“Do you know where you are?” asked the trauma doctor standing above me.
“No,” I said.
“You are in the intensive care unit of Holston Valley Medical Center in Kingsport, TN.”
Standing on the other side of me was a trauma nurse.
“Do you have an advance directive or a donor card?” the nurse asked.
“Why are you asking? Are you planning to donate my organs?” I asked, a bit befuddled, but too drugged up to be worried!
That was the first interaction that I remember after regaining consciousness.
It was a beautiful, crisp day in mid-October. I left Knoxville, TN, early that morning after giving an invited talk the day before at a conference at the University of Tennessee. The trees along scenic route U.S. 11W were being transformed by the October chill to myriad shades of yellow, red, gold, and magenta. The cool, clean air, blue sky, colorful landscape, and soft, reassuring purr of Boxxer’s engine reminded me why I so enjoy traveling by motorcycle. About 10 miles southwest of Kingsport and needing fuel, I slowed and turned into a left turn lane of a major intersection. The gas station was in sight, no one was in front of me, so I just needed to wait for the green arrow to make my left turn. And that is the last instant I remembered.
“Do you know what happened to you?” the trauma doc asked?
“No,” I said. “Why am I here?”
“You got hit by a truck. A local EMT unit dropped you off several hours ago. You have 8 broken ribs, a broken scapula, broken left wrist, and several broken transverse process on your lumbar vertebrae, a concussion with some bleeding, and bruised right lung.”
“What about my internal organs?” I asked. “I was afraid you were getting ready to donate them.”
“Except for your bruised lung, they are fine. It is standard procedure that we ask about an advanced directive. By the way, it was extremely helpful to have access to your ICE information for a number of reasons. We have already called your wife and she is on the way here.”
They say there are two kinds of motorcyclists: Ones who have been in accident, and ones who will be in an accident. But I suppose you could say that about automobile drivers as well; if not another car that bangs you at some point, it might be a deer in your windshield. I have been riding motorcycles off and on for nearly 50 years, including this year during which I rode 15,000 miles in 38 states with not so much as a bump. None the less, I am aware of the risk so I always ride with helmet, armored jacket and pants, and leather boots. And for the past two years I have ridden with two copies of a two-page folded document, one in my jacket and one in my tank bag, with large letters “ICE” (In Case of Emergency) printed on the outside. It contains information on emergency contacts, doctors, medications, medical history, blood type, etc. That information suddenly became very useful!
Now, one month after the incident, I am happy to report that I am on my feet, getting around, and off the hard pain drugs. I am still sleeping in a chair but I will try my bed real soon. As I reflect on this incident, the overriding feeling I have is one of being blessed. Feelings of anger and self-pity for my injuries and loss of my motorcycle didn’t last long as I quickly realized how much worse the particulars of this incident could have been. Several parts of my body were broken and my bike was totaled, but the most regret I feel was the need of that phone call to my wife telling her, without much detail, that her husband was in an accident and was in intensive care. After cancelling her book club meeting and plan for weekend house guests, she drove 3 hours while fretting about my condition.
Why do I feel blessed? That we have efficient first responders and trauma units that, regardless of who you are, will remove your broken body from the pavement and deliver you to excellent medical services; that after one month since the incident I am on my feet, off drugs, and with all my wits about me; that I have a loving wife who cared for all my needs during my recovery; and that I have wonderful family and friends who visited and sent their best wishes.
After a few months I will look forward to getting back on two wheels. Like most folks do after any kind of accident, I will reflect on how I might ride differently. I already wear my helmet and riding gear all the time, which is a good thing because they were destroyed but kept my head and hide intact; I seldom, if ever, ride outside my skill set; and I already ride as though I am a target, remaining suspicious of every vehicle in my proximity. But something I will spend more time doing while riding, besides looking in my rear-view mirrors, is remembering that loved ones are depending on me, and they expect me to arrive home safely on my own two wheels.