Last week I started preparing for the worst winter storm to hit our area since 1996. Forecasters were calling for up to two feet of snow. I’d had a really awful winter last year, with pipes freezing, my only heat source continually breaking down, and generally just having a miserable time. This year, I vowed, would be different. I’d have at least two sources of heat that could keep me warm, even if we lost power. I’d have plenty of food on hand at all times. I’d keep water in the bathtub so I could flush a toilet or wash dishes (after boiling the water) if the power went out. I was prepared. I spent Saturday getting everything ready and making sure I was prepared for whatever mother nature dumped on me. From Saturday night until mid-day Monday I watched the snow pile up and enjoyed it all (even when the power did indeed go out for a couple hours).
Monday afternoon, after it stopped snowing, I went out and shoveled my sidewalk. I cleaned off my pickup truck so the sun could melt the ice that had formed on the windshield. The snow plow had piled up the snow about 3 feet high around my truck, so it was completely stuck. I figured I would be off from work Tuesday as well so I didn’t shovel it out, especially since I knew that I could go out and shovel right before I needed to leave if I did end up trying to work.
Fast-forward to Tuesday morning. I woke up around 5:30am like normal, got up, took a shower, and decided to go try and shovel out my truck. I didn’t much think I’d be able to get out of my driveway, but I figured I’d at least give it the old college try. The roads were freshly plowed and salted, so there was no reason not to report to work other than not being able to pull out.
I laced up my boots, grabbed my shovel, then went to the road. I spent about 20 minutes shoveling to the point where I was able to get into my truck. I started it up, put it in 4-wheel-drive, and was able to reverse it enough to where I could shovel out in front of it. From there, as long as I was in 4-wheel-drive and laid into the throttle, I figured I could probably get out.
So I finished shoveling, went back to my house, slung my backpack across my back, and then picked up my sneakers (I didn’t want to have to wear my heavy, soaking wet boots all day). And that’s when it all went wrong.
I got to the top of my yard and started walking toward my truck. The snow beside me was still three feet tall from the plow, so I had no choice but to walk on the road. No big deal because it was clear and salted. Or so I thought.
What I didn’t see were the patches of black ice. My foot hit one such patch, and in a split second - quicker than you can say ‘Jack Robinson’ - it was over. There was no slow motion, there was no time to react or think, it was instantaneous; I slipped, I fell backwards, and brought all 280ish whopping pounds down on my left leg.
I heard the snap, almost like breaking celery in half, and I knew. It was thunderous. It was definite. I felt the pain explode through my body. My vision pulsed, the wind was knocked out of me, and I came to reset like a turtle upside down on his shell. I was laying in the middle of the road, resting against my backpack, my lower leg (or ankle, as it turned out) completely busted and unusable.
About that time a good samaritan in a Skybest (the local telecom company) truck came around the corner. Thankfully he spotted me in the road and stopped. He asked me if I was okay. “No,” I said. “I think I broke my leg. Will you call 911?”
While he called the ambulance I pulled out my phone. I was in action mode at that point. I had pure adrenaline coursing through my veins. First, I told Mom and Dad. “I just broke my leg,” I texted them. I also let my coworkers know. Again, I just posted a quick message in our Slack. “I just broke my leg.”
Then I made the call I dreaded most. I live beside my sister and knew she would see the ambulance. She is a natural worrier and tends to freak out when bad stuff happens, so I decided it was better for me to tell her directly than for her to just “find out.” So I dialed.
“Hey sis! How’s it going?”
“Okay, what’s going on?”
“Well it’s no big deal, I don’t want to freak you out, but I think I just broke my leg, so don’t let the ambulance scare you.”
“Are you serious?!”
I hung up on her and got back to the situation at hand. The good samaritan, who we’ll call “Adam” (because that’s his name), told me the ambulance would get here as quickly as they could. Living on top of a mountain has its perks, but short response times in emergencies is not one of them. The next few minutes’ series of events all run together, so I’m not sure what happened when. Both of my parents called me at some point to ask if I was serious. One exchange with Dad was particularly memorable. “Where are you?” He asked. “In the road,” I absentmindedly replied. Mom handled everything surprisingly well. She told me she would meet me at the hospital (I didn’t need her to, but I knew it was useless to protest). I realized that my truck was still running, so I asked Adam to please turn it off for me and bring me the key, which he did. He was worried about me still laying in the road. I tried and tried, but just could not move my foot. I wasn’t half as cold as he thought I was. It’s almost impossible for me to get cold, I’m a big fat guy and grew up in the mountains, so it’s hard to make me cold. But he really wanted me to get somewhere warm (and out of the road). I ended up being able to “crab walk” over to his truck, where I rested against his door and could feel some of the heat.
At that point I saw a head bobbing up the driveway, and knew that my sister must have decided to come take a look. She started crying when she saw me, but then she pulled it together. Against my wishes, she tied a really frilly and feminine scarf around my neck. I had to keep yelling at her to stay away from the black ice. She’s always been an awesome sister and looks after me, so I can’t complain.
Around that time, a first responder shows up. “I’m gonna have to cut yer britches off,” he tells me. No problem. My sister uses this opportunity to sneak away and take a picture of me, lying in the road, a first responder cutting my pants leg.
At that point I had been out in the 25 degree weather for about half an hour. They decided I needed to be moved inside. They wrestled to get me on a canvas gurney, then a team of six or seven people (most of them also good samaritans who had the misfortune of having the road blocked on their way to work) carried me into my house. I was shaking pretty badly, primarily from the cold. More first responders showed up. They began to check my vitals. I answered all their medical questions. They wanted to get an IV in so they could give me morphine, but they had trouble finding a vein that would work. They ended up sticking me four times before finding one that did the trick (the two in my hand hurt tremendously, almost worse than my foot!). They checked my blood glucose levels. Before it was all said and done, I had been stuck six or seven times. Not a great start to the day.
I found out they were taking me to a different hospital, so I called Mom and told her to go to Boone. About that time EMS showed up. They carried me back up through my yard into the ambulance. They kept sliding on the ice and snow. A few different times I noticed I had dropped down, and could feel the cold snow under my back.
Of course, with every bump, drop, or jostle, the pain in my foot was excruciating.
Finally, I got loaded onto the ambulance, locked into place, and I was on my way.
After a thirty or forty minute ambulance ride, I arrived at the hopsital. “Your mother is already here,” the tell me. “How bad is she on a scale from 1-10?” I ask them, a riff on similar questions that they kept asking me (“How’s your pain from 1-10?”). They laugh. They roll my gurney into a room and transfer me over to the hospital bed. They give me some more morphine. At this point, it’s a waiting game. I pull out my phone and see I have a million missed messages. Coworkers asking me if I’m being serious. Asking for updates. I jump back onto Slack. I notice that my boss has sent me a message that he stopped by the hospital to check on me (I’m not sucking up here, I really have the best boss in the world - the hospital is the next town over, he’s gone out of his way to come check on me). I thank him and tell him that I’m fine. He says he’s not leaving until they let him lay eyes on me. They send Mom back and we talk. I had managed to be extra tough and manly all morning long, but as soon as I see Mom I start crying for some stupid reason. I get another message from my boss. Your Dad just came in. I’m surprised, Dad works two hours away and is super busy. I didn’t ask him to come. but he did. They let him come on back.
Soon, they come in to do X-Rays. That is pure torture and agony. They have to bend my foot in ways it no longer is meant to go. The radiologist reviews the pictures in the room, my parents looking over her shoulder. I see Dad grimmace. I see the radiologist grimmace. I already was positive that it was broken, but now any remaining shred of doubt is eviscerated. “Is it broken,” I ask, already knowing the answer. “I’m not allowed to say - but it’s usually smart to trust your instincts.” Mom and Dad look at me and nod. It’s broken. Badly. I hear Dad whisper the word “surgery.” It’s the first time that has really entered my mind.
Soon they let my boss come back and see me. “I would have given you the day off, you know,” he tells me. He jokes with my parents about my method of informing them of my accident. Then he wishes me the best and heads back to the office. He’s the last visitor I see. I’m later told more people come to the waiting room, but they’re never sent back. By that point I’m pretty worn out and not much in the mood for company.
The doctors periodically give me more morphine. Each time, it’s a blessing. The pain is awful. I’m starving. All morning long, people ask me about the last time I had something to eat or drink. “No food since dinner last night,” I tell them.
Soon the orthopedist comes to see me. He brings my X-rays and tells me the bad news. I’ve managed to break two bones, in three different places. It’s bad. I need surgery. He’s hoping to get me in either the same day, or the day after. Another couple of hours go by, then the surgeon comes to see me. He tells me that I’ll be in surgery late in the afternoon, then can go home the same day. I’m amazed by the news, and thankful I don’t have to wait around too much. The day goes by and we still don’t hear anything. We grow impatient. Finally, around 6pm, they come and tell me that they’ll be taking me straight to the operating room (instead of a waiting area) when the time comes. Another hour later, they come and get me. They push my bed into the operating room, where I get to answer the same serious of questions for the billionth time that day.
That’s pretty much the last thing I remember. The anesthesiologists started messing around with stuff and at some point along the way, I go under. I wake up a couple hours later, well-rested and not able to remember a thing. They tell me that I was talking to them about “Jurrassic Park stuff.” I can’t imagine what I would have said. I’d love to know. I like Jurrassic Park as much as the next guy, but I haven’t thought about it really in ten years, so I guess maybe I thought Dinosaurs were chasing me or something? Who knows.
I have abslutely no pain in my leg. They explain that it’s a spinal block (an epidural) that cuts off all feeling in that leg. I can’t even feel it when they touch my toes. When it wears off it will be a royal pain, but until then, I’m in bliss. I drink a Sprite. They start pushing me to an outpatient room. As soon as I exit the OR, I see Dad standing in the hallway, looking at me. In my drunken state I just raise my soda can. Cheers. We made it.
We turn the corner and I see my sister in the next hallway. She had driven out to see me. I’d accidentally blocked their drive way with my truck. My sister can’t drive a stick, so it had just sat there in the way all day. I’m later told that when her husband got home, it took him over 30 minutes to get it moved. I wouldn’t have been able to make it into work any way! I should have just stayed inside.
After I get settled in and talk with them for a few minutes, my folks show me the new X-Rays.
I now have two new rods and nine new screws in my leg. At last, my journey to becoming a cyborg is complete.
After about 30 minutes they let me go home. They wheel me down, help me into the car, and we drive away. Mom stops at the Taco Bell drive-thru and lets me get something to eat - I’m still starving and still have an appetite. I scarf down a burrito, then fall asleep. When I arrive at this home it’s a little after 1am.
Aftermath and Lessons Learned
Yesterday (the day following my surgery) was a rollercoaster. Absolutely agonizing, miserable pain in the morning, but tolerable pain in the afternoon. I ate well. I slept the whole night. On the whole, it could be worse.
People keep coming to visit. I’ve had the same conversation ten times by now:
Them: “At least you can still drive.”
Me, depressed: “I drive a stick.”
Them: Awkward silcence. “Oh.”
I really am bummed about that. Driving is my favorite activity in the world, and not being able to drive my truck for a while is a bummer. My parents have an automatic PT Cruiser I can use in the meantime, but it’s just not the same.
I only have a splint on my leg. I go back to the doctor in 10 days to get my stitches removed and get fitted for either a boot or a cast. Until then, I can’t really leave my house. I’m stuck here on this recliner for a week solid.
I can’t really go back to my house for a while, which I’m obviously very bummed about. I love my parents (and their house), but it sucks knowing you can’t go home. At some point I’ll have to pick up some stuff, or have someone pick it up for me. Christmas will be challenging. Everyone’s presents are at my house, and they’re not wrapped, and in general coordinating all that stuff will be a real challenge.
I’m also obviously worried about paying for everything. I have insurance, and I think my Dad’s insurance carries me for “critical” emergencies, so I’m hopeful most of it will be paid for, but this will still end up costing me thousands of dollars. God bless America, the last bastion against the scourge of socialized medicine. But right now I’m just focused on feeling better and getting mobile again.
In general though, I’ve made some observations and learned some lessons over the past few days:
- Everything can change in a literal second, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
- I’m very thankful for the friends and family who have gone out of their way to check on me and come see me.
- I had no business trying to go to work that day. I should have stayed inside. I had the vacation time, and my boss didn’t mind me taking a day. The only reason I was trying was because I didn’t want to be made fun by my coworkers or have to hear anyone say “don’t be such a wuss, you’ve got a 4-wheel-drive!” I know one thing, from here on out I really don’t care about that. Yes, I am a wuss, I’m clumsy, I hate bad weather, and if I don’t have to go to work on days of inclimate weather, I just ain’t gonna.
- It’s amazing how cold and uncaring some people can be (without even realizing it) when you’ve had something like that happen. I’ve had a couple people reach out to me and say “I’m sorry to hear about your accident. But while I have your attention, I’ve been having this problem with my computer…” Give me a minute folks, jiminy.
- You shouldn’t put stuff off. I had put off washing dishes and taking out my trash because I knew I could do it later, but now my house is a mess and someone else will have to clean it up. It’s embarrassing and I hate asking people to do that for me.
- As much as I love physical books and physical media, having digital copies of all your stuff is a real blessing. No matter where you get stuck, you can still have access to it. I’m extra thankful for my laptop and Kindle right now.
- USB-C is also a blessing, but unfortunately it’s not a blessing I have right now. At the present moment I can’t use my laptop, even though I have it in my backpack, because my stupid charger is at work and it uses a proprietary connector. If my laptop supported USB-C I’d either have a charger with me (in which case I do actually have one in my backpack), or I could have someone run out and get me any old generic USB-C charger with a high enough amperage. My next laptop will have USB-C. In the meantime, I’m stuck using my parents’ laptop and will have to arrange some kind of rendezvous to get a charger to me.
I want to say again, thanks to everyone for the calls and messages to tell me you’re thinking of me. They’re all really appreciated. I’ll be back in the full swing of things in no time. Until then, I’m watching Doctor Who in my underwear. It ain’t all bad.