To Be Asleep For Six Weeks

I took my first motorcycle riding lessons at age 11, the summer of 1977. My brother and I were sent to a two-week sleep away camp in the next town and they offered, for an extra $20 per child, either horseback riding lessons or motorcycle riding lessons. The first summer was on the Honda 50cc on a closed course. The second summer we did an advanced course on a Honda Trail 70cc. About a month after that second session ended, I was given a Honda CM90 for my bar-mitzvah present and rode thru high school.

12 yo & psyched!

After that, I again owned a motorcycle early in our marriage on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that we used for a couple of runs and then I went without until the kids were out of the house. A few years before my retirement I picked it up again, and was able to average about 12,000 miles per year the first five or six years, mostly up and down the coast between home and visiting Florida.

It was now seven years after my retirement, we had relocated to Florida, and I continued riding around the state and venturing into the nearby states. I was on my way home alone from a overnighter in the Smoky Mountains with some experienced off-road riders. They had been giving me a soft introduction to riding in deep and loose gravel as we took the bikes off-road in Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests.

Me on L, late Tiger far R.

I was only 14 miles from home after about a 10 hour day, going through a green light at an intersection I had passed through many times in the four years since we moved here. It is a very busy intersection on the outskirts of town where commercial buildings start to disappear and give way to giant housing developments.

I have no memories of what happened but between reading the police report, speaking with the officer who rescued me, and other accounts, the young person driving the car that hit me took a left turn on a blinking yellow left turn arrow but failed to yield, claims to not have seen my fluorescent yellow helmet or my glitter white motorcycle, and hit me without braking.

My Tiger’s mirror balanced on her hood…note the outline of my back and helmet on the windshield

Since I was going through a 4-way intersection with traffic lights, in the other 2 directions, stopped at the red lights, were plenty of cars on a Sunday in September at 6:15pm. The second car was a St Johns County Sheriffs Deputy returning from an investigation. He heard the ‘boom’ of the hit, saw me fly off the car’s windshield, and went to work.

By using his radio rather than a civilian cell phone dialing 911, the Deputy was able to immediately access the Fire/EMT Station about 1/3 mile away, behind the shopping plaza my crash occurred in front of. The Deputy determined I needed a pelvic brace and alerted the EMTs. As the EMTs approached he had already told the helicopter where to meet the ambulance.

I was in the air in under three minutes.

I landed at Orange Park Medical Center, chosen for their specialty Trauma Center. The helicopter crew reported to Wendy that I was awake and repeating my vital information over and over. They asked Wendy if I was a service veteran due to this ‘combat reaction’. I suppose it was shock and adrenaline of course.

An interesting note; when one arrives at the hospital unconscious and without a person to register you, the computer assigns you a random ‘John Doe’. Mine was Optra India.

There were many injuries and surgeries began on arrival with a splenectomy and many attempts at stabilization. I was sent into what became a 6 week propofol and fentanyl sleep. Without too many details, it took three days to close me. I had a dozen surgeries the first week. Screws were added, rods. An External Fixator, ex-fix, was screwed to my pelvis just above my abdomen. Of course I was intubated, asleep, food was pumped into my body and even into my nose. Six weeks.

A few days before Halloween, they began to wake me up using a technique referred to as ‘sedation vacation’. They gradually reduce the medicine and see how you react. I gave a few typical reactions including too much movement because I hadn’t yet understood my situation and then they put me back under. Another sedation vacation went fine and I made some funny comments, once as if I was the owner of a racecar team and I said something like ‘we’ve really got to get rid of our tire changers, they are completely the worst part of the team’. Another sedation vacation took place where I asked Wendy ‘where are the 17 Publix sheet cakes that I ordered?’ and ‘what are we gonna do with all these eggs’ thinking I was looking at a large diner-sized egg stack.

Finally, after a couple of days of this, I was out of it; that is, awake. My ‘wake-up’ dream was me and a group of about six SWAT-style spies dropping Tom Cruise-style into a dark space between the ceiling and the floor above, where my surgeon was giving instructions to us. It seemed she was smuggling meds from the hospital with this gang. I said to myself ’just stay calm and when we leave I’ll drift away’. My therapist said this is a common type of wake up dream; your brain knew you were in danger, knew that the surgeon was in charge and even that I was in a hospital.

When I was asked by Drs the typical questions in a situation like this I was able to identify myself, but gave my current age as 28. That was the age I was when I married Wendy. I knew there was an accident but I just guessed at that; I didn’t know what kind. I had no memory of the accident, had no idea what hospital I was in or how I got there.

Week seven was spent in a neighboring hospital for a specialist to have a go at my really damaged bladder (it was crushed by the pelvis break and it was filled with pieces of bone and had a hole near the thin neck area). The main hospital took some turns but really lobbied for the other Dr to do this.

I had Halloween there; the Operation game patient, of course:

Don’t remove the funny bone plz

Week eight and I was back in Orange Park to have a few items removed as they prepped me for a move to a rehab hospital; a full hospital but you do about six hours of PT and OT daily. That final week was also blurry as they took down the levels of fentanyl etc so I wasn’t on anything when I left about November 10.

A year later, looking back on the group of roughly 100 men and women who touched me over those first eight weeks, it was an amazing group of people, an entire orchestra-sized ensemble, the best of the best, who got handed an incredible mess and dug in deep to turn it all around.

The surgeons had incredible respect for the senior nurses’ opinions and thoughts. The nurses broke it down for Wendy and the rest of my family, and treated me, depending on their ages, as if I was their brother or their favorite uncle.

One young nurse, who was mostly on overnight detail, had a week vacation during my visit and would call Wendy daily to find out how I was. From her vacation. Every day. Other nurses would coach Wendy on how to approach certain matters with doctors to get the most desirable result.

Wendy reciprocated throughout my tenancy with endless supplies of cookies, which she would bake in our apartment between 11 PM and 1 AM. She would usually get home around 9:30 or 10 PM after staying with me till 730 or 8 PM. It was a good arrangement except how long Wendy was up and running every day.

I was taught to drink and eat again; I had lost 45 pounds during the sleep. I began rebuilding my atrophied body by doing wheelchair exercises; leg lifts and 1 pound hand weights. I still had a litany of medical issues, tubes, and surgeries to deal with, so I was often interrupted in PT to go get an x-ray or something. I still wasn’t allowed to try standing since we weren’t sure if the pelvis was healed yet.

One of my issues was my injured left hand. I asked to be included in the optional Music Therapy and Jaylyn W. and Danielle P. came through with a terrific exercise aimed at my dropping left ring-finger.

Trying chord progressions, wheelchair; music therapists are amazing. They treated me with dignity and compassion.

We moved through four weeks of muscle strengthening, coordination, daily activities, protein intake (I was given liquid protein to drink and double meal protein portions) and medical progress.

I wasn’t really ready to be sent home but Blue Cross had enough and out I went.

It is the 20th month since the accident and I am in physical therapy twice a week strengthening my atrophied legs and hips. The nerves in my legs, which re-grow at about 1 mm per month, are approaching the end of their regeneration. Things are returning to normal.

Posted in ATGATT, Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital, Nurses, Orange Park Medical Center, St Johns County Sheriff, Trauma, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Off-road in The Smoky Mountains

A friend from Tennessee invited me for a weekend of fire-roading in the Smokies, and as a new Ohlin ‘Adventure’ shock had just been added to the Tiger, off I went. The 800xc is dirt-able with Anakee 3 tires and the Ohlin, however, I have been reluctant to test the sugar-sand trails in Florida. The hard dirt and gravel of both Cherokee and Nantahala National Forest roads should be great. Plus, there were experienced locals leading; I could just relax and ride.

1st Dragon run-2012

2012: Bonnie on the Dragon

It was over 500 miles to get to The Lodge At Tellico Plains and I split it up by one long day most of the way and the second day riding the Dragon and the Cherohala Skyway

before meeting at The Lodge. I’ve been to the Dragon three times prior and we might not be riding to the Dragon part of the Smokies if we are trail riding, so I figured stop in on the way and get a sticker and some North Carolina BBQ (pork with a layer of finely chopped cole slaw). It was cool as I rose in altitude into the Smokeys and sure enough I was riding through fog from 8 in the morning until about 10. I stopped at the Dragon for a snack and a few photographs, and there were only maybe 20 riders hanging out.

They hit 96°F yesterday in Georgia, and more is in store. Also, a storm is headed up from the Atlantic.

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The Lodge At Tellico Plains is real nice, with optional indoor bike parking for $5 and modern cabins. After a terrific 200 miles, I checked in as the record heat rolled in.0912191355.jpg

We were on the road by 9 and heading up the mountain. A couple of miles into the Cherohala Skyway we took a right onto Cherokee National Forest road 210, a canopy shaded paved road that ran along a creek for quite some time. Eventually, we broke off onto some very slushy gravel with lots of elevation and hairpin turns. It was also a two-way road so we really couldn’t hug the cliff wall the way we wanted to because of oncoming traffic, and there were oncoming cars, motorcycles, and side by side ATVs. The experienced group with the proper bikes and training were blasting through this at about 50 miles an hour while I drifted around in the back in first and second gear.

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I survived however, and we returned to the pavement, which they tore up as well, and I was always about a mile behind them. We stopped for several snacks around the mountains and had a spectacular day riding.

We were able to criss cross in and out of North Carolina and Tennessee including both the Nantahala and Cherokee Forests.

Posted in ADV, Cherohala Skyway, Dragon, Iron Butt, LD Riding, motorcycle touring, Tail of the Dragon, Touring the USA, Triumph Motorcycles, Triumph Tiger 800, Triumph Tiger XC | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Ride For The Living: biking from loss to hope

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Over 250 people from around the world gathered together to bicycle 60 miles (97k) from Auschwitz-Birkenau to the JCC in Krakow. The Ride for the Living (RFTL) commemorates Poland’s Jewish past, celebrates its present and most importantly looks towards its bright future. The ride is celebrating six years of bicycling from the deplorable horrors of the past to the hope of a thriving and resilient future of Jewish life in Krakow, Poland, and the world.RFTL is a community event that includes participants who range in age from holocaust survivors to young children and riders of all abilities. The ride coincides with a week-long international Jewish cultural festival comprised of more than 70 countries, 30,000 participants and 300 events.

The oldest rider this year, Bernard Offen (90), is a survivor of five work camps including Auschwitz-Birkenau. Bernard shared his memories of the places where he stood for selections…

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Just another… brick in the road

Calling all dirt bikes!

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A crisp, clear January day was the impetus to explore the Old Brick Road. There is a ten-ish mile section of Old Dixie Highway that is a drop off the beaten path, bordered by a scrub forest in Flagler County, Florida.The original Dixie Highwayproject brought together private industry and state governments to create a network of roads which would connect ten states with more than 5,000 miles of paved road.The portion of the original Dixie Highway we visited was completed in 1916. It is a stretch of red-brick road that brought a stream of tourists from as far as Chicago to the tropics of Florida. By 1926 however, US Highway 1, a more efficient, paved multi-lane road, was completed and the Old Brick Road instantly became obsolete.Today, it is one of the few remaining original sections of highway and it attracts very few tourists. It is…

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Winter whirlwind weekend in NY; why not?

What we did this weekend

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A weekend with no holiday party scheduled and a clear weather forecast was a perfect opportunity to take in the New York holiday energy.

Before the chaos and crowds we visited the School of Visual Art’s gallery on the 15th floor of the Starrett-Lehigh building in Chelsea. An exhibit of one of my favorite illustrators, Roz Chast, was on the must-see-before-it-closes list. It was a terrific exhibit.This year’s holiday window walk began at Macy’s. The theme is “Believe In The Wonder Of Giving.” The windows show Sunny the Snowpal, with the help of her friends and Santa, save Christmas.Lord & Taylor has sold its flagship building so this is the last year for its holiday windows (only two windows on Fifth). Their very first animated and a few Canada Geese to offer some holiday cheer.Heading further north, Patience and Fortitude, the two regal lions at…

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Savory Sicily: a cooking class

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Villa Britannia is a lovely bed and breakfast outside the Porta Messina in Taormina. The home is inviting and filled with aromas that draw you immediately to the kitchen. Host Louisa greets everyone with a brief history of the home, introduces her husband Marco and her father-in-law, who are also hands-on in the multi-course meal process, and explains the simple, pure and fresh ingredients of the Sicilian diet. We began by chopping vegetables for a caponata (a cold Sicilian roasted eggplant and vegetable salad), tomato sauce, and a second kind of eggplant salad. After we got the sautés going on the stove, we headed to the outside garden to make our pasta. Sicilian custom is to use durum wheat semolina and water. The durum wheat semolina is a product that is less refined compared to the re-milled semolina; yellow color, a little more coarse in texture. First roll and knead…

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Taormina: The terrific and tasty island in the sky

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Taormina is perched on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Coast and is often referred to as the island in the sky. It claims to have been inhabited by an Italic tribe during the Iron Age even before the Greeks arrived on the island in 734 BC. The city has been both a well-known tourist destination and a draw for artists and writers for millennia. The main road, Corso Umberto, runs the length of the town between two entries, Porta Messina and Porta Catania. Mostly pedestrian, it is filled with shops, restaurants and several great plazas with views of the sea below, Madonna della Rocca church and a Castello above, and when the clouds part, we are told, a stunning view of Mt. Etna. The ancient 3rd century Greek theater is well preserved and continues to be used for performances (mostly on weekends). There are remarkable views of Mt. Etna and…

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Excursion Etna

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Mount Etna, an active volcano with more than 300 craters, occupies almost a third of the northeast corner of Sicily. The mountain has been in our sites from a sort-of safe distance (nowhere is really safe) for the past week or so and we planned a hike on the north side of Europe’s largest volcano. Sicily Life organized a tour that brought us into the national park and drove us to the Silvestri Craters, which are at 7,000 feet above sea level. Here, we climbed up and around several trails giving us great views of past lava flows and deep craters. In the winter months, this area is used for skiing and snowboarding with the craters acting as natural half-pipes. There are trails and a cable car that climbs another 2,000 feet for longer ski trails and a closer look vDWat the top of the volcano. The weather was incredibly…

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A celebration of true love and food in Taormina

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Weddings are always a time of joy and celebration; this one was extraordinary on many levels. The amount of love expressed by guests for the bride and groom was only surpassed by the special love between the magical couple. Beginning with the service, followed by a stroll to the plaza in the center of Taormina, accompanied by a folk band and a vintage Alfa Romeo, was a fitting way to begin the festivities.The reception was held at the stunning Castello San Marco. The red carpet at the entry led us to a aperitivo spread that set the tone for the night.Plato said of Sicily ‘Sicilians build things like they will live forever and eat like they will die tomorrow.’ These words ring true to this day. We experienced an outrageously delicious five-course meal (not including the incredible dessert spread along with cake). The band played on, family and…

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Sensational Savoca

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A picture perfect day began with some smoke atop Mt. Etna. There was a fresh snowfall, too.We joined the wedding party for an adventure to Savoca. A small town which sits high above the Ionian coast, Savoca has a great view of the sea and mainland Italy’s Calabria. The village is most remembered for a few scenes, including the wedding scene, from The Godfather. We were greeted by cousin Maria Teresa. She made a special presentation to the bride and groom-to-be and welcomed us to her town.We walked through the town toward the museum where we sampled the most delicious lemon granita with zuccherata; a sweet breadstick that dunks into the granita. It is a delicious treat often served for breakfast.A group photo was taken in front of the church made famous by the movie.Our multi-course lunch was filled with local specialties including pickled…

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