On February 29 I turned off Alabama Highway 98 to visit the historic town of Fairhope. An elderly Porsche driver took a sudden left turn across my path. I tried to veer away. Surly’s front tire hit the vehicle’s passenger side door. I flew off to the left; my left hand and shoulder landed on the pavement and I winced into fetal position on my right side. Immediately, onlookers surrounded me, cautioned me not to move, called 911, and kept the intersection clear. An off duty medic at the scene checked my vitals. The driver stopped and stood to the side. Our eyes met though we exchanged no words. EMS arrived, police. I was the centerpiece of a small town event.
I argued with the medic against cutting the gloves off my bloody hand. He insisted. All I could think was they were new since Tucson and would be difficult to replace in a small town. Accident victims focus on the minutia in order to avoid larger realities.
Within half an hour I was at St. Thomas Hospital emergency. I refused the tech’s attempt to give me morphine. “How am I going to feel where I hurt if you shoot me up?” Dr. Sharp ordered a battery of images and tests. A no nonsense nurse debrided my hand with ruthless precision. Everyone parading in and out of the room asked me to move my toes, fearful of paralysis. Except the police officer, who wanted my side of the story.
The driver didn’t see me. Two witnesses confirmed the man turned too quick. The police report faulted him, though the gentleman didn’t receive a citation. Infractions against cyclists don’t carry the same weight as those against vehicles. Odd, considering the brunt cyclists bear in altercations.
I asked about Surly, who landed outside my field of vision. The officer explained that my bike reared over the car, damaged the side panel and broke the windshield. I’m not so noble that the news didn’t provide a swell of satisfaction. Apparently, my traveling companion broke into several pieces and the police disposed of her. I’ve never been so attached to anything that wasn’t human. I love that bike. We were a good pair; she proved a trusty steed to the end.
I am also broken into several pieces. I suffered a burst fracture in my L2 vertebrate, the fifth metacarpal on my left hand sheared in two, my left scapula cracked like a china plate in too hot an oven; and I popped my AC (acromioclavicular) joint as well. Fortunately, the barium CT ruled out internal organ damage, and my limber toes reflected neurological continuity. Still, Dr. Sharp was concerned about bone fragments infiltrating my spinal column, so he transferred me to Sacred Heart Hospital in Pensacola.
I spent three days in Sacred Heart’s ICU and step down, where monitoring ruled out anything beyond breaks and bruises. My initial hand set proved unsatisfactory, so the orthopedist surgically pinned my metacarpal. The neurosurgeon’s assessment was hopeful. “Surgery is indicated, but in your case not required.” In the face of trauma, it helps to be fit. I was fitted for a custom back brace. My hand was cast and slinged. Those restraints together immobilized my shoulder as well. Within five days I was walking. Eight days after kissing Alabama blacktop I flew home to Boston, never once setting my eyes on Pensacola’s famous beach.
Recovery at home is smooth. My housemate Paul takes exquisite care of me. My principal therapy is walking to strengthen my back. Two trips around Fresh Pond every day is five miles, usually accompanied by my children or my friends.
Since April, my primary occupation is physical therapy, first, on my hand, then my shoulder, and finally my back. My manipulations require three 1-1/2 hour sessions per day plus walking. I watch hours of mindless television while rolling putty and yanking pulleys, grateful to whoever invented miniseries and fortunate to be retired.
Today, I am free of casts and splints; I wear my back brace about half time. I have a green light on my hand, but still attend weekly PT appointments for shoulder and back. I’ve added swimming three times a week to my walks and at-home exercises. I hope to be cleared for yoga or the gym or to get on a bike soon. Which triggers the question: am I going to finish my trip?
My trip has already exceeded any expectations; I don’t need to ride any farther. I cycled 12,576 miles over 246 days. I visited 31 states. I profiled 286 people’s thoughts about ‘How will we live tomorrow?” and published short-form replies from even more. I stayed with 159 different hosts – 134 of them I’d never met before. I was immersed in a United States that is so much more generous, thoughtful, and caring than our political, social, and economic systems can ever acknowledge; that our media will ever report. Even in Pensacola, I received visits and flowers from strangers who’d learned about my journey. In the process I believe I’ve become more generous, thoughtful and caring myself. I do not need to pedal another mile.
Yet, why not finish? It’s so much fun and, I believe, worthwhile. Every one of us who lives authentically today enhances our prospects for a healthier world tomorrow. And I’ve discovered I’m most authentic on my bike.
Unfortunately, I am not healed enough to know if or when I can return to my journey. I’m not strong enough to ride, and still skittish when I hear a car screech. However, I will continue to work toward the objective of mounting another Surly another day
I will take a hiatus from posting to www.howwillwelivetomorrow.com, though anyone interested reading profiles of the fascinating people I met along the way can find them there. I will continue to post essays about life unrelated to cycling the 48 states here.
I offer sincere thanks to all of my readers, to everyone who’s participated in my cycling project, and to everyone whose helped my recovery. Good luck in all of your endeavors.
Thanks for keeping us informed. So sorry to hear of your accident! I would like to read more about how the trip has affected you, the changes you have seen in yourself. Get well soon.
Thanks Don – Since my recuperation isn’t really part of the ‘How will we live tomorrow?” project, essays about my immersion into American healthcare will be published on my ongoing blog, http://www.theawkwardpose.com. They’ll be tagged on facebook. You can receive an email whenever I publish by clicking ‘follow’ on the blog’s home page.
Hey Paul, doing pretty well considering. Looking very Van Gough with just one ear, but I’m back on my bike!
Paul, I will certainly miss your updates! They have been quite inspirational … Hope you will be able to get on a bike.