Thanks to the extremely generous support of this amazing community, in the form of so many well wishes, prayers, bowls of the most incredible chicken soup, and countless other gestures, I’m making what feels like a miraculous recovery from perhaps the scariest accident of my life. In case you are interested, what follows is a firsthand account of my bike accident the night of April 24th and a progress report on my road back to good health.
For some background, I want to explain that this story consists entirely of my recollection of the events described, with only the smallest addition of Tom Duca’s retelling of my phone call to him from the Hub. That said, the events immediately leading up to the accident and for a little while afterwards (until the Willsboro-Essex EMS squad came to my rescue) play in my memory like a dream — that is, there’s a surreal flavor to these events when I relive them in my mind. Like in a dream, I felt more like an observer looking on from outside myself rather than being the one making the decisions.
So around 8:30 that Tuesday night, after Fire Department training, I was riding my bike home on Route 22. It was one of those first warm days, so in addition to relishing the joys of bike-riding in mild weather I was looking forward to getting back home to work on the electrical service for our new house before the rain forecast for Wednesday. I only needed to make a few quick cable connections to get ready for the inspector. I was probably mulling over this little project while gliding down the hill towards the railroad tracks when all of a sudden there was a deer in my path —and at that point my memory stops for a time.
I sort of recall colliding with the broad side of the animal and thus probably was ejected from my bike in a forward somersault. In part I suspect this because when I started to regain consciousness a few minutes later, my principle injury was to the back of my head, and little more. I remember coming to and realizing my head was lying in a puddle, not of water but of blood. (I’m ashamed to say I was not wearing a helmet that night! There’s been much speculation as to how a helmet would have changed the story…)
I slowly picked myself up off the pavement and recall using my phone light to search the ditch for the parts to my headlamp. At some point I decided that seeking help was a more pressing concern than finding the missing battery, so I picked up my bike and got on it. That too proved futile in my discombobulated state, in part because my handlebars and front wheel were way eschew. So I stepped off the bike, realigned the front fork, but then began walking my bike back towards town.
On my way up the hill a couple cars passed me, but they didn’t stop, and I don’t recall trying to get their attention. I do remember thinking I would go to Ron Jackson’s house to seek his help with my injuries (he was the last person I’d seen, turning into his driveway a few minutes before my accident). But instead of walking all the way to Ron’s, I next found myself at the Hub on the Hill, calling Tom Duca for help. Why not 911? I’m unsure, but thankfully Tom answered his phone. My memory of this call is nearly nonexistent, but according to Tom I started by asking, “Do you have any rags? There’s a lot of blood…”
Tom, having also been at the Firehouse for training, knew I was biking home and suspected I must have had an accident. I was able to tell him where I was, so before coming to meet me, he called 911. The next thing I remember was Tom offering me a rag to hold on the back of my head as he sat me down on a stool. Before he could get me too cleaned up, members of the EMS squad started arriving by the handful. From the time that Tom arrived at the hub to help, my memory of the experience becomes much clearer. I suspect I had completely regained consciousness at that point. My body though was still in a state of shock. I felt very little physical discomfort and had a broad smile across my face as my friends in the EMS squad assessed my injuries. They stabilized my head in a collar and loaded me on a stretcher in the back of the ambulance (although I’m an ambulance driver myself, this was my first trip to the hospital in the new rig we just got a couple months back — needless to say, it wasn’t the inaugural trip I was expecting). While at the Hub, I hadn’t been able to remember any details of the bike accident, or where exactly it took place. After we left for the hospital, some of the EMS crew searched the roadside for clues of a hit and run or the like. It wasn’t until we were about 2/3rds of the way to Plattsburgh in the ambulance that the memory of the deer came back to me, but I still couldn’t remember where I’d hit it.
In the ER they gave me a CT scan which fortunately came back clear, and after cleaning my head wound, they put in 11 staples to hold things together. I was released from the hospital just as Cara was getting off her shift so that she could give me a ride home. At that point I still didn’t remember where exactly on Route 22 I’d had my accident, but since the rain hadn’t yet arrived when we rolled into Essex, we were able to identify the scene of the crash thanks to the pool of dry blood on the pavement — no I hadn’t dreamt that up.
The first two days were pretty uncomfortable primarily due to periodic episodes of vertigo coupled with intense nausea and vomiting. A tiny Zofran pill under the tongue every six hours seemed to make all the difference. After a couple days without eating hardly anything, I eased back into food via popsicles and ginger ale. From there I’ve been improving day-by-day, doing away with the Zofran by Saturday, and stopping the Tylenol a couple days later too. Treatment at first consisted of lots and lots of rest, refraining from spending time looking at screens, and avoiding loud noises and bright lights. As my body healed, my appetite returned, as did my energy level little by little. Within a couple weeks my only complaints were some lingering stiffness in my neck and a faint throbbing in my head if I over exerted myself. Gentle walks and time with small groups of friends proved therapeutic.
Now only a month later, I feel nearly my pre-crash self and have been able to resume work on the foundation of our farmhouse, but now with a greater appreciation for the ability to physically do so. At my friend Ron’s suggestion, I’ve assumed the habit of wearing a helmet around the job site to reduce my chances of re-injuring my brain in a construction accident. For the first time since my accident, this week I rode my bike off the farm all the way Willsboro, with a helmet on of course! It felt great to get back in the saddle, in a way celebrating the pouring of our concrete footings and what has been an amazing recovery.
In another way, since my close scrape with death, every day has become a bit of a celebration. Like Tom says, I have a new-found gratefulness for just waking up each morning and being able to get out of bed. Being severely injured was a profoundly humbling experience from the standpoint of forcing me into the role of recipient of so much care and love. Among other things, this has been a lesson in the spiritually restorative powers of the tight community web I’m so fortunate to be a part of. I’ve had to come to terms with taking a turn as the receiver rather than the giver, realizing that one role can’t exist without the other. The experience of being so thoughtfully cared for and lovingly encouraged in the days following the accident has made me feel truly blessed. In reflection, if I accept the inevitability of being “thrown from the saddle” now and again in life, there’s no place I’d rather land than in the caring embrace of our Essex community.
(Written May 25, 2018)