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Thread: Six Years Ago...September 9

  1. #1
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    Six Years Ago...September 9

    Six years ago (September 9, 2001), my life changed. A lot.

    I was driving home at about 10:00 PM from the LA County Fair on the 210 freeway through Pasadena...about 10 miles from home. I was moving faster than some of the traffic, and came up on a slower vehicle. I misjudged things, and as I was checking mirrors and changing lanes, I tagged the left rear bumper of the Jeep Cherokee with the right front bumper of my full-sized Ford Bronco. The Cherokee skidded to the right side of the roadway and rolled. I never saw it rolling, because I was too busy skidding and spinning, hitting the median wall first with the front, then the back of my Bronco. When the Bronco stopped moving, I was sitting sideways in the fast lane of the freeway, backed into the wall. Unhurt except for a bloody nose.

    It was a dark section of freeway, and not wanting to be a sitting duck waiting for another vehicle to hit mine, I got out and stepped over the median wall into the "no man's land" between the eastbound and westbound lanes of the freeway. What I didn't realize (or see, since it was dark and I was a bit disoriented, having just totaled my Bronco) was the 30-foot excavation on the other side of the wall. They were building a light rail station between the freeway lanes, and had just placed the concrete base for the foundation. I thought I was stepping over a three-foot wall onto dirt. Instead, I got a three story fall onto concrete. Never saw it coming.

    Fortunately, I hit feet first. I knew right I away that I was hurt though, since any attempts to stand up sent shooting pains down my back. A few months prior, I had thrown out my back pretty bad, and I figured I'd done it again. Within a minute or so, a passerby shined a flashlight down on me and asked if I was OK. I told him my back was messed up, and he reassured me the ambulance had already been called. The paramedics got there soon, and the firefighters used the boom ladder truck as a crane to lift me out on a stretcher. Another team of paramedics was treating the driver and passenger of the other vehicle. They were banged up but not seriously injured.

    After a quick trip to the emergency room the x-rays showed a burst fracture of my third lumbar vertebra. I was told burst fractures not as common as compression fractures, and tougher to fix. It had pretty much blown up into little pieces (I also had a broken foot, but the doctors had absolutely no concern about it. They didn't even bandage it. I wasn't going to be using the foot for a while.) On the plus side, tests showed no signs of paralysis. (I'll spare you the details on the tests.) I spent a week in the hospital waiting for the orthopedic surgeon to consult with others to figure out a fix that would be most likely to succeed. That week is pretty foggy, due to the amount of Demerol I was getting. (I do vividly remember waking up the next Tuesday to the news about the World Trade Center.) Eventually, the doctors came up with a plan to rebuild the vertebra with cadaver bone and hardware, and fuse it to the ones above and below it. The surgery presented some risk of nerve or spinal cord damage, but there wasn't much other choice. After about 5 hours of surgery, I spent another week in the hospital before being released. (Including a hellish couple days in the ICU coming down off the morphine that I got post-op.)

    I spent the next three months at home, nearly all of it in a horizontal position. I had a plastic full body brace (from my hips to my armpits) that I had to wear to sit, stand, or walk. I did a fair amount of physical therapy, and I eventually recovered enough to return to work, but I spent about 18 months wearing the brace anytime I wasn't laying down or taking a shower.

    Fast forward six years and I'm thankfully doing much better than I ever thought I would. I can do pretty much anything I used to do, but I can't lift as much, and I have to be more careful with a lot of things I used to take for granted -- like opening heavy doors. I probably get more backaches now, but usually a couple Advil handles them. I have some residual nerve oddities, but they're more a nuisance than anything. (For example, there was a period of time when if I scratched the top of my left thigh, it felt like I was touching the back of the thigh, above the knee.) All in all I'm in pretty decent shape for a 50 year old guy, broken back or not.

    This whole experience changed me in a number of ways. I no longer take life for granted. I realized how close I came to buying the farm that night...some people don't survive three-story falls. According to the doctors, I also was about one vertebra away from ending up in a wheelchair. It made me realize you need to appreciate the moment, because things that can affect you for the rest of your life (or end it altogether) can happen in a matter of seconds. I also learned that no matter how bad things might seem, they can always be worse. (I had a hard time feeling sorry for myself in the hospital after seeing the World Trade Center collapse. I had it easy compared to those folks.) And the corollary, no matter how bad things are, you can make them get better if you work on it.

    Why post this big long story here? Well, I'm going to the LA County Fair later today (September 9), and it feels a bit strange to spend the anniversary of the accident retracing my steps. I drive by the accident site every month or so (I pass by there on the way to Rockler), but I always get a bit retrospective on the anniversary, since it'll always be a milestone in my life. Just wanted to share, I guess.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  2. #2
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    drive carefully vaughn! you`re a lucky man to fair as well as you have....thanks for sharin`....
    [SIZE="1"] associated with several importers and manufacturers.[/SIZE]

  3. #3
    That's a cool story Vaughn, thanks for sharing. I am just glad you are around even if the accident/ fall did tenderize you for the rest of your life.

    My sister Trisha was not so lucky. She was killed in 2003 from a car accident. It was less than 2 miles from home. I drive by that spot twice a day on the way to and from work, so I know what you mean by reliving the experience every time you go by "the spot".

    As for not being in a wheelchair, well a good friend of mine had a son that was killed in a car accident. When she was telling this one guy the story, he said "Thank God he died." We all thought that was kind of cold, but apparently his son was in a car accident but lived...as a vegetable in a mental hospital in CT. As a parent it would have to be a real bad situation to WISH your son had been killed instead of living. Apparently his son is in very bad shape both mentally and physically...

    As you said, we all have to count our blessings from time to time. Life certainly isn't easy, fair or just, but its all we got so we have to live life to the fullest. That doesn't mean carefree or willy-nilly, but realizing that life is indeed good.
    I have no intention of traveling from birth to the grave in a manicured and well preserved body; but rather I will skid in sideways, totally beat up, completely worn out, utterly exhausted and jump off my tractor and loudly yell, "Wow, this is what it took to feed a nation!"

  4. #4
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    Glad you are alive. Scary story.
    October 12 is a bad day for our family.
    Anything can happen to anyone at any time.
    "Folks is funny critters."

    Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too. ~Voltaire

  5. #5
    Join Date
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    That was a close call Vaughn.

    I think we're all lucky you survived, and I'll bet I'm not the only one who thinks that.

    cheers eh?

  6. #6
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    Vaughn,
    thanks for sharing that, and I'm glad your recovery has been as complete as it has. Drive carefully!

    Dropped you a PM as well.
    -Ned

  7. #7
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    That story brings the words of an Amy Grant song to mind..."Got His angels watching over me, every step I take. Angels watching over me."
    WOW! Glad it came out the way it did, when the law of averages would say it probably shouldn't have. Jim.
    Coolmeadow Setters...
    Exclusively Irish!
    Home of Irish Setter Rescue of North Texas
    When Irish Eyes are smiling, they're usually up to something!!
    At a minimum, I'm Pentatoxic...but most likely, I'm a Pentaholic. There seems to be no known cure. Pentatonix, winners of The Sing Off, season 3


  8. #8
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    Hi Vaughn,
    Six years later is better than six years back. During the time when this was all happening it must have been very scary and painful. What an unbelieveable story, stepping over a wall to safety only to find no bottom. Two minutes? More or less that changed your life. Amazing reality. Thanks for sharing.
    P.S. Glad you are here
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  9. #9
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    Vaughn,

    Wow. I had no idea. What a story. The history of literature is filled with people saying 'gather your rosebuds while you can'... but it's stories like this that keep it real. It could happen to any of us, at any moment.

    My son has decided I'm not long for the world, and spends about an hour a day (the whole drive to and from work) trying to convert me to Buddhism before it's too late. Doorlink is also trying to save my wretched soul, by other means, but thinks of it as a long term project! Here's hoping we're all around to talk about this stuff several decades from now!

    Thanks for the reminder,

    Bill

  10. #10
    Vaughn...........I can sympathize with you. Apirl 6th, 2001, 7:00 a.m. The LOML went grocery shopping. It was spring break at the school where she works, pay day for us and I had taken the week off to spend some time with her. I went out to look at 35 ornamental shrubs and trees we'd planted the previous fall to see if they'd survived the winter. Some idiot turned their male doberman loose to run. When he came at me I took 3 giant steps and cleared the 48" chain link fence separating our front and back yards. There was frost on the grass, my feet kicked out from under me as I landed and I landed on my butt breaking L2...compression fracture. I couldn't sit up, so I rolled over and did a push up and managed to get my feet under me. I went in the house and layed on the floor until she got home at 10:30.

    2 weeks later while sitting on the toilet, it collapsed another 4 mm. Much more pain the 2nd time as the area was already inflamed. Drugs have always scared me as I know how easy it was for me to become addicted to nicotene and caffeine....I layed on the floor from 9:00p.m. until 9:00 a.m. at which time I called my orhtopaedic surgeon and I was begging for drugs!

    Slept on the floor for 10 months as any bed was too soft.

    It certainly was a life altering experience. I'm not the same physical man I used to be.

    Your experience had much more potential for being a life threatening event!

    Glad you've recovered as well as you have Vaughn!
    Last edited by Ken Fitzgerald; 09-09-2007 at 04:54 PM.

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