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Where I detail “the accident”

by John on January 11th, 2012

I wrote yesterday about my elbow . . . and vaguely mentioned “the accident.” Nearly anyone who knows me in real life knows of “the accident,” but, while I know you people are all real just, well, you live in my computer, not all of you know just what happened to me. In several ways – the incident changed my life.

In September of 2002, I took a few weeks off of work – this wasn’t really intentional, it was just that I was going crazy driving two hours to my job in Baltimore while waiting for my security clearance to pass through so that I could start a new job in Harrisburg. Basically, I told the contracting firm that I was working with that they had until such-and-such a day to figure out how I might start my new job, or I’d take something else.

So, I had two weeks of job interviews . . . I went on three interviews on Monday, and two more on Tuesday. On Wednesday, while waiting for the offers to come in1, I decided to spend a day at my mother’s house, doing chores and, generally, “being a good son.” We started out installing software on her computer and sewing machine2, and then we went to her dryer vent. See, a bird had flown up her dryer vent . . . so doing laundry was difficult (I seem to remember an issue with her losing power to half of her house, as well, but I don’t recall if that was actually tied into the dryer vent, or if I was supposed to look into why she would randomly lose power during this visit, but, because of the course of events, never got to that).

Without much difficulty, I was able to take out the old dryer vent and install the new one, just by reaching up from the ground. However, when it was time to caulk the vent to the house, I just couldn’t reach the upper-side of the vent. I had two options: pull out a ladder and do things that way, or spend a few second leaning against the railing of the just-built deck immediately next to the dryer vent.

Here’s a great big secret about me, I make Humpty Dumpty look like Mikhail Baryshnikov. The idea of getting onto a ladder just seemed far riskier a proposition than trusting 6 month construction.

I went into the house and then onto the deck. I leaned on the railing. I heard the crack. I fell.

I have a degree in computer engineering, and I’ve, likely, spent more hours taking college-level physics than all of my regular commenters put together. I know that I spent less than a second falling the 10-feet, 3-inches to my mother’s flowerbed. But, well, time slowed down. I remember thinking that I was going to land head-first, and that was a bad idea. I remember throwing my right arm out, to try to brace the impact. I remember trying to get my body upright, to a “walking position.” I remember thinking “it really isn’t that far of a fall” and then I remember the impact.

The initial moments after impact are still a little bit fuzzy . . . there was intense pain, throughout my body. I remember yelling a whole lot. I remember my mother’s neighbors rushing over to see what happened. I remember trying to stand, and successfully standing, and then feeling feint. I remember lying back down, but, for whatever reason, lying back down a patch of sunlight. I remember nodding when asked if I thought I needed an ambulance.

The next minutes, though, I managed to calm myself. A big part of me wishes that I could have thought more right when I fell, because I think my mom still has nightmares about the whole ordeal. Basically, I realized that the bulk of the damage was done, and that there wasn’t any good that would come from being upset. If I could calm myself down, it would be best.

The paramedics arrived and they secured me. I told them that I’d rather go to Hershey than Lancaster, because Hershey was much closer to my family. I remember two of my mom’s neighbors having to help get me into the ambulance3. The paramedics explained that they were going to take me as a Trauma II, and that I’d hear sirens whenever they came upon traffic.

I closed my eyes and tried to think of what might be wrong. I hurt, all over, but, I knew I was able to get myself to stand, so my hips & legs & spine were probably ok, though my back hurt a whole lot. I couldn’t move my right arm without a lot of pain, so I knew something must be wrong there. Breathing deep wasn’t super fun, so I figured I might have some rib issues. I could turn my head from side to side, so I figured that my neck was ok.

Again, I told myself that worrying wasn’t going to do any good, and I tried to calm myself as much as possible.

Then, the paramedics started asking questions about my mental state. I was asked what day it was, and I couldn’t answer . . . because I, honestly, didn’t know. Not going to work meant that my internal clock was off . . . I knew it wasn’t a weekend, because it was Duffy’s first day at a new job. I eventually deduced that it must be Wednesday.

I was asked for my home address, and I hadn’t lived there for very long, so, again, I had to think about it.

These paramedics, they were not impressed.

My blood pressure was on the high side . . . but my heartrate was in the mid-70’s, which is exceptionally low for someone who has just been through what I’ve been through. I tried to explain that I told myself not to worry, but I don’t know if they believed me.

The paramedics tried to explain just what would happen when I got to the hospital, and I explained that I was wearing my favorite shirt, so I would appreciate it if the shirt might be salvaged4.

It’s about a 20 minute drive from my mom’s to the hospital when you don’t need to deal with traffic. However, well, I was lying down, and I was trying to relax myself. I asked if it would be ok if I took a nap. The paramedic answered “I already don’t like your heart rate, so you really won’t like it if things drop further and I need to wake you up.” A fireman friend later explained to me that they called this “circling the drain.” Simply, the extent of my internal injuries was unknown, so they needed to act, quickly, if I showed signs of any organ failure.

You know how, on shows like ER, there are specific cases when the patient comes in and everybody springs into action? Well, I was that patient. I think I had 3 or 4 doctors and a team of nurses & other support staff checking me out. Fortunately, it was soon determined that my life wasn’t in danger, and things calmed down, significantly.

I remember a nurse coming in, to ask if I remembered when my last tetanus shot was. Only, she started with “so how are you doing today?”

I answered, “um, I’ve had better days.”

When I couldn’t tell her when my last tetanus shot was, she told me that I’d need to have one, and that my arm would likely be sore for the next couple of days . . . and then she recanted that statement, saying “I don’t think you’ll notice a sore arm.”

After the tetanus, another nurse came in to explain that she was watching over my mom . . . who, as to be expected, was in a frantic state.

They had to take several X-Rays of my chest, because my ribcage was, simply, too big for most of the machines. They told me that my right arm was broken, and I remember being disappointed. They told me that there was blood in my urine, so they would need to do an MRI. I remember being very, very annoyed when the X-Ray technician, in trying to take an X-Ray of my broken arm, was trying to move it so that she could get the best angle, because it really, really hurt when she did that.

They also took X-Rays of my legs, though I didn’t know why at the time.

Finally, my mom was brought into my waiting room and the ER doc went over everything. I had broken my right humerus, at the elbow, and that would require surgery to repair. I had three cracked ribs, which would heal on their own. One, or both, of my kidneys were bruised, but they would heal, on their own, with time. My back was badly bruised, but was structurally sound, as were my hips. I had some cuts & bruises on my face & head, but they were nothing to worry about. In time, I might want to speak to a plastic surgeon about my leg.

This was the second time that my leg was brought into question, but I never knew why. See, I couldn’t sit up, and I couldn’t see my leg in the position I was (seriously, lie down and then, without moving your back, look at your legs . . . it can’t be done). With the aid of a mirror, I was able to see what the doctor was talking about. I had a significant cut on my right calf – the lower half of which was just covered in blood. X-Rays showed that the bone wasn’t broken, but things looked bad. My mother went about cleaning things up. Until that point, I hadn’t even known that my leg was hurt.

Soon enough, the on-call orthopedic surgeon came in and explained the surgery. He didn’t want to put me fully under . . . my mother talked both me & him into doing just that. Not being “under” would mean that I might have to hold myself up in certain positions . . . and, with the state of my ribs, and back, well, that might not be such a fun idea.

I was transferred to my hospital room, where I spent the afternoon making sure that my friends & family knew where I was, and that I was, going to be, ok. Oh, and I got a few shots of morphine, and I started to understand just why people get addicted to pain killers.

That night was spent in the hospital. The rules for surgery were that I couldn’t eat after 10pm, so my sister brought a truly obscene amount of Chinese food over, and we feasted. Eventually, I was alone. I remember sleeping very, very poorly, as my arm was held still and I couldn’t get comfortable. I remember thinking that any time I actually did fall asleep, someone was waking me up to check on me, which kept me pretty cranky5.

The morning of the surgery went ok – the surgeon came in to verify that it was my right arm that he’d be operating on. They prepped me and I distinctly remember thinking “I don’t think the drugs to put me under are working” and then I woke up in recovery. I pulled the airline from my nose, because it was annoying me, but then fell back asleep and triggered very sensor on me.

I got back to my room, starving, to find my father waiting for me. I, stupidly, had a bite of a sandwich, because I was so hungry and nobody in an official capacity was there to stop me, and promptly threw it back up. That sucked.

I actually made it out of the hospital that day, Thursday. The next day, I was cleared to start the new job, which I did that following Monday. Shaking hands with new coworkers, when even thinking about moving your arm causes pain, is horrible.

I ended up changing pretty significantly after “the accident.” While my weight has yo-yo’d ever since then, I haven’t been anywhere close to as fat as I was on the day of the accident6. I developed a pretty significant case of vertigo (I’m perfectly fine from heights, but have serious issues looking over a ledge). I try to take some time to meditate every day, because I can actually point to the fact where meditation told me “I was going to be ok.”

The only lasting injury I have is my elbow, which, after the toddler attack, is still very, very sore, but is far less swollen today. Oh, while the deck has been repaired, I still find that I don’t spend much time out on my mother’s deck anymore.

1 Despite the fact that the economy, specifically in the “tech sector” had turned sour at this time, I had a pretty unique set of skills that were consistently looked for. While I could no longer come home from a bad day at the office, update my profile, and sit back as my email box filled with inquiries from head hunters, I was in a favorable position, and I received offers from 4 of the interviews I went on, though I turned them all down.
2 My mother has, and loves, and is really a whiz with her Bernina sewing/embroidery machine. The thing is, the damn machine is so advanced that you need to interface it with a computer so that you can build your designs on a computer and transfer them to the sewing machine. At present, software installation isn’t really all that bad, but in the early 2000’s, it was a real pain in the butt, and I’d have to dedicate a few hours to any update that involved her sewing machine.
3 This is a literary device that we call foreshadowing.
4 I still have this shirt, though it’s impossibly big on me now, and it has a few holes in it
5 Seriously, everyone I dealt with was incredibly nice, including the ER doc who was in charge of me while I was in the ER, who just wanted to check on me before he left the hospital at the end of his shift.
6 You should know that, despite the fact that I watch The Biggest Loser, I’m a big believer that “weight” is just a number and is a very poor indicator of an individual’s overall health . . . but, at a certain point, the only thing that matters in “getting healthier” is making that number smaller . . . and, at the time of this accident, that was very, very true for me.
  1. Damn!

    So glad it wasn’t any worse.

    • Yeah . . . if this had been on the other side of the deck, I’d have fallen an additional foot, onto concrete (instead of a flower bed). I try not to think about that.

  2. Amazing the reality checks life sometimes gives us.

  3. Yikes. That is all.

    • Yeah – I still get random nightmares from it…yikes is a good word.

  4. I realize that the tetanus shot is the worst of your worries in the middle of a whole lot of more serious injuries but it’s the part that made me cringe the most.
    Followed closely by the x-ray technician mangling your broken arm, they did that to 18 month old, I could of clocked her.

    I am glad you are mostly mended and healthier.

    On a side note: I hear excellent things about Bernina sewing machines.

    • I think my mother, a retired OR nurse, was ready to clock the X-Ray tech after the surgery (they had to make sure the hardware was in right).

      My mother loves her Bernina . . . and she makes tons of really great stuff with it. I just hate the software installation part.

  5. So NOT fun. It’s amazing how you talked yourself through the whole thing. The power of the mind. Glad you were ok, and that your elbow is feeling better today as well!

    • Well, my elbow is still quite sore today, but it’ll get better.

      And, yeah, there was a real “a ha” moment when I realized that I could just choose to be calm in the middle of everything.

      If only I could do the same as work approached a deadline…

  6. That sucks, but it’s nice to look back and see how an event changed your life.

    • Yeah, that’s what I was going for . . . it was truly a life-changing event, and it was horrible . . . but, as it’s in the past, it’s just “that thing that changed me.”

  7. Laura permalink

    I find it interesting that this was the catalyst for your “get healthy” lifestyle. It’s funny, I never think of you as being overweight. I know the number of pounds that you weigh has been greater than you would like, but my mental image of you is always tall and rather slender. I’m glad you are striving to live up to my mental image of you. Now I’m working on living up my mental image of myself, which is also of a slender person.

    • The two times that I was at my absolute heaviest, I barely ever spent any time with family, so I guess I just maintain that self-image, without sharing the same with many close to me.

      But, yeah, sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I do a double-take, because I can’t believe that I’m not significantly wider than the image staring back at me.

  8. One word: “Wow”

  9. Ok, I know this wasn’t the point, but my absolute favorite thing? Footnote 3: “This is a literary technique we call foreshadowing”.

    Also? Damn, dude.

    • Honestly, that was my favorite line in the whole post.

      So thank you for that 🙂

  10. Holy cow dude. I’m so glad you were ok! I love your attitude about trying to remain calm. Because seriously, what else CAN you do? I’m working on that.

    Stay away from the home repair, k?

    • Yeah, ever since then, I’ve really, really been a “hire first” type guy.

      Even if I think I might be able to do it on my own.

  11. Okay, this story really, really, really freaked me out. I am SO glad you were okay, that’s so frightening!!

    • To say that the whole thing sucked would be an understatement – but, I’m ok now. I’m, actually, I think, better off because of it . . . if only my elbow were, actually, you know, just as good as it was.

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