I owe my life to getting hit by a car.
In my senior year at college, I was hit by a very nice car when driving my bike less than a quarter mile from the house where I had grown up. I had just finished shopping for records at Full Moon Records, run by the very nice drummer from Mister Crowe’s Garden, Ted Selke. I recall bungeeing five 12” records to my bike rack, and starting my drive back to school. Two blocks from the record store, I turned left as I always did, to set a course tor the dramatic ride down Lullwater Avenue to campus. The last thing I remember was a grill near my shins. Then nothing.
Her car was an Infiniti G45. Japanese car makers had just entered the luxury car market, and they were doing well in it. So well that the Infinitis, Lexuses and Acuras of the day were quieter even than most Volvos and Mercedes. I did not hear her. Yes, I should have checked my rear, but I didn’t. I was too elated about the five new albums, perhaps.
According to the paramedics, I skidded 25 feet along the road, and my bike was bent uselessly at the chain and seat stays. My helmet became a bag of styrofoam chips. Back then, the state of the art in bike helmets was a fine net around a Styrofoam shell. These days, a large, thick sticker holds the foam together when your head hits the road. Back then, it was a net. And it worked. I only have a small scar near my hairline today. Shaped like a little human, actually.
The road rash on my left knee and hand were more serious. I broke the carpal bone in the palm of my left hand as I was going down, probably reflexively reaching out to stop my fall. The emergency room set the bone and an orthopedic surgeon pinned it within the week. This was the last time I have been in a hospital overnight, as an inpatient. No one warned me that general anesthesia was followed by nausea and vomiting. I felt terrible that I couldn’t clean up the floor and had to call a nurse. I had two pins with little plastic balls at the ends of them emerging between my middle and index and left hand for about a month after the collision. At first, I was ginger with these balls, changing my sleeping habits to avoid rolling over on them. Towards the end, I let my friends draw on them. Mostly eyeballs, of course. Six weeks after the collision, I had the pins out. Few people get to experience the deep tickling of something being pulled out of the middle of a bone. It was not altogether unpleasant.
The collision was at 1:30 PM or so. I did not get out of the emergency room for over 24 hours. After the grill, the next thing I remember is being loaded into an ambulance and being asked if I wanted to go to Emory or Grady. I thought, maybe aloud, that Emory no longer had an emergency room, and that I’d better go to Grady. I was in shock, and on morphine, but I was more uncomfortable than euphoric. My thoughts were too unfocused to tell you what the inside of an ambulance looks like. I know I wasn’t appreciating the gravity of the situation.
Emergency rooms run on triage, meaning that people in imminent danger of death get treated before people with stubbed toes. The people with stubbed toes can wait hours to be seen in emergency rooms. I looked great for the emergency room. I had bitten through my tongue and both eyes had that sort of complete bloodshot they get when your eyeballs bounce on the pavement like two happy fun balls. Road rash scrapes on my cheek, elbow and knees were still bleeding, if bandaged by the EMTs.
They admitted me right away and got me into a hospital gown with a neck brace in case I had injured something they’d have to x-ray. After I was stabilized and hopped up on more morphine, I waited on my gurney like some schlub with a stubbed toe. I fell in and out of sleep. I remember sometime around suppertime seeing a pre-med from school in the emergency room. I had taken Organic Chemistry with her, so I had been in the same 300-person class with her. I was embarrassed at my current state of health and dress.
Around 1:00 AM, I started to know that neckbraces were not pillows. And I had no pillow to keep my head from dangling off the fiberglass wall of the neckbrace. I started to cry from the pain, there in the hall, and then cried for the loss. I only knew that my knee and hand were bandaged, and that I had been hit by a car I never saw coming.
A day after the collision, my friends Karen Eng and Tim Moran visited my parent’s house to see how I was. Tim, an incredibly outdoorsy and athletic guy in my dorm, had recently been in a similar collision. He strongly suggested taking pictures, lots of them to document me at my worst. By the time anything happened in court, I would be mostly healed, and ti would be harder to convince anyone my past pain and suffering was worth anything.
(painkillers, lots of them)
A week later, while recovering from the hand surgery, I got a visit form Ken Rosskopf. Ken was a biker and a lawyer, and was looking to get into the field of bike injury law. I was one of his first cases. I was morose, embarrassed that I had not seen the car that shoved me 25 feet down the road. Fortunately for me, the woman who hit me with her car did stop to see if I was alright and called 911. Ken convinced me that we were suing her insurance company, not her directly, for additional damages. I relented, and hired Ken for a 25% retainer.
More embarrassment was to come when I had to explain to Ken the markings on my bike. I was 20, three years into college and free-spirited. I had scrawled all manner of pop culture references and outright vulgarities on the bike in paint, and had done the whole frame over in frustrated urban camouflage. As this was going to come up in court, I had to prove I was of sound mind and steering to show I was not a bike-wielding maniac. I suppose my sheepish answers were good enough. I’ll never know, as the insurance company settled out of court.
My dad let me peek at the accumulated hospital bills my mom’s insurance was paying for the ambulance, the emergency room the hand surgery and the physical therapy. $45,000 1992 dollars. That was more money than I’d ever seen in my young life. Until the settlement. After paying off the legal fees and medical bills, I had a nest egg for the first time in my life. I stuck it in a CD when interest rates were still around 5-7% a year, and forgot about it for five years.
When I got out of grad school, I put a downpayment on a house with that money. From the house and my not-at-all-what-I-studied-in-grad-school job, I was able to read books and court my wife in a three year long distance relationship. It was during this time that I found my drive, if not my success. That was good enough to get me into another grad school, and into my career.