I shouldn’t be alive right now. Last year, on Oct. 19, I was struck head-on by a 2012 Nissan Altima. I was riding a Yamaha 1100 Roadster. My girlfriend, Lyn, was seated behind me. Neither of us was wearing a helmet. This happened shortly after Lyn and I were having lunch with friends. I got a call from my father. He needed me right away; Mom fell and wasn’t getting up.
We were about 15 or 20 minutes away when it happened. The oncoming vehicle was in the southbound lane. We were in the northbound lane going about 42 miles per hour. The driver, a woman in her mid-60s, apparently realized she forgot her turnoff. In the time it took to check my right rearview mirror, the Altima whipped in front of us. Our vehicles collided at an approximate combined speed of 65 miles per hour. I watched the front wheel of my bike hit the car’s grill on the passenger side. I flipped over the Yamaha. My back smashed the windshield and I skidded down the road for about 25 feet before coming to a stop at a curb.
Sprawled out in a gutter, I could see Lyn in the center of the road, crumpled like a rag doll. I feared the worst and began screaming for her to move, but she couldn’t even twitch a muscle in response. I heard a police officer say, “Shut up and lay down. You’re hurt!” But I didn’t pay him any attention.
By chance, a registered nurse pulled over and administered CPR, bringing Lyn back from the brink — at least momentarily.
Despite my agony, I didn’t forget about Mom. When the paramedics arrived, I told them to send an ambulance to my parents’ house. It turned out that wasn’t necessary because my brother beat me there. I learned this from a passerby who answered my cell phone for me — it was my brother calling — while I was incapacitated.
Turned out, this guy was no Good Samaritan. He stole my phone, which had all my contacts and project photos. Talk about adding insult to injury!
While the paramedics lifted Lyn and me into the ambulance, a husband and wife introduced themselves and prayed over us. What followed was a white-knuckled race to the trauma center some 20 or 30 miles away, with Lyn barely clinging to life. We learned later that she technically died twice that day, once in the street and again sometime thereafter, the result of severe head trauma.
Miraculously, Lyn survived. She broke her pelvis in one place, collar bone in two, and suffered a nasty cut on her head. I didn’t fare much better. A shattered pelvis, a ruptured bladder and a gaping hole from where the clutch handle pierced my left thigh, requiring that I be hospitalized for just under two months.
Plus there was a two-week stay at a nursing home that I more or less escaped from. One day the physical therapist had me practice getting out of my wheelchair and into my son’s truck. Once I managed to wriggle my way into the seat, my son reversed the truck and we bolted out of the parking lot. I was never more relieved than when I saw that place shrinking in the review mirror.
I was in a wheelchair until Jan. 12 — almost three months after the accident. When I could finally stand unassisted on my own two feet, I was shocked how much my legs had atrophied. Though I was steadily making progress, I knew it would be many more months before I fully recovered … if I ever do.
Today, my right foot suffers from neuropathy and my right leg is pretty much numb, so it’s unlikely I’ll ever be able to get down inside a pool to do tile work again. Thankfully, Lyn has recovered after some physical therapy, though she'll always bear the scars from that horrific day.
To prove to myself that I was capable of the occasional physical feat, in May Lyn and I went to Carolina Mountains, where I have a little getaway home. (We drove there. Our motorcycle days are behind us.) In fact, we had intended to go there just several days before the crash disrupted our plans. There’s a great hiking trail that I’ve done a number of times before. It’s a 2-mile trek with a gradual 500-foot elevation. Relying heavily on a walking stick, I managed to reach the top and pick my way down the rocky descent.
It hurt every step of the way, but it was well worth it.
Sometimes it takes calamity to realize how fortunate you are to have so many supportive friends and family. I’m especially grateful to Lyn, who was by my side throughout my recovery; my brother, Tim, who is vice president of Galaxy Pools and kept business humming along without a hitch in my absence; my sister, Mary, for keeping people posted on my progress on Facebook; my entire family for rallying around me; and my Florida swimming pool colleagues.
And I'm thankful for nurses. A number of them cared for me the past few months, and I firmly believe they are God’s angels on Earth, especially the one who happened upon the crash scene and saved Lyn’s life.
She was heaven sent.
Of course, I also need to thank the one who sent her. For whatever purpose, God placed a shield of protection around us that day. Like I said, I really shouldn’t be alive.