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Warning: this is a graphic post–not the pictures, just the content. I felt like I needed to write this as soon as possible to get it out of my head and start my own healing. My intentions aren’t to scare anyone but this is what I went through on Saturday when Adelaide was almost killed by an inattentive driver.
I’ve been planning a blog post for a few weeks now, letting the exciting incidents of my life build so I have material to work with. It’s my usual routine, especially when there aren’t race reports to write. With a number of writeable things going on of late, I figured I had plenty of options 1) Adelaide and I got mountain bikes 2) I saw three black bears on a mountain bike ride the other day 3) I got on a bike team for 2015 4) I saw a house burn down while on a run with Maybellene. A baby was killed in the fire.
The third option, when nothing comes up worth writing about, is to let my anger build over any number of random issues for a good rant.
The following is a story about the worst day of my life, by far.
Adelaide and I woke to a brisk but sunny day on Saturday. Maybellene was super excited to be up and running around as usual. Adelaide took her to the dog park while I was still asleep. After a pancake breakfast, which is our tradition for weekend rides, we met up with friends at Amante for the ride. Adelaide, the only one with an actual race to train for, parted from us early on, going north up highway 36 to Lyons as we went up to Ward. Her iron-distance triathlon was three weeks away and she needed a couple more weekends of long, hard, flat rides to prepare her for the 112 miles she’d encounter down at Lake Havasu on November 8th. Her running and riding form were coming along really well and she was shooting for a sub 11-hour race. Swimming is a non issue for her. She barely even needs to train for it.
The rest of us went at a leisurely pace for a while until I got a branch stuck in my front wheel, which required a brief stop. Matt decided an attack was in order right afterwards, since we’d both been complaining about the slow pace. Liam and I slowly towed him back, then pulled the plug well before that last steep pitch to the water pump. There, we all regrouped. They began the climb up to Brainard Lake and I said goodbye to head off down the mountain and reconnect with Adelaide, who would have been on the second of four 24-mile laps.
With me doing the lap in reverse, we had planned on meeting along the way. Being slow and tired from too much mountain biking and running, I planned to draft off her for a lap then head home to eat, take Maybellene for a walk or to the dog park, and work on the sponsor packet for the Carter Lake road race. A trip to Sprouts for dinner groceries was also in order.
I started to feel the day’s effort in my legs about three hours in. I should have seen her by then too. Her bike wasn’t at the Hygiene store, where she said to look just in case she had stopped for water. She drinks approximately 31 bottles an hour during rides. Zero throughout the rest of the day.
I kept going and took a left on 66 towards Lyons, fairly certain I wasn’t going to see her. Maybe she’d gotten tired early and only did one lap. Or she did a different route completely. I’m not one to worry too much. I was mainly thinking of how hungry I was getting since I’d only brought a small bit of food and the ride was approaching 3.5 hours. My mind drifted for a little while. I had a 15K trail race the next day. Four hours of riding wasn’t going to be the best preparation. Whatever, it was just a practice race anyways. I turned south on 36 towards home.
15 minutes later, as I climbed one of the rollers, I saw an Osmo bottle with a strange yellow lid sitting in the ditch. I recognized it as one of the bottles I’d filled that morning for Adelaide. She doesn’t leave bottles when they’re dropped. I looked up to the left, just now getting to the intersection of Hygiene Rd and Hwy 36 and saw two police cars and some people standing in the grass by the side of the road. It reminded me of a scene I’d come across on my way to Sprouts two days before: Emergency vehicles and a crumpled bike. I’d stopped then to see if anyone was seriously injured, just out of my own curiosity. This time, as I pulled across the road to the police car, I was suddenly very worried.
I asked what happened, if a cyclist was hit, was it a girl, what did her bike look like, what was her name, hair color. He gave me the bike’s description, not hers. He hadn’t seen her and the injuries to her face were substantial, which to me meant that she’d been unrecognizable. She hadn’t been able to give her name, he said. Those last two details made my stomach churn and my heart race. He didn’t have details about her hair color or who she was. He was the crash scene investigator. The female cyclist was taken to the hospital at 12:00. It was now 1:34. If it was Adelaide, she’d probably just started her second lap at that point, so the timing looked right. Or very wrong.
Since the bike he described matched hers and the bottle on the other side of the road looked exactly like hers, I didn’t want to take the chance of it not being her, so I asked for a ride in his car to the hospital (Longmont United). My bike wouldn’t fit. I said I’d leave it in the bushes. While walking it over to dump it off I asked the three civilians standing there what had happened, and if any of them was the driver. One guy said yes. I asked for a description of what she looked like and another guy said he thought her name had been Adelaide.
I paused for a moment, letting the shock hit me. Serious facial trauma and she hadn’t given her name, meaning that she was unconscious or dead (I assumed someone else riding near her had ID’d her and that she hadn’t told her name herself). The officer said she’d gone through the driver’s side window while traveling north on 36 and that the car had pulled out abruptly into the road in front of her to take a left turn. She’d T-boned it. Highway 36, which is the most popular training road in Boulder and had hundreds of cyclists on it that day, is straight at this intersection. So her coming around a corner or him not being able to see her was not the issue.
It’s the sort of “accident” that almost happens every day. It happens when drivers like this one feel just in gambling with a cyclist’s life in order to save five seconds of their precious time. Adelaide had almost been hit last week when someone did this to her while she was commuting home from work.
I turned to the driver and screamed at him and took a half lunge toward him as he stepped back. I stopped myself from doing anything and the police officer stepped between us. My worry was far greater than my rage. I needed to get to the hospital.
I frantically jumped back on my bike and the police officer, who had to stay at the scene with the driver, yelled out some directions for me as I went. I began screaming again a few moments later, now crying uncontrollably as well. Sobbing uncontrollably. Screaming without expletives, or words at all, for the entire ride to Longmont. I thought she’d be dead or paralyzed when I got there.
During that awful ride I felt guilt for getting her into bike racing, guilt for leaving her to ride alone while I went up to Ward, guilt for departing Amante at the exact time that would put Adelaide in the path of that car. I began regretting all sorts of little and big things. Had I given her a hug that morning? I couldn’t remember. If I hadn’t, why hadn’t I? I regretted the tiny argument that we’d gotten into a few days earlier, which was really just a debate about how to solve the income gap between whites and blacks. Mainly I regretted not having asked her to marry me yet. Now I knew I wouldn’t have the chance. I imagined a future without her and knew I’d be better off dead too.
I was convinced she was dead from the way the officer had described the collision and her injuries. This must be a dream. This must be a dream. This must be a fucking dream. I was trying to ride as fast as I could but I was crying and screaming too much to get enough air in my lungs. I blew through every stop sign and red light, thinking of how funny it would be if I ended up in the hospital bed next to her.
When I got to Longmont United I dismounted and ran my bike in through the front doors asking where the emergency room was. The next 10 minutes would be the most stressful, horrible of my life. Finding out that it was Adelaide at the crash site and the ride to the hospital were absolutely the worst I’d ever experienced, but now was when I’d get the bad news I knew I wasn’t prepared to receive.
Someone chaperoned me to the ER, hugging my shoulder as we walked through the hall. She asked me what had happened but I couldn’t respond. So she just rubbed my back. I left my bike at the front desk of the ER and they quickly took me off to a private room to discuss Adelaide’s condition.
The doctor started off right away with the good news. She was alive, she had no damage to any of her limbs, spine, or brain. She was talking and somewhat coherent when she came in. That was the good news. The bad news was that all the injuries she sustained were to her face, which had literally been torn off.
He said almost every bone in her face had been broken. Her cheek bone, nose, eye socket, septum, her jaw in numerous places. Everything. The flesh from her upper right lip to her left shoulder had been ripped completely open. Through the tears in my eyes I could see tears even in his. He gave me a long embrace.
They took me in to see her briefly. She was sedated and unconscious, with a room full of doctors and nurses using a hand held pump to make her breath. Her face was mostly covered up and I couldn’t see much of her. I reached for her hand, which was coated in dried blood. It was cold. Pale white under the red stains.
One of her surgeons, Dr. Leonard, arrived and we met briefly before I was taken out of the room and back to the ER center desk area so I could use a computer and look up contact information. I didn’t have a phone on me. The next hour was spent signing forms for the surgery that she was about to have, another form for the anesthesiologist, general information about Adelaide including our address, contact information, insurance, etc, most of which I didn’t have or couldn’t remember. I talked to the same police officer, Officer Wise, who’d been investigating the crash. He discussed with me how he thought it might have happened. He and some of his colleagues had been out searching for me and had been worried. The hospital Chaplain, a gentle motherly woman named Laura, was with me the entire time, bringing pretzels, socks with rubber grippers so I could get out of my cycling shoes, and cup after cup of ice water. I was freezing cold but didn’t have the wherewithal to do anything about it. I had bonked, was in shock, knew I needed to eat but still couldn’t get the pretzels in my hand, let alone my mouth. I spilled most on the ground, then got distracted by the half dozen people with forms and questions for me. All this while I sat at someone’s desk, using an ipad to access facebook and search for someone’s number I could call.
I finally managed to get a hold of my brother Galen, who gave me the cell numbers for Lydia (Adelaide’s sister) and Jeff (Lydia’s fiance). And Adelaide’s mom, Kathleen. Galen hung up and set about getting some things together for me like clothes and food. He and Joslynn, Galen’s girlfriend, were soon on their way.
I left some absolutely terrifying voicemails on everyone’s phone before getting a hold of Kathleen. I could hardly speak at first, knowing very well that my inability to get the whole message out was scaring her more than it should have but I couldn’t help it. I spat it out eventually and finally my job was done. Kathleen would fly in from Pittsburg early next morning. Lydia and Jeff were on their way. Galen and Jos were on their way.
Laura, the Chaplain, took me to the O.R. waiting room, doing her best to console me. She gave me some blankets and she talked to me about a few random little things for a while to get my mind off the situation until Galen and Jos came. They gave me bear hugs and Laura showed me to a bizarre, single-person bathroom with a random bathtub in it. I’d told her I was freezing cold and needed a shower to warm up. I soaked in the tub and cried while drinking a San Pelegrino lemonade and some protein mix that Galen had brought. Later I had a smashed, cold, Square Burrito that Galen had jokingly offered me that morning as we left Amante for the ride. I cracked a smile when I first saw it. Then continued breathlessly sobbing.
Jeff and Lydia showed up shortly after I was out of the bath, warmly dressed in street clothes and puffy jacket. I felt a bit better. Just being warm with some sugar in me was the biggest thing to get out of the state of shock that I’d been in. To be truthful I’m still in shock days later, but once I finally had a grasp on the situation and friends and family were around, it made a world of difference. Having other people there felt amazing. I’d never felt so alone on that ride to the hospital and the hour and a half I spent there before anyone else arrived.
She would live. She would walk and talk and run again. That’s what mattered.
We spent the next eight hours waiting for Adelaide to get out of her first surgery, which was just stitching her back up. The facial reconstruction (bone repairs) would occur later in the week. Her surgeon, Dr. Schmid, came in once to give us an update a few hours in (I think). I was pretty out of it. One of the assistant surgeons or nurses came in a few times to tell us news. At 9:00, Galen, Jos, and I ate at Wahoos while Jeff and Lydia ate next door at Noodles & Company. We went back to the hospital to wait more.
I could barely keep my eyes open from the fatigue and stress of the day. I’d started writing this blog post earlier that afternoon but I was too tired and dazed to write any more. My eyes were incredibly red and dried out and stinging from so many tears. When Adelaide gets really upset about something, like girls do, she tells me she actually gets dehydrated from crying. I never really believed her. Now I know how it feels. I drank liters of water. Cup after cup after cup. I was thirsty to obsession.
Finally, after seven hours of surgery and another hour of waiting to hear how it went, Dr. Schmid came in. He said it had gone really well. All of the tissue had been salvageable and the blood flow to the upper lip was okay. The lip had been hanging on by a thread. Miraculously, none of her vital nerves had been severed in the crash. There had been just a millimeter to spare. It seemed like her eyes were going to be okay as well. Her tongue had been bitten in half, length-wise and also a chunk had been bitten off entirely but she would keep the majority of it.
He showed us pictures to prepare us–both before and after pictures. I couldn’t look at the before pictures for very long. They were truly horrid. The most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen. It looked like her jaw was completely gone, because it was. How had she been able to talk at all? I couldn’t imagine the pain she was in before she got to the hospital. Hollywood torture scenes would be nothing compared to that. Nothing. Her face was gone.
I came back when he revealed the after pictures, showing a stitched-up Adelaide, looking mostly alive again. He scrolled through the camera to a picture of his daughter by accident, then backed up one to Adelaide again with hundreds of stitches in her face, eyes swollen shut, unconscious. What world was this? Is this even real? Am I really awake?
They took us in to see her at last, I broke down immediately again. She’d been completely fine and cheerful that morning. Now this. Her breathing apparatus was pumping away. Tubes came out of her arms from every vein. Her tongue, sticking out past her broken teeth, made for an almost amused look when combined with the somewhat smiling expression on her face (to me anyways). It only looked that way because of how the breathing tube was positioned, pulling her mouth up in a half smile. Her face and neck were covered in thick black stitches and slathered in antibacterial ointment and blood. Her eyes were taped shut and were completely swollen black and blue. Her limbs, hands, and feet, and of course her face, were all swollen and almost unrecognizable. Her hair was red from blood and antiseptic. She was pale. I felt her hand. This time it was warm.
Dr. Schmid and his team had done an amazing job despite the pitiful state she appeared to be in. Every one of his colleagues had mentioned how talented he was and how lucky we were that he was the one doing the procedure. I felt like that’s something they always tell you, but I let myself believe it. And I still do.
We squeezed Adelaide’s hands, gently stroked her legs, and quietly talked to her. They said she could probably hear us, but of course she couldn’t respond due to the breathing tube and the injuries. The coma-like state that the drugs put her in would make it seem almost like a dream to her and she wouldn’t remember any of this. She probably wouldn’t remember anything for the next week or more.
She squeezed my hand back, very hard. Surprisingly hard. I knew she was with us. She came to more and more, and even nodded yes a few times to questions. In particular to the comment about us getting her a Vitamix. We spent about 40 minutes with her and it was time to go since she was becoming too agitated. When everyone had left the room, I asked her an important question that I know I’ll have to re-ask in a few weeks since she won’t remember. Then I told her I was going to leave and she freaked out, her arm restraints easily held her weak limbs down. I stepped out to tell Lydia and Jeff that I was going to stay. In the end I decided to lie and tell Adelaide that I’d just be waiting outside her room and that I’d see her in the morning. That calmed her down again. Having me in the room with her or outside down the hall in the ICU guest sleeping room would do neither of us any good. We both needed rest.
I got home and into bed at 1AM with Maybellene, who was allowed to sleep in bed with me so she could lick away my tears as I drifted off in a nightmarish sleep.
Photo credit for this last one: D2 photography