Tell 'em what I took, man!

Reflections of a repatriated ex-patriot

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Well, my next entry was going to be about the 50-gallon aquarium I just picked up from a friend and the insight that a plunge into the world of keeping fresh water fish would provide, but events out of my control have compelled me to change my topic. Last Saturday while driving up to Winter Park Ski Resort on US 40 I lost control of my vehicle on a patch of ice and swerved into the opposite lane, getting broadsided by a large SUV. I've told this story so many times now it sounds like lines memorized for a play, but there's no adequate retelling without the basic facts, so here it goes:

My cousin came into town from DC for a long-anticipated break from working at the Department of Defense and a return to the slopes. He had lived here in Denver for a few years while getting his graduate degree in International Relations from the University of Denver. We met up at a bar with some friends of his he had known from his hometown, Dallas, and caught up over some drinks. I had a cold and had been planning to call in the next day anyway, so we drank until late that night. I took it easy the next day trying to get myself over the cold as best I could and preparing for the next day's drive up to the mountains.

I woke the next morning eager to go out to a resort I hadn't yet been to, picking up my friend on the way. We cruised down I-70 until we came over the first foothill, descending onto congested traffic that stretched pretty much the whole way to our turn off for US-40. As soon as we exited onto that stretch of road the traffic cleared out and, eager to make up for lost time, I hit the accelerator and cruised to about 50 miles an hour. I passed one car and as I was getting back into the right-hand lane, noticed a slight slippage of traction, so I slowed down to about 40 and continued on up the road. We passed the town of Empire and headed up toward the winding switchbacks of Berthoud Pass. That's when I felt another separation from the road, but this time instead of fish-tailing a little bit and straightening myself out as had happened in that little shift before, my car made a hard left on it's own and I realized I had absolutely no control of the vehicle.

I want to say I had just enough time to see the vehicle we were headed for, but the moment seemed to last a sizable duration of time. I had time to say 'Oh shit, we're gonna hit!' at least twice before the actual collision, and after, all I remember is coming to, a little woozy, a little disoriented but trying to stay calm and get out of the car. I asked if my friend, Fred, the passenger was all right, but I don't think I even looked at him. He said he was alright, his leg was hurt a little, but that he couldn't open his door-- details of that exchange are pretty murky. But the biggest disconnect, the foggiest part of this when trying to think about it now, is accounting for the collision and all the resulting events that took place: the passage of time and chronological ordering of events. I don't remember the noise of the crash, I don't remember the sensation of banging my head against the interior, I don't remember my car spinning back into the right-hand lane. I don't even remember, and didn't even know until much later, about the other two cars that had been damaged. All I remember is getting out and looking over at another car-- I can't even recall if it was the one that had hit us or the one that had been forced off the side of the road to avoid the collision. And then I heard someone say that I was bleeding. Just after, a paramedic came up and told me to hop up in the ambulance. They later carted Fred into the truck as well, saying that it looked like he had probably dislocated his knee. Then the driver of the other vehicle was brought in on a board, her neck secured by a brace. They told her she had had a head injury but they wanted to keep her stable just in case there was any damage from whiplash.

They rushed us down to Saint Anthony's, and after the paperwork had been filled out I sat in a triage room waiting for the nurse to come and staple up the gash in my head, passing the time by listening to the drama unfolding behind the adjoining curtain between the nurse and the family of this three or four year old Hispanic girl who had apparently managed to shove a bead deep inside her nasal cavity. "You're going to have to calm her down, and use this syringe to shoot some water up her nose because she's gonna be really upset when I get in there." They gave me a tetanus shot and then the staples came, and yes they were about as fun as you would think getting staples to the back of the head would be. They released me and I looked on the display panel for the room where Fred was located.

I found Fred's room and asked how he was and what was going on, that's when I learned that he had suffered a tibial plateau fracture, meaning that the tip of his tibia in his left leg where it joins with the femur behind the patella had been severed. (I've used the analogy of the end of drumstick on a piece of chicken shearing off when I get to explaining this part about a hundred times, but looking at the diagram on the right that analogy kind of sucks ass.) Yes it was pretty serious, and yes it would require surgery, but at least, in this case the fragments were still there and can be pieced together more easily then if the bone had shattered. Long story short, he won't be walking for at least a month or two, and likely will be out of work for at least three. The lady driving the large SUV, Joy, had basically the same treatment I had: more yummy staples to the back of the head having suffered, thankfully, no injuries to her neck or spine.

All things considered I feel really lucky as it definitely could have been far far worse. I'd like to say it's been conducive to some deep introspection, but I guess the big picture hasn't really hit me yet. I've been too wrapped up in just logistical concerns like how to get to work, what I can do for Fred and his family while he's on the mend, and waiting for the onslaught of phone calls to come in from the insurance companies. Life goes on as they say, and that's good enough for me for now.