Saturday, December 10, 2011

It takes a mistake to change... (Part 1)

I've neglected for so long to actually write about the motorcycle accident that caused a change in my life. It was April 13, 2006 and friends and I were being young males on a spring day in western Pennsylvania. After leaving a park out in the country to head into town, one of my friends began roof-surfing on top of another friend's car as I was riding behind on my motorcycle, a 2003 Suzuki GSXR-750.

I don't recall the exact feeling, but a loss of intelligent control occurred and I found myself twisting the throttle of the motorcycle, cranking out as much sheer speed as I could, to pass my car-surfing friends on a back-road straightaway. As I topped 2nd gear (good for a little more than 100+ mph on that bike) I mistakenly realized that the curve ahead was quickly approaching. I had gained too much speed and not enough experience with handling acute stress and effective decision-making skills. I found myself target-fixating on the side of the road, the spot where I dreaded meeting my demise. Given that I could not look through the turn (which in hind-sight was not terribly sharp, less than a 60 degree angle and possible to ride through with that bike), I played exactly into the side of the road, first running the bike off the road and then suddenly back on in what I assume, from memory, was a last-effort jerk reaction to save myself.

What happened next was something terribly violent. I can only recall being off the road, back on and then the snow globe world I was living in was violently shaken to a color of blackness. My friends in the car behind me, with smiles no longer on their previously-joyous faces, watched in horror as what they describe to be one of the most terrible scenes in their lives to that point. In their recollection days after the accident, and still to this day, they recall seeing me tumble down the road like a rag doll as my bike slide and flipped beside me.
I was fortunate enough to be unconscious and have no memory associated with the 60-70 yards of sliding, skidding, and rag-dolling down the pavement.

My bike, on the other hand, came to rest violently against a telephone pole with enough force upon impact  to crack and bend the front wheel and frame. According to my friends, I kept on skidding past that pole, within a few feet or so, and projected off a 10-12 foot embankment down into a railroad bed.

I awoke an uncertain amount of minutes later to my friend Fred yelling my name.

"Alan, Jesus,....ALAN!"

They had certainly thought I was dead and seeing me awake as a groggy, confused, and concussed individual was the best thing they had seen in the last 5 minutes. I can recall being worried about my bike after I realized I had trashed it. Then came the blur of pain. My body and brain were in shock at this point. I do recall checking for my chapstick, which had gone missing from my jeans pocket, and for my cell phone to call my girlfriend at the time, Ashley, to tell her I loved her.

The impact of my landing off the embankment was the most damage physically that I received that day (though the psychological damage would later reel its ugly head in the weeks after). I do barely recall waking up very discombobulated; my body twisted in ways that I'm sure it had never been. My right side was the downside in this discombobulation, and therefore the first point of impact. This easily snapped my right clavicle bone (collar bone). I can recall a man stopping on the road above to see if my friends needed help; it was my good friend Joe Kretchman - a personal mentor and great family friend.

I wonder what it was like for him to see me there like that? I wonder if he was meant to be there on that day?

Because of my concussed brain and disoriented thinking process, I do not recall how long it took for the ambulance, State Police, or Medi-vac helicopter to arrive. My memory only preserved bits and pieces. I can recall in or near the ambulance, the medics trying to stick me with an IV and missing a few times before they hit what they sought in my right arm. I can recall them cutting my jeans from the bottom up to expose my bleeding, road-rashed and leaking fluid right knee (the jeans I have saved to this day, along with the helmet that most likely helped save my life).

I recall a glimpse of the short ride in the ambulance to a spot where the helicopter could land and load me in its belly. I have a memory of crying in the back of the helicopter, with the roof of the thrashing machine within a foot of my face. With my neck locked into a stabilization collar I caught a glimpse out of the corner of my eye of trees and buildings as we neared Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center. I needed brain scans because of impact brain trauma; the medics worried about swelling and bleeding in my brain that couldn't be assessed at the hospital in my hometown.

I was later released that night with no signs of brain damage or cranial bleeding to some of my awaiting family members. I had road rash on my back, elbows, shoulders, and especially knees - some of the scars and discoloration remaining today, and a memory that I never forget. I can recall the pain associated when the nurses cleaned the road rash wounds, and the point finally when a hospital staff member helped me out of the wheelchair and into the car with my dad. Much of the recovery process that evening I do not recall; perhaps due to the pain medication.

*****

What I do recall to this day is the mistake that I made, and how it changed my life. While no visible brain damage was diagnosed, something about that traumatic event changed the direction my life was to head.

...Continued here: Part 2...

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