Saturday, April 18, 2015

The 'Accident'

"That sound means something really bad just happened"

That was the thought going through my head as I was being thrown around like a rag doll and heard the crunching sound in my upper body. A sound that I've come to know as the harbinger of something bad being done to my body.

I've taken my share of spills. Most all of them have been unpleasant. But the absence of any snap, crackle or pop usually means that after 5-10 days the bruising and road rash will heal. You lay there, sprawled out on the street or trail. After a few seconds the initial impact pain subsides and you start to move and assess. Yep, that still works. Bruise there, but the joint still functions. Another minute and your up and shaking it off.

I had actually had such a spill the Monday right before what I've come to refer to as 'The Accident". I was riding my commuter to the Dentist and the (cheap-ass) pedal backed itself out. The perfect storm was that I was out of the saddle, sprinting up a hill at the exact moment the pedal chose to detach from the crank arm. With nothing to support it, my right foot extended to the ground and out the front door I went. I bounced at least once and recall the pedal skittering out in front, leading the way as I rolled over on my back and swore at the mechanical gremlin that created a fall that 'wasn't my fault' (it actually was my fault because I put the 'cheap-ass' pedal on in the first place). Assessment; bruised elbow, road rash on the leg, hip and arm. I got up and finished my commute to the Dentist, sore but functional. Yes - I rode one footed with the little bastard pedal tucked into my backpack. Two days off from swimming (nobody wants to see blood in the water) and I was back at it.

Back at it at least until that Sunday afternoon.

'The Accident' happened at about 11:15am on Sunday, March 15th. My seven year old and I were headed to shop for a bathing suit for our upcoming trip to Orlando. Then we were going to head to the pool and swim some laps. I love swimming in the same lane as him. He doesn't always stick to his side, or swim in proper circles, but that let's me practice my sighting. I love rolling to my side, timing my stroke so I don't whack him and seeing his little, lean body slide past me. I watch to see his kick, sometimes I catch his breathing stroke and see the progress he's making at not rolling his body over to sneak a breath. Sometimes he sees me and smiles. 50 yards and we pass each other again.

I turned the key in the ignition and got a 'click' in return. What really ticked me off about the dead battery was that I had just had it replaced the previous Monday (car in the shop necessitated me commuting to the Dentist and the 'crap pedal' encounter described earlier).

Now, this was the first bad decision of the day (there would only be two). Undeterred (and a bit angry), I figured I would put a foot out of the car and push the car back. Roll it down the driveway and get my neighbor to jump start me. My seven year old later told me that his thought was we should just hop on our bikes and ride to the pool. One of the many times he's proven to be smarter than me.

As the car started to roll, I sat back down and was too late in pulling the car door closed. It wedged on the side of the garage door frame. No damage to the car, but it was interfering with my brilliant plan. On to bad decision numero dos. The decision that would change my day, week, month, season.

"Luke, I'm going to push the car forward. When I do, pull the car door shut"

Writing it out like that, the stupidity is astounding on a variety of levels. Part of me writing this blog entry is a cathartic confession of sorts. You don't have your child get out of his car seat and put himself in harms way like that. It was stupid and irresponsible. But at the time, it seemed reasonable and perfectly safe. What happened next proved it wasn't.

I pushed the car forward and Luke obediently pulled the car door shut. I thank god that he was taken out of harms way, safely surrounded by a 4000 lb cocoon of metal and plastic.

I was pushing this 2 ton cocoon slowly back into the garage. In my head I had resolved that I'd just leave it until my wife returned. Right at that moment, the rear tire reached the apex of the little bump in the pavement that separates the driveway from the garage floor. It paused, and then physics coldly acted on the fact that the force being applied by a scrawny 168 lb guy in flip flops was not sufficient to overcome the stored potential energy wanting the car to roll back down off that little pavement bump.

Our driveway isn't steep, but it proved enough. I started to lose the battle. Flip flops sliding on the driveway, the alarms started going off.

There was no thought process here to take credit, or discredit for. It was all instinctual. The first instinct probably saved my life. I let go of the car and spun out of it's path. Out of harms way, my brain shifted to the next imperative of stopping the car.

Now; if I could have paused the scene right there to think it through, I would have quickly realized that the driveway isn't steep enough to have the car roll any faster than 4-5 mph. I would have also assessed that the bounce from curb to street, coupled with a slightly uphill street crossing would have the car slow to a crawl before it got across the street and by the time it hit the curb on the opposite side, it would rock to a complete stop, probably barely mounting the sidewalk. Luke would be safe, and I would just feel stupid for kicking off this chain of events in the first place. I'd count myself lucky. Have some bad day dreams for the next few days of what could have happened, and learned a valuable lesson.

But there is no 'pause' button. Time didn't slow down. The car was rolling and my only imperative was to stop it. People have said afterwards that it was because Luke was in the car that my protective instincts took over. Maybe there was an underlying subconscious instinct that drove my next move, but I can't for sure claim credit for that. I had no thought other than, "I need to stop the car". And as I said, it wasn't so much a thought as an imperative.

I jogged along side the car, matching it's crawling speed. I popped the door open and jumped in, feet first into the drivers side, aiming to have my foot land on the brake pedal.

I missed, and fell out backwards onto the pavement. My feet were hooked under the dashboard and my upper body was being dragged along. Like a rag doll I was dragged up onto my right shoulder as I was rolled over. The passing open car door pocketed and trapped my left shoulder perfectly as I rolled up on my right side.

We'll be calling her 'Christine'
from here on out.
The distance across my shoulders is 19 inches. I've since measured the distance from the car door to the pavement as 12 inches. I can probably fold my shoulders in to about 16 or 17 inches. You do that math, it makes me cringe too much to calculate it these days.

That's when I heard the sound. That tell-tale of something bad being done to my body. I finished my roll and was spit out of the car and flopped onto my back. The car (as predicted by the after the fact analysis above) did exactly as calculated and came to an easy rolling stop. I highly doubt the crushing and tossing of my body took much energy out of it's equation. Then came the waves of pain that confirmed something was seriously wrong.

I take some solace in the fact that my first thought was of Luke, not myself. I wanted to make sure that he was safe and that he wasn't scared. He came running up and I could hear his scared little voice asking if I was OK. I assured him that I was hurt, but everything would be fine. I told him we were going to need to call an ambulance. I instructed him to walk  up to our neighbor's house that we were in front of and knock on the door. Not only did he do that, but once Chris was out, Luke ran inside to our house and made me a little ice pack. That melted my heart.

From there on out things played out in an orderly fashion. Ambulance and fire trucks came and more rational minds took over. I remember just bits and pieces of the next few hours. There were lots of questions, as you'd assume there would be when an EMT pulls up and sees a guy laying outside of a car on the street.

After we got to the hospital, there were visual inspections, more questions, multiple X-rays and a CAT scan. There was also, thankfully, a potpourri of narcotics. At one point the ER guys told me that I was on 2-3 times the dosage of Fentanyl. He honestly didn't know how I remained conscious.

Part of the damage.
That should be in one piece, not three.
The immediate damage assessment was a broken clavicle (collar-bone), 3 broken ribs (not the floating ones, the fully attached puppies under my upper arm), and a broken scapula. I was told multiple times that it's incredibly rare to break a scapula because it's surrounded by such thick muscle. Go big or go home I guess. But in the aftermath I became aware of just how serious this was. Besides the structural damage, they were worried about internal bleeding, punctured lungs and blood clotting. In the next couple of days in ICU, They were also worried about pneumonia and me just plain stopping breathing due to the narcotics. I was on anti-clotting agents, pneumatic boots, antacids and a constant flow of Oxygen. My blood oxygenation sensor would occasionally go off when I was sleeping and a nurse would come running in to bump up my O2 feed.

I look more normal than I feel - but still.
It's been nearly 5 weeks now since the accident. Things are coming along slowly but surely. On one hand, I'm amazed by the body's ability to heal itself from such trauma (right now they are saying no surgery is necessary. I guess all the swim, bike & run helped provide some decent musculature which they told me probably protected things from being worse and stabilized the bones). But on the other hand - there is a long way to go before I'm swimming IM sets in the pool again. I've been able to go on walks and can ride the bike trainer. Did some sit-ups yesterday, and of course there is a daily regimen of passive range of motion work. Next X-ray is in a week and hopefully can start some active movements. I can shower, shave and eat right handed (somewhat) again. I can type and therefore work. The day to day pain has been replaced by a background ache and the occasional, 'yeah - that's not working yet and you shouldn't try it - type pain'.

But most importantly, I've realized just how lucky I was. It could have been so much worse. I could have rolled under the wheel and had my legs, knees, ankles crushed. I could have rolled the wrong way and had my chest, neck or head crushed, or I could have fallen behind the car and been crushed all the way down the driveway. I'm pretty sure that death could have been a probably outcome in those latter two cases. And not a day goes by that I don't thank God that nothing happened to Luke.

In retrospect, it was so, SO stupid and irresponsible. I never claimed to not occasionally do stupid things and I've started looking at how I've been so lucky up to this point. Standing on the roof to put on Christmas lights, more than once jumping into a moving car in my lifetime - probably 5-6 times? Got away with it each time. Maybe someone was trying to make an impression before I did something that would get me killed. I've taken away that I need to incorporate taking a step back as part of my decision making process. Think of the things that could go wrong rather than just relying on my charmed existence and (obviously degrading with age) cat like reflexes.

I've spent a lot of the last weeks looking back. I replay the moment of the accident and I wince every time I hear the sound in my memory and envision myself being tossed around. I hug Luke and Paige a lot and thank God for being #sodamnlucky