On July 18th I had a mountain bike accident. That evening I lifted weights for an hour. The weather was wonderful so I felt I should take advantage of it. I got my bike ready and set out on a familiar trek – about 5 miles from my home. Near the three-hole golf course there is a gravel/dirt road that leads to numerous bike trails that weave in and out of the woods. I generally avoid the more ambitious trails and stick to the ones I find interesting, but not dangerous. I had been riding for about an hour and a half when I realized that the light was beginning to fade. I had worked that day as well and that, along with the exercise, began to take its toll. I was a little tired.
Straddling my bike, I stood at a fork in the road. To my right was a simple slope of baby grass and black, moist soil; an easy exit to the road that would lead me back to the black top path that would take me home. To my left – a steep hill made of gravel. Its wicked curve and wild unevenness added an extra thrill. In the past I’d carefully gone down this hill, squeezing my breaks gingerly, carefully so as to ease my way safely. Two days before, I had taken this same road full bore and survived. I had been exhilarated by the risk involved and more so when I made it down to the bottom successfully. So I decided to go for it.
I didn’t make it.
I remember missing the groove of the curve and sharply overcompensating to the left – too sharply – the gravel slipped under my tires, and I hit the weeds. Tall grass gone to seed flies past me as I hear a little voice inside my head say… oh-oh.
And then – nothing.
Next thing I remember: I’m walking up a hill with my bike in pitch darkness. It dawns on me that there are people following behind me to my right. I stop short and ask, ‘Where am I?’ A voice from behind says… ‘Just keep walking’. I do. I ask what’s happened. The voice, a bit impatient, says, ‘You’re almost there’.
Later in my hospital bed I realize that at the time, I thought I was in line to go to the afterlife… whatever that might be. I remember moistness on the right side of my face and that I was completely hunched forward, my shoulders felt odd and I could not move my head. I felt the handlebars of my bike for my tee-shirt – yep, it was still there, tied tight.
We reach the top of the slope and I recognize the blacktop path that normally I would take home. There’s a police car. An ambulance pulls up. I say – to no one – that I just want to go home now. Someone takes my bike. I’m led away. Questions. I try answering… I give them a name - the wrong name. I can’t remember phone numbers. They clamp something hard around my neck and lay me down. Again, I request to go home, as I would for the next four hours each time I catch someone’s eye.
I never see my bike again.
The ride in the ambulance. I don’t remember. Much. Into the trauma center. My shorts are cut off me. A whirl of people overhead. X-rays. Pain. Someone tries to remove the brace around my neck – I scream. Pain shooting up over the back of my head. They stop. They slow down. They want to give me morphine. I refuse. I hate that stuff. I ask for a Valium. No one laughs. I keep trying to give them phone numbers. The numbers make no sense. I try to tell them about my dogs who need to be let out – who are alone. I keep asking what day it is. I keep asking what time it is.
I begin to remember… the bike. The gravel. The weeds. Oh, how stupid. Stupid me. What have I done?
Lots of x-rays, a CAT scan, an MIR. Trips on a motorized gurney, trips that eventually make me sick to my stomach. They roll me on my side and I hurl all over the walls. I forgot to eat dinner. What time was it? Phone numbers. No water? A wash clothe to my lips. No water. Maybe surgery. The whirl of people resides. There’s a gun shot victim on the other side of the curtain. They scramble away. Judy stays with me. She cleans my face. Nasty. Dirt. Grass. Judy is nice. Very kind.
I am sent to the fifth floor. Moved, painfully, into a bed. I try not to make too much noise – they keep threatening me with morphine. I need to stay awake, aware. Phone numbers. Someone is missing me.
Tony is on the phone. It is 1:30 in the morning. Flan, my new nurse asks if he should come. I say yes. Tony is there. He has been frantic. Worried. I had been a John Doe for about 5 hours. I ask him NOT to call my family. This is no big deal. The next morning? My family is there… Mom and Dad. My niece. Mom cries. I tell her it’s not that bad. They give me something for pain. It starts with a ‘G’.
Tally: Bad concussion, broken neck (two places), a chip in my skull where the skull meets my spine (and a crack up to the middle of my head), both shoulders hurt, 9 bad ribs, and the right side of the face is total road rash. Lucky I didn’t lose an eye.
Lucky. Lucky, me.
Could have been worse. Not a scratch from the chest down. I am upbeat and try to minimize injuries – I don’t want more pain meds. I want to go home. Three months in a neck brace? What? Why? No more pain meds, please.
I flew off the bike. I landed. I guess. I guess, because I blacked out. I only remember hitting the weeds and feeling the oh-oh. I wasn’t wearing a shirt. I wasn’t wearing my cap. I wasn’t wearing a helmet! Apparently – two other bikers either saw the accident or came upon my prone body. They called 911. I don’t know if I got up and picked up the bike or if they helped me. The ambulance could not drive back to where we were - we had to walk the half-mile of road to meet them. It grew dark fast. By the time we reached the top of the slope where the police and the ambulance it was pitch black and I don’t know if I am going to heaven or hell. Or if there even are such places. I walk slowly in darkness and do what the voices behind me tell me to do.
I was lucky.
I am lucky.
I hate my neck brace. My head feels like it’s being squeezed out of an eggcup. I should be on the cover of National Geographic. The ribs don’t bother me much. No pain meds. I say things that don’t make much sense for a few days. On the fourth day I see my face. On the fifth day… I go home. Tony is very good to me. He was scared. Me too, a little. Tony baby-sits. My parents baby-sit. I get lots of cards. People at work are worried. Everyone is very kind.
My right ear is blocked. I am having some hearing issues. My right shoulder feels dead, numb – temporary nerve damage? I get dizzy easily and list to the left as I walk. Vertigo. Rooms spin. My middle ear. That first week I sleep a lot – not so much now. My back is always in knots. My posture, horrible. My body feels warped. This too shall pass. Please.
I manage to pick-up my summer management class. On the first night at the hospital, when I was told I could not go home, I then tried to broker a deal where I could go to class the next evening – my plan was, that if they let me go to class – I wouldn’t come back to the hospital. I’d go on the lam. That was a no-go, too. But my instructor is very kind. The midterm is delayed for a week. I read when I can. Study. Sleep. I go to the midterm exam. She gives me a few mercy points. I am still having trouble remembering things – words. I hang on and finish the class. My memory is good, although I still talk nonsense now and then.
I am lucky. And lost. But mostly grateful. I go back to the doctors next week. I hope they will let me out of this neck brace. I hate it. But it’s better than the alternative. Yes, I am lucky. Grateful and lucky.
Thank you to everyone who has sent a kind word, a card, taken time to help. I am very grateful. Thank you Mom and Dad.
And most of all… Thank you, Tony.
This too shall pass. Please?