My mind was reeling as I tried to figure out what had happened. I was lying on my back, looking up at the sky through the opening in my helmet. I could feel some scrapes on my hands and arms, even though I was wearing gloves and a jacket…..and a searing pain was running down my left leg. I could hear faint voices getting louder as some people were coming closer. The first person to reach me was “Sam”, who worked at the local gas station, where he performed car inspections. Sam was a fixture in the neighborhood, worked very hard, and would take breaks by walking through the neighborhood. Every day, you’d see Sam walking around the block to take a break from working on all the cars.
As Sam was walking by the school, he saw me shoot across the parking lot, over the curb and hiting the pavement. He called the emergency number, and ran to my side to help. He saw that I was hurt badly, so he made sure that I didn’t move until the paramedics got there.
‘Sam’ was from Pakistan, and his full first name was…Osama. Being only a few years post 9/11, you can see why he preferred to go by ‘Sam’. In any case, while the US military was looking for Osama, Osama (or ‘Sam’), found me. He kept talking to keep me focused, and not moving. I was incredibly lucky that Sam happened to be walking by that day.
As Sam kept talking to me, saying “You’re going to be OK”, I could hear a siren getting louder and louder, and heard a large truck pull into the parking lot. The paramedics jumped out of the ambulance, and by that time, a small crowd had gathered. They checked my pulse and breathing, and started checking me out to see if I had any broken bones or bleeding. Nothing was visibly injured, so they started testing reflexes and extremities to see if I had any internal or spinal injuries. Hands were OK. All 10 fingers working. Left leg, no problem. Right leg……nothing. I could see that it was attached, but I couldn’t feel anything.
My right leg had no feeling whatsoever, and I started to consider that it might be paralyzed. I didn’t know how serious the injury was…but I knew that I was in trouble. The paramedics asked me if I could move my leg, and it was clear that the left leg couldn’t be moved without serious pain, and the right leg….well, it wasn’t moving at all. They made a couple more checks, and determined that I had a spinal injury, and would need to be transported to the hospital as carefully as possible. They put me on a back board, carefully removed my helmet, gloves and boots, and immobilized me to avoid any further injury on the way to the hospital.
A lot of things were racing through my mind. The kids were by themselves. The nanny was at a concert. My wife was hundreds of miles away in North Carolina. Here I was, strapped to a board, and unable to move at all, wondering – “Am I ever going to move again?” The paramedics loaded me up into the ambulance, secured me in place, started up the ambulance, hit the sirens and started rolling towards the hospital. One drove, while the other was checking all my vital signs and making sure I stayed awake.
The paramedic asked – “Is there anyone we can call?”
I said – ” a doctor would be nice…” then I remembered that the kids were home by themselves.
I had them call a neighbor, and I gave the neighbors some weak instructions to get the kids, and had them call my my wife to tell her that I’d been in an accident. I wanted to be on the phone, but there was no way the paramedics were letting me turn, twist or do anything that might further injure me. At least the kids were OK and now at the neighbors’ house.
As we drove towards the hospital, I wondered how bad the injury might be, and what might be ahead of me. Even though the driver was being cautious and avoiding bumps, I could feel every crack or bump in the pavement, sending a shock wave of pain all the way up my back and down my left leg. I could hear them talking about fractured vertebra, degraded sensation, as well as other words I may or may not have understood….but their tone of voice let me know it was serious. They were talking to the hospital as they drove, to let them know there was a significant trauma case on its way.
The ambulance pulled up to the hospital, and the paramedics carefully removed my stretcher from the vehicle, and wheeled me into the emergency room. I haven’t been to the emergency room that often, but I knew this time, I’d be going straight to the front of the line.
Another thing I noticed while I was on the stretcher. Emergency room staff have one job – to make sure that they quickly and professionally assess, prioritize and treat patients as best they can….and from my experience, they do an amazing job. That doesn’t mean that they’re gentle about it – they need to determine the seriousness of any injury, and make sure that you’re getting the right treatment quickly…so nurses, technicians and doctors talk very…slowly…and…LOUDLY.
“Mr. Hollingsworth, look into the light”.
“What day is it?”
“Can you wiggle your fingers or toes?”
“Wake up! You can’t go to sleep!”
The interrogation went on for what felt like forever. It was a barrage of un-ending questions, with lots of repeating…either because I didn’t answer, or gave different answers.
“When did you eat or drink last?”
“Have you had any alcohol?”
“Who is your next of kin?”
I answered as best as I could, and I had vague recollections of people mentioning that they had my wife on the phone, or that they were talking to the neighbors, and that the kids were OK. I still wasn’t allowed to talk on the phone, and I could feel all sorts of more invasive tests being done. I was getting prepped for X-ray, and a couple orderlies came to wheel me down the hall for the first internal look at what the damage might be.
At this point, I was pretty overwhelmed. I knew the injury was bad. I had no idea if my wife or kids knew what was going on, and I wasn’t even sure if anyone had told them how serious things were…because I certainly didn’t know, and I’m not sure if the doctors knew at that point, either. I just lie there, strapped to a board, getting wheeled from room to room for X-rays, CT scans, blood tests, IV’s and lots of masked faces looking down at me while I looked up, trying to figure out what was going on.
At that point, I had no concept of time. I tracked my location by counting tiles on the ceiling, or how many doors I got wheeled through. It had only been a couple hours since the accident, but it felt like days as more and more specialists showed up to see what they could figure out from looking at me, or looking at the tests. I’m sure I was giving less and less coherent answers, because at some point, I closed my eyes and just passed out.