Jeff’s tale of the crash in traditional.
Linda in Italics
I took a walk down the driveway this morning with my wife to take a look at the work some contractors did yesterday to bury our telecom lines. This morning’s dose of pain meds allowed to ignore my body’s aches to look at their handiwork. My wife and I both thought their work looked great, and we could now finish the driveway improvement project. However, had you seen me a few days ago as I checked into the Trauma center in Asheville, this would seem nothing short of delusional dream.
When I had a big crash off the edge of the bridge on my way down NC215 on Saturday morning, I felt nothing but guilt. I had just spent the morning climbing up from the valley below onto the Blue Ridge Parkway following the road that paralleled the Pigeon River. I had long since hit the high point and was now descending like a bat out of hell. I sang as my bike rounded each corner, as I love hitting corners and using my core to control the experience. I have practiced this skill many times, and all the quality world and national championship courses have sections of challenging terrain and ride conditions to test your medal. It requires focus of the greatest sort to stay in your lane, and your eyes must be aware not only for rocks and debris on the road, but cars coming up (or down) that pose a risk. For a cyclist, everything on the road is a threat. I don’t have steel belted radials, bumpers or seat belts. It is just me, my bike and a helmet. The helmet, at least, was new. I am 54 years old (not new), and my bike was recently tuned and riding great (like new).
This corner was one of perhaps 25 that I would do during the descent. It included crossing the Pisgah River on bridge the locals call “Arches Bridge.” I misjudged it. I have ridden this bridge before, but I didn’t remember that the total turn is about 120 degrees, not 90. The turn is abrupt. When I saw the error of my ways, I lacked little choice. My bike hit the guard rail head on, and I flew over the guard rail. According to my Garmin tracking device, I went from 33.4 mph to 0 in the next 5 seconds.
“Jesus” was the only thing I said when I was flying through the air, not knowing where I would land. I held the handlebars as tightly as I could, counting on the bike to absorb some of the impact of the inevitable end of this freefall. I remember the front wheel hit the guard rail/stone and the rear wheel rising up, taking me with it. It was free falling into the “below” and heard the river water once I cleared the edge of the bridge.
“Jesus.” Call on his name. That is what we are taught.
I had an unspeakable peace, in that moment. I was either going to live through this or I wasn’t. I didn’t know where I was going to land. I didn’t know if I was going into water or not.
About one minute later, I was sitting on the edge of the road, next to the guard rails, holding the right side of my chest. A car came along and saw me sitting there. The guy in the car was named Gary, and he approached me.
“I am in shock,” I needed to tell him what was going on. “I need 911. “
He asked me something. I nodded. I don’t remember what it was, though.
Neither of us had cell signal. I laid down. He flagged down a few more cars. One car went up to the top of the Parkway to get signal. The other car went down into the valley to get signal. The plan was for both to call 911 and tell them to send an ambulance ASAP.
When the ambulance arrived, the first responders said to me, “can I ask you a few questions?” I nodded no, as my pain in my thorax was now unbearable. There was no comfortable position anymore.
The ambulance crew put me on the truck and hauled me to the nearest hospital. They gave me a shot of morphine, but it didn’t work. My bike had done a couple of loops and landed wheels first, on the edge of the river below. My front forks had snapped, and my chest hit the handlebars hard enough to break a bunch of bones. The hospital ran a fast set of X-rays and CT scans before the attending physician on call turned to the ambulance driver, telling them I had too many broken bones to be serviced there. They put me back on the truck and hauled me to Asheville’s Mission Hospital.
I spent the next 3 nights on the Trauma Floor of the Mission Hospital at Asheville. On the first morning, I woke up to my Trauma physician talking to me about what happened. There were no ambiguities in his diagnosis.
“At least you are alive.”
I knew that, but I hadn’t heard anyone else say it.
The paramedics told me that I fell 20 feet. I didn’t believe them, purely from circumstantial evidence. I have no cuts/scraps/bruises, other than the right side of my chest. My helmet was undamaged. The front forks on my bike are destroyed, but everything else looked perfect. Even my chain was attached.
With the COVID19 scare in place, no family or friends are allowed anywhere in the hospital. By day 2, I had gotten to know the staff and care givers. They had gotten to know me, as well.
At the end of the 2 day, the attending physician and nurse both came into the room at the same time. Both of them were cyclists.
“So, we know your type,” they said. That was bold, considering that I was the customer and they were the service provider. They were speaking from both a professional and heartfelt perspective, and I appreciated it.
“You will have a tendency to get out there and do your thing before you are healed.”
Silence. They did know me.
“You need to let your body heal and ride on a trainer in the basement. You also need to go for walks with your wife, not hour long runs in the woods.”
I nodded a lot as they spoke. They were speaking wisdom to me. Maybe it was a blessing that this year has been a washout for athletic events.
“The first two weeks after a crash are hell.” said the attending physician. “And I know, as I broke two ribs last summer. The next two are manageable, and you will have a routine by then. The final two to four weeks you will forget that you were injured, until you do some specific movements that test your range of motion. Then you will remember that you had a major trauma. Just give it time, and you will be back out there, going at 100%.”
“We don’t want to see you in here for the same thing,” the nurse said.
Since when have nurses developed large balls?
Three days after the crash and lots of respiratory therapy later, I put on street clothes and prepared to leave. I looked out from my hospital room and pondered what had just happened. I was so engaged at viewing the pretty colors on the sides of the road that I lost my focus, the actual skill I sought to develop.
Before I left, a hospital assigned counselor came into my room.
“Sir, do you know what PTSD is?”
“Well, in these types of events (was she saying “near death”), it is commonplace for you to think about this event every day or even every hour for a month. But it isn’t normal to think about this every day for a year. If you need help, I want to give you this list of resources.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t have my reading glasses,” was all I could respond.
“That is OK. I will put it in this bag with your bike clothing, OK?”
She already knew that I was the bike guy…
She left as quickly as she came in. The team of caregivers who had got to know me over the last 3 days saw there to be a risk of PTSD for me. Is that even possible? Were they experienced in diagnosing the risk for PTSD?
The car ride home after the crash was uneventful. The pain management medicine that they gave me worked well, but I would only use it for a few days. I got home and we moved the recliner into our bedroom. That chair shall be my sleeping place for the next week or two.
My friend Ed told me to get a tattoo to memorialize the event. I will ponder it.
I need to heal.
It’s Saturday afternoon, we are in Columbia visiting Mom and Dad. The kids and I have not seen them in weeks since returning from Spain. Jeff decided not to come along. He has had to go into a work location a couple of times and did not want to risk bringing them any bad germs. And – it happened to be a nice day for a bike ride. He planned to head to the Blue Ridge Parkway. He thinks nothing of a 3-hour car ride to one of his favorite places.
Around 4, as we are saying our good-byes, I send Jeff a text to tell him we are leaving and to call me when he gets safely back to his car. My phone rings. Caller ID says Jeff. I answer saying, “that was good timing.” Instead, I hear a woman named Heather. She introduces herself, as a EMT from Haywood County. “We have your husband here, first of all, he is going to be ok. He fell off his bike and we are transporting him to Haywood Regional Medical Center. His shoulder and jaw hurt so he does not want to speak, but he asked me to tell you to please come get his bike and his car.” Heather gave me some information and we hung up.
We quickly said good-bye to my parents, and we left. It was not until we shut the car doors and backed out of the driveway that I told the kids, “we have a situation.”
I knew we needed to come home first and get a spare set of car keys, clothes for Jeff- assuming his cycling clothes were destroyed, and a change of clothes for me if I needed to spend the night to bring him home the next day- at most.
Just before leaving Monroe, I got a call from a Chaplin that stopped in to see Jeff. He said he was with Jeff at Mission Hospital. The told us Jeff was ok, but Jeff could not really talk because of his jaw hurting but Jeff wanted to make sure I was coming to get his bike and car. The Chaplin told me the hospital was not allowing any visitors in to see patients due to the COVID scare, but if I had a bag to bring him, they could meet me at the entrance and get it to him. It did not dawn on me yet that he was not in the original hospital the EMT lady said they were taking him to. We left for Ashville a little after 6:00 pm. I needed Alex’s navigation skills in this part of the state, he knew exactly where Jeff likes to park when he goes on that route. For some reason, Jeff sent me a photo that morning of where he parked as if to say- Alex knows exactly where this is.
We started our drive and I asked Alex to send out some messages to a few people for me. I need prayer warriors to be lifting Jeff up. I felt scared as I was not getting any information about his injuries. Alex was sending messages to his church friends in Arizona to pray as well.
A little after 7 Jeff finally called. He sounded funny – must be the medication kicking in. He was able to tell me he had ”a broken rib and a partially punctured lung and that his legs were completely fine.” He had been transferred to the trauma center at Mission Hospital in Asheville. He asked me again to come get his bike and his car, and I let him know we were on the way. He told me he would be there a couple of days. He said he did not need anything brought to him. I asked him to please ask a nurse or doctor to call me when they came to us room for an update.
I called the fire chief to say we were on our way and would arrive around 9:30. I had to leave a voice mail. We were going to get the car first. In that moment, I was glad I had Alex and Rachel with me. We listened to her Hamilton soundtrack and sang along to pass the time. Alex navigated us to Jeff’s car- I would never have found it in the dark. The fire station was conveniently a half a mile from the car. We had left some additional messages with the local fire chief and a text. Unfortunately, there no one responded, and we had to leave without Jeff’s bike.
Once we started driving home on big highways, I began calling the hospital to get some word on Jeff’s actual condition. I called at 11pm and then again around midnight asking for someone to help me. That was the problem with the current no visitation policy- I had no clue as to his situation except for what he told me. Finally, after midnight a nurse called to read me some of his chart notes. She said only that he had a bit of air around his lungs and he would be xrayed again in the morning to see if his lung was stable.
We returned home close to 2 am. I crawled into bed and prayed.
Sunday Morning- Easter Sunday
People began texting me around 7am for updates. No one told my chickens, dog and cats that I had less than 5 hours sleep. I had to get up and get moving. Around 10, Jeff called from his room with the doctor present to give me an update. The doctor spoke this time. It turned out the one broken rib was actually 5 (out of 6) broken ribs all on his right side- some ribs were broken in more than one place. The doctor told me his lung had separated from the rib cage area and had forcibly sent all his lung air into his body. He did not have a concussion. He did not have anything wrong with his jaw. He had separated his shoulder joint near his collarbone. His chest was very bruised. The doctor was going to keep him another day or two to make sure his lung looks stable (did not collapse) and that they could control Jeff’s pain.
When we talked throughout the day, he told Alex and me about his ride and exactly how he believed the events took place. He said while coming down this one stretch of extended downhill, he saw a sharp turn approaching. He had ridden this route before but misjudged something and knew he would not make it as hoped for. He had the clarity at that moment to make a choice- to slide into the guard rail on his side skinning up his body completely and potentially breaking his legs upon impact of the barricade; or to hit the barricade head on and go over the railing. He felt he knew the area well enough that he could more easily go over. He also remembered to never let go of your bike while going through a wreck- so he held on. Look at the picture of the bridge below.
When he landed, he knew he had minutes to move before shock set in and his brain recognized the pain. He knew his shoulder and his jaw hurt but he had to climb up the embankment back to the road to be seen and found. Another biker came along and found him. Jeff had his phone on him, but there was no phone signal on this part of the parkway. “Gary” stayed with him until someone drove by. Gary sent the next guy up (or down) the mountain to get to cell signal to call 911. EMTs found him and told him he had gone over that barricade and landed 20 feet below on rocks. He was lucky to be alive. He was lucky to be able to get up that hill when he did to be found.
I get a call from Jeff again after the crash with the doctor present. They had taken another xray and the lung still looked good. She explained his progress and said she did not want to release him yet. He had a bad night with the pain management and needed something stronger to get back ahead of the pain. He was not breathing naturally but using his muscles to inhale and exhale. His fitness could handle this, but he needs to be breathing more deeply and naturally. If all went well throughout the day, she would be consider releasing him Tuesday morning.
On the phone alone with him later he told me he felt paralyzed overnight. He could not move in any direction that did not send shooting pains throughout his upper body. He had been given an expectorant to get him coughing to keep his lungs clear and that every coughing spell had him near tears.
He called me again around dinner time on Monday and said they were planning to release him Tuesday morning. I was concerned it was too soon if he was still having pain management issues. I was worried about the 3 plus hour car ride. I was worried that he is naturally not a good sick patient. I had to set all of that aside and wait for my call in the morning. If he managed to have a good night (pain management and good xray), they would send him home.
I get a text at 5:30 that he had a good night. He called me at 6:30 to say they were releasing him. I was in the car within the half hour with his bag of clothes. He had also asked me to bring his shaving stuff as he had not had a shower since he had arrived.
When I arrived, I had to call upstairs and wait by door 4 for a nurse to come down and get his bag from me. I explained to the guard that if he did not get this bag, he was going to have to depart naked. I had to park and wait for him to shower and dress. When he walked towards me from the wheelchair, I could not believe how good he looked. He walked right to me from the wheelchair. He was moving slowly. His face was swollen and his speech was affected. I knew I could not hug him because one side was completely damaged. I held his face and kissed him and put him gingerly in the car. He wanted to know about his bike. What the heck is it with this bike? I was reluctant to drive the extra hour to go pick it up. He really wanted to see the bike and have it (not like he would be using it any time soon!) With a new set of phone numbers, we made contact with the fire chief who was going to send another volunteer to meet us at the station to pick it up. Plus- they had given him a double dose of pain medication so there was no time like the present to go for a car ride in the mountains.
We reached the Lake Logan Fire Dept and Vickie met us out front. She was actually on the scene on Saturday afternoon attending to Jeff. She said it was good to see him looking so well. They talked about that area of the parkway. She said they call it High Arch Bridge. They have got out on a number of calls for motorcycle accidents there, they were surprised to find he was on a bicycle. As they talked about the location of where he went over the bridge and where he landed, she said it was more likely 30’ that he fell. Feeling extra blessed and grateful, we made our way home. His bike is in incredibly good shape. There is no damage anywhere except the front forks that hold in the front tire and the front tire itself. His seat did not even get scratched up.
We got Jeff set up with the recliner in our bedroom for the best position for sleeping/resting. Unfortunately, we don’t have a left-handed recliner, but I was willing to get up and down as needed to help him get in and out.
Sorting out all his medication from the crash and the timing was going to be an ordeal. I spent 20 minutes with index cards and dixie cups trying to sort out the next 12 hours. I had to consider the different spacing of time between doses for all the different medicines. I set my alarm clock for 12:30am, 2:30, 4:30 and 6:30 so he could get what he needed quickly at the right times. I felt so proud of my schedule until Jeff walked out 30 minutes before time allowed and said he needed something right then and there. With just those few words, my schedule was off for the night! I had to completely change my alarm times and decided to roll with it.
We made it through the night! We stayed on the “every 2-hour” pain management plan. He had to get up and down a few extra times. Scooter cooperated and did ask to be taken out in the middle of the night. I got on and off about 5 hours of sleep.
As we’ve been talking though the events of the weekend, we have come to some very interesting conclusions about what happened when Jeff went over the wall and landed 30’ below. Piece by piece of evidence has continued to amaze us. Number 1- we are blessed. Anyone falling 30’ to land and rocks below walking away with just broken ribs and damaged lungs is a miracle in itself. But there is more to the story. I’m looking at Jeff more closely today-Number 2- he does not have any bruising on his back where we assumed, he landed. The bruising is only on his shoulder/collar bone area. Number 3-it dawned on me we were talking on his cell phone during his hospital stay. He keeps his phone in his back pocket while riding. That should have been crushed. I’m doing his laundry today. I’m preparing to wash his cycling jersey that they cut off of him; I think he wants to keep it as a souvenir. Number 4- in the back pocket of his shirt, is a fully un-opened gel he had not eaten yet. This should have exploded with him landing on it. I’m looking at his helmet- which he thinks saved him from having a concussion-Number 5- there is not a scratch on it.
So here is what we have concluded- when he went over that barricade during the crash, he held on the handlebars as instructed. He must have flipped over, at least once, because he remembers seeing his tire. All this time we assumed he landed flat on his back- he must have in fact landed upright on his bicycle with the handlebars hitting him in the ribs causing the break. God went over that barricade with Jeff on that bike. He goes with Jeff everywhere. Anyone who knows Jeff knows he has made it out of some serious situations in the past. God landed that bike upright with Jeff hitting it from above and then falling over. There is no other way to explain all the evidence from above.
I always used to think the song was “Jesus Take the Wheel.” I have renamed it, “Jesus Take the Handlebars”. There is no more faithful God than the God we serve.