My phone rang one evening back in January.
“I hit a car.” came Andrea‘s voice.
“Oh my god! What happened? Are you okay?!” I asked in a panic.
She assured me she would be fine, she hadn’t broken anything, but sprained both hands, injured soft tissues in her legs and bruised herself up pretty badly. I knew it hadn’t been her fault. She had fallen victim to the most common accident riders have; someone making a left turn ‘just didn’t see her’ and went into her path. Even still I urged her to be more careful.
“You aren’t allowed to get hurt.” I told her, “We have to go to South America!”
Ever since we’d met, Andrea and I had been plotting a motorcycle adventure. We had even chosen a launch date: October 1st, 2012. We were going to make it happen some way or another…but then we hit some very literal road blocks.
I remembered my words to Andrea just days before, as I found myself careening straight towards the blue car as it accelerated in front of me. I also heard the infamous phrase about riding and accidents, “It’s not if, but when”. And finally a voice in my head saying “This is going to hurt”.
Time slowed way down and the split seconds before impact stretched out like a rubber band. Calmly and evenly the voice in my head calculated my options. I didn’t have time to swerve around the vehicle fully, I didn’t want to lay it down and go under, but maybe I could hit the hood and roll over. I focused on the hood and then time snapped back in hyperspeed. The world became a kaliedescope of sky, hood and pavement behind a pinwheel of flailing limbs. I was conscious the whole time and when I finally stopped rolling, I got up and moved for the side of the road. When I stood, my right hip made a grinding sound as it popped back into socket. “Hey, I’m okay!” I thought. I sat down on the sidewalk and removed my helmet. Suddenly my left wrist flopped inside my sleeve and the whole area radiated with warmth and deep pain. I remember thinking that it must be broken, that I had never broken something before and I guess that’s what it feels like. I had expected it to be a screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs kind of agony, but I guess I should be thankful I was in too deep of shock. I looked up to see the car moving past me. “Oh don’t you dare.” I muttered, thinking it was going to make a run for it, but the car pulled over and two men got out. The driver was freaking out some distance away and saying “Where did you come from?!” over and over while the passenger called 911 and asked if I needed anything.
It always seemed odd to me that people could really just not see a motorcycle. I foolishly thought that I was too clever, too cautious, to have this happen to me. I always watch for blind spots. “Ride like you are invisible” is another popular motorcycling maxim, but I think now that “Ride like everyone is intentionally trying to trick and kill you” is a better motto.
I was literally the only thing on the road. A motorcycle with freaking zebra stripes that shine bright white in the dark. I was in the dead center of the middle lane of a three-lane highway cruising at the speed limit and he was sitting and waiting at the intersection facing me. I slowed as I always do approaching an intersection, but since he seemed to see me (why else would he be waiting there?) I proceeded on through…just as he swung a giant u-turn right in front of me.
Adrenaline does incredible things for your body. I knew I was hurt, but I could talk and move around okay. When the EMTs arrived and removed my motorcycle jacket, I was stunned to see my arm so warped and deformed from the severe fractures. I had no idea it was that bad.
“Please give me something before I start to feel how bad this is.” I asked and the friendly EMT complied.
One advantage of taking the abulance over heading to the ER yourself, is that you get rushed right into the trauma bay…where you still spend most of your time waiting, but at least you get to lay down. Of course you won’t really be comfortable, because a nurse will have cut off all your clothes and left you naked, freezing and needing to pee while a horde of medical students are herded in to talk about you as only a collection of facts and symptoms.
“Female, 28, motorcycle collision, fractures to left radius and ulna…”
The students nod and scribble things before being ushered to another room and replaced with a parade of people who ask me the same questions over and over.
Finally a doctor comes in and looks at my arm.
He pulls up a small mobile x-ray machine and holds my arm up to the scanner. “Check it out!” he shows me my splintered bones in real time as he begins tugging and twisting my wrist to shift the chunks back into alignment. It is fascinating, but it also hurts. A lot.
As he’s pulling the bones back into place, I begin to feel like my eyes are going to bulge out of my head. Despite the morphine and the local anesthetic he gave me, I am still in unfathomable amounts of pain.
“Wait, let me try something else” he says and darts out of the room. He returning a few minutes later with what appear to be Chinese finger traps. He slides them over my fingers and rigs up an IV stand to hang my newly adorned hand from. The addition of some improvised water bottle weights around my elbow would help gravity slowly pull things back into alignment, he explained.
I sat a while with my arm hanging as it almost imperceptibly transitioned back to a more normal form. The doctor returned some time later and told me he would still have to manhandle it some more to get it where it needed to be. He removed my finger traps and swung a leg over my arm for maximum leverage. It was seriously ridiculous. How it is possible to hurt that much with that much pain killers in your body is beyond me, but it was to the point where he was offering to put me under. He said if I fought through it, he thought he could be done in another five minutes, but if I went under, I would be in the hospital for hours. My desire to be out of the hospital won out and I gritted my teeth for the final minutes of the realignment. It hurt like only someone else who’s been through it would understand. I’ve run out of adjectives. Eventually he seemed satisfied by how everything had come together, so he wrapped my arm in a plaster cast and sent me on my way with some heavy duty pain killers.
I foolishly thought the worst was over, but this was merely the first day of a roller coaster of physical and emotional struggle. The good news is the worst is long over now, I’m starting to ride again and I’ve learned a lot. I’ll be making a mix of blog posts like this one and more informational posts should you find yourself in a similar situation (and I sincerely hope you never do), so please comment if you have any specific questions and I’ll try to answer them here or address them in future posts.
Finally, a huge thank you to my sister and my friends who sent well wishes and helped care for me in the months that followed and to the riders who opened up to me about their own experiences and helped get me through. I love you all.