My friend John Norris told me that cyclists tend to have a serious accident every 10,000 miles. My serious accident occurred early, at about 7500 miles.
Actually, bike accidents tend to cluster in the early stages of riding, before the biker is getting a feel for the bike, and for the nearby roads and their hazards. The bike must become a natural extension of the biker. But sometimes complacency sets in.
I had two early bike accidents, one when I ran into the rear wheel of a friend on the Shelby Bottom Greenway as I looked back to see someone who was passing us. The second occurred when I hit gravel turning into the Richland Creek Greenway. Both were minor things, one leaving me with a sore hip for a few weeks and the other scraping my leg and shoulder.
My friends and family all worry about my biking, urging me to be safe. Being safe is a complex mix, which I will go into on another blog, but yesterday, I thought I was being safe.
I had cycled down to a meeting at the Mayor’s office for a discussion with the newly hired bike/pedestrian coordinator. My path to the Courthouse was a six mile, mainly downhill trek to the Cumberland River, taking me through Centennial Park and the hospital district (along Patterson Avenue for local readers). I then doglegging over for the sprint along the heavily traveled Church Street as it crosses the gulch and then flows into downtown past the heralded churches, a few sky-scrapers, the public library, and the urban park with its street people and mural. Crossing the viaduct always seems risky to me (it would be nice to have separated bike lanes there), but when I hit 8th and church I feel safe, as the traffic slows way down and the road narrows. Bikes can safely “take the road,” there and be in traffic along the stretch from 8th to 1st Avenue.
I dog-legged over to Deaderick at 5th Avenue, and enjoyed the splendor of the final two blocks down the promenade running from the War Memorial Auditorium to the Court House.
Following the meeting, I returned a different route, back down Church, but doglegging my way over to Broadway and then turned left onto the street between the Federal Building and the Frist Art Museum. (I stay on Broadway for about 50 feet, crossing immediately into the left turn lane.)
I remember turning at the Frist and then, maybe, turning into the back area behind the Frist, where there is parking. My next memory is a form of delirium where nothing is clear, a sort of dream world of being transported, of questions, and finally of a doctor talking to me as she patches an abrasion above my eye.
When my mind becomes clearer, I find myself at Vanderbilt Medical Center, with my wife Kathleen coming through the door. When she received the call her first remark on hearing it was the Vanderbilt ER was: “Oh, you must have my husband who has been in a bicycle accident. The nurse laughed, and responded “he also wanted you to know that his bicycle is with security at the Frist.”
I think I had been talking (jabbering maybe) with the Vanderbilt ER physician who was sewing up my head and otherwise trying to decide if she had discovered and dealt with the important injuries. I think I remember receiving and waiting for the results on a brain scan. That scan found nothing (a joke), except, I’m sure, the normal declines and insults of advancing age.
Here is my dilemma. I have no idea what happened. I have indicators of a fall (gashed eyebrow, scraped and bruised knees, and time in the ER) but no idea of what happened beyond that. I did have an ambulance ride, so someone there made a report. Did the police come and write up what happened? This morning I will make a few forays (not on a bike) and limp into the Frist to retrieve my bike and see if any of the staff there qualify as witnesses and can tell me what happened. Next I will check in with the EMTs and then with the police.
My goal is to learn what happened and how to avoid it in the future (yet still use a bike for transportation). Stay tuned.
Search for causes
I wrote the above post yesterday morning. Later in the day I began my exploration of what had happened. Kathleen and I drove down to the Frist, and talked with one of the employees who had been there when the accident occurred. He said he heard about the accident and went outside to make sure someone called 911 (they had). His observation was that I was lying in the road, with 8 or 9 people around me, and a woman was sitting in the road with my head in her lap, providing comfort, and maybe dabbing at the blood flowing from the gash over my eye. Our contact also reported that someone from the group said I had been asked if I knew what day it was and I said “no.” Then someone in the the group, a man of empathy, said he, also, had no idea what day it was, and everyone laughed.
After hearing the Frist employee’s report, we retrieved my bike, which was in fine shape, no noticeable damage. It was not likely that I was struck by a car.
Later I called the fire department (station 9) that had responded to the call and asked to speak with someone who had been there to retrieve me. The team was out on a call at that point, but later an EMT called back and explained what he observed. When they arrived, I was surrounded by the group, with a woman holding my head. He said that the crowd around me dissipated when his team (on a fire truck and an ambulance) arrived, with few volunteering detailed information about the accident. He confirmed that I was not fully cognizant when they arrived, and had been out cold for a few minutes at an earlier point.
Together we constructed that the likely scenario was that my tires slipped as I rounded the corner at the three way stop in the parking area immediately behind the Frist, and my head hit the pavement pretty hard. As is normally the case in airplane crashes, it was “pilot error.” My helmet clearly provided some benefit (a piece was chipped off), and the gash above my eye may have been due to the glasses I wear, which were bent but unbroken and are usable.
I’m puzzled about the muscle bruises above my knee (both knees), but I guess both legs somehow slammed against the surface, bruising and scraping my knees. (My knees are where I have the most pain right now, two days later.)
The Kindness of Strangers
Here is my assessment. My tires slipped, my helmeted head hit the concrete, and strangers responded, as I lay prone in the road. My bike was retrieved by museum staff and secured. None of my valuables were missing. A woman whom I don’t know held my head in her lap helping me be more comfortable and avoid the hard pavement. I probably bled on her. A call to 911 was made and EMTs arrived, took over, and transported me to Vanderbilt, without checking whether I had insurance. The Vanderbilt staff received me, bagged my valuables, found out who I was and who was closest of kin, and called her.
I received care, including cleanup and stitches, plus use of the ER for about 5 hours. These services would have been provided whether or not I had insurance, and whether or not I had proof of citizenship. Later I was discharged to a responsible adult and went home.
I realize now, a day later, Thanksgiving Day, how lucky I am to live in a well-ordered society where strangers are responsive and kind and where effective systems are set up to handle emergencies. I was flat in the street, unconscious, and people responded. I can image places where it is otherwise.
So, on this Thanksgiving day, I give heartfelt thanks to all of the people I don’t know who helped me, and would have helped anyone in need, the Good Samaritans of our city and country.