Jamie's Blog

Lessons from a life of startups, coding, countryside, and kids

The Accident

[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]

January 14th, 2008

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.

That Afternoon

Whether it was through the tricks of memory or because I blacked out, I don’t remember much more. I remember the paramedic putting the C-spine support on me and the next thing I know I’m on a stretcher in the ambulance. They must have cut me out of the wreckage although I don’t remember that at all. I do remember thanking the local GP who turned up and administered morphine to me. I remember the paramedic saying that we’d arrived at the hospital. I remember my brother coming in to see me in the A&E at about 2pm: the nurses had got a hold of my mum by looking through my mobile phone. My parents had phoned my brother and driven to Cork to break the news to Hilary, who was wondering why I hadn’t been online all morning. When Hilary did eventually arrive, she looked less upset than I had expected which in turn made me more relaxed. The last thing I wanted was for her to get too upset. Apparently, she was just happy that I was alive and was able to talk to her.

That Evening

Later that evening I remember the doctor running through my injuries with me and my family:
  • Fractured sternum
  • Fractured 8th rib on the right
  • Fractured pelvis
  • A compound fracture to the right forearm. The outer bone (ulnar) smashed in two places, the inner broken (radius) in just one.
  • Smashed right femur, in about 5 pieces and some internal bleeding
  • Fracture to the right knee
  • Broken left ankle
I was taken into theatre at about 10pm where they proceeded to block the nerves to my right arm and leg, and put me under a general anaesthetic. One of the persistent memories was of the some of the surgeons coming in and photographing my X-rays with their mobile phones. Whether this was for reference, curiosity, amusement or future reference during the surgery I can’t be sure!
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.

Recovery

After 8 hours of surgery I arrive on the orthopedic ward. I have three metal plates in my right forearm, a metal bar running through what’s left of my right thigh bone, two screws in the bone below my right knee and another plate in my left ankle. The sternum, pelvis and rib will heal themselves.

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.

Worries and Silver-linings

The accident itself was the worst kind of bad luck but I can still count myself lucky in other regards:
  • I’m alive. Frankly, in the world of Renault Clio vs Toyota Landcruiser encounters I’m surprised that I’m around to write this story.
  • I have no head, spinal, facial or major organ injuries (at least, none discovered at this time)
  • Hilary didn’t need the car that day, otherwise she’d have been driving me to work that day and I dread to think what would have happened to Beanie
  • I’m left handed and that limb suffered nothing more than bruising. I can still write, type, feed myself, flick through a magazine, etc.
  • I have absolutely no guilt over the accident. It was like being hit by a meteorite: there was nothing I did to cause it, there was no way to foresee it and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it. There were even 4 new tyres on the car from less than two weeks ago. Knowing that I was 100% in the right is a great comfort. Had the roles been reversed, I don’t know how I’d be able to live with myself.

Home Sweet Home

Home in a wheelchair, getting frustrated. Couldn’t help Hilary with the gallstones pain or take her/visit her in hospital. Then Norah was born early. Can’t come to her when she cries, can’t change nappies, can’t pick her up and carry her, can’t hold her up for too long with right 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.

Milestones

  • 14th January: accident happen and operated on that night. 10days at CUH, followed by 7days at St. Mary’s
  • 1st February: home in a wheelchair (well, to be parent’s house because everything is on the one level)
  • 24th February: Little Norah is born, 4weeks early in an emergency Caesarian after no heartbeat was detected. She had the cord wrapped around her neck and spent 5 days in intensive care. She’s doing fine now though. I managed to get to the hospital soon after the birth
  • 13th March: out of wheelchair, walking on crutches
  • 20th March: start physio
  • 2nd April: start hydrotherapy
  • 24th April: no more crutches
  • 21st May: first time shopping in the city since the accident
  • 6th June: knee causing me problems so strapping it regularly
  • 11th June: carried Norah up the stairs for the first time
  • 21st July: returned to work part-time for 3 half-days a week
  • 25th September: bone density scan and MRI reveal a hairline fracture in my metatarsal
  • 29th September: walked 8km down the beach to photograph a gorse fire. Foot sore as usual, hip very painful. Delighted with myself!
  • October: started seeing a therapist to work out my head issues (fear of death etc)
  • ~November: returned to work full time
  • February, 2009: fracture in the foot finally healed
[box style=“note”]I’ll follow-up with how it all turned out in the end[/box]