I’d like to explain my absence.
Where to begin?
A couple of weeks back I had what, at the time, I considered “a little accident”. I was doing some work outside the house here in Patagonia—scraping the snow off of Virginia’s car, checking to make sure the entry valve to our water storage tanks wasn’t frozen, unsticking the padlock on the front gate so Virginia could get out, etc.
I was doing all of this in my indoor shoes, something I seldom do in freezing weather, but I was in a rush and not putting on my boots, I thought, would save some time.
It was as I was again climbing to the top of our flagstone steps to open the gate for Virginia that I stepped on a patch of ice and felt myself starting to slip. Now, I’m usually sure-footed and immediately sought to recover, but failed to be able to get off of the ice or to stop the slide.
Unfortunately, I was at the top of a six-foot drop into our patio and simply, like a man washed overboard, slipped off the edge back first. The first thing to break my fall was a large granite boulder. Obviously, my body did the giving. I tried to scramble to my feet so as not to scare Virginia who was running back to see what had happened, but I was feet upgrade, head down, and scrambling never came into it.
I struggled to turn over, got on my knees and managed to push myself to my feet with the help of the roof of a sturdy doghouse. The pain was excruciating. I knew it was bad. Nothing had ever hurt like this before. But I managed to convince Virginia to go ahead about her errands. I just needed to catch my breath, I told her.
Inside the house, I did a quick damage control. The pain was persistent but I was getting my breath back. I could walk with certain difficulty but none of my limbs was broken. I was sure it was just a bad fall and that by the next day I’d be feeling better.
The next day, however, I realized that certain ways I moved a rib was clicking and decided to get myself looked at. At the local clinic they took x-rays and confirmed that I had a broken rib. There wasn’t much I could do about it, they said—wear a wrap eight hours a day and take painkillers. No going out for at least five days and no physical exertion for at least two weeks.
The third day, a Saturday, I did as I was told, but I started feeling worse all the time. I had to wear the wrap only a couple of hours at a time rather than eight straight because I was having difficulty breathing. In the evening when I took off the wrap, I immediately felt dizzy and confused. I had tunnel-vision and felt that I might black out. I told Virginia that I wanted to lie down on the couch and that if I didn’t get to feeling better soon, I’d let her drive me to the clinic to get checked out.
That never happened. Once I was down on the couch, I was never able to get up again under my own power. Virginia called the paramedics and in a short time, two consummate professionals, a man and a woman, managed to sit me up and started asking questions. I kept trying to doze off but they kept talking to me, loudly, assertively.
“Come on, champ! Hang in there. You’re going to be all right.” They asked about medication, ailments, etc., and I muttered answers as coherently as I could. But by now, all I wanted to do was sleep, and they apparently had to avoid that at all costs.
They’d had to leave their vehicle fifty meters above the house, partly over rough terrain. They wanted to see if they could get me there on foot. They managed to drag me to my feet, but as soon as they did, everything went black. Next thing I knew the male paramedic was yelling my name in my face. I think I tried to say something like, “Just let me sleep a while and I’ll be okay.” But I don’t know if I actually said it.
Finally, with the help of Virginia, they were manhandling me into a strange sort of wheel chair and strapping me in. How they did it I’ll never know since the woman couldn’t have weighed more than 120 pounds, but between the two of them, they managed to maneuver my 235 pounds up the path one step at a time, across the gravel and into the ambulance.
Once inside they locked my chair to the wall so as not to have to get me onto a stretcher. They told Virginia to follow us in her car. It was already well after midnight by this time. We had a mile of rocky pitted mountain road to negotiate before we reached the highway. They were constantly asking how I was doing, if I was with them. I could hear them like from very far away talking among themselves. The woman was driving. At one point he was consulting her about my condition, reading her my vital signs, such as they were, and she stopped the ambulance and climbed into the back with us.
She was busying herself over me, perhaps giving me an injection, when I heard him say, “You’re lucky you got her, champ, she’s a genius.”
And then we were under way again. I felt the jostling stop as we pulled onto the blacktop of the highway. As we drove, the guy stayed close, talking to me, squeezing my hand, saying, “Stick with me, champ! Come on, it won’t be long now. You’re doing great!” But then I heard him say to the woman, “Hit the lights and step on it. I can’t find his pulse anymore.”
At the clinic they were waiting for us. Between sleep and semi-consciousness, I felt myself being borne dizzyingly fast on a stretcher through the narrow halls, the front end being used as a battering ram to open successive swinging doors. There were drips hanging above me and they were taking blood pressure, temperature, pulse. Somebody cut my shirt off with surgical scissors. Then I felt them slide me into the tunnel of a tomography unit. I wanted to warn them that I was claustrophobic, but suddenly I was asleep again.
The next thing I knew, a doctor was shouting in my face, “Danny! Danny! Can you hear me?”
“You punctured a lung, buddy.” I wanted to mention that I was taking blood thinners, but clearly, he was already aware of that. Instead, I grimaced and nodded. “The surgeon’s here. We’re going to get a tube into your lung to draw off the blood.”
Later, in recovery, I heard the surgeon say, “We’ve drawn off about four and a quarter pints of blood. We’re leaving you hooked up because you’re still bleeding and we’re taking you to the ICU.”
I would later find out I’d lost another couple of pints to an intramuscular bleed that had bloomed across my back and side.
When I awoke in the ICU the next morning, I knew where I was. I was fairly comfortable. I’d gotten an end bed with a window where I could watch the sunrise on the mountains and the lake. As I lay there watching the beautiful red light tinge the snow-choked mountain tops, the phrase “brush with death” came to mind. And I suddenly, to my surprise, teared up and felt a wellspring of emotion thinking, “This is what it means. I might never have seen this again.”
Then I thought, “It’s a new day, the only one I have, and nothing will ever be the same again.”