Surviving the crash: How a great day turned into a long rehab

Jan 31, 2017

It was a warm August day and the sun was shining strong. It’s going to be a good day, I thought. I had no idea how wrong I was.

I got up pretty early that particular Saturday to take my brand-new 2016 Triumph Tiger XRx to the dealer for its first service. Once the service was completed, I jumped on my bike and rolled out. Wanting to get home before the typical horrible Saturday late afternoon/early evening Philly traffic started, I opted to take the highway. A decision I will regret for quite some time.

I set the cruise control at 70 mph, which was the speed limit. I was almost home when I saw a car pulled off onto the median and three people standing outside of it. One of them was pointing to the right lane, and I was in the left lane.

I slowed down a little as I was confused by this, but continued ahead. I rounded the turn that was after the stopped car and there it was. A disabled vehicle blocking the left lane and coming up fast. I quickly pulled the front brake lever with everything I had. I could hear the front tire skidding, then releasing, then skidding again as the ABS did its thing, then darkness.

The next thing I remember is waking up lying on my back and seeing only blue sky above. I felt like I just woke up from a nasty nightmare. As I began to process what was happening, I realized that nightmare was now my reality. I didn’t stop in time and ran into the back of the car.

By the time I regained consciousness, emergency personnel were already surrounding me, checking me for injuries. One asked me if I had any pain anywhere and I responded that my shoulder felt like it was dislocated and asked if he could put it back into place for me. The EMT looked at my arm, then looked back into my eyes and said, “You’ve got a lot more going on here than a dislocated shoulder.”

I tried to raise my head to have a look but my ribs and chest screamed at me to stay still. I had never felt anything like that and, for the first time ever, I didn’t even care what condition my bike was in or even where it was. I knew I was in a world of trouble. I just laid there and let the EMTs load me into the meat wagon and take me to the nearest trauma center.  

hospital bed selfie
The selfie I sent from my hospital bed to explain to my bosses at RevZilla that I'd be missing work for a while. Photo by Dan McBrearty.
When I got to the hospital, I got preferential treatment and was taken right into an examination room. My riding gear and clothes were immediately cut away and the damage was assessed. To the naked eye, I looked to be in OK condition, aside from my arm. Several X-rays and MRIs, however, showed that my body was pretty broken up.

A doctor walked towards me with a plastic tube in his hand and I started to get scared. He proceeded to tell me that I had a collapsed lung and internal bleeding. The tube needed to be inserted in my chest cavity to suck out the blood, fluid and air so my lung could re-expand. I pleaded to be put under while he did this, but I had to be awake for the procedure. As the tube worked its way in between by ribs and into my chest, I had never felt anything so agonizing. My body began to shake and twitch from the sensory overload. It was like I was in a horror movie being tortured. Once the tube was finally all the way in, I got some relief.

hospital
Trying to put a positive face on the situation with my friend, Ben. The morphine was helping. Photo by Ben Echegoyen.

The next morning, nurses woke me to get me ready for surgery. My arm had swollen up to more than twice the size it was the day before and the broken bones had to be fixed. I will never forget the mortified look on my Dad’s face as I was taken to an operating room. He is a strong man and I rarely see him scared. But as he watched me get wheeled into surgery, he looked like he was frightened nearly to death. That look was the last thing I saw before the anesthesia set in.

After the knife

Cold, so cold, I woke from my drug-induced slumber as I was wheeled back to my room where my family and friends were waiting. The surgeon came in and told me about some new titanium hardware that was inserted into my arm to piece back together my shattered bones. I felt like I was in a scene from Robocop, looking through the little red lens in my helmet.

healing
Healing. Photo by Dan McBrearty.
The next few weeks I was off work while I rested and recovered at my father’s house in the beautiful Pocono Mountains of northeast Pennsylvania. With time to reflect, I began to analyze what happened and why. I now realize that the person pointing to the right lane that day was trying to warn me of dangers ahead.

While he was attempting to be a Good Samaritan by pointing out an obstruction ahead, he actually distracted me from focusing on the road. I go through the scenario in my head over and over, wondering if I could have prevented the crash by paying better attention to the road and not people beside it. My memory of the accident is still pretty hazy, but I do remember that there were cars next to me in the right lane, which prevented me from moving over. Also, something I did not do was check behind me. Luckily, I did not get hit from behind or run over, but I should have checked.

recovery
While recovering, I had plenty of time to think about "what if" scenarios. Photo by Tom McBrearty.
Unfortunately, it seems like I got myself into a lose-lose situation when I did not heed the warning of the people on the side of the road. I should have slowed down more, which may have allowed me enough time to stop before crashing into the back of the disabled car.

I also had less helpful thoughts, like why didn’t I take a back road home instead of the highway? If I had been a bit more patient, I could have had a pleasant summer afternoon ride home perhaps. Unfortunately, I can go through all of the should-have, could-have situations possible and nothing is going to change what has already happened. I will never know the answers to all the “what if” questions.

The one decision I am extremely thankful for making was to gear up that morning. While my body still got pretty banged up, it could have been much worse. I am glad I dressed for a worst-case scenario that day. I had no head injuries or damage to my back or lower extremities.

I have lost friends and fellow riders to fatal accidents, so I am grateful to be here writing this.

Be prepared for the worst and hope for the best and use all your skills to try to make the best happen. Ride safe!