Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Brush With Death

I walk or run down Sandy Point Lane at least once a day every day while residing in our house in the woods. I know the route well--every speed bump, every curve, every slight change in elevation. There are fluorescent green moss banks on either side of the worn asphalt, and it’s lined with ferns and columbine, clover and mushrooms, birch, poplar, oak, balsam, white and red pines and too many shrubs to name. It’s one-quarter mile to the mailbox and one-quarter mile back.

Monday morning after Father’s Day was partly cloudy, a little cool. It was blustery, perhaps a little windier than usual, but it didn’t feel ominous.  My husband asked me to walk with him and our dog to the mailbox. I didn’t hesitate to say yes. It was a stroll like any other day.


At the first speed bump, I remember the wind came up and a long twig fell upon my arm. I thought that a storm might be brewing, but we kept pace down the lane chatting about nothing important. Then, just past the second speed bump, a violent gust of wind came from the east and caused a tree limb to crack. In a split second, without ever seeing anything come toward me, I experienced a thud and crumpled to the ground.

Mike said I didn’t make a sound.

I didn’t lose consciousness and immediately knew I’d been hit. My second thought, as I lay in a heap on the asphalt, was a realization that I couldn’t get up. And then I saw panic in Mike’s face. He punched 9-1-1 on his cell phone before I could stop him. “There’s blood, Michele,” he said. “I need to call an ambulance.” The last thing I wanted was an ambulance. “Honey,” he said as he rolled me over in order to help me to my feet, “trust me. You need an . . . ” I spied two large puddles of blood on the crackled asphalt as he said the word “ambulance” again.
I realized I was in trouble.



The branch that hit me
Mike helped me to a bench on one of our disc golf tee-pads while he ran to get a vehicle. But sitting there alone as the wind blew twigs and branches around me, I felt like a target. I didn’t want to be hit again. So I got up and walked down the lane toward our house. I didn’t think about anything other than getting to shelter. As the blue pickup roared toward me, I waved my arms to get Mike to slow down, and to show him I was okay.

But I wasn’t okay.

Once inside I sat on a firm chair while Mike and our girls tended to my head wound, which was bleeding profusely. I don’t remember feeling pain. I only remember the sensation of a mouth full of chipped tooth particles. “My teeth! My teeth!” I cried. I think I was channeling my mother, a woman who placed a very high value on all of our precious smiles. And over the years I’ve had nightmares involving crumbling teeth and this was a nightmarish reality.


The sheriff arrived in quick time and the ambulance crew shortly thereafter. We recognized two of the crew, a local restaurant owner, and a dining room server from Lake of the Torches. Once I was in their brand new ambulance, I learned my blood pressure was 173/93 and then 179/95, and ultimately 181/97 at the hospital. I was terrified that I was going to be the middle-aged woman who got hit by a tree and had a heart attack. But everyone assured me it was only due to shock and pain and that it would come down.
They were right about that.

In the hospital
I endured a series of CT scans to rule out skull fracture and/or brain injury and then passed out during my third set of neck x-rays, when they asked me to tilt my head back. They had to clear my neck before they could stitch my head. So, it was hours before my bleeding, “heavily vascular” wound received treatment.
I never really felt the head wound, even though in addition to the 1-1/2” gash, I had developed a hematoma the size of a grapefruit. (Not kidding—my palm wasn’t big enough to cover it). But it was my neck that caused the most pain.

Results of all tests in addition to the head wound were a small fracture in the jaw area, affecting my alignment, but not requiring surgery; A minor compression fracture in my T1 vertebrae, but not requiring surgery; Concussion/Post concussion syndrome; and eight chipped teeth. I received five internal stitches in my head and seven staples, along with some anti-nausea medication, muscle relaxers and pain pills.

Nine hours later, Mike made the $250 emergency room co-pay and they released me.

Civil War Patient with ice on my head
Two days passed and Mike removed the bandages encircling my head and face. By this time, an “I’d rather fight than switch” Tarrington cigarette ad black eye had developed on my right eye. I looked like a Civil War patient, or as my niece described, a half-unwound Egyptian mummy.

Many of us know that in times of tragedy, life goes marching on, indifferent to our sicknesses, injuries, grieving or other circumstances. In addition to dealing with a business in its high season, we were in the midst of selling our house in Tucson. Two days after the accident, we had to go to town to sign/notarized the closing papers.

I remember floating into the bank that day, sitting down and explaining to our banker that I’d had an unfortunate accident with a tree.  She immediately said, “Oh my gosh, you were in the news!” Thankfully, the story didn’t use my name (or my age) and simply identified me as a “Vilas County woman.”
Local television news report

Our daughter, Willow, who had planned to stay in her Madison apartment for the summer and complete her summer school classes, opted to complete her classes on line and stay at home. Willow’s and Camille’s help and caring were both loving and invaluable. I am so proud of my daughters for rising to the occasion and taking care of the business and me in my incapacitation. I love them so much and will never forget the looks on their cherubic faces from inside the ambulance as it hauled me away.



Right side bruising beginning to heal
Nearly four weeks later I am better. I had only one setback, a complication of the spinal injury that caused swelling, nerve pain and an inability to breathe. But after another trip to the emergency room, where the ER nurse asked me if I was “the woman in the news,” and a face-to-face meeting with the x-ray tech who (along with Mike) scraped me off the floor when I had fainted during the first visit, I find myself on the road to a full recovery of all injuries.

I have even gone for a short jog where I flipped OFF the log that hit me and cried two miles in because I felt so good . . . I am confident I will make a full recovery and continue to praise God and all the healing well wishes that came from loving friends and family who supported Mike and me during this freak, dramatic period of our lives.


Made it to the Dead Show
I just need to wait until August when my new Obamacare insurance kicks in (because of the move) to get my chipped teeth fixed. Our insurance on the Arizona exchange will ONLY pay for emergency room visits, but no follow-up care in Wisconsin. Thank goodness for affordable health INSURANCE; which is NOT the same as affordable health CARE, which will honor “pre-existing conditions.” I’ll be out-of-pocket a minimum of my $5000 deductible via the premium we were forced to take on as of January 1, 2015. And the first hospital bill (not including ambulance service) was $12,000.

But now we border on the political, which I vow not to express in anything I write, share or opine on social media.


So, bottom line? We had 30 dead trees taken out yesterday, all located on vulnerable areas of our 45-acre ranch. It cost us $6,000.


Finally, people keep telling me that I was lucky, that it could have been so much worse, and I understand this. I AM lucky and know that the knock on the head I received could have definitely killed me. It is, however, difficult to philosophize the fine points and question why I happened to be in the exact wrong spot and the exact wrong time, next to my husband and 3-1/2 pound dog (who weren’t touched).

But fuck it. I lived.



Praise. God.

2 comments:

Sallee Gerbing said...

Wow Michele...thank God you are ok. Not an experience anyone would wish for! You have been and continue to be in my prayers! So glad you have such a supportive and loving family! Love you! Sallee

Sallee Gerbing said...
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