Letter from the Editor
By Kevin Brubaker
Crashing isn’t so bad. Violently hitting an object on a bicycle, whether it’s a tree, the pavement, or a beige 1995 Oldsmobile is rather painless. We all have this intrinsic fear of the impact. the terror, the searing agony of pain and even the possibility of seeing our own blood pour from our body. But it’s all hype and fear. Our bodies have this amazing way of shielding us from instant suffering. The nervous system, so unlike itself, can actually shut down for hours, even days, masking what may or may not be truly painful. Cranial disorientation can also aid in this sort of physical-denial-condition…”Who am I? … Who are you? I think I see buds on that tree!”
A sense of calm and tranquility descends with a velvety warmth that trickles through the body, soothing even the far reaches of a crooked pinkie toe. A witness, the car driver, or even a friend may come into view as you stare up into the sky. Lips moving, arms gesturing mime-like, coming down to meet you while you lay rather comfortably on the asphalt. Their facial expressions are incongruous to what you feel. The mute button that was pushed at impact however, starts to ease and the surrounding volume slowly ebbs into awareness: the crunching and clicking of shoes right next to you ear, the rhythmic droning of a car engine nearby, birds and onlookers having distant conversations about what they did or didn’t just witness. Gravel looms large and immediate and the road actually smells like something. There are no annoying sirens, panicked frantic onlookers wildly diaing 911 or screaming significant others. This isn’t a TV show.
A familiar face comes into view and asks rather innocuously, “Is there anything I can do for you?” to my reply…”Nah, I’m good. I just wanna lay here for a minute.” Uniformed people start blocking my gorgeous view of the clouds and flirting sun, asking entirely too many questions, disturbing my serene moment. “I’m….fine…Apt. 2C…from the city….A positive….462…3….9….that doesn’t hurt.” Jovial remarks about the damage to the car ensue from the EMT’s: “Looks like you won this one….built like a brick $#%&house!”
I wouldn’t consider myself an attention hound but I can see why movie stars like it. It’s not dissimilar to being an infant all over again. Strange people cleaning up after me, swaddling me in blankets, taking my temperature, jumping at any request I may have, and handling me with a gentleness grown men have long forgotten. The high-tech limo ride is surprisingly smooth and thankfully the siren is outside. It does give me a slight air of dignity to know that I have earned this supreme right-of-way on the roadway, even if only for 10 minutes.
Sliding doors, more commotion, and a lot of people start coming into view. “Hi, I’m so and so….Hello, I will be your such-and-such…This is Dr. what’s-his-name…” I’m at a cocktail party only everyone is poorly dressed and sober. For the first time, I’m a bit annoyed that my tranquility is being threatened but I persevere. The CAT scan will be quiet I know, but the attention I am now receiving is bordering on obscene. Paparazzi and autograph hands start crowding my peripheral…oh, wait. That’s the morphine drip that just started. (Someone really should clean these ceiling tiles). Instruments and tubes are dancing above me in a choreographed ballet.
You know, I’ve never trusted those blunt sided scissors and suddenly there are not one, but three pair running up and down my arms, legs and stomach, greedily devouring my kit to shreds. I relax though. The cold steel feels tingly and everything’s going to be just fine. The clothes they’re cutting off are last year’s rain kit and the kickers that chaffed me anyway. Then I hear through the commotion…”Now let’s get those shoes” as a pair of chrome jaws heads towards the bottom of the gurney. “STOP! Not the shoes!!!…red button…clasp…velcro.” …they’re off and I ease my head back down onto the pillow.
Everyone is so nice and positive and accommodating. A police officer from the scene (whom I didn’t remember) comes into Trauma 2 to check on me. His faith in the doctors is supreme and assures me I won’t be used for experiments. On his way out he says, “Hey man! By the way, did you know that you totaled that car? Never seen that before. You’re damn lucky. Take care of yourself.” That’s cool, I think to myself, what a cool story this will make. American cars aren’t built tough like they used to be.
Just then, one of my 14 nurses finds my phone and asks if there’s anyone I’d like to call. (Hmmm…haven’t actually though about this). I’ve been a bit distracted, honestly. I lazily think…I guess my mother should know about this….”ring”…….this interesting, exciting afternoon….”ring”….in a beautiful Hudson River Valley village….”ring”….Spring is in the air and the sun is shining….”Kevin?!!”
Don’t believe me for a second. Crashing really is bad. It’s excruciatingly painful. I never saw that 1995 Oldsmobile and for that I am truly thankful; saving me from the sheer terror of that impending impact. I remember every millisecond of the crash. The yell a split second before, the brutal violence of my body smashing into steel, my breath leaving my lungs in an instant, the breaking of glass, and yes, the utter agony the instant I came crashing to rest in a crumpled mess on that pavement. The images and thoughts my mother, my family and friends, the driver, and the other people at the scene have of me laying in the street bleeding, not being able to move or breathe are ones I would like to take from them. There is a moment, a fleeting moment, when the panic is insurmountable and you and others ponder your immediate fate in this world. We are however, incredibly durable and resilient creatures and for the fortunate ones, this holds true.
The pain is real however. When the meds wear off and you try to get out of bed on your own for the first time, the pain is real. When your father flies halfway across the country to help you put your clothes on, the pain is real. When a mother’s child is almost taken from this earth, the pain is real. I will be ok though…bodies heal, bikes replaced, insurance covered. For car collisions and bike crashes, I came out pretty well. I am very lucky. My hardships consist of getting around this city on crutches, sneezing with a bruised liver and cracked ribs, putting on socks, and reading about races I missed: pretty insignificant really. I ask myself…Will I take anything long lasting from this experience? Yes, I think so. Will I be more cautious? Yes. Will I make a full recovery? Yes. Will I get back on that bike again? No. It’s destroyed. I will however, ride a new one with such renewed appreciation and vigor, I won’t want to stop…except when I see the next car.
Did You Know?
The first automobile crash in the United States occurred in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a pedalcyclerider (Famous First Facts, by Joseph Kane)
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, approximately 48,000 cyclists were injured in 2002 in automobile accidents.