Events beyond our control
In addition to my passion for motorcycling, I also enjoy bicycling. I burned myself out a bit after doing a 250 mile ride in early 2011 but I cycle when weather and opportunity align.
When I cycle down Stokes Road near the Waller County Stadium, a popular cycling route, I always pay a certain tribute when I pass the memorial to Frank Stafford Campbell. The memorial is a bicycle painted white with a simple plaque.
Campbell was killed by a negligent car driver in November of 2009. I was doing a solo ride that day and happened upon the accident scene. I recall the bike in the grass nearby, the car and ambulance, and the lack of urgency by the medical team. I thought and prayed as I watched, but the reality of the situation had sunk in. I rolled off slowly and thought about control of our surroundings and lack thereof.
When I ride past now I tap my helmet three times slowly and point to the sky
- Once for Campbell
- Once to remind me to always be vigilant in watching for potential accident causes
- Once to remind me that no matter how much attention is paid, that sometimes things are beyond our control
After 25 years of motorcycle riding the third item became intensely personal on October 19th, 2013.
BBQ and getting hit by a truck
I pride myself on my safe motorcycling skills. I wear protective gear beyond just a helmet, even in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees. I have good awareness of other’s intentions, and often can sense when a car is about to switch lanes or turn. At intersections I look for eye contact and even will waive my hand sometimes to ensure I have the focus of the driver. I have avoided numerous potential accidents while on two wheels but October 19th was unavoidable.
I was riding my motorcycle solo, heading back to the house on S.H. 249 after eating at two BBQ joints that afternoon. As I neared Vallie St I saw a truck at the intersection, waiting to cross S.H. 249 perpendicular to my path. I was in the far right lane and kept an eye on him. As I neared the cross street, I caught a glimpse of the truck lurching. The launch was impossibly late and I knew we would make contact. I had just enough time to realize this fact (“crap, I said to myself.”) and grab the brake hard.
BOOM! The first impact is the hardest, but not always the worst. In a flash of time I felt a few more impacts (Crunch! Crinkle! Thud!) while possessing a total loss of orientation. I have road raced motorcycles for a number of years in the past and have had crashes both on the racetrack and on the street. In none of those crashes have I lost consciousness; I’ve always tried to maintain consciousness while falling to help me reconstruct the accident itself. This crash was no different; I was able to remain conscious through the entire incident.
I took a breath and realized I was lying on my side, in the middle of the road. The truck had rolled a hundred feet or so and ended partially off Vallie St. My first concern when landing is getting run over, but someone had blocked the lane. The truck driver ran over frantically saying he was sorry. I yelled at him “I’m OK, I’m OK”. The reality was, at this time that I wasn’t exactly sure how well my body had survived. I began counting my limbs, moving my fingers and toes, and checking my head and helmet for trauma. I could see no blood puddles forming and no bones were sticking out, but my right wrist had that peculiar numbing sensation driven by endorphins released by the crash and I realized it was broken.
My helmet, boots, gloves, and jacket all did their job exceedingly well. The armored jacket I had just purchased only hours before that very morning. I did wind up with a bruise on my shoulder but no major injury and even the jacket had little visible damage from the crash.
I was still lying on my side and was unable to roll over easily so I remained there until ambulance and fire personnel arrived. I was a bit argumentative as I wanted them to remove my helmet and help me up so I could walk away but they wanted to do a lot more testing before that. When they removed my right glove we saw the misplaced wrist. They needed to put my wrist in a temporary splint to keep it from getting damaged further. Eventually we got my helmet removed and after trying to make a calm call to Leslye she arrived in the truck with Shawn.
Headed to the Hospital
I refused the backboard and the ambulance ride; I wanted to be driven to the emergency room, get my wrist fixed, and get home to start recovery. Leslye and Shawn helped me gently walk to the truck. Getting into the seat was pretty painful but at the time I didn’t think there would be major damage. The endorphins began wearing off as we arrived at the hospital and I sat in a wheelchair when offered. I figured I’d better pee before they began to work on me, so I headed over to the restroom. After finally getting my jeans unbuckled, I saw a large protrusion of my pelvis and realized that this was far from normal.
While at the Tomball hospital the DPS officer investigating the accident showed up to discuss details with me. The news wasn’t good. The driver had no license, no insurance, and was driving a truck that was not registered to him. My motorcycle insurance covered liability only, so my motorcycle was a loss, and I would have to pay for all medical bills out of my pocket. I will try to recover what costs I can but the driver was 25 years old or so and it doesn’t look like he has much money to begin with. At this time our biggest hope is that somehow the truck was covered by insurance of the registered owner. I’m not looking forward to the hassle of finding a lawyer who will pursue this; my initial contacts all seemed lazy and when they couldn’t just contact an insurance company they were not interested in handling my situation.
The local Tomball hospital took a number of x-rays, put another splint on my wrist, and then informed us that we would have to go down to the medical center downtown. The Tomball hospital was not equipped to do the surgery on my pelvis. So at this point we waited, and waited, and waited. It took nearly 4 hours for a transfer ambulance to arrive. During the ride to downtown they gave me some very heavy-duty painkillers which helped with the bumpy roads. The severity of the accident began to weigh itself on me when I realized we were headed to the trauma center at Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Memorial Hermann is a teaching hospital, so in addition to a large staff of trauma specialists there were also random students, interns, and god knows who else running around. It was hard for me to discern between doctor and students. On top of that the trauma center is a confusing rush of activity. During my wait for surgery I saw and heard other accident victims come in; some quiet, some with lots of blood, and some very vocal.
One of the things I can remember distinctly prior to surgery was how thirsty I was. I hadn’t had any food or water in over 12 hours and my throat was really drying out. We were told multiple times that I couldn’t have even a sip of water until an hour or so before surgery when I was allowed to suck on a wet towel. During this time I had a flashback to my mom’s time in the hospital before she passed away. She had begged for the same thing and finally they had relented and allowed us to put wet sponges in her mouth. I can’t remember much more of the details that night at Memorial Hermann before I went in for the surgery.
Surgery #1; Pelvis
My pelvis had “widened” as one doctor called it. Six screws and a plate were installed on one side, and two very long screws were placed in the other in order to hold it back together.
After I awoke from the anesthesia I was moved to the intensive care unit. I was now hooked to monitors 24/7. Every few hours someone would come in check on me and then leave, sometimes it was to give me some pain medication, other times for food, and other times it was doctor or staff checking up. I believe it was the second night in ICU that was the most painful. They had me on a cocktail of very heavy-duty pain medicines but none of them worked well enough to get me through the night. It was a long night of moaning and restlessness and pain.
I thought things would be looking up when I was moved to a regular room and out of ICU. I had a private room and could watch all the TV I wanted. But now something became even more frustrating, I was no longer hooked up to monitors and every four hours someone would have to come and take my vital signs. My medications would also be delivered every four hours, and I would get my meals on schedule also. However, these things would not line up properly. Sometimes I would be given my meds before my meal. Other times my meal might arrive an hour before my meds. What this meant was that I was constantly being awoken throughout the night and day.
There was also confusion sometimes when they had a shift change; there were times when the new shift person would want to give me the same meds I just had. There was very little communication between the two shifts it seemed. On top of this, the nurses often had trouble finding a vein in order to draw blood when needed. This meant they would shove the needle around under the skin and poke me more than once. By the time I left the hospital I would have four or five small scabs on my arm. One of the most painful things was when they removed the catheter. The pain duration was much shorter that the night after my surgery but it was intense and not something I would want to do again.
During my time in ICU Leslye came and visited me which was a great uplift. I knew it was difficult for her to drive through Houston traffic to get all the way down to the medical center complex. Derek Heaton even visited me and brought some barbecue from Virgie’s to keep my spirits high. Work had flowers delivered and other sent sentiments via electronic notes.
Derek also helped Leslye and Shawn with getting what was left of my bike from the towing company. It wasn’t easy to unload it from the rented trailer, roll it up our driveway, and tuck it up near the house. The cost was nearly $500 to recover my own motorcycle for an accident that was someone else’s fault.
The accident happened on a Saturday and I wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. MRSA is a highly antibiotic resistant form of the staph virus and also was a major contributing factor to my mother’s passing. On Wednesday my wrist was still broken and in the splint but the hospital staff said I could be released without performing the wrist surgery on site. I could complete the wrist surgery as an outpatient procedure. Leslye was able to get a referral to a surgeon closer to our house and they released me on Thursday, October 24th.
Surgery #2, Wrist
It was Tuesday, October 29 when I finally had the wrist surgery. A week and a half after the accident had lapsed and they had to put 10 pounds of traction plus have someone yank on my arm to try to get lined up properly. I received a plate and 10 screws to hold everything together, all of which will remain inside me. The pain Tuesday evening was brutal, I couldn’t sleep.
In the days since release from the hospital the pain has subsided a bit but being confined to a wheelchair is very frustrating. There is so much I cannot do. Leslye has done an amazing job of accommodating and putting up with me. I feel sorry I am so dependent on her, especially for things like loading the wheelchair into the back of the Jeep. The other day it fell out a bit as she was loading it and it caused a large and lengthy bruise along her leg.
I do still have nerve damage to my legs. It feels like they are “asleep” all the time, but instead of just tingling it is like firecrackers of pain firing off. It’s the worst at night and in the morning, making it difficult to sleep. Sometimes it takes just a slight motion of the leg to set off the fireworks.
With only one usable arm it’s hard to accomplish simple tasks and I can’t wait for my dominate right arm to heal soon. I had thought that after the plate and screws it would be like normal, but the healing process will take longer. The fracture was bad enough that they had to put a putty-like substance in one area to allow the bone to grow back into place. I have time, but can’t drive or do the types of thing I would love to do with that time. I’ve also thought about something; if I had the chance to go back in time and erase this collision by giving up all of the riding experience I’ve had. No, I wouldn’t – I have had so many great memories on the motorcycle. This also won’t prevent me from climbing back on. As soon as I can walk I’ll be back on two wheels.
I consider myself lucky. If I had not have grabbed as much brake as I did, I would have been hit by the front bumper of the truck. That would have easily rendered me with one less leg or much worse. If I t-boned the truck a fraction of a second later I would have launched, probably partially, into the passenger window. The road to recovery is much longer than I had expected, and they say that arthritis is to be expected, but I will walk again, and I will ride again.