Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Change of Plans - pt.3

In Part 1, I describe how on Monday 12 January 2009, 100 metres from my destination, a delivery van's changing lanes without looking and without indicating, side-swiped my motorcycle. I lost control, hitting a street sign and was thrown to the ground while the bike continued up the footpath and hit a pedestrian.

In Part 2, I describe my experiences from the time the ambulance arrived until I arrived at St. Vincent's Hospital.

I was initially pleased that my expensive protective gear was removed without the need for cutting. It turns out that it didn't really matter because, other than the boots, it all needs to be replaced. The pants came off in the ambulance, but the jacket had to wait due to concerns about possible spinal damage and the pain in my right arm. It took quite a bit of manipulation to eventually get it off.

Anyone buying a motorcycle or scooter should consider full gear an intrinsic part of the initial cost*. Too many unnecessary injuries are sustained when unprotected riders are involved in accidents. Without my gear, I would have shattered my knee, fractured my shin and probably fractured my elbow and shoulder. The armour in each of these parts protected me. Heavily bruised, yes, but at the end of the day, I miraculously walked out of hospital in one piece.

The “change of plans” was at 8am; I was admitted to the emergency ward of St. Vincent's around 8.30am. About 9am, I called the missus, something I'd been dreading. A nurse could have phoned at my request, but I knew she'd freak to get that call. I devised a plan - not that I gave it much thought.

If I told Zoe straight off what had happened, she'd panic and maybe go hysterical. I just spoke casually, as if I was OK, and in a sense I was. At least I was in one piece and alert. “Hi”, I said, “what are you doing?”, small chit-chat like that. She later told me that at the time she thought it was really sweet: my first day back at work and I was missing her already... or so she thought.

After a few minutes, I said “I'm lying down right now”. “Why?” she asked, thinking it odd, but that maybe I was taking it easy at work. “Don't panic, but I've had a bit of an accident and I'm in hospital”. It worked. She could tell that everything seemed OK. She didn't freak and calmly ascertained where I was and said she was coming in with the kid, Alexander. Phew, that was a relief, though there was still Alexander to allay.

Zoe told him only that Dad wasn't feeling well and we'll go see him in hospital. In the car, he started conjecturing, “Maybe he’s had a heart attack”, but then “nuh, he wouldn't have had a heart attack”. He mentioned various scenarios like this, and it wasn't until he saw me that he found out. In fact, he became angry with his mum for “lying”, though I later explained it wasn't lying, but rather “Mum didn't want you to worry, thinking things were worse than they are”.

I knew it would be disturbing for Alexander to see his Dad like this. I made a point of reassuring him and playing down the situation, saying everything was fine, nothing was broken, just lots of bruises. I joked to assuage his fears and for now, the approach appeared successful.

Pain was everywhere, though my adrenaline insulated me from the worst of it. Asked by a nurse to place the pain on a scale from 1 to 10, I said 4 to 7, depending. Pain-killers were offered but declined. In fact, I was asked every hour or more, and I kept declining. For now, it was manageable. I'd take them if it got too bad.

Obs (observations) were regularly monitored. Every hour, it was the same thing (or a permutation of it). What's your name? What's today's date? The year? Where are you? What happened? They'd check my eyes, blood pressure, once they took a urine test and a blood test. Do you want pain-killers? No. Are you sure? Yes. Did I want a tetanus shot? No.

Needles freak me out, however in my state, the anxiety of being a burden to others was more than I could bear. Incapacitated, my life was entirely in their hands. I just wanted to be a good patient and make their lives as easy as possible. I soon succumbed to the tetanus shot and later, when a nurse explained that I shouldn't wait until the pain became unbearable, I also took the pain-killers. I felt much better after that.

The priority was to check for fractures. My knees were X-rayed, and X-rayed again. My neck was X-rayed then CT scanned, then a CT scan of my brain. The thoroughness was reassuring as each result came back positive. This sounds so efficient, but every activity has multiple steps, each requiring considerable waiting. I would wait in the emergency ward on my trolley until a machine was soon to become available. Then an orderly takes me to that area where I wait again. When my turn comes I'm wheeled in, scanned and come back to the waiting area where I wait for the orderly to return me to the ward. Repeat over and over again for each scan: waiting, waiting and more waiting as cases are prioritised. Not that I'm complaining, because as a road trauma victim, I was high priority and fortunately, it wasn’t a busy morning on the ward. Walk-in patients get frustrated at the delays, but it's reassuring as an emergency patient that you're seen promptly.

Zoe went to buy lunch and Alexander accompanied me for the knee X-rays, but had to wait by himself when I went into the X-ray room. I had intended to have breakfast at work, so by 1pm when she returned I hadn't eaten for 19 hours. I felt hungry, which was a good sign. Zoe brought me a salad sandwich, cut it up into small pieces and hand-fed me while I lay on my back in the neck brace. I drank in the same manner; it's a damn weird experience and I never thought it possible.

At this stage (and for a few days to come), it was very painful to lie down or get up. Each time I did either, I required assistance and had massive dizzy spells, as if I was Alice in Wonderland falling down an endless rabbit hole. It was very freaky.

My right knee was comfortable in no position and I kept moving my leg into different positions, something I'd been doing since landing on the pavement. It wasn't until I received the results of an MRI scan another three weeks later that I learnt that I'd torn my posterior cruciate ligament.

Finally around 2pm, the neck X-ray came back OK and, to my enormous relief, the brace was removed. I can't tell you how incapacitated I felt with it on. Until then, I presumed that I would be spending days in hospital recovering but, to my surprise, the staff soon started talking about releasing me. The idea of going home hadn't occurred to me and I felt anxious at the thought. I don't know why; maybe it was the thought of fending for myself in this beaten-up state.

Around this time, I dropped a bombshell. I hadn't told anyone that my vision was impaired. I initially presumed it was just a case of “seeing stars”, but now that release was being discussed, I really needed to tell someone that something wasn’t right.

It wasn't exactly stars I was seeing. When looking at the fluoro light above me, the long straight line of the fitting wasn't straight at all; it was totally jagged. When looking at the bay numbers opposite me, there were two identical lights with "6". With my head in a fixed position, each number was distorted in a different way.

The best description of what I was experiencing was that with one eye closed, and looking at a fixed object, an area just to the side of my central vision looked like "beam me up, Scottie" in Star Trek (a fluttering silvery effect). That was my repeated description with different medical people over many days to come. In my left eye, the effect was left of centre, and in the right eye, the area was right of centre. Thank god we have two eyes, because each eye compensated for the other, but the overall effect was disconcerting. My left eye had the greater impairment. With my right eye closed, I could read nothing, nothing at all.

This complication delayed my hospital release by another four hours. I was repeatedly tested, inspected and questioned. Nothing appeared to be physically wrong with my eyes, and more than once it was suggested that it was simply my eyes' blind spots. This was no blind spot, this was blind bloody areas!

No brain damage was detected in the CT scan but was the prime suspect to my vision impairment. I'd need an MRI scan of my brain this time, but couldn't get a booking until Wednesday evening (this was Monday 12 January). So the booking was made as an outpatient and I left hospital around 6pm. Outside it was the end of a beautiful warm summer's day, but everything was different. It was a helluva day. But it wasn't over yet.

To be continued.

* My advice on protective gear: don't do it on the cheap. Budget $2,500 and get yourself good gear. I reckon Dainese is best, the armour is the sturdiest and it saved me when I needed it most. Here's an approximate breakdown of costs:
  • $400+ for a decent helmet (mine was around $1,000, with lots of venting and removable padding that can be washed, but you don't need to spend that much);
  • $600 will buy you a good Dainese textile jacket, waterproof with a removable liner, making it suitable for all weather and seasons. I had a Dainese Baker jacket worth $800, but they are no longer available. Get one good jacket, and you won't need separate ones for summer and winter. This high-tech equipment worth its weight in gold. Maybe more.
  • $80 for a back-protector; it slips into a pocket in the jacket.
  • Dainese Galvestone motorcycle pants are fantastic (cost, about $450). You can zip them to your jacket so they're like a one-piece, which helps keep the cold air out in winter. The armour is amazing. My right knee copped a big whack, but the armour shows no signs of damage. They are light and comfortable. Like the jacket, it has a removable liner.
  • My current gloves are also Dainese, but the best I've had were Sidi, which I can't find anymore. Good gloves with carbon fibre knuckle protection are about $200. Ideally, you need a spare pair, for when it gets wet and at least one of them should be water-proof. And at least one pair needs thick insulation for winter. In winter, your hands are the most vulnerable body part to the cold.
  • I bought my Sidi boots in the US for $140 before I bought my first motorbike. They're incredibly light and waterproof. Though they feel like leather, they're synthetic. After five years, three re-soles and a serious collision, they're still holding up strong. Equivalent boots here are about $400 (everything is much cheaper in the US).
You could get all of the above for less than $2,000 if you shop around or, if you feel like lashing out, it could go as high as $3000. You just can't put a dollar amount on the pain, suffering and lost time you could prevent, but if you could, it'd be a helluva lot more than these figures.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the safety info, Paul. I must say, I haven't spent $2500 on protective gear. Like everything the law of diminishing returns kicks in at some stage, and some people pay a lot of money for a brand. So, while I always ride fully covered head-to-toe in protective gear summer and winter, I just haven't spent $2500 doing so.

Would $2500 of protective gear protect me better than what I wear? Dunno. I would have to see the data.

If you are thrown into a stationary object, the gear itself may not make a big difference, apart from the helmet. You need gear that can absorb impact energy - helmets are designed to do this - jackets are not, apart from some padded areas. But any Australian reg. helmet should be 90% "good enough", providing that it fits properly.

If you are thrown down the road, abrasion resistance can make a big difference, and here the good gear can help as it will hold together longer.

What concerns me are the people that don't even bother with budget protective gear.

Having said that, I am going through the process of starting to wear what may be my most important piece of protective gear - a fluoro safety vest. These are typically worn by older bikers who care little that these vests aren't cool. Indeed, this item of safety gear may have made a bigger difference than the more pricey gear.

Paul Martin said...

Anonymous, a $1000 helmut offers no better protection than a $400 helmut but has features that a regular rider may prefer such as anti-fogging, venting and padding.

There is no doubt that the excellent armour in my Dainese gear offered protection that other brands don't. It was the deciding factor when I first bought it five years ago. I've often wondered how much protection this armour would provide in the event of an accident, and this proved it.

If you go to a motorcycle shop (say Peter Stevens) and check out the difference from one brand to another, you'll see this is the biggest point of difference. Sure,it won't save you if you're slammed up against a brick wall at 80kph, but it saved me when I was thrown to the pavement at 50kph.

I used to wear a fluoro vest, and I think there may be some merit in it, but am not convinced. They're only about $15, so it's a good investment. I think there may be better protection in being heard more than being seen. Drivers look but don't see. Noisy pipes they can't help but hear (not that I have them).