NOTE: The full article, below the dotted line, will take about 8 minutes to read. Here’s the short version:
On Tuesday 10/18/16, I was hit by a motorized bicycle from behind as I was running on a sidewalk near my house. The bike had no light and the rider apparently didn’t see me. A passing motorist called 911. An ambulance took me to the hospital where I was diagnosed with four broken ribs, a punctured/collapsed lung, and a gash on my head requiring four staples. I spent a week in the hospital with a chest tube on suction, waiting for the lung to expand and seal.
For the whole story, see below.
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Tuesday October 18, 2016 started like so many mornings of my life. But after only a couple hours, things got interesting.
5:30am — Alarm clock rings, a little later than my regular time to rise. Being in the taper stage of a marathon training cycle, I slept in. After all, the day’s workout would be only four miles, not the six to eight I’d typically run mid week.
The route was familiar. Take a left from my driveway, exit the housing development, follow the road behind the shopping center, over the bridge, and around a loop. The sidewalk on the overpass is narrow, but it’s a sidewalk, which should be safe. I’ve run it dozens of times.
Traffic on the roadway was steady. I often play a car guy game with myself while running. I listen to engine sounds and try to guess the vehicle. Diesel pickup … European sedan … Small block V-8.
For a few seconds I heard something odd. “It must be a souped up Japanese pocket rocket,” I thought. Maybe a Honda Civic with special exhaust. But then it got loud. Too loud.
The thought “This isn’t right” hit me. In the same instant, the source of that sound hit me as well. It was a cruiser style bicycle with a gas engine, being ridden on the sidewalk, going against traffic, without a light. It got me from behind, so I never saw it coming. No chance of escape.
My vague recollection is of bike colliding with runner twice. The first blow knocked me forward and off my feet, while the second impact came on my way down. The rider fell off his saddle, then started to get back on. “You’d better not leave,” I somehow yelled. He stayed put.
Moaning and on the ground, I took inventory of my limbs, which fortunately were moving. I stood. A motorist stopped, lowered his window and said he had called 911. There was blood covering my shirt and pain from my head and core. The cyclist kept repeating “I’m sorry Sir”. I borrowed his cell phone and called my wife, Linda.
Two ambulances arrived, blocking traffic. An emergency technician ran over to speak with me. “I’m fine,” I said. “I’m just going to walk home. It’s only about a mile.” Adrenaline talking.
No doubt, the tech had heard that before. “Why don’t you just come sit in the truck and let us look at you?” Reluctantly, I agreed.
Surprisingly, the side door of the ambulance opened and one of my running friends appeared. She was driving to work on that very road, got held up behind the commotion, and recognized me. (Thanks, Madeline. There are no coincidences.)
As the medical staff took my vitals and asked basic questions, Linda showed up. We spoke briefly. Then the room began to swirl.
Whatever happened next took place outside my consciousness. I now know that I went under twice. Truth is that I have a history of fainting easily, but that didn’t matter. When someone passes out in the back of an ambulance, a certain protocol kicks in. The techs can’t take any chances in case the victim suffered a spinal or brain injury.
My next recollections are a handful of EMTs and Paramedics yelling “Wake up, Steve”, “Come back to me, Steve” as they strapped me onto one of those boards I’d only seen on TV and NFL games. Collar around my neck, tape across my forehead and every few inches down the length of my body, my arms secured by my sides.
“The collar is tight. It’s uncomfortable”, I uttered. To which the Paramedic replied “It’s better than being paralyzed.” That got my attention.
The ride to the hospital is a blur. I remember being asked questions, which I assume were meant to keep me engaged and conscious. “What day is it? What’s your middle name? Where were you born? Do you know where you are?” I could hear the chatter on the radio … “61 year old white male. Trauma Level 2. Severe abdominal pain. Laceration to the scalp.”
When you arrive at the Emergency Room in an ambulance — siren screaming, lights flashing — and you’re classified Trauma, you go to the front of the line. X-rays and CAT scans happened quickly. Fortunately, they revealed no spinal or neck injuries, so I was taken off the board.
Less fortunate was the rest of my diagnosis. Four fractured ribs, a punctured/collapsed lung. Various areas of road rash and the two-inch gash on my head requiring four staples are barely worth mentioning.
The official name for my lung situation is “pneumothorax.” A hole in my lung was allowing air to escape into the chest cavity with every breath, putting pressure on internal organs and causing the punctured lung to collapse further. It’s a downward spiral that can have a very unhappy ending. The CT Scan showed my lung 40% collapsed.
Treatment for said condition involves inserting a tube into the patient’s chest, with a suction device hooked up. Escaping air is sucked out, allowing the lung to re-expand and seal. Amazingly, God made it so that lungs heal pretty quickly. Within a few days, generally, the tube can be removed.
So, next stop, Operating Room. On my right was Doctor Hugo, whose acquaintance I made only moments before, and a young lady also in a white lab coat with a stethoscope. To my left was Marcy, the seasoned nurse who’d been working trauma 41 years and promised she’d never leave my side.
Dr. Hugo warned that the procedure would be painful, but that he’d tell me everything as it occurred. “No surprises,” he said. Just before giving me a shot of anesthetic from a needle that looked eight inches long, he addressed his female counterpart. “Do I make this injection above the rib or beneath the rib?” That concerned me a bit, which must have shown on my face. Nurse Marcy jumped right in “He knows. He’s quizzing Kelly. She’s a medical student.” It’s funny now.
I’m glad to say that Dr. Hugo oversold the pain. I felt a weird pressure from the tube going in, but that’s about it. They took me to a waiting area while a room was assigned. Another running buddy called (apparently Madeline, who saw me in the ambulance, had spread the word), and a police officer came to take a statement.
Room 5025, bed 2 soon became my temporary home. The story gets tedious at this point. Here are a few items worth noting …
— People reaching out. So many people reaching out via text, phone, Facebook Private Message, and visits. Co-workers, friends, clients, and an unbelievable show of encouragement from the running community. I am blown away and deeply grateful to each of you.
— Medical staff. Doctors, students, x-ray techs, nutrition workers, various therapists, housekeeping people, nurses and Patient Care Associates (PCAs) assigned to me in 12-hour shifts. Some of them were not so great, and others were absolute angels. Simple kindnesses moved me to tears.
— The food wasn’t half bad. And I never lost my appetite.
— Time moved slowly, but I wasn’t up for much anyway. I got half way through David Copperfield, an 1100-page novel by Charles Dickens. Never even turned on the TV. Friends in need of prayer came to mind.
— Linda’s support was unwavering. Our marriage recently crossed the 37-year mark. In fact our anniversary was last week … while I was in the hospital.
— I’ll confess that there were some emotionally dark moments. A few special people helped me through, and I tapped on my long-time relationship with our Father in heaven.
Medical wisdom dictates that a pneumothorax patient can’t be released from the hospital until the lung is fully expanded or very nearly so. Each morning the portable x-ray crew came to take a picture of my chest. Sometime during the day a doctor would read that and send a resident to give me the news. As mentioned, I started at 40% collapsed. On later days it was 10%, 5%, 3%, and finally to a point where the chest tube could be taken out.
Removing the tube was a simple procedure. I did not say “easy.” Details will be spared. It took just a few seconds, but they were some of the most memorable seconds of my life. Ouch.
The quick moment of pain was followed by twelve hours of anxious anticipation. That’s how long it would be until my next chest x-ray which would determine future steps. If the x-ray showed that my lung remained expanded without the tube, I could be discharged. If not … well, we didn’t want to think about that.
An x-ray tech showed up at 4:20am, Tuesday, October 25. The restless wait began. Around 10:00am the resident (doctor) delivered the news. All was well, and he’d be putting in the order for my discharge. A few hours and several pieces of paperwork later, I was wheeled out the front door and into Linda’s car. A hospital stay of just over seven days had ended.
I write these words on October 29, 2016, more than 96 hours since my release. The ribs hurt like crazy when I move certain ways, and I wouldn’t dare lie flat on a bed, as it might not be possible to get back up. But I can walk, eat, sleep, etc., and have even been to the office. Sadly, I won’t be running the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington DC tomorrow, despite the fact that I’m signed up, flights and hotel were booked, and I logged nearly 600 training miles in the past four months. It’s disappointing, but there are worse fates.
Since this article is posted on a blog about running, an important note is in order. Virtually every medical professional has remarked that I had a huge advantage in my fight to overcome significant injuries: the fact that I was very physically fit at the time of the accident. It might have even saved my life. (The combination of broken ribs and collapsed lung can lead to pneumonia, serious infection, and become fatal.)
Certainly one’s fitness level does not improve in a hospital bed. Someone who comes in as a 4 doesn’t leave as a 6 after lying in one position for days on a restricted calorie diet. So, fellow runners, here’s another way your crazy obsession prolongs life. And to those thinking of getting in shape, there’s no better time than now to begin.
Yes, I plan to run again. Just as soon as I’m able. And to sign up for another marathon. True, I was a runner down, but — God willing — not out.