Crunch Time!

Paul Stevens

Carpe Diem (but in a relaxed sort of way)


I’m a bit late in filing this article as my schedule was recently interrupted by a serious cycling accident.  As I had done on numerous occasions this past spring and summer, I started my day with a high tempo ride that would take me along Lakeshore Road in Sarnia.  I like this road because it’s flat, well shaded by mature trees on both sides of the street, and has more people walking dogs than vehicles.  Moreover, even though it is only two lanes wide, each lane is oversized to a width of about 1 ½ cars, although only one vehicle is allowed per lane.  Add to this a biking shoulder about three to four feet wide so there is an abundance of room with very few cars.

It was about 7:45 on a perfectly clear and sunny morning and I was about 15 minutes from returning home. I knew the sun was low in the sky as my shadow riding west was directly ahead of me without waiver. The setting was as close to perfect as it gets but that was interrupted as car driver tried to make an ill-advised left turn onto Lakeshore to travel eastward.  Either not paying attention (cell phone?) or blinded by the low sun, the driver did not see me and proceed to drive his ½ ton pick up into the intersection only to be met by yours truly who had the very distinct right of way.

In that instant of impact, I have no recollection as to what happened and that is probably a good thing.  I was later told that I flipped over the front hood of the truck only to land in a puddle on the opposite side.  Imagine that, I have just been in a serious collision and end up landing in a puddle.  Not a nice patch of soft grass or maybe a couch that was being left at curbside for garbage collection but a puddle.  When it rains, it pours I guess.

The crunch knocked me unconscious and woke up in the local hospital emergency room looking up at a number of medical professionals.  I was definitely not in Kansas and had enough bodily pain to know that something was seriously amiss.  I was significantly groggy and it took a while for the cobwebs to dissipate to the point where I could tell those in charge where I lived and how to contact my wife.  This brings me to safety tip number one: When riding alone, it is a very good idea to carry your personal I.D., either left in your wallet that you may carry with you or as a photocopy that can be stuffed into your bike’s saddlebag.  Any existing medical conditions should also be clearly identified as well if you don’t wear a Medic Alert bracelet. 

While in the hospital, I learned that my cycling helmet was cracked in three separate locations as my head apparently made contact with the truck’s windshield.  This leads to safety tip number two: Always wear your helmet!  Your head does not stand a chance of coming out in decent shape in the event of a mishap. This particular one only took a split second and there was zero chance of avoidance since it happened so fast.  If it wasn’t for my helmet, there is very good chance that I would have incurred some serious head injuries or worse and without wanting to sound morbid, death was one option.  No thanks folks, too much to do before I leave this world and when I do, I’d like it to be on my own terms.

We have a large regional hospital here in Sarnia but when the laundry list of my injuries was tallied up,  the decision was made to move me to the Trauma Unit in a larger hospital in London, Ontario, about an hour’s drive west of here.  To get me to London, I was given a pain medication that sent me for an absolute loop.  I had a mental vision of a cityscape that was flowing like melted marshmallow.  One side of my brain was thinking that this was pretty cool while the other side was telling me that I was not in control.  All in all, it was a very uncomfortable feeling.

Arriving at the London hospital, I was given a thorough going over.  Beside me I noticed one of the doctors snapping on a rubber glove and getting a generously lubricated finger ready.

I had the presence of mind to ask, “What’s that for?”

“I have to check your spine.”

“What do mean, you have check my spine?  It’s right here and you can see I can easily wriggle all of my fingers and toes!”

“I have to see if there has been any internal damage” was the calming reply.

I was not going to win this argument but I had to get in one final comment.  “O.K. Doc. You win. But I should tell you that a several years ago I had a hemorrhoid problem and if you wake those bad boys up, you and I are going to have words.”

When all was added up, I had six broken ribs, three of which were broken in two places, two cracked vertebrae near the base of my skull, a cracked sternum, a facial compression fracture,  a deep gash on the inside of my left ankle, a hyperextended knee and multiple abrasions and deep bruises. My helmet is of course a write-off and my bike is beyond repair.  Not bad for day’s work. I apparently hit the truck with the left side of my body and that is where all the damage was done. 

My right side was left mostly unscathed and that was very fortunate as about 10 years ago, I had my right shoulder reconstructed with a few metal pins inserted to hold everything in place. That has healed 100% but it could have been seriously messed up had I made contact with the truck on my right side. I should be thankful for small favours.

That is how I spent the day of the first day of the accident.  By the afternoon of the following day, still in the hospital but stabilized, I started thinking about how much this would  cost me if we did not have a publicly funded health care system.  I would have been into tens of thousands if not into six figures.  The physical pain would have become secondary.

I ended up spending eight days in London being probed, prodded, and pinched at all hours of the day, but all in a very thorough and professional manner.   The only hours of not being bothered by attending staff were between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. Four crummy hours of relative bliss but then the place is in full swing thereafter with it being a beehive of activity.  Because of my facial injury, I was limited to soft food.  This stuff was absolutely inedible. I think presentation has lot to do with the enjoyment of a meal and I have seen better looking baby barf.  Other than a pudding cup and some fruit, I just could not get this so-called food ingested.  Visits to the hospital cafeteria were my saving grace. 

On the eight day, I was given my freedom and sent home.  Finally, a chance to eat decent food (but still on the soft side) and get some uninterrupted sleep whenever and wherever I wanted.

Feeling better coincided with my arrival at home and getting into something that resembled routine.  Coming up to the third week after the accident, I can walk around without the use of a walker and I have even hopped on my stationary bike for few minutes a day, just easy pedaling to get the blood flowing and I do feel better after each session.

I’m probably looking at another three to four weeks for very modest activity and then I will work on getting myself to a fitness level I enjoyed before the truck got the better of me.  I do plan on being able to play hockey again by November but will not do so if I’m not 100%.  I should be able to get on my bike, or at least its replacement, by mid-to-late October.  There should still be enough pleasant weather on the calendar to enjoy the fall.

The past few weeks have been less than fun but this too shall pass.  I walk by my helmet daily as it is hanging in our hallway and give it a little nod of appreciation for saving me from something that could have been much worse. 

Your friend, Paul.

And remember – Carpe Diem (but in relaxed sort of way)!

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