Travels With My Brother – Departure From Calgary

Tom walked into the hospital room around 3pm. He was pulling his lightly loaded carry-on suitcase behind him. It was great to see his smiling face.  The preparation for my departure from the hospital moved into higher gear.  By this time Tobi had started her evening shift, and she also moved into action to get me on my way.

As I mentioned before, the original goal was to see how I felt at the time of my discharge and plan what happened next accordingly.  Tom let me know that there was a train (The Canadian) leaving around midnight from Edmonton to Toronto, and that the next train was only on Saturday.  I decided that we should try to get on this train.  There still appeared to be seats available. We were going to try to get a private sleeper cabin for the three day trip.  This reservation would include breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in the dining car. That was the tentative plan.

After Tom’s arrival, the first thing I did was to have my first real bath after the crash.   A nurse then arrived to put new dressings on my wounds.  As she was working on the wounds, she told me that there still appeared to be gravel in the crater behind my shoulder where flesh had been lost.  I gave her permission to use as much force as needed to try to get out the dirt.  It did not hurt. After the cleaning and bandaging, we gathered some of the left-over dressings as supplies for the journey.  I got fully dressed.

The doctors had a prescription ready for me for pain medication to take during the travels home, and we needed to get to the pharmacy before closing time to fill it.tempI walked through the hospital for the first time.  Having spent the last few days staring at other hospital buildings from my hospital bed, I had been oblivious to its nice location.  You could see the city out of its windows. It was a revelation. We went down the elevator a few floors, and then from out of the McCaig Tower into the main building. We walked past the cafeteria area, past the signs of people going about their “normal” lives, something that I had not seen for a few days, and finally found the pharmacy.  I submitted the prescription and we then returned to my room to complete the packing and other formalities.

Tobi had finally received the discharge documentation to take with me.  It included electronic copies of the X-rays and CT Scans. I wished my ex-roommate goodbye and good luck with his daughter’s wedding, wished Tobi well, and then walked out of the trauma center with Tom for the last time.

I was able to move along at a decent speed to get to places.  I was feeling good. Tom was helping with my luggage. We made it to the pharmacy before it closed with 3 minutes to spare.

We had a plan of action that required precise timing in its execution for us to be able to successfully catch the train from  Edmonton to Toronto that night.  Part on the plan depended on our ability to get automobile transportation promptly when needed.  Fortunately, Tom had the Uber application on his smartphone to summon car rides, and the system worked exactly the way it was supposed to.  Another element of the plan was the ability to take action to book reservations while traveling by bus.  The bus was supposed to have wi-fi.

Within a few minutes of picking up the prescription, we were out the front door of the hospital.  Our only chance of catching the train was to get on the 6:30pm Red Arrow bus to Edmonton and it was already past 6pm.  Would we make it?  Tom came up with the idea of intercepting the bus on its way north at Red Arrow’s Calgary North ticket office, where the bus was supposed to depart from at 6:45pm.  We made it there with 15 minutes to spare, and they did also have seats on the bus available for us.tempGreat – so far, so good!

They did also have snacks and water on the bus.  There was no time for a proper dinner.

Once on the bus, we connected to its wi-fi system and got on the Via Rail website in order to buy the tickets for our onward journey.  Fortunately there were tickets available. Our effort to buy the tickets online was however foiled by an irritating software bug that required that we enter some sort of discount code that did not exist!  Ughhhh, software!!! Tom had to call Via Rail directly, and after overcoming a credit card glitch, we managed to reserve places on the Canadian that night.  The boarding passes were issued electronically, and Tom had to send mine to me via email.tempWe were all set, and there was nothing more to do on the bus until we got to Edmonton, which would happen after 10pm.

I felt a little out-of-sorts without my camera, which I had asked Bob to take it home after the crash. I did not think that the camera on the smartphone was any good, but I had no choice but to start experimenting with it.  The sun was setting  as we rolled north.IMG_20170802_211721461We arrived in downtown Edmonton as scheduled, and immediately caught an Uber to the Via Rail train station.  The station was located further away from downtown and closer to the outskirts of the city than I expected.  We arrived at a building that had signs for both Via Rail train and Greyhound bus services.

The waiting room was packed with people in spite of the late hour.    There were all kinds of people waiting to travel, young and old, and families with kids, couples, and single people.  Children ran around in spite of the late hour.  A sort of dull chaos prevailed. Most folks were slumped in seats or wherever else they could find some space, trying to get some rest.   People were tired.  It felt a bit dreary.

At that point, we had been on the move for a long time. I was still feeling OK, even though the body was somewhat stiff. We found a place to park ourselves and our luggage. Our train was supposed to arrive at 11pm and depart at 11:55pm.  The only announcements we were hearing were for the departure of Greyhound buses,  There were vending machines in front of us with food and drinks, but it all looked unappetizing.  11pm came and went without any sign of the train.

A Few Days in Calgary

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…..

Delivery to Foothills Medical Center in Calgary

The paramedics arrived a short while after my fall, after a call was made to 911.  They loaded me gently into the ambulance and prepared to ship me to the Mineral Springs Hospital in Banff for further examination.

I parted ways with most of the folks who had been my biking companions for the last six days at this point.  I clearly remember Sally making an extra effort to say a face-to-face goodbye.  (Apologies to the others if I missed their efforts.) Not sure how I responded.  The others had also decided that they would not continue with the rest of the ride.  Ben took them to a place where they could change for their journeys home that evening.   I  had been scheduled to fly home with Bob and KP very late that same night on the same flight as them.  They were trying to figure out how to help me out.  KP rode with me in the ambulance to the hospital.

There was a lot of waiting involved in the hospital in Banff.  I remember chatting with Bob while on a gurney in a corridor as he stood by my side.  By this time, since the ride was over, I was resigned to whatever was going to happen to me as a part of the process of possible recovery.  Bob told me that I was in such a confused state of mind after the accident that for a while I had insisted on continuing with the ride.

The X-rays and other tests revealed that I had broken a bunch of ribs.  Nothing else major seemed to be broken.  My spine seemed to be intact.  But they were not sure if I had a pneumothorax (collapsed lung).  All the damage was on the left side on which I had fallen. I also had a ghastly amount of road rash on the left hand, but strangely enough, I did not feel pain from the ugly looking bruises.  The fact that flesh had been gouged out of my side and shoulder by gravel did not seem to make a difference.  And my ribs did not hurt that much as long as I was lying down.  I suspect they may also have had me shot up with painkillers at that point.

Because of the ambiguity of the tests regarding the collapsed lung, and the absence of an operating CT Scan machine in Banff over the weekend to further clarify the findings, they decided to get me to the regional trauma center at Foothills Medical Center in Calgary. This trauma center served all of the province of Alberta and had a reputation as a top-notch facility.

I was carted off to an ambulance once again, to be shipped off to Calgary.  Bob and KP had come up with a plan.  Both were coming to the hospital, but KP was also going to delay his departure from Calgary in order to stay with me for a few more days.  He did this despite the fact that he had other travel constraints and family considerations to deal with.  Some people are too good.

KP rode in the front of the ambulance with me.  He wrote this to include in my blog.
Since you were not able, I felt I had to take some notes for your blog. Here are some things from the last couple of hours:

The first EMT Andrew said he was a champion cyclist himself who held local records. He was thinking of going Pro but that was when everyone was doping. He decided not to. 

Your ambulance driver was Leanne. She is normally a EMT for the air ambulance in the Northwest Territories and Kunuvit. They fly out to small communities of 100 to 2000 people. She works there for 4 weeks, on call 24 hours, then comes to Calgary for 4 weeks. Her partner is a pilot for Weather. 

There was an airshow by the Snowflowers as we were driving. They had 7 planes doing 2 loops while we watched.

As I waited in the hospital waiting area, they brought in a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit. He had a chain around his waist and his wrists were chained to his waist. He also had another chain limiting his stride.

Some of the conversations in the ambulance must have drifted back my way occasionally,  but I do not remember them.  I do remember the paramedic talking to me and giving me updates every once in a while.

Things went slowly at the Foothills Medical Center that evening.  They eventually did have the CT Scan of the whole body done.  The investigation was more thorough than in Banff.  There was confirmation about the five broken ribs and the pneumothorax.  They confirmed that there were no other broken bones (but they actually did end up missing  one relatively minor one).  The doctor in the emergency room thought I needed a chest tube to help get rid of the pnuemothorax (which is really air in the sac around the lung), but the doctor from the trauma center later arrived and told me that my case was not serious enough to warrant this kind of intervention.  Although I was prepared to go through any required procedure at that point, I later realized that it was a good thing I did not have to go through this particular one.

One of the consequences of the diagnosis of a pnuemothorax was that I would not be able to fly anywhere for a few weeks.

At some point during the evening, Bob departed from the hospital to catch his flight home.

I ended up in the McCaig Tower of the hospital, in Unit 44 for surgery/trauma. I was in a room on a high floor with three other patients, next to the nurses area.  KP spent some time with me before he departed to the hotel room he had found nearby.  Some time later I was moved to a room at the end of the hall, and to a bed next to a nice big window.  There was another patient with me in the room.  It was a quiet location.  The bed was extremely comfortable.

It was already a new day by the time I was officially admitted to the hospital.  I was still wearing the biking shorts I had fallen in when I fell asleep under the warmed blankets.

Meanwhile, there was already some planning underway at home to try to rescue me from Calgary.

Crashed

I must have hit the tarmac pretty hard.  An eyewitness account indicates that there was some bouncing on the helmet on the road involved.  (I have the helmet – the foam on the helmet is compressed in a certain section, and also cracked, but the helmet had held its shape.)  I am told that I was knocked out for a couple of minutes.  When I came to, I could hear voices filled with concern that I recognized, and I gradually realized where I was.  I think it was Stacy who was saying that we had two doctors in our group.  They were asking for an ambulance be called.  They were also trying to shield me from other traffic on the road.  I had apparently turned myself from my side to my back by instinct, but they really did not want me to move because of the risk of spine damage.  Sally wanted to protect me from the sun and held on to my hand to reassure me.  I must have been in great pain but I do not remember any of it.  I cannot even remember if there was any screaming involved.  Am I imagining some of the things I mention here?  I really don’t know.

But this I already knew – I had made a significant mess of things….

What I did not know at that point was that this situation was also going to open up a lot of positive experiences for me.  The people I interacted with, both friends and strangers, and the folks who helped me in various way during the next few days – all amazing!

On The Road to Recovery

Some of you may have noticed a long gap in postings between this particular blog and the previous one.  There is a good reason for that. I was in bad shape from my fall on the last day of the Jasper to Banff bike ride, and stabilization, transportation back home, and ongoing recovery, became the major project.  I am still in major recovery mode, and I still have a lot of things to catch up on from being away longer than I expected.  But at this point I am also more comfortable getting back to my blogs and pictures.  I have more to add about my experiences and adventures. You should hear more from me shortly, and hopefully this will not be a bad thing.

In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium | Quanta Magazine

Fascinating area of study that can help us understand how human interactions evolve, and can even be used to try to explain how societies, or even entire species, can progress to certain states of “equilibrium”, or not….

via In Game Theory, No Clear Path to Equilibrium | Quanta Magazine