Saturday, February 07, 2009

A Change of Plans - pt.2

Part one of my story describes my first day's return to work after the Christmas break, and how I had a sudden change of plans. Riding my motorbike and a mere 200 metres from my destination, a van driver changed into my lane without looking and without indicating.

This instalment, posted on a record hot day for Melbourne (so far it's reached 46.4 degrees Celsius, beating the 1939 record of 45.6), describes my thoughts from when the ambulances arrived until I arrived at St. Vincents Hospital, a few city blocks away.

Lying there contemplating the closeness of death, I didn’t feel it to be terrifying. We all have to die, and mostly we don’t know when. When it’s time to go, who are we to say “no”? We can go kicking and screaming or we can go in peace. I felt something approximating the latter. But was it time?

There’s a saying, “if god wants to save me, no-one can harm me and if god wants to kill me, no-one can save me”. What is death? Is it god coming to take us away? Is it transmigration of the soul, reincarnation, the passage to the next life? Or is it merely the end, from dust thou hast come and from dust thou shalt return? Whatever it is, it felt close, verily breathing down my neck, but my time had not yet come. By all reckoning, I could have kicked the bucket, but like so many times before, I had been spared to live another day. There must be some reason to my existence after all. There is something else I must learn in this life before I move on.

It gave me some comfort and satisfaction to know that twenty minutes earlier, I had walked into my son’s bedroom and roused him from his slumber with a kiss goodbye. Then I did the same with the missus who, as a school teacher, was also on holidays. As I did so, it crossed my mind that one never knows when this will be the last time. Lovers sometimes quarrel – and I’m thinking of the missus – and leave the house in anger. How much unnecessary anguish this must cause when one’s love never returns due to some unfortunate mishap.

The paramedics were all around me, how many I don’t know. The standard questions were asked of me to verify my state. What’s your name? What’s the date? The year? Do you know where you are? Do you know what happened? I was able to answer all of them lucidly without hesitation. I controlled my natural tendency to joke as I was keen to co-operate and not make their job any harder. I felt for these poor guys who have to attend incidents like this. However, I did make an occasional crack to lighten the atmosphere, and perhaps allay their concerns, something I think I’d be doing even if my head was hanging off my shoulders by a thread.

My vision was impaired somewhat as I was seeing stars. I could see, but particulars like facial details were unclear. And whenever I closed my eyes, that drab, orange colour was there. Assessments were being made of my state. My own analysis was repeated when requested, moving limbs, fingers and toes. A hand reached down my back, and yes, I felt pain on some of my vertebrae, but it didn’t seem severe. My back and neck were stiff more than painful, though that’s not necessarily a good sign.

Consideration was given to cutting my protective jacket off as my very painful right arm could not be viewed and the jacket could not be removed until back injury had been ruled out. I said I’d prefer they didn’t cut it as it’s an $800 item and I suppose that because of the movement I’d demonstrated, the decision was made to wait until hospital. I’d offered to allow my protective pants to be removed, and joked about walking around nude at home but the paramedic said he didn’t want to do that in the street in front of all these people. He’d do that in the ambulance.

I was still largely immobile and the paramedics certainly didn’t want me to move. A neck brace was called for and it took four people to roll me into it. I was then part-rolled, part-lifted onto what felt like a tray and then lifted onto the ambulance trolley. There must have been three or four lifting me while one supported my neck. It was all so surreal – it was happening to me, that which we never really imagine. Or we may try to imagine, but can't.

My cinematic mind raced for the small digital camera in my jacket pocket that I always have with me, but it would have taken extraordinary effort that I wasn’t prepared to exert. I surrendered to my imposed impotence. I lay there in wonder as I was helplessly moved about from street to trolley and into the ambulance as if I was watching a film. Damn, I wish I could have filmed that.

The paramedic in the ambulance introduced himself. I suppose it’s reassuring to a traumatised patient to be able to put a name to a complete stranger who is taking charge of one’s life. Don’t expect that I could recollect his name; this was a routine that repeated itself several times as my care was passed from one to another to another during the day.

While in the ambulance, and with the back door still open, I was asked how the accident occurred. I presume this must have been a police officer but, though I suspect the police had assisted the paramedics in lifting me, I never made out a police uniform that morning at all. I described that I was doing 40-50 kph in the left lane while a slower moving van in the centre lane changed lanes into mine without looking or indicating, that I lost control when my bike clipped the front of his van and the last thing I saw was a number of street signs coming towards me. I presume other information was gleaned from witnesses, because that’s all I was ever asked.

When the Chubb Security guy, mentioned in pt.1, had described the pedestrian bleeding to the 000 operator on his mobile, I was both shocked and saddened to know that others were involved. I even felt more concerned about him than myself. For some time, I was confused by what I had heard and wrongly thought there might have been two of them.

Having ascertained that I was still in one piece, I was worried that this other person was more seriously injured than I (I’ve since learned his name is Robert). I, after all, have the best of high-tech protective gear on – from head to feet, nearly $3,000 worth. A quarter-tonne of metal running wild up a peak-hour city footpath could do a lot of collateral damage to someone on their way to work.

When I got my first motorcycle, a motor scooter in fact, I decided that I would only do so with proper gear. I know that many baulk at the cost, but I didn’t consider it an extra financial burden but rather, an intrinsic part of the cost of purchasing the vehicle. I mean, it’s not as if we separate the cost of seat belts and air-bags in a car. One of the first things the paramedic mentioned to me as the ambulance took off was how many scooter riders he’s had to treat with unnecessary injuries because they weren’t wearing appropriate gear. I wasn’t surprised; you see these guys everywhere, in business attire, singlet, shorts and thongs, even once I saw a woman in a black dress and stilettos. That’s fucking insane!

I didn’t know it for some days, but Robert was lying on the ground quite close to me. When I was later told by staff at St. Vincents Hospital that he would be OK, I suspected this was just to reassure me. It was only when I spoke to the attending police officer nearly a week later that this was confirmed. Robert received stitches to his head and leg and has two cracked vertebrae, but would fully recover.

In the ambulance, and before that as well, I was worried how I was going to break this to the missus without her going hysterical. Should I call her? Or should someone official do it? How do you deal with this?

By this time, I’d ascertained that I was well and truly alive, nothing seemed broken and thus, I should be OK. Despite the pain, I couldn’t see any of my injuries and I had yet to see the condition of my clothing, which would come several hours later. Remember, I’m on my back and in a neck brace.

I suppose I’m a stickler for organisation and everything in my motorcycle jacket is in a particular place. My new Nokia 6600 mobile phone was fairly easily accessed from my upper pocket and I pulled it out. Geez, I love it’s small size. My first call was to my boss. It must have sounded strange to him, having me call him up to say I’ve been in an accident, I’m OK, but won’t be in for the rest of the week. What must he have thought, me saying it so cool and casually? But I couldn’t call the missus just yet. I didn’t want her to see me all incapacitated. It’d have to wait until I got to hospital. I just lay there with the phone snug in my clutched hands in case I wanted to use it again.

I felt special when I arrived at St. Vincents – it must have been my shortest wait in a hospital ever. It’s reassuring to know that emergency patients don’t have the same wait as the general plebs. Mind you, I had lots of waiting to come, but more on that later. Waiting is part of the trauma of the hospital experience, and there’s something seriously wrong with the systems in place.

To be continued.


Hazel Dooney said...

Paul, my thoughts are with you. I hope that you are recovering as well and as quickly as possible. I am incredibly glad that you (and Robert) are ok.

Luke Buckmaster said...

I hadn't popped over to your blog for a while Paul so I thought it was well time to see what you've been up to and certainly didn't expect to encounter this - quite a story Paul, and it's great that by the sounds of things nobody was seriously hurt. All the best for a speedy recovery and try to watch lots of films!