[The "press release" sent to well-wishers on 02 June]
First, I want to thank all of you for your kind messages of concern, encouragement, and support -- they mean the world to me.
Second, I'm on the mend, out of the hospital, back in the apartment in Bethlehem, which has been rigged as needed to help me get my legs back under me. No big deal on that score, really.
Third, I want to get back to each of you individually, but thought that spamming you all with the general info would be a helpful way to start. Here's what happened:
I was taking a leisurely bike ride just before dinner on Thursday 25 May, nostalgically wheeling through one of the nearby neighborhoods where I took Census last year. I was on a side street in a residential area near the S curve on Union Blvd in West Bethlehem, if you know where that is (if you don't, you can Google it!).
As best I can reconstruct the event, my front wheel hit a seam in the asphalt near a curb cut, causing it to turn sharply, and then -- well, the bike stopped but I didn't, landing face first in some guy's driveway. I don't have a visual memory of the wipe-out, but I recall precisely the sound my forehead made when it hit the asphalt: CONK! is the exact word. I also felt sharp tingling in both arms; when I tried to get up, I found I couldn't, because my legs were still kind of tangled up in the bike. At this point I said, to whoever might be listening, "This isn't so good."
One of the neighbors whom I'd just passed cutting his grass ran over and asked if I was OK. I said, "I don't think so," trying to roll over on my back in order to chat with him better, and ended up on my back under a shapely azalea bush at the corner of the driveway. I couldn't see my rescuer very well, but do remember his reaction on seeing me: "O my god," the first of many such ejaculations I would hear in the next hour or so.
At that point another neighbor came up, did basically the same take, and asked me if I wanted him to call an ambulance. I said, "I think you better," but neither had a phone; however, I told them where mine was in its clever little holster on my belt, and one of them got it out and called 911.
Another couple neighbor guys appeared, had the same reaction as the first two, and knelt down to see what they could do for me. They asked me what happened, then conferred with each other, doing what guys always do first in a situation like this: figure out who's gonna be in charge. One seemed to think I had to be kept from going into shock and suggested getting a blanket, even though as you may remember it was still above 90º at the time on that day. Since he was the one with the ideas, the other three let him direct the mission from there on. He ascertained that 911 had been called, supervised the covering of my legs and torso with a blanket one of the others had fetched, and then discussed with the others about whether we should raise my head or my feet. In the end they decided not to move me at all, since I had a head injury -- a wise choice, I've since found out.
I then asked the one still holding my cell phone to call Joe Sullivan, who lives nearby and has expertise in this kind of thing, having done Ski Patrol for decades, and also to call my wife Deb, which he did, explaining clearly and carefully what was going on -- he was especially kind, Deb later said, and she was reassured that I was being taken care of.
Just then the ambulance arrived, and EMTs Josh and Tim took over, immobilizing my head with one of those frame things and rolling me onto a board & then lifting me onto the gurney, with help from the other guys, who had to hold back the azalea bush as well. (I was spitting dirt & leaves for the next two days.) Then I went headfirst into the ambulance...
... and the excitement REALLY started -- the siren, the squawk box as Josh called me in to the Trauma Center at St. Luke's, the roaring of the diesel engine as Tim drove quickly but expertly through the streets during rush hour, the clanking of gleaming equipment as Josh lashed my head more securely into its frame, took my vital signs, & asked me what year it was and who was president.
We got to St. Luke's in less than fifteen minutes, and the Trauma Team was waiting -- it sounded like there were at least 20 people in the room, but of course all I could see was the whirling ceiling, the blazing lights, and the occasional face looming into my restricted visual field. For the next hour or so I was cleaned up, then wheeled into radiology where a CAT scan was done on my head & neck, then returned to Trauma, where an artiste with needle & thread named Justine stitched up my forehead and left nostril. At one point the doctor who was supervising her work said, "Look at that!" -- which alarmed me until he added that it was just about the most beautiful stitch he'd ever seen performed.
After that I was wheeled through corridors and into an elevator, then thru some more corridors and into a room, where nurse Lori and PCA Lissette bathed me and cooed over me and rolled me into bed and rigged up an IV site on my left arm, pumped in some pain medication, tucked me in and turned off the light, leaving me alone to rest, which I soon did, interrupted only occasionally for the taking of vital signs and making sure I knew my name and birthdate.
The next morning at first light I got the verdict from Mary Fran, the trauma team lead on my case: I had a major laceration on my forehead, with abrasions on my face, my arms & hands, and my legs, but nothing was broken, dislocated, missing, or even sprained. Considering how stupid I was to not be wearing a helmet, I was incredibly lucky nothing worse had gone wrong.
The only issue that remained was the tingling-burning sensation in my hands. Take the feeling you get when you bang your funnybone and multiply by about ten, and you have what was happening at the ends of my arms. And it never stopped, though some medications helped by putting it to the side, or by putting my lights out altogether so that I slept. In the trauma center, one of the doctors put forth the hypothesis that it was like a "stinger" -- when an athlete butts somebody or something hard enough to bruise the spinal cord, which, depending on where it's bruised, sends tingling messages out to that part or parts of the body it controls.
That turns out to be the case with me, as an MRI a couple days later confirmed. Between the 6th & 7th cervical vertebrae, a herniated disk, combined with a pre-existing arthritic narrowing of the channel, caused the cord to swell up at just the place where all the hand nerves go out, hence the burning sensation on the tops and outsides (towards the pinky) of both hands. Good news: it heals itself. Bad news: it takes a long time, serveral weeks at least. So if the pain can be managed with medication, and I don't do something stupid (or unlucky) like this again, I should be OK in a couple months or so.
I feel fine, except when I look in the mirror, and then I faint from the horror, which is what you will do when you next see me, if you're not warned beforehand. It's unclear whether there'll be scarring -- probably some, given how ornate the laceration itself is: an upside-down U that starts at my left temple, ascends nearly to my fontanelle, then comes back down to mid-forehead just above my right eye. It's really impressive, I must say. And not in a good way.
Tomorrow I go back to Mary Fran for a check of said wound, plus some consultation on when I can start driving again. I need to be able to start teaching next week, and I'm certainly up to that exertion, but getting there may require public transit as long as I'm grounded.
So that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. Please know, all of you, how precious you are to me and how your messages buoyed me up and helped me cope. I'll be in touch with you severally as I can.
Love to you all,