Thursday, December 30, 2010

Since the motorcycle crash

As my friends know, I was in a hit-and-run motorcycle crash in September. It has been more than three months, and it seems appropriate that I update the blog.

So, I'll start with the crash itself. I was riding the motorcycle to work on surface streets. I have a strong affinity for driving the speed limit, so as I was coming down hill towards a stop light, I was off the throttle and coasting at about 40 MPH. There was traffic behind me about 1/8 mile away, and had a comfortable cushion of space in front and behind. It was about 7:40 AM.

It was a four-lane road with a turning lane in the middle. I was in the left lane coming upon a red light with traffic stopped. There were two cars in the middle facing me, waiting to turn left into the shopping center. The woman in the car waiting to turn looked right at me (or through me) and turned when I was 30 feet (maybe three car lengths) away.

The practice and training I received in the motorcycle safety training course paid off: I let off the throttle, applied both breaks, and downshifted. Unfortunately, I locked my front break, so I was committed and could not steer. Another unfortunate thing was the woman stopped directly in front of me (instead of continuing through into the parking lot). So I could not stop in time, or steer around her.

I remember thinking, "Don't go over the car." I don't know what happened next, as I do not recall consciously deciding to do so, but I found myself laying down the bike (to the right) and sliding toward her car.

The next thought was, "Don't get caught under the car." I remember watching pieces of the bike tearing off, bits of tinted plastic and glass flying by as I slid along the pavement. My helmet skipped along and I curled up to make myself NOT fit under her car, and then hit it.

The bike hit the passenger side back tire/door area, and I'm not sure what I hit. Once I came to a stop, I pulled my right arm out from next to the back tire, and the car started moving again and drove into the parking lot.

It must have been adrenalin, because I rolled onto my hands and feet and look looked around at the stopped cars, down at the bike (still running) next to the broken hubcap (Nissan), and ripped off my helmet. I was satisfied I wasn't in any more immediate danger, and I hit the shutoff on the bike. As I got up, I saw the car pull into a parking spot, and the woman got out and started walking toward the street. I ripped off my gloves and pulled out my phone (7:42 AM, I think) and stuffed it back in my pocket. Why oh why did I not use the camera feature and snap a photo of the car and driver?

The guy in the truck behind the woman was on the phone calling 911. Two more women ran up to me and one identified herself as a nurse and started asking questions. As I answered her, I looked at the driver of the car: she was grey-haired, about 5'2", a little over weight but not obese, a light-colored stripped shirt, and an olive complexion. She stared at me with her mouth gaping open, and looked back at her.

One of the women who stopped traffic behind me was a nurse. She told me she saw the whole thing as she was following me, and that I did everything perfectly to save my life. (I don't know how she assessed that, but it was comforting.) She asked me questions and helped me realize that 1) I was shaking and 2) I could not take a full breath. She told me I was going into shock, and helped me sit down.

Next thing I heard was the sirens. I looked up, and the woman in the Nissan got a worried look on her face, then turned and hurried (she didn't run, it was more of a fast mince step) back to her car. I tried to yell for people to get her license plate, and all we came up with was the first four letters, not the last three numbers. I watched her drive toward the grocery store, turn in front of it, and drive through the parking lot the street and turn right.

Well, the cop showed up as the woman was driving away and the ambulance shortly after that. I told the cop my license and insurance were under the bike. As soon as the cop got the three witnesses he pulled them aside for information, and an ambulance spewed EMT people, and a fire engine showed up to and more people swarmed around me. The next minute was spent assessing me as they poked and prodded me to check for injuries.

They asked things like if I hit my head, my name, my age, my date of birth, where I was going, where I was, if I blacked out, where I work, that sort of thing. I think they were trying to figure out if I had bad head trauma. Then it was the questions of what hurt. I said I think I was going to be O.K. and they told me I was no judge of that at that time (fair enough). They strapped on a cervical collar, strapped me to a back board, then into the ambulance.

Wow the ambulance drive hurt. I'm glad I was not hurt any worse. The helmet, bike jacket and bike pants really did their job as I had no abrasions.

Interesting thing about emergency rooms: they start a chart for you before you arrive, so they assign you a pseudonym alphabetically. I was named Autumn. They wheeled me into the E.R., asked me all the same questions again, and stripped me bare. A social worker asked if I needed to contact anyone, and I asked her to call my work to update them, but not to call my wife yet as I did not want Cathy to worry.

There were IV's, and it was a good thing I hadn't had breakfast yet as they wanted to scan me and take x-rays. They took blood and fluid samples, and gave me a pain killer in the IV.

Wow, painkillers. The medical folks called it a synthetic narcotic, and I don't remember the name. However, a warm feeling spread through me and the pain just went away. It was amazing, and I am still impressed with the pain management technology available to us today.

I was pretty out of it, but I was also pretty bored. At some point, I got a phone and called Cathy, and told her I was OK but at the hospital. She came down and we spent time together waiting.

I spent the night at the hospital and my night nurse was from Taiwan and she took a liking to me and checked on me often.

The upshot was three or four (depending on which doctor I asked) cracked ribs and a broken clavicle. And a LOT of bruises - I was purple and eventually yellow for weeks to come.

The next day, I was on pills instead of IV. I still hurt but was able to get up with help and walk around. The doctor said my clavicle break was clean, and they used to operate but now they just let it heal. I like the idea of NOT operating. I performed well enough that they agreed to discharge me that afternoon.

For the next week, I slept sitting on the recliner and generally slept, read, and got better. I dreamt for days of riding a motorcycle through mountain roads or beautiful scenery and ending up at the same intersection and replaying the same motorcycle crash, and every single time I ended up on the pavement again. I think it was my subconscious way of processing the events, my mortality, and whether I could have avoided the whole thing. I eventually concluded that really did do all that I could, except for taking a picture of the license plate. The dreams stopped after that.

Although I was warned that I would likely not get full mobility back, I feel like I am more than 90% back to normal, and my strength seems to have gotten back to almost normal three month later.

I did get a ticket from the city of La Habra for not presenting my license to the officer (wow), and had to go to court and pay a fee to have it dismissed. (The judge was very clear that it was not a FINE, they were clear they were not punishing me, just charging me a FEE to clear my name. Sheesh.) The city police says a partial plate (first four) and a make (Nissan) and description (four-door, silver or grey) was not enough to go on, so they'll never find the hit-and-run driver. Sigh. I figured there's only 1000 possible plates when you have the first four letters, so how many are made by Nissan that are four-door?

The bike was totaled, and frankly between the bike, medical, broken things that were in my saddle bags, I'm out over $5000 (ouch) and we're back to a single mode of transportation. I've learned the bus routes that get me to and from work, I catch a ride with a coworker whenever possible (which has helped me make a new friend, so that's good).

I'm glad to be alive, to still have my health, and my life is generally going to get back to 'normal' eventually. And for those of you who are curious, I would ride again.