It is amazing how the pivotal moments in life can be remembered in perfect detail, even after so much time has passed. The example I will relate here, is about the day my life almost came to an end. It involves a collision I had with a motorist, while I was riding my motorcycle home for dinner one evening.
The day in question was December 2nd, 1982. It was a day I will never forget as long as I shall live. I was 19 years old, and recently fired from my job as a maintenance man at a local McDonalds. That in itself would make for along story, but not for telling here and now. For this is the tale of how my world came to an end for a brief moment in time, and how my family received their own special Christmas miracle.
As stated I was now unemployed and had my recent days to do with as I pleased. I recall sleeping in late, and loving it, since my previous position required me to get up before dawn. I rolled out of bed around 10:00 am, and strolled downstairs to grab some breakfast. I was greeted by my mother, who was making some early preparations for dinner, which was to be her famous Pot Roast. My mouth just watered thinking about it.
We chatted for a bit, while I ate some cereal and she asked me what my plans were for the day? I told her that more than likely I would head over to my friends house, and that from there we would probably hit up the local pool hall for several enjoyable hours of snooker! My mom just smiled and told me not to be late for supper. She knew I wouldn’t miss her Roast for anything in the world. So I gave her a kiss, and I headed upstairs to get dressed.
I can still remember what I put on for that day, down to the last detail. I had on a brown pair of corduroys , my favorite Jethro Tull tee-shirt, a blue hooded sweatshirt over that, and a very nicely worn in pair of Wellington boots. My blue ski jacket completed the ensemble along with a pair of long black riding gloves. I grabbed my helmet, went out to the garage, and started up my motorcycle.
It was my first of what would be many bikes that I have owned, a turquoise blue 1972 Honda CB 360. Looking back it was a ridiculously small bike compared to what I ride today, but she was a pretty gal, and I rode her everywhere, and all year long. It technically was my first carl. I slipped her into gear and headed down the driveway. The next stop, my friends house a few miles on the other side of town.
I pulled into my friend’s driveway and parked my bike just off to the side. I walked up to his door and rang the bell. Moments later, my friend emerged with his pool cue in hand. He greeted me and the two of us piled into his truck and drove off to the local pool hall in town.
We talked and played pool all afternoon. I checked my watch as the day wore on and told my friend it was time to leave. I didn’t want to be late for dinner. So we drove back to his house, and after giving him a hearty handshake, I got back on my bike and headed for home.
The whole way back all I could think about, was how great that Pot Roast was going to taste, melting in my mouth. And of course I would add several portions of mash potatoes to that, smothered in her delicious gravy. In minutes I would be home, washing up for dinner, and taking my place at the table. I simply couldn’t wait. Unfortunately, I would not be coming home that evening!
I was about a mile from my house, when I approached a certain, very busy “T” intersection. A long line of cars were standing still waiting to make a left hand turn. As I got up to it, I started to go around the obstruction, and as I got up to the first car in line, I was confronted with a most unexpected site, a pick up truck coming right at me.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and passing the foot of someone’s driveway, and that certain someone was making a rapid, un-signaled turn right into me. There was no warning, I had no time to react, and all I could think of was, “ Shit, this is gonna hurt!”
Then it happened, his front bumper slammed into my bike and I caught the full force of his grill right in the ribs. The impact sent me flying a full twenty feet away. I landed on my back and came to an abrupt halt in his driveway. I was feeling seriously dazed and confused. But then again, sudden aggressive traumas will do that to you!
I can still remember trying to get to my feet as quick as I could. The driver was out of his truck yelling at me to stay still. In my delirium I stood up and tried to take a few steps, all the while the man was screaming at me to stay still. My scrambled brain was trying to make sense of what just happened, and I moaned back at him, “ No, if I stay down, the pain will wash all over me!” Can’t say what the hell I was thinking, but I took one step and collapsed on the ground. What happened next was most bizarre!
I will not say that I had an “Outer Body Experience” but whatever it was, I was no longer soundly amongst the living! I found myself walking along a mountain trail. It was dark and I couldn’t really see where I was going? There were no distinguishable landmarks, and I had no idea, how I had gotten there?
So I just kept walking alone in the dark, looking for some sign as to where I was? But where ever it was, all I know was it was quiet, too quiet. I covered several yards, before something struck me as peculiar. I realized that I was not all that concerned about anything. Not in the way, I was accustomed to worrying about things. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how ambivalent I truly was, and that I think is what scared me the most! I honestly didn’t have a care in the world. Then I really started to tremble.
“ Oh my God!”, I thought to myself, “ I am dead!” “ How the hell, can I be dead?” I had always heard that when you die, you see a very bright light. Well leave it to me get that part wrong as well. “ Can't even die right!” I mused to myself. No this wasn’t right, I wanted to get out of this place right away!
I don’t know how exactly the transition happened, but all of a sudden I was spinning. The world around me was twirling about violently, spinning, and spinning. And then with out realizing it, the world just popped into focus, and I became aware that my eyes were open and I was alive again.
The first thing I noticed, other than that I could hear the sudden cacophony of sound all around me, was a woman’s face inches away from mine and she was screaming at me! I thought to myself, “ Why the hell is this woman’s face so close to mine?” “ And why are you screaming at me?” This was certainly rude behavior! A little insult to injury, after what I just went through.
As it turns out, the woman was a nurse, who had happen to be in one of the cars close at hand. The reason that she was screaming at me, was because she was trying to get me to wake up. Once I was fully awake, she told me that I had been unconscious and not breathing for several minutes. She honestly thought I had died!
Now I am not a medical expert, but being unresponsive and lifeless for that long usually implies one of two things, either you are dead, or about to suffer some serious brain damage! Thankfully for me the guardian angels were on the scene, and covering my ass big time!
As I gained what little composure I could, given the situation, I looked up between my feet and saw my poor bike laying a few feet away on it’s side. I was pissed, but then I had a moment of grim satisfaction. I saw that my bike had punched a huge hole in this assholes grill. Don’t know why that made me smile but it did! I guess it was a little proud defiance, knowing that if I was going down, I could still inflict a little damage in return.
It became obvious to me, that I had regained my wry sense of humor, and I realized as I took a deep breath, that I was back, and wasn’t planning on going anywhere, anytime soon! Also I wasn’t about to make it home for dinner! Now I was really pissed! I was so looking forward to that Pot Roast.
So now, I was back amongst the living and trying to roll the few functioning marbles in my brain, back into their appropriate holes. I just survived a near fatal collision, that is to say, an argument with a very large pick up truck, and lost!
While I was lying on the ground I was accosted by a police officer, who had all the manners of torture chamber interrogator. He didn’t even bother to introduce himself or say hello, instead he began barking questions at me. He wanted to see my driver’s license, and I told him that would be some what difficult, seeing as it was in my wallet, which was in my back pocket. I told the officer that understandably so, I am in a great amount of pain, and that I would be unable to reach my wallet, as I was laying on my back.
This did not seem to register with him, as he continued to demand that I show him my license. I wondered to myself, what would he do, if I failed to comply, would he just hand cuff me right then and there and haul me off to jail? I certainly would have liked to see him try.
But being the agreeable sort of person that I am, I told him, he would have to grab it himself, and that he had my permission to do so. He was reluctant at first, since I gather it is not protocol to remove items from a persons body at the scene of an incident. I assured him that not only was it okay for him to do so, but that it was the only way he was going to see my license.
So he rolled me a little to one side, as the EMT people looked on reminding him, to be careful, as I might have sustained injuries to my neck and spine. But I don’t think this over zealous cop was all that concerned for my well being. Once he located my wallet, he pulled it out and handed it back to me.
This really confounded me, since he already had the wallet, all he had to do now, was open it! But no, he informed me he was not allowed to go digging into my wallet, I would have to take it out myself and hand it to him. I thought to myself, “You have to be kidding! “ This was nothing more than added insult to injury!
So I fished my license out, and handed it to him. And the officer scurried off to his cruiser to start filling out his report. By now it was getting very dark and very cold, I was tired, hungry, and by now very chilled to the bone, from having been laying on the cold pavement for so long.
A small bit of comfort was bestowed on me when I recognized one of the paramedics was a buddy I went to school with. He smiled at me, and told me that they were going to take very good care of me. This was more reassuring than you could know! So I sighed, and laid back, as they lifted me unto a gurney and loaded me into the back of the ambulance.
I knew from this point, that no matter I what I had to endure, once I got to the hospital, things were going to be okay!
I would come to find out in hind sight, that things would be okay, but I would have to go through some things even more traumatizing than the accident itself. Ignorance is bliss, for if I knew what lay in store for me once I got to the hospital, I might have declined, medical treatment altogether!
The hospital was even more of a hellish nightmare than I expected, having never been in one before, as a patient. The chaos, the noise, the alien environment all lent itself to putting me on edge. I was in serious amounts of pain, and all anyone could seem to focus on was making me even more ill at ease!
Then as I was lying there in the emergency room, a rather bizarre encounter with a young nurse was about to unfold. It was her responsibility to prep me for the initial examination, to determine the extent of my injuries! Under any other circumstances, what followed might have been otherwise enjoyable.
She tried to help me off with my jacket and sweat shirt, not at all concerned if I had any neck injuries. But since I didn’t have any that I could tell, she was able to get these off with little or no discomfort on my part. Next she warned me that she would have to cut my boots off. I told her straight out, “ I don’t care if my foot comes off with it, you are not cutting my boots!” It took me a long time to get them broken in, and I had a lot of history with them.
So she did her best to wiggle them off, and with no great surprise, this was an effortless task. I would find out later that my left foot was completely smashed up, and curiously I was not able to feel any pain despite this fact. She was also able to get my tee-shirt off with no great discomfort either. It was becoming clearer to me, thankfully, that my injuries were not spinal related.
And yet for some reason, because I deprived her of the thrill of getting her scissors out for my boots, she felt compelled to cut my pants off! She cited that she was concerned for my lower back, though it didn’t seem to bother it much, when I had to lift my butt up, to get my underwear off. I couldn’t be certain, but I could swear I saw the tiniest hint of a grin on her face. Like I said, under any other circumstances, this might have been pleasurable. I was just happy that my boots were still in one piece.
I ended up spending two weeks in this place and put through all kinds of torture. I think the worst of it was that I spent an entire day with internal bleeding, and no one seemed to notice this fact but me? My stomach had swollen up to the size of a beach ball. By the time they realized this, I was in excruciating pain. I was literally banging the walls like a lunatic, screaming for help!
Part of the problem was that at the time I was in excellent shape, and all my vital signs were normal, despite the fact that I had lost several pints of blood. Well okay, I didn’t lose them per se, they were still inside me, just not where they belonged. I was starting to wonder how long it would take before my stomach exploded in a bloody mess?
It took the brilliant minds of the medical staff two days to get me into surgery. But before this could happen they needed to do a CAT scan. Another step in a long line of sadistic procedures I would be subjected to before this ordeal would be over.
If you have ever had internal injuries and needed to go in for a scan, let me tell you, they are not fun. They make you drink this nasty crap called Barium, which must be said, tastes like chalk! Not that I have ever ingested chalk, but I would have to imagine this is what chalk would taste like in liquid form. It is horrible.
Before they could even scan my body, I was asked to swallow a “Big Gulp” sized cup of this awful concoction. So being the trooper I am, I just closed my eyes and pretended it was a giant milkshake, and down it in one continuous swig! Yuck, it was indescribably bad! But I relaxed knowing I could now get on with the business at hand.
When they rolled me down to the room where the machine was, I was confronted by a technician and a nurse who wanted me to drink another large cup of this crap. I looked at the cup being shoved in my face, and then I looked back at them. “ Here’s the deal”, I told them, quite vehemently, “ If I have to swallow more of this vile swill, I am going to vomit! “ It took a few minutes of passionate persuasion, but I managed to convince them, one monstrous cup of this poison in me would have to suffice. They were not happy, but it couldn’t be helped. I appealed to their higher wisdom, and won! Score one for the little guy!
The scan itself, was a brutal process for me as well. The machine takes line scans of select areas of the body. In this test, they were trying to see how bad the injuries to my side were. I had sustained bruises to my rib cage, though miraculously, none of them were broken. I did however, have a collapsed lung. Which made breathing very difficult.
Not surprising, what became so tortuous for me, was that the scan involved the technician taking incremental scans of my chest cavity. This required me to extend my arms over my head and take a deep breath and hold it. I had to do this over and over again, for what seemed like hours. Let me just say, with only one working lung and a set of bruised ribs, this was just excruciating. But I realized it was necessary, so I suffered through this torture.
Again had I known in advanced what I would have to suffer through, I might have resisted seeking medical attention. But I was grateful to be alive, though it would take me a few more days to be in the proper frame of mind to appreciate this fact. More ordeals lay in store.
I think the thing that bothered me the most during my stay, was being there so close to the holidays. I felt bad for the people that had to be there much longer than I did. And it can be a very depressing place to be at any point in the year! I didn’t want to be there, and I am sure most of the patients wished with all their hearts, they could be somewhere else too!
I also felt bad, because I made my mom a nervous wreck. I knew I was going to be fine, once I snapped back to reality back at the intersection! The problem for my mom, is that she didn’t know this, since it is a mother’s job to worry! That, and the fact that when she came to visit, I was either in intense pain, or drifting in and out of consciousness!
The full tally for the damage done to me was, a collapsed lung, several bruised ribs, a shattered left foot and for the grand finally, a ruptured spleen. Something you want in one piece if you can help it! Between the surgeries, the tubes and machines they had me hooked up to, and all the related complications that arise from such injuries, my poor mom just feared for the worse!
What made it even harder for her besides seeing me in such agony, was that they had me on some pretty hefty drugs for the pain. And when I wasn’t writhing and thrashing about, I was slipping into medicated bliss in the middle of talking to her. Every time I would drift off, she feared I was dying. Because one minute I would be coherent, the next I would be unconscious.
The second thing that bothered me, was waking up after the major surgery on my spleen. To start with, they shave your privates. Let me tell you that itches like a son of a bitch, but not nearly as annoying as waking up to find you have a catheter in you, or as horrifying to realize you have a tube in your nose, snaked all the way down to your stomach to drain off any excess fluids.
I can’t say I enjoyed the pain of having my chest and stomach ripped open, then stapled shut. Not that you remember the surgery from a mental point of view, but your body remembers it and the unnatural feeling of being spread so far apart. And on top of that, because I was so tangled up in tubes, I was not able to move from the prone position in my bed. My back was developing some nasty bed sores.
I was in a constant state of misery, and even when I summoned the strength to try and turn to one side, I was confronted with one of two complications. I couldn’t roll to my left, because my ribs were still very sore. And if I tried to roll to my right, well then I ended up stretching my ribs, which was equally as painful. It was just a no win situation, one I felt compelled to do, about once an hour, every day. And inevitably I convinced myself, the bed sores were the lesser of three evils.
But there was a bright side to all of this. I was not being fed solid foods. I went ten days without a morsel of food passing my lips, they had me on IV nutrients and vitamins, to sustain me. I ended up losing about 40 pounds! And by the time I got out, all my clothes were just hanging off me. It works better than a diet, but I don’t recommend you getting seriously injured in order to lose weight. Exercise would be a lot easier, trust me!
The real mental torture behind all of this, was that at meal times, my room mates would be served their three squares a day. And for all the bad rap hospital food gets, let me tell you, when you are starving, even that green Jello with the fruit in it looks good.
On one occasion my room mate was asleep, and the orderly placed his meal down on my table by mistake. I know it was not mine, but if it was left there unattended, I would have tried to eat it! But alas, they quickly realized there mistake, and took it away. I almost cried, I was so hungry!
On a comical note, when I was finally allowed to eat solid food, what seemed like an eternity later, I was ravenous. I can still remember what they brought me in full detail. And trust me when I tell you, the irony almost killed me. It was Pot Roast, mash potatoes, string beans, and cranberry sauce! And for desert, a huge slice of Boston Cream pie.
But since it was not my mom’s roast, and I was “jonesing” for something truly tasty, I attacked the pie, much the way you see a starving person in a movie attacking a scrap of bread! I started shoveling it into my mouth, but I only got two bites into it, when I tried to swallow. And once it hit my now shriveled stomach, I was in such intense pain, I had to stop! “Man!” I thought to myself, “ This is just not fair!” I finally get to have solid food, and I can’t eat it. Reluctantly I had to ask for something lighter like soup.
But I survived the impact, my injuries, the bizarre bed side manner of the hospital staff, having radioactive chemicals coursing through my body, starvation, being confined in a solitary position for weeks thanks to all the tubes and wires, and two major reconstructive surgeries! I even survived the healing process which was not without it’s trials!
I was thankful, despite my growing complaints, to be alive, and on my way to recovery! The doctors were top notch, and they performed a radical new operation, that allowed me to keep my spleen. Instead of removing it completely, they only took out the damaged portion, and allowed the two halves to link up at some point, in a little aluminum foil tunnel. Which was astounding, and awesome news for my mom, and for me in an indirect sort of way.
My mom learned as I did, that with out a spleen, you have no immunities, even a simple cold can kill you! She threatened to lock me up in a bubble. And I assured her, that if it was a choice of living safely in captivity, or taking my chances outside amongst the germs! I would choose the germs. I survived an amazing amount of punishment, and death! I was not going to let this stand in my way, that is of course if I could actually stand.
I take my hat off to the doctor who repaired my foot as well. When he showed me the x-ray, I swear to you, there was not one bone in my left foot that was not smashed in some form or other. And he was able to set most of the breaks, and he inserted metal pins to hold the rest together while they healed. All in all, I was one lucky guy. I would have the full use of my foot, and my immune systems when all was said and done!
All that was left at this point was my physical therapy. When I was strong enough to walk, or hobble as the case may be, seeing as I had a cast on my leg, and delicate sutures holding my insides together, they wheeled me down to the PT room. Then they introduced me to my next greatest challenge. A pair of crutches!
Originally they wanted to err on the side of caution, and keep me there for a few more days, while I regained my full strength. But I was determined to prove that I could get about with the crutches. A hospital is a horrible place to be, especially around the holidays, and by now, we were edging ever closer to Christmas. I wanted out, in a very big way!
The therapist/trainer handed me the crutches and told me he would be working with me over the next few days. I looked back at him, and with fiery resolve in my heart, told him, “ Sorry, you are going to be my therapist for the next few minutes!” I grabbed the crutches, stood up, and climbed all his bloody obstacles with passionate vigor,.... twice!
I looked back at him with a defiant smile, “ Can I go now?”
It was against their better judgment, but they had to admit, that seeing as I had lost 40lbs, a great deal of muscle mass, half my blood supply, the use of my left lung temporarily, a small portion of a major organ, and that my body was being held together with staples, stitches and pins, ........I was getting around, better than they expected! They had no idea, how badly I just wanted to go home. Quite reluctantly the doctors and staff signed off on me, and turned me loose. It was indeed a Christmas miracle! I was going home!
My family was ecstatic, especially my mom! It was the greatest present anyone could have given her, the return of her child, to full health. More or less! When I got home I was treated to such a warm turnout, the house was full of family, relatives, friends and neighbors, all there to greet me and wish me well. I felt like George Bailey in “ It’s A Wonderful Life”!
And though I was very happy to see them, all I really wanted to do, was go to sleep in my own bed! Be it ever so dysfunctional, there was no place like home!
The real miracle for me, was that for the briefest moment in time, my family stopped fighting with one another, and became a focused, loving and functioning unit again, and all it took was me almost dying! “God bless us, everyone!”
Days later, curiosity got the better of me, and I just had to hobble out to the garage to see my poor bike. In all the confusion and distraction of the incident, I wasn’t sure how it had fared? Standing in the garage, I took a quick tour around my poor baby, and was astonished to find that it had fared better than I did. Except for a dent in the gas tank, and a bent down tube in the frame, (consequently where my foot got pinned), there was hardly a scratch on it!
While I was standing there in silent amazement, my brother had wandered in behind me and said with a smile, “ It almost didn’t survive!” I turned to look at him quizzically, “What do you mean?” He went on to tell me, that after my mom got home from the hospital that first night, she was completely distraught. It took my father and my brother to hold her back. She wanted to grab my dad’s sledge hammer and smash my poor bike to pieces! I just stared at him dumbfounded, “ Thanks, I guess?”
But I am glad she didn’t, though I never rode it again, I didn’t hold the bike responsible for what happened. It was just really bad karma on my part, and the idiot driver who didn’t see me coming! I figured, I could just as easily have been injured by a bus, while stepping off the curb. If it is your time to go, it doesn’t really matter what you are doing, it’s simply your time!
Months later to my mom’s great consternation, I went out and bought another motorcycle, and have been riding ever since. A small curious note, is that years later, after a few more bad accidents occurred after mine, the town did two very radical things.
The first is they closed off the driveway at the intersection, and re-routed it to the other side of the property, and then they set up a traffic light. A little late for me, but at least some greater good came from my misfortune! So that other’s would not have to go through what I experienced on my way home to my mom’s pot roast dinner!
Roger and Joanne Aldag
4 months ago