Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids
[box style=“notice”]This was written a few weeks after the incident but I’m publishing it now for the first time. I’ve left the content and tone exactly as written even though in hindsight I might have written it differently.[/box] [box style=“alert”]WARNING: contains possibly traumatic subject matter. Stop reading if you’re squeamish.[/box]
The day started normally enough: The alarm went off, I listened to TodayFM for a while, got up, showered, had breakfast, made a tasty sandwich (roast beef, rocket & horseradish) and kissed Hilary goodbye as she lay tucked up in bed after a bout of gallstones pain during the night. As far as I can remember it was a cold morning, wet on the ground but not raining at the time. At 9:20 I set off from home for the 10min commute to work in Betty, our ‘99 silver Renault Clio. As I turned onto the main road in Riverstick and accelerated within and then out of the speed limit area, I noticed that a car had come up behind me quite quickly. About a mile out of Riverstick I noticed the same thing I’d seen the previous day: water running across the road and over something on the road. Thinking this might have been some black ice, I slowed down to about 45mph. I wasn’t in a rush that morning as I knew I didn’t have any issues assigned to me. I don’t think the guy behind me was quite so relaxed though.
The accident happened on a straight stretch of road. A white Toyota Landcruiser was coming against me and was just passing a large lorry that was a good bit ahead of me. As they passed, the Toyota veered into the side of the lorry. It immediately steered away from the lorry into the nearside verge. To avoid the ditch, he over-corrected and aimed the Toyota straight at me. I don’t remember this image, I just remember thinking: “What the fuck are you doing?”, or some compact representation of that. I remember the surprise, the confusion, the sheer incredulity of the situation. I remember the instinctive response to lift my foot from the accelerator and yank the steering wheel over to the left to avoid the oncoming car. I don’t know if those commands ever made it down my nerves to be translated into muscle movement. I don’t remember the impact at all, just the loudest bang I’ve ever heard. I can definitely recall that bang.
The next thing I remember was sitting in the wreck of the car. The windscreen was smashed and bent in towards my face. The airbag had deployed and there was some remnants of it attached the middle of the steering wheel. The driver’s side window was gone. The dashboard was bent in on the right-hand side, trapping my right leg. Now that I looked at it, my right thigh was curved at a wholly unnatural angle like a puppet’s fake legs that dangle from side to side. I couldn’t move my left foot. My right arm was resting on the door and now wouldn’t move either. There was some blood around it too. I cried out for help. I sobbed. Someone came to the side of the car and asked me my name. He talked to me. I remember saying not to contact my wife; she’s asleep, she’s 7 months pregnant, she’s on her own at home. I gave him my parents phone number but forgot that they were in Kerry and wouldn’t be back til later that day. Someone else wandered around on a mobile phone obviously describing the scene.
Corrections When the Toyota had initially hit the lorry, it sheared off 3 wheelnuts. According to the investigating Garda, I did swerve well away from the Toyota and had practically come to a halt off the road. When I was hit, the car went back into the ditch/hedge about 4 meters. The crash site looked like the aftermath of a car bomb attack on TV: debris and metal everywhere. The guard said he’d been to much better looking accident scenes where no one had walked away alive. I was also fully conscious throughout the time when they were cutting me out of the car. I guess selective memory loss is a great thing. The other driver is apparently paralysed from the chest down although, frankly, I’m not too concerned about his welfare.
Over the next 10 days I pick glass out of my hair and I pull small shards from my hand. After the operation my bowels shut down and I needed a tube inserted down my throat to relieve the pressure. They don’t start functioning properly again for another 3 weeks. As days go by, the oxygen is removed, the antibiotic drip is finished and I no longer need IV fluids. blood or the nebulizer. The catheter is removed and I have to train my bladder the pee properly again (a frustrating and stressful experience). I have to practice breathing deeply to stop my lungs and chest becoming lazy. These are all things that need to be overcome but which aren’t immediately obvious from the injuries. After the first few days, I’m off the morphine-based painkillers and seem to manage with just panadol.
The physios start me on a Continuous Partial Motion machine which bends my stiff right leg between two extremes. I manage 60 degrees on the first day. They also get me out of bed into a wheelchair with the use of a slideboard. It’s good to be up but just sitting there is exhausting and I have to be hoisted back into bed. This sequence repeats for the next few days although I’m frustrated because the doctors and physios don’t work over the weekends so my recovery is paused for 2 days.
After almost 2 weeks on the orthopedic ward at CUH I’m considered stable and medically fit enough to be transferred to St. Mary’s, a dedicated orthopedic hospital from further physio and rehabilitation. Here a very enthusiastic physio gets me standing up in a large walking frame but after consultation with my doctors there’s no way I’ll be walking. I’m not allowed to weight-bare on the right leg or arm. Basically I spent the week learning to move from bed to wheelchair, wheelchair to commode and back to bed again. It gets easier and quicker each day and eventually they admit that there isn’t anything more they can do for me until I’m allowed to put some weight on the right leg. The physio keeps showing me off to his students like I’m some sort of superhero because I’m not taking painkillers and just chuckle through the pain. I’ll be in a wheelchair for another 3-5 weeks and I won’t even be able to wheel myself around as I only have the use of the left arm.
On crutches, limited walking distance. Arm (ulnar fracture near elbow) not healing very quickly because it was the compound fracture and also splintered so fragments were lost. Unless it fixes itself in the next 2months, I’ll have to undergo a bone graft from my hip to fill in the gap between the bones. Getting physio now and that has loosened the ankle and wrist considerably. Still worried I won’t regain full movement of the wrist and that I’ll always be a little bit fragile.