Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Where I stand on the risk ladder

On April Fool's night, Wednesday, April 1, Tony came home from work and began to rearrange our living room for his weekly poker game. He slid the sofa into the kitchen, carried the coffee table into the bedroom, and extracted his motley collection of folding chairs from the corners they inhabit six and a half days a week in our tiny apartment. Suddenly his phone rang, flashing my name. He picked it up: "Hey." A strange voice answered: "There's been an accident. You're going to have to go to the hospital." What happened, Tony wanted to know, which hospital? "I'll call you back."

At the same time, I was stretched out on the side of a rain-slick road, trembling from shock and fear and cold, feeling my way around the holes in my memory. I had awoken to lights and strange faces in my eyes. They wanted to know what day it was. My lower lip was swollen and sticky with blood.

In the month since crashing my 150cc motorscooter in the warehouse district near Gallaudet University, I've tried to stitch together my patchwork memories. Based on what I remember and what the paramedics told me, I think I lost traction on a right-hand turn and panicked, slamming on the rear brakes. Braking in the middle of a turn is one of the worst things you can do on a motorcycle. Instead of laying the scooter down on the right side and collecting a few bruises, I caused the scooter to flip violently to the left, throwing me off to land on my face (judging by the gouges on my helmet) and slide down the road. The paramedics told me with some admiration that I must have practically hydroplaned on the wet street.

I don't know how long I was unconscious; I don't know who called the ambulance. When I woke up, my helmet, jacket and gloves had already been removed and my jeans were soaking wet. The paramedics, jolly and gentle, put a plastic collar around my neck and strapped me to a board for the ride to the hospital. With effort, I told them Tony's phone number from memory and insisted repeatedly that they had to call him. I tried to tell them that it was poker night and someone with a car would be able to give him a ride.

The paramedics left me in the hospital waiting room, still immobilized in the stretcher. I never learned their names.

Uncontrollable shivering. A desperate need to use the bathroom, followed by a near-disaster when my left leg collapsed as I tried to stand up. X-ray. CAT scan. Tony arriving with dry clothes. Nothing broken, though my left knee was swollen and my left calf hurt so much I couldn't bear to have it touched. Going home on crutches at 2am.

A month later, I can once again walk and turn my head and lift my left arm above shoulder level. There's an unexplained achy lump in my left calf, which might be a blood clot, a torn muscle, or a knot that never loosened. I'm still waiting to hear from the doctor.

Tony and my family weren't surprised that I was back on my scooter the next week. Others marveled that I had the courage to ride again, but here's the thing: when you choose to engage in potentially dangerous activity, you decide how much risk you're willing to take. Then you live with that decision. I spent a lot of money on good riding gear and everything that I bought did the job that it was supposed to do: the armor in my jacket prevented me from dislocating my shoulder, the chin bar on my helmet kept my face in one piece, the gloves ensured that I still have skin on my hands.

I knew what I was getting into. I may never look at turns the same way again, but the crash hasn't changed my attitude toward riding. That's life: you pays your money and you takes your chances.


Miss E said...

There was a horrific accident this week basically at the end of my parents' driveway involving a motorcycle clipping a van with such force that it spun the van out 180 degrees and took the motorcyclist's head off. There are so many irresponsible riders - it's really frightening. I'm glad you're OK and that you have seriously good gear. Take care of yourself and safe recovery.

Megan said...

Miss E - thanks for the well-wishes! Except for the funny thing with my leg, I have recovered nicely.

There are many horrible ways to die while motorcycling. As a precautionary measure, I often scan my surroundings while riding, attempting to anticipate and prepare for a worst-case scenario.

I might be a little paranoid, but I like to think it helps!

Miss E said...

I still have a small lump in my leg from my bike accident 3 years ago. I thought it was a cyst or something like that, but my dad (an oncologist) said it's likely calcified tissue from the really deep tissue bruise. With the kind of impact that you experienced, that's entirely likely to have happened for you as well. My dad said that he saw the x-rays from a patient who had been in a car accident, and she had basically a steering wheel's worth of calcified bruises on her chest. Scary stuff.

Hang in there!