Two weeks ago Wednesday, on Boulder's winter bike to work day, I was feeling pretty good on my commute. The weather was warm, there was no snow or ice to be seen, and I had a good head of steam on a downhill and a green light ahead of me on the 28th St. frontage road at Colorado Avenue
But as I approached the intersection, a white pickup truck suddenly appeared in front of me, making an illegal right turn from northbound 28th. I clamped down on my brakes as hard as I could, but my frankencruiser's brake pads are pretty smooth. With the time dilation of an adrenaline rush it felt like I was gripping the brakes for a couple seconds, but in reality it was probably more like 15 to 20 feet before I hit the truck bed straight on.
My front wheel fell out of my fork, my metal basket got crunched in, my light popped apart and spilled AA batteries, and the metal braces on my fender fell off. In contrast to the long "OMG I'm trying to brake" period, the fall was instantaneous, so quick I didn't have time to stupidly stick out my hand to try and catch myself. Good luck #1: didn't reach out and try to break my wrist.
I landed on my left side, with primary points of contact being the back of my wrist behind my knuckles, my elbow, my shoulder, and my knee. I then hit my helmet (good luck #2: head wasn't the first thing to hit
) and I bruised the ridge below my eye, but didn't break my plastic goggles. Good luck #3: no gravel or shards in my eye.
The thing that hurt worst at the time was my hand, plus a dull ache in my head.
My first instinct was to quickly get up and drag my bike out of the intersection. I then went back to grab some of the stray detritus (with the help of a bystander) so it wouldn't interfere with further traffic. Once my Leave No Trace duties were fulfilled, I sat down against a tree to assess the situation. Good luck #4: I was fully conscious and in mental control the whole time.
The driver of the truck stopped. I don't remember what I said when he asked if I was OK, but I probably said something like "I think so." He explained that he saw a green light, so he turned left. I pointed to the crossed-out-arrow and said "That's why there's no right turns allowed." Within a minute or two of sitting on the ground wiggling my fingers around, the cops showed up, I assume called in by the bystander. Good luck #5: Someone was standing around who thought I was more seriously hurt than I did.
An ambulance, right behind a fire truck, showed up a minute or two later while I was explaining what happened. The paramedics took over, checking my eyes, arms, and spine. I overheard the cops tell the truck driver "Yeah, that's why there are three no-right-turn signs." The driver received a ticket and the company whose truck he was driving probably aren't too pleased about it.
After the paramedics had established that I was mostly functioning, I noticed some blood on my pants. I started taking off clothes to figure out the damage. My felt pain and weakness trying to pull off my sweatshirt, so I got some help. I unzipped the lower leg of my cargo pants, providing good bandage access without having to freeze my ass off. They fashioned a splint and bandaged my scrapes and had me squeeze their hands to see how my strength was doing. At some point I said I didn't think I needed to go to the hospital, but I agreed to climb in the back of the ambulance to stay warm while they took my vitals.
After lying there for a while, I started to question my initial assumption that I was mostly okay. My grip was getting worse and it hurt to do things like pull my wallet out of my pocket. I realized that my plan of "Sit here for a while and then drag my bike to work" was a bad idea if my hand didn't work right, because I spend most of my time at work making small movements with my fingers. I figured it would be prudent to get an x-ray of my hand, and since I was in the back of an ambulance anyway and my bike was out of commission, I figured why not take them up on their offer of a ride? One of the cops said he'd take my bike to the hospital for me. Thinking "What am I going to do with a one-wheeled bicycle when I can only use one arm?" I suggested he take it to my office and have the admin assistant put it in the bike room. She sent me a panicked "I hope you're okay" message after that encounter.
In the Boulder Community Hospital ER, my eyes, arms, and spine were all checked again. I very cogently explained what happened and pointed out that my fingers still had excellent range of motion, but that gripping was painful. After I'd been selected and inspected (but not injected, I told the paramedics that an IV seemed totally unnecessary), I laid around for a while waiting to get X-rayed. I was having trouble reading some words on a distant door and my peripheral vision seemed fuzzy. I hailed the nurse and expressed concern "Maybe my vision's getting blurry because of my head injury, or maybe it's because I've been staring at fluorescent lights. Do you have something I can read so I can test my vision?" Good luck #6: I remained self-aware enough to run continual self-diagnostics.
They sat me up in the hospital bed and wheeled me over for X-rays. Upon return, my more erect position, dimmer surrounding, and context refresh, my vision returned to normal. Yay! After some more quiet time, the ER doctor came over and let me know that nothing looked broken or fractured. Good luck #7: Best news all day!
He checked out my shoulder, elbow, and wrist motion again and said I would probably be okay, but to keep my arm splinted most of the time for at least a week. He then started a conversation about risk aversion and whether a CT scan made sense. He explained the two situations in which a brain bleed would be likely and why he didn't think I was in trouble: I never lost consciousness and I was totally lucid and rather clear-headed. The downsides of a CT scan are that it's expensive and that it involves sending radiation at your head. The last part didn't sound attractive and I'm sympathetic to reducing the overall social cost of health care, so I agreed that a CT scan was probably unnecessary.
The doctor was about to let me go, but I told him I'd just developed a "really strong frontal lobe headache." Continuing my astute self-diagnostics, I noted that it might be because I hadn't eaten anything, but that I'd really rather stick around for a while. Saying "Observation is free," the doc headed off to see about some food. The nurse apologized for the limited selection of food in the ER as he handed me some astoundingly dry crackers, but it was something for my stomach to start on. A few minutes later, the doc came back with a tray of lunch. He'd overlooked silverware, but I was at that stage of overwhelmed and achey and hungry that eating peas one at a time was about the right speed for me. I've also never been gladder to have mildly overripe honeydew.
After maybe half an hour of eating and sitting my headache had subsided, my vision was fine, and my arm didn't seem to be getting any worse. I was getting bored, so I signed the last of the paperwork, picked up my big bag of "personal belongings," and walked out of the hospital. I caught the bus downtown, then had a casual midday walk down Pearl St., getting back into the fantastic podcast about Chinese manufacturers of Apple products that I'd been so rudely interrupted from.
I walked in to my office and the folks at the front desk were very glad to see me in one piece, having seen the damage my bike took. I walked over to my desk and asked my cube mates "How was your morning? I just got out of the ER!" After narrating the story, I grabbed second lunch as the kitchen staff was about to clean up. Good luck #7: I work for a company that provides free lunch every day, and it tastes way better than hospital food.
Despite my coworkers' suggestion that I just go home, I stuck around for the afternoon to answer some emails, have a meeting or two, and resolve some issues. I then caught a ride home in the evening to relax and watch videos. I'd been so caught up in trying to stay mentally on top of all the immediate concerns, I'd neglected to call my girlfriend until that evening. (I didn't call her from the hospital because I figured she'd be sleeping and I was lucid enough that I didn't want anyone else trying to get involved in the decisions.) I tried calling my parents too, but there was an issue somewhere between Google Voice and their answering machine, so they didn't even find out until the next day. I've noticed this pattern before: when I'm sick or hurt, I'm not very good at asking for help or reaching out for comfort.
I was pleased to discover that just that day, Google+ had launched a feature to record a video when making a post. I therefore saved myself much typing by narrating my day for ten minutes
, telling myself I'd make a nice wordy LiveJournal post when I could type with two hands.
My wrist is getting sore, the evening's getting late, and you're probably getting tired of reading this, so I'll write part two later this week. Suffice it to say that I'm feeling better: my concussion is gone, I'm able to type (though with some pain after a while), I'm still wearing a splint at night and when things might bump into my arm, and I'm seeing an occupational therapist next week. I'll have more stories and insights about one-handed life soon. All in all, I'm feeling pretty lucky that
- I hit the truck, not vice versa
- I hit the ground quickly after coming to a sudden stop rather than falling early and sliding under the truck
- Nothing's broken
- My concussion lasted less than two weeks and was more pleasant than a head cold
- My company pays for quality insurance plans; so far my out of pocket costs are $75 for the hospital visit and $10 for a doctor's follow up
- My dominant (right) hand was unharmed and I'm able to drive while I can't bike
- The people around me are very understanding of my one-handed challenges
- My bike is even mostly okay, except the front fork which needed to be replaced anyway and a few attachments