January 6, 1999, 7:00pm. Our intrepid hero, that’s me, sets out on an exciting adventure. My new assignment: Mount Trashmore! The bigwigs down at HQ think there’s something funny going down there, and I am to infiltrate the ranks disguised as an ordinary sledder. I get into my gear, and grab my trusty alibi, a purple and white inflatable vinyl innertube type thingy. Standing in front of the mirror, I practice my emergency plan. Lofting the innertube type thingy above my shoulder, and shaking it vigorously, I say “No, man, I’m just sleddin”.
7:20pm At the site. A fire truck, and an ambulance are removing a body from the side of the hill as I climb to its perilous heights. Wheezing in the bitter cold, I try to look indifferent to the horror below as I join the ranks of shivering sledders waiting for the way to be cleared. A few impatient kids take a run before the paramedics have left the hill. The rest of us just laugh uncomfortably in the cold. One sledder has brought his dog.
7:30pm All clear, and the sledding resumes. I watch and I wait for further instructions. Something seems wrong with my com-link. Some of the other sledders are eyeing me suspiciously; they seem anxious that I haven’t set down my tube yet. Sensing this, I scan the slope before me looking for a smooth run. The kids have really made a lot of jumps at the bottom. I find a clear path, and set my tube on the ground. The snow is packed hard as ice, and my vinyl tube glides on it as though the laws of physics no longer apply. My first run is fast, and I break hard at the bottom, partly to avoid having to walk too far, and partly because the light from the top of the hill is the only light source. Bolstered by the adrenalin, I cease to think clearly and decide, as I make the climb back to the crest, to take a small jump. It goes well, and I decide to take another. Reason shouted warnings from the back row, but was drowned out by excitement and the wind.
7:45pm I decide to take that first jump again. halfway down I begin to turn sideways. I think nothing of it. I miss most of the first jump, and hit the second larger one dead on. While in the air, I lose my grip ot the right side of the tube, and it flies out ahead of me. It’s funny how danger can be so sobering. I know this is a bad thing. I think “maybe I’ll be alright. Maybe there is some soft snow here.” I think about the ambulance. My thoughts are interrupted as I impact with the ice. I hear a crunch and see a small white flash. I lie there for only a moment as a great heaviness flows through me like I am being covered with several wool blankets. I have to move. My adrenalin surges, and I get up. I gasp for breath, and wince in pain. I feel stupid and embarrassed, but also concerned. Something is definitely wrong, but having no experience with this sort of thing I can’t diagnose it. I take little breaths, each of which ends in a tiny exhalation and a whispered “ow”, and my right side is quickly becoming numb. I vascillate between going to the Hospital and going home to get some sleep first. I think maybe I just got the wind knocked out of me and will recover as I walk to my car.
At my car I fish my keys out of my pocket and struggle to open my door. I still don’t feel any better. I open my car door, and sit inside. I feel like I’ve been beat up, and I’m physically tired, but my mind is racing. I know I should go to the hospital, but I have to go home first to get my wallet. I can honestly say that at no point in my life have I ever felt worse, even the pits of Mono were better than this. I have felt pain much worse than this, but the overall sensation and uncertainty of this are worse. I start my car, and roll down the window; the fresh air makes me feel a little better. I work the car into reverse with my left arm, and steering one handed, I back out of my spot. The right side of my chest and stomach feel really heavy as I push all the fears out of my head and begin to drive home. I keep repeating to myself “It’s only 1.5 miles”. I panic a little again at a stoplight, I have been hyperventilating the whole time, and am getting all tingly. I make a conscious effort to breath deeper and slower.
8:05pm I park in the first available illegal spot I can find and get out of my car. Now I only have to walk a hundred feet or so, and up some stairs. Hmm, I think, I feel better! At least with the drive over, I feel much more at ease. Once inside I pick up the phone and dial my nearest friend’s number since she lives only a block away. I get voice mail. Up to this point I haven’t spoken, and all I manage iss a little croak. Then I called the next nearest friend, who lives 5 blocks away. “Can you drive?”, “Can you take me to the hospital?” and “My back door is open” is all I can manage. During my wait I remove my contact lenses, and feed my cat. I think about taking off some of the winter clothes, but figure it doesn’t matter much.
8:30pm I explain to the receptionist that I had a sledding accident, and am having trouble breathing, and my shoulder hurts. She is not impressed. I think that she tuned out after she discovered that there was no heavy machinery or fast moving vehicles or dangerous chemicals involved in the accident. I stress again my difficulty in breathing, but she just waves me out into the waiting room. I get this sinking feeling that this incident is going to haunt me. I find a chair and wait. Nothing new happens for a very long time. It is at this point that I first wish I had gone to a different hospital. My breathing gets a little better, and I begin to notice a lump on my shoulder, and that my shoulder is kind of low.
11:30pm I think. I get admitted into an examination room. during the examination I make it a point to repeat the difficulty in breathing symptom. They give me a wheelchair and take a pair of x-rays, and sent me back to the examination room.
1:00am They wheel me into another room and tell me to lie down on the table. I’m still not sleepy, and I feel pretty good. The adrenaline is all gone. Then the doctors show up, 4 of them. they each want to know different things. Two of them are interns. The nurse says “You messed yourself up pretty good for sledding”. “Oh? I guess so” was all I could think to say. After some idle chit-chat, the doctors leave. They return a little later with the x-rays, and I ask “So what did I do to myself?”. One of them says I am lucky they took a good look at these x-rays, because they had no clue they might be looking for the thing he is about to show me. Pointing at the x-ray, he shows me where my lung is on each side, and makes sure to point out that the right one is not where it is supposed to be, and that the air above the lung needs to be removed via a tube and vaccuum pump which needs to be inserted between two ribs, which process iss going to hurt a lot and is going to keep me in bed for two days. Again I wish for a different hospital; not because of the procedure, but because they aren’t listening to me.
A nurse rolls in to insert an IV, but instead of doing it herself, she guides an intern in the actual insertion process. He screws up and pushes the needle right through the vein. The nurse picks another vein and does it herself. For the third time, I wish I had gone elsewhere. Someone gives me a shot of Motrin or something similar, which hurts. Then a nurse says “we’re going to give you a shot of morphine”. I think, cool, never had that before. I do not like morphine. I did not know that. It makes my heart pound really hard for a few minutes, and my head gets all fuzzy. Then they give me three local shots where they are going to make the incision. By this time they also inform me that I have broken my right clavicle, and follow that up by asking if I could please raise that arm up above my head somehow during the procedure. I can hear them cutting with a small scissors, but I can’t really feel much pain. They tell me that in order to avoid puncturing my lung, that they must poke the rest of the way through with a finger. One by one, they poke around inside my chest with their fingers to feel for who knows what. By this time I have given up wishing. I am concentrating on the strange painful sensation of a finger inside my ribcage. Now for the chest tube. The head doctor instructs one of the interns on the proper angle and pressure required to insert the tubing. After about five attempts, and several warnings from the head doctor, the lucky intern is able to jam the 3/8″ tube 10″ into my chest. Even with the morphine, I am biting my tongue in pain. They suture the tube to the hole and tape it down with about 50 feet of tape. Then they hook the tube to the little vacuum, and it takes my breath away when they turn it on. Lastly they fit me with a figure 8 strap for my shoulder (which has fallen asleep).
3:30am I am being wheeled into my own little room.
5:00am The nurse stops asking questions and leaves.
6:00am The doctors come in for their morning call.
2:00pm Saturday. Dr Lara walks in with a nurse and starts telling me that it’s time to pull the tube. he removes the tape and cuts all the sutures while he explains the procedure. He says “Take a deep breath. Hold it. Exhale completely” “Take a deep breath. Hold it. Exhale completely” “Take a deep breath. Hold it. Exhale completely” “Take a deep breath.” and he yanks the tube out of my chest which burned and was excruciating. They begin taping me up again, and I ask “Can I exhale yet?”
7:00pm My girlfriend takes me home and we order pizza. happy ending.
well, I do have to go in for an exam tomorrow, but I feel great, and I can breathe deeply so there should be no bad news. Thanks to everyone who was informed about my accident – you were all very helpful and supportive, and to those of you who weren’t informed I can only say that I ran out of time, and I knew I didn’t have to tell everyone.
PS yes I called my nearest friend from the emergency room to explain that I wasn’t dying or anything like that.