When I finally awoke for good that Monday morning, the hospital room was awash in bright sunshine flowing in through the massive windows beside my bed. I had no way to tell the actual time because I did not have my watch with me. Indeed, neither did I have my glasses, my wallet, my phone, or any of my other belongings. All I had were the biking shorts I was wearing. The rest of my stuff, including the stuff that had been rescued after the crash, was with KP.
A young nurse with a kind look on her face walked up the bed and asked if I wanted to get up. Oh, sure! I made an attempt to raise myself and fell back on to the bed immediately. The pain in my chest was instant and excruciating, and almost unbearable. I had to focus my mind to get it under control. The nurse had a look of deep concern. I was more careful sitting up the next time, but this time, once I got up, my head began to spin. I had been on my back for too long, with my only nourishment since the crash coming through an IV feed. The nurse asked me to keep my eyes open and look out of the window until the feeling went away. I stared out of the window at the other hospital buildings in front of me. I managed to slowly get on my feet, but the chest was completely stiff. It hurt to bend. She asked me if I wanted some pain medicine. I was reluctant to take the medicine because I had the thought (mistaken, it turned out) that the sooner I managed the pain, the better off I would be. I did make it to the bathroom. The nurse got me some toothpaste and a toothbrush to brush my teeth. I had to improvise by going down on my knees to reach the height of the sink to spit. At least the knees were working!
My breakfast arrived and the day got started. I ate regular food from then on. Even though I still had a IV line going into my right arm, it was not being used for anything. Shortly after 10:00 am, a group of doctors arrived on their rounds. The spokesman for the group told me that they would rather I took the pain medicine and exercise the lungs (to hasten healing and prevent infections) rather than sit in bed and tolerate the pain. I resolved to use the powerful narcotic they were offering, but only as needed. If you were wondering why I was in a good mood in spite of being in the hospital, it was probably the drugs!
The leader of this group of doctors, a sprightly older gentleman with a twinkle in his eye, stepped forward to talk. His name was Dr. Ian Anderson. I had the immediate urge to ask if he was familiar with Jethro Tull, but I held back. He started by asking me about my insurance coverage. I resolved to get my insurance ID to him as soon as I got my stuff. Pretty soon, as the other young doctors looked on, my conversation with him veered off into the weeds with minimal effort on my part. He enjoyed talking about many topics, and he seemed to have taken a liking to me. Turns out that Dr. Anderson is a very highly regarded physician. He is a former military doctor who is still very active, and he still bikes for charity events. He must have felt a certain empathy when he heard my story. He seemed to be very familiar with accident cases like mine. (From legionmagazine.com: “Retired Colonel Ian Anderson, now a trauma surgeon for the Calgary Health Region at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary, has kept himself available to the CFHS by remaining in the Primary Reserve. His 32-year career with the CF included deployments to Bosnia, Kabul and Kandahar. When he joined the CF in the 1980s, “I never dreamt I’d be here at the pinnacle of a tertiary care facility, in possibly the best trauma system in Canada,” Anderson says. By keeping his foot in the door, he gets the occasional shot at deployment. And when he’s not deployed, he points out, “I don’t cost the system one penny.””
I got to know my roommate better that day. He was about my age, and he was a fairly active outdoors guy. He had been in the hospital for more than two weeks at that point. Turned out that he had set out on trip by ATV from Calgary to Mexico with his friends, and had crashed on the first day of the ride itself, just across the border in Montana. He had to be airlifted to the hospital. He had broken numerous bones, had pneumothorax, but worst of all, had internal infections that were slowing his healing. He had to walk around with a tube coming out of his back feeding into a device he had to carry. (That was when I realized how fortunate I had been!) He was a good guy. He had his good and bad times physically while I was there, but he did not seem to get discouraged by the bad times. He always spoke well about the caregivers in the hospital. His friends would bring him food from outside restaurants. He really enjoyed the Baconator that he got one afternoon. He was trying to get into good enough shape to leave the hospital for a short while to give his daughter away at her wedding that weekend. I don’t know how that worked out. By the way, his buddies did complete the ATV ride to Mexico.
KP arrived a little later in the morning with my stuff. It was good to have my computer, and to be able connect to the Internet using the wi-fi signal in the hospital. I was back in business. But the network connection process was onerous enough that I also activated a direct connection to the cellular network from my smartphone. I learned to love my smartphone during the next few days. The frame for my glasses had been completely deformed, but KP managed to push it back into a usable shape. I now also had official documents with me confirming my identity.
My wife had been informed about the happenings in Canada the previous day, and she proceeded to spend a sleepless night trying to get things reorganized at home, and to come up with a plan of action on my behalf. My brother Tom, who lives in Dallas, had been contacted. He was going to drop everything to come to Calgary to be by my side. He would arrive on Wednesday. He would figure out the rescue plan. My older daughter was also roped into the planning. The only realistic options seemed to be to either get up to Edmonton from Calgary to catch the train to Toronto, and then find a way to get Gaithersburg from there, or to get across the border into Montana to intercept the train from Seattle to Chicago, and then catch an onward train to Washington, DC.
Now that he was going to be in the city longer than originally planned, KP planned to spend some time in town as a tourist. There was little to be achieved by him sticking around in my hospital room all day. He also got in his daily run. He had also bought an airline ticket to get back home the next day (Tuesday). His plan was to to stop by the hospital and spend some time before he left. He was in touch with Tom. KP was such a life-saver. Beside helping me locate stuff that I needed from my luggage and getting this stuff back to me, he also offered to take back home some of things that I had no further need for. Most of this turned out to be my laundry from the ride. Awesome dude!
It might have been some time during that day that I mentioned to one of the doctors that something did not seem quite right on my the back of my left palm. He promised to order x-rays.
I met Tobi, the night nurse assigned to me for my entire hospital stay, that evening. You could not miss Tobi when she walked into the room. She had such a presence. A somewhat tall and lean person with a distinctive haircut, she always moved around with a sense of purpose. She had a warm spirit and a great sense of humor. She was very experienced and good at her job. She was also super efficient and effective. She was extremely caring. She and I got to chatting about a lot of stuff in general, and she generally put my mind at ease. She told me about her adventures traveling around the continent with her family.
It was Tuesday morning by the time I finally got a chance to get out of my biking shorts, and also clean myself in the bathroom with some wet wipes. When the doctors came by to do their morning rounds, they told me that my discharge from the hospital was up to me. The lung was healing. The broken ribs would be left to heal by themselves. There was no more treatment for them to do. From then on my hospital stay was going to be all about my managing the pain. For some reason, perhaps unfair, I thought they wanted me out of there. I came to the realization that under the circumstances I might be better off just staying in a hotel until I felt well enough to travel, rather than spend a lot of money on a hospital bed. I resolved to try to at least leave the hospital when Tom arrived. We would make a decision regarding further travels at the time of my discharge depending on how I felt at that time.
I think it was the same day that I also got a visit from another young doctor who said she was from the Plastic Surgery team. She told me about the fractured metacarpal bone in my left hand, something that had been revealed by the x-rays taken after my complaint. She returned later with the senior attendee. The recommendation was for surgical intervention to fix the fracture, but to have the intervention done after I got home so that I could get appropriate aftercare. I could be given a temporary splint in the meantime.
Later that day, one of the young ladies working in the unit fashioned a removable splint to use on my left hand.
That night Tobi decided that I did not need my IV line anymore. I was very grateful when she took it off. I was feeling good about getting on with things.
During their rounds on Wednesday morning, I told the doctors that I would like to be discharged that day. I told them about my brother who was going to come to Calgary to rescue me, and about possible travel plans. Dr. Anderson approved. He went beyond approval. He said that times like this were what family was there for, and he proceeded to chat about the train journey experience if I were to take the train to Toronto.
The process for my discharge was started. I had to make sure the hospital had my health insurance information so that they could deal with my insurance provider rather than insisting that I pay on my own. FYI, I would not have had to pay a dime had I been a resident of Alberta! They also had begun gathering my medical records to take with me when I left.
Dr Anderson stopped by to give me his bill. He had been unsuccessful in reaching my insurance company, but he seemed to be confident enough that I would take care of the matter. We talked some more and shook hands. He wished me well and told me I could contact him any time if I had questions.
I began to gather my stuff to prepare for departure. I told the nurse that I wanted to take a shower before I left, and also wanted to let my brother see how the wounds were to be dressed, so that he could take care of what was needed in this regard during our travels. I was still not sure exactly what would happen after my discharge regarding these travels. Tom seemed to be leaning towards taking The Canadian to Toronto eventually.
And then I waited…..
And this is what happened next.