took awhile to regain any confidence while riding. I was spooked! Hope that you are back on the bike and doing well! You are right. It changed my perspective on life...