Got knocked down by a car the other day. It made me think about all those times in my life when, but for one thing, I would have died. As an infant, and later as a two-year old, I had pneumonia. I was saved by penicillin, by science, technology and society, twice. Before penicillin, I would have been dead as an infant.
As a six-year old, I fell into a house under construction. The incomplete basement had no concrete yet, the floor was mud with pools of water. Me, my brother John and Eddie Knight were bringing the biggest stones we could find and carry, climbing the foundation wall, and dropping them into the pools of water. The object, of course, was to get a huge splash. We dropped in our stones, enjoyed the splash, and set out to find bigger stones. I dropped a nice one in, hit the water nicely, and turned to see Eddie plop the biggest stone I’d seen all morning on the floor level of the foundation, so he could use both hands to climb up. Somehow, I couldn’t help myself. I ran over, grabbed the stone, and dropped it in. I think it made a big splash. I say think, because all I remember is perhaps a sense of movement. Eddie, pissed off as all hell, had come charging at me, I think. The details are vague. Because I was standing by the edge of the hole in the floor we were using (it was for the stairs to come), I must have gone right over. I woke up some time later. Two adults were carrying me through tall weeds in the huge field behind my house. I had cracked my head against one of the stones, maybe even Eddie’s big one. Lying face down in the muddy water, I would have drowned. My brother pulled me out. Eddie, meanwhile had gone for his parents, who were carrying me home. I never saw Eddie again. He never came by. I would guess that he felt guilty, or his parents simply forbade him to play with us again. Life saved by my younger brother, although medical science repaired my cracked skull.
I turned eight years old during my stay at Lutheran Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland (formerly the Hebrew Orphan Asylum). My appendix had ruptured, and I remember being told later that I had peritonitis (literally an inflammation of the stomach lining), although today the term used is blood poisoning, or sepsis. In septic shock, weak, and barely able to shamble, with support from my mother, who drove me to the hospital in a borrowed car, the staff there knew I was in trouble from my blood work. An x-ray did not show cause, so I was taken for exploratory surgery. The appendix was hidden behind an organ, and hadn’t been visible on x-ray. Again, medical science, through surgery and chemistry, had saved my life, although I was hospitalized for four weeks, and convalesced at home for another week. Happy Birthday!
Soon after that I developed bronchial asthma, and survived by using steam and a towel over my head, or a prescription inhaler. Sometimes I simply couldn’t catch my breath at all. I didn’t know where it went or why it was running away. The asthma attacks went away sometime after my 12th birthday.
Of course, not everything I did was life threatening. I slipped trying to repair a leaky roof in a tree house and fell to the ground, breaking my arm. Excruciating pain came with that one, and a cast on my arm, and notoriety at school. It was hard to brag about falling out of a tree. I was just embarrassed.
I must have developed an acute sense of caution, because I didn’t get hurt again until I was an adult. I got creamed by a huge beast of a car as I had been pedaling down a nice hill. It hit me broadside, and dragged the bicycle across the street, but I had been thrown forward by my own momentum. I bounced, and passed out. Passers-by thought I was dead. I heard them say so as I came to. They’d already given up on me and were comforting the driver! I was in shock, didn’t know who I was or what had happened at first. I was thoroughly amazed that I’d survived, because my last thought before the impact had been that I was going to die. Traffic had been thick and heavy, and I could have easily been run over by some other vehicle. As it was, my own momentum had carried me in a high arc straight forward, and the car was so big, a Lincoln Continental Mark III, that it had blocked enough of the lane to keep the other drivers away. Saved by the eighteen-foot car length. Nothing broken this time. I had a major sprain on the top of my left foot, which had been hit by the car. The heavy Schwinn bicycle pedal arm had been bent, back into the spokes.
Bicycles on highways or city streets are accidents waiting to happen, and I had a few more. Once my shoe was simply ripped off my foot. Once I skidded on gravel on a mountain road and slid down a long section of blacktop, taking a lot of skin off my chest and stomach. Ouch. Another time, a car side-swiped me as I pedaled down a city street right on the edge of the road. It appeared as though the car had passed another car on the right, illegally, had not seen me up ahead, and clipped me. The impact left a huge bruise on my ass and thigh muscles. I was stunned at first, and lay on my back, staring unblinkingly into the light rain that was falling. I worried that I was paralyzed. The driver didn’t stop, but someone else did after a few minutes, and an ambulance took me and bicycle to a hospital. Bruised and scraped flesh was all I received then, but it could have been worse. Somehow I had fallen without breaking my neck. Somehow the car hadn’t broken my hip or run over me. Little things.
Given my history, buying a motorcycle was not a very smart thing to do, but at least it put me out into the drive lane at speed, instead of paralleling the other vehicles, riding bicycles in the gutters full of storm-drain grates and broken glass. It didn’t take me long to lay the bike down: the first time taking a corner in the rain, slipping on icy roads, or hitting a crazy dog on a curve. I was never hurt, but I went through a few turns signals and mirrors which stick out to the sides. I learned to anticipate accidents, to always brake the front and rear wheels simultaneously, and even ride on icy or snow-packed streets. I got good. However, as I neared my house one fine day, I decided to pass in front of a stalled car blocking my lane, and he hit the gas microseconds before I got there. I t-boned him, and sailed over the car hood. The bike was totalled. I was sore and bruised but none the worse for wear after a few weeks. Everyone in the neighborhood said I must have said my prayers. I didn’t pray anymore, so that wasn’t it. Given my moral turpitude at the time, I could have thanked the devil instead, if I’d still believed in such things.
Years passed with my replacement motorcycle. As I was near home again, in a different house with a wife waiting for me this time, I misread a red traffic light. I thought it was still green, but the sun was directly behind it as I topped a hill. I sailed into the large Route 66 intersection at about 40 mph. There was a pickup directly in front of me; I looked up – the light was red. Never even applied the brakes. Totalled that bike too. I was again bruised and scraped up. My arm was a bit sprained, so I wore a sling for a short time. The driver of the pickup told my insurance company that I had bent his truck frame. Really? Well, no matter. I got another bike, number three in a series, and I never wrecked it. Since it was old and leaked oil, and always needed repairs, I finally traded it in. Success! I had ridden a motorcycle the entire time I had owned it without damaging it or myself. However, the newer bike was not so lucky. Within two weeks I had laid it down, negotiating a turn, I didn’t understand what had happened until it happened again. This time I took it in to a shop. They found a spacer missing from the front axle. Such spacers keep the wheel centered on the axle, but without one, the wheel was sliding to one side as I turned, causing the wheel to lock up.
Of note in all this mayhem is that I paused in June of 2013 to have a minor heart attack. The large descending artery on the right side was partly clogged when I first got to the heart hospital, but within minutes, the clog had moved to completely block the artery (sudden minor pain). Fortunately, I was already hooked up to an IV and heart monitors, and my wrist was prepped for sticking a balloon up to my heart to clean it out and leave a stent behind. They went ahead and did that, and I felt relief immediately. Recovery was rapid and complete. Four months later, I ran a half marathon in three hours exact. A year later I ran it in 2 hours, 46 minutes. Cheating death. Again.
So, I’ve dodged any motorcycle accident for many years now. I am very aware of my surroundings. I always know where other vehicles are, and I keep a constant eye out on side streets and pedestrians. I hit nothing, and nothing hits me. I have a car now also, and my motorcycle habits have transferred. I have no accidents, because I am always acutely aware of my surroundings. So, it came as a shock last Friday evening to find a moving car pushing against my body, again.
I was crossing a street at a slight angle to reach my car. It was a cold night, and I was worried about an approaching storm, so I had opted out of riding the bike. I was in the southbound part of the street as I saw a car approach the intersection from an eastbound lane. I sped up so I wouldn’t be in its path. It was about 50 feet away, so I had plenty of time to reach my car before it even reached me. Wrong. She had turned wide, and sped up as she straightened out, but not where she should have been. She was squarely in the northbound part of the road. Her right fender was pressing hard against me. I noticed the rest of the car was ahead of me, instead of behind me in the empty southbound lane. She never said what she was doing. Was she just turning wide? She later said she only saw me at the last moment before hitting me. Had she tried to avoid me? swerving around me? She never said much else. Liability issues, I’d guess.
Fortunately she did see me plastered against her grille, and stopped. I was thrown forward and hard onto the asphalt. It hurt. So, there I was again, lying in the street again, wondering how the hell I’d misjudged that situation. How the hell had she caught me? I hurt all over it seemed, but I thought I should get up. My right hip area had impacted the street, and it was in considerable pain, but after a few minutes, the pain went away. We exchanged information. She is an artist with the gallery whose open house I’d just left.
I went home, took two Advil Liquid capsules, applied some Blue Emu cream, ate a late dinner with some chokecherry wine, and got some sleep. The pain was back next day, but so far, so good. The hip only hurts to the touch. “So don’t touch it!” I know, I know, but sometimes ya gotta roll over in bed, or ya bump against the side of a chair. It’ll heal. There’s skin scraped off again, but no bruising. The pain seems to be deep, and just behind the hip bone that juts out there. Worked hard yesterday, did a lot of heavy lifting and shoving at the winery, with no pain, so I think I’m OK.