This is the first of a three-part series on recovering from my bicycle crash on August 2 where I fractured my hip and had five screws put in during surgery later that night. I was knocked unconscious and have no recollection of the crash.
Part 1 – Even as an adult, potty humor never gets old.
“Mom says don’t post about this on Facebook.”
Tap-tap-tap. I looked up from my phone where I was probably sending a text. Ok, I thought, Well I already did… Twice.
Inside an ER room at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, Calif., my dad was standing next to my bright red Bianchi road bike while I sprawled out on a gurney nearby. A nurse button hung within reach. I had crashed a few hours before, fracturing my right femur. I was lying unconscious for about 20 minutes before coming to on the bike trail. In a few hours, an orthopedic surgeon would put 5 screws into the ball of my right femur and I’d be staying in the post-op recovery ward with bad hospital food—fruit salad inside the yellow Jell-O included—and no modesty a few days.
I lay in the bed awaiting a CT scan and X-rays to see what else I had damaged. So far, my right shoulder, elbow and knee were all wrought with deep road rash, still oozing blood.
My dad had already learned of the people I have come to meet in the community through being a photojournalist. First was the woman who had called 911 after seeing me hobble down the bike trail in Fort Ord Dunes State Park, using, not so well, my bike as a crutch. I had photographed her a few years back at her home in Carmel. As the ambulance arrived, I turned around to see one of the medics preparing his gloves. It was an old friend of mine who I had worked with at the local Boy Scout camp for many years and I had run into him a few times at news scenes.
With 4 CCs of morphine numbing my hip and my knee, the ambulance took me code 2—hurried, but no lights and sirens—to the hospital’s trauma center about 14 miles away. The view of the ceiling whirred by as they wheeled me into trauma bay 1 and I wondered if I would see the Emergency Department Director Craig Walls, a dry-humored, sincere man I had photographed a year earlier for a big story our newspaper had done on the county’s first, and much-needed, trauma center, which included the ability to treat gunshots. Then I heard Walls’ familiar voice: “What’re you doing here?”
A few hours later, the orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Justin Swan—fresh out of some soap opera hospital with his cut-from-stone looks and salt-and-pepper hair—would usher me through a successful, two-hour surgery. The last thing I remember before the anesthesia hit was how Swan’s hair shone under the bright, circular lights of operating room.
After surgery I was brought to a two-person room, fresh with a new IV and more painkillers. The next morning I was transferred to a single room in 312 and later that night, I met Barb, the night nurse.
Barb thought I had been living in a constant, existential crisis full of pain and suffering.
Barb was the epitome of a friendly, frumpy nurse from some awful 80s movie. She was sweet and sincere and wears white, orthopedic shoes with velcro straps. Even her steps were frumpy, but still endearing. Her glasses glint in the constant white sun of fluorescent hallway lights as the shadows pass under my lack-of-privacy curtain.
Technically speaking, she’s not wrong. I do kind of live painfully. Mostly of that is a self-made prophecy, but my current pain, however, other than a fractured hip, is when the other night nurse, whose name I could never remember—Myra maybe, or Myrna—voyeurs my backside as I hobbled to the bathroom with my walker. After returning, Myra or Myrna would impatiently ask if I had gone “poo poo” as the painkillers were supposed to make me constipated. I really wanted to giggle, but in my 4am, sleep-deprived haze I remember thinking, Really? We’re both adults here. It’s ok, Myra or Myrna, you say defecate. Instead, I replied, “Oh. No, I just went pee pee.” I wonder if she is going to laugh later at the nurses’ station. Do medical professionals find bodily fluids as funny as most of society? Is that why she’s a nurse, so she can have a constant source of fart joke material?
I remember calling Barb early Tuesday morning.
“Yeah. Hey, this is, uh, Nic in, uh, room 312.” I was waking up at 1am to pee. Again. “I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Ok.” she says kindly. I sensed it was far from her worse call of the night. I imagined patients dripping puss and constant pillow fluffs were a far cry worse that me just needing another set of eyes to watch as slide-and-step to the bathroom to pee, aided by my walker. I was tired of leaning awkwardly to the side as I peed into a plastic jar, calling Myra or Myrna to quickly bring another as it would quickly fill it up. Myra or Myrna would sigh, asking why I drank so much water when I should be sleeping.
Barb walked in on me grimacing as I shift to the edge of the bed in my hospital gown. The back is open and I was a hot mess. My modesty had left the hospital room when I first arrived. The trauma doctors had cut away my spandex bike shorts and a hipster 70s bike jersey like old rags.
“You look like you’re in pain,” Barb said.
“Ahh, no, no,” I replied, frustratedly trying to get to the side of the bed. “I’m ok… Just, uh, sore.”
“You’re gritting your teeth…” she says.
Other than constipation, the painkillers are supposedly to help me sleep. So a few hours later, I buzzed Barb for another one. I wanted to be in a haze again for the next time I have to go pee pee and have somebody watch.
This incident allowed me to check off a few boxes in my life. Previously, I had never broken a bone, ridden in an ambulance or spent a night in a hospital. These things are just part of life and what has been getting me through most of the aftermath is the fact that many people have recovered from far worse than my injuries and gone on to do much more intense things than I plan on doing with the rest of my life.
It has also been crucial to have a strong support system of friends and family, both of whom visited me in the hospital. I have been staying with my parents since the hospital discharged two days after surgery.