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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.