Blackout: Today is the One Year Anniversary of my Freak Accident
I lost three hours of my life and woke up as a writer. This is my fairytale.
On Wednesday, December 4, 2019 at 4:15 PM, I was on a bike, slowly cruising down Grove St., as I did every day at that time as part of my commute home. My next memory is waking up three hours later in the ER with my husband (estranged) next to me.
“What happened? How did I get here? How did you get here?” I had been asking those same questions over and over every two minutes for hours so the ER doctor decided to keep me there even longer for observations to decide whether to admit me to the hospital for the night or to let me go home.
I had a big bump on my left eye and some gravel and blood on my face. They told me I had a moderate concussion. I had zero memory from right before the accident until about three hours later.
At around 7:30 PM, my short-term memory started to come back. I felt euphoric and I was funny, like I had a nice buzz. I started doing the skit from Tommy Boy — My Face Hurts. “It doesn’t hurt here, or here, but right here.”
“What day is it?” is another question I kept asking over and over in a loop. It was Wednesday. I was supposed to have gone to therapy that night. I wondered why my therapist hadn’t texted me. I looked at my phone for the first time (or so I thought).
She did text me. And I had responded. I found other texting conversations I had. I didn’t remember any of them. Then I looked at my call records. I had talked to several different people and had no memory of any of it. I had talked to my daughter, my boss, some friends, and I had called my therapist five times. (She stopped answering after the second call she told me later.)
Then I looked at my photos. There were two photos I had never seen before. I was sitting on the ground crying in serious pain. It wasn’t a selfie. Who took those photos?
After my Tommy Boy skit, the doctor decided my short-term memory was back and they discharged me. Before that he told me that every time he came to check on me and asked, “Do you remember me?”, I’d answer “No, I’ve never seen you before.” Even though I had already told him all about living in Costa Rica over ten years ago and many other things in our numerous conversations. He knew my long term memory worked, and finally my short-term memory was back.
We left the ER at 11:45 PM. My estranged husband was hungry so we went to the bar. I had an IPA. It was delicious. Later I found out it is not good to have sedatives when you have a major brain injury. Oops.
But luckily I didn’t know and we were having fun. It was like old times. I was still very funny and was saying things like “This is great. You were there for me. My prince charming who woke me from my sleep. Let’s get back together.” He laughed uneasily.
I got home at 12:55 AM. My daughters and my dog were so sweet and loving. We were all so happy I was alive and not messed up. It could have been so much worse.
I’m very lucky especially because I was not wearing a helmet. The ride was only .6 miles on a straight, flat, not busy street with a bike lane. So I didn’t think I needed a helmet.
The next day I began my investigation to find out what had happened. I went to Kaiser to see if they could figure out why I blacked out and hit the pavement with total amnesia for three hours. After an MRI and EKG there were still no clues. My brain and heart were fine. It had nothing to do with some vertigo I had the month before.
I called the police. They found the 911 call and gave me an incident number. At first I was hopeful. I eagerly waited for the police to call me back. But it was a dead end. There were no videos and no more info. Nobody saw anything.
I looked at my Bay Wheels app and the clock was still running on the bike I had checked out. Twenty-one hours later and still ticking. I called Lyft and they manually stopped the clock. They started their own investigation but they never found the bike. I’ll never know if it was the brakes that failed causing me to swerve and hit my head or if I simply fainted and smashed into the cement as deadweight.
By really examining the photos, the texts, the calls, and the bike app on my phone, I was able to put together a timeline.
- 4:14 PM: I text my estranged husband about Christmas presents for the kids.
- 4:18 PM: I checked out the bike from the bike sharing station.
- 4:24 PM: Someone used my phone to take photos of me. I was sitting up so I must have been sort of conscious even though I have no memory of that. And presumably the person who found me asked me for my phone to take the photo. And apparently I gave it to them. I am so grateful for this Good Samaritan who found me, took a photo of me with my own phone, gave me my phone back, and called 911.
- 5:16 PM: I make my first texts. I texted my estranged husband and my daughter and said “I’m hurt. I’m in the hospital. Bike crash.”
- 5:22 PM: My daughter calls me. The nurse saw me talking on the phone and since I wasn’t supposed to me doing strenuous things like using my phone, she took it and talked to my daughter. My daughter told the nurse my estranged husband’s number.
- 6:01 PM: I’m in a texting conversation with my estranged husband. I’m still confused and looping.
My estranged husband got the call when he was at a restaurant. He finished his meal and then made his way through traffic to the hospital. Finally at 7:30 PM, I became aware of him. He was the first person I saw when I came to. The phone showed I had been texting him for a while and he said he had been talking to me for a half hour while I just kept repeating, “How did I get here? How did you get here?”
That next day as I was writing down the timeline and hunting down clues, the doctor called to check in on me. He also told me he had learned some new information. He found out that the person who called 911, told the paramedics that there was a fire engine across the street from where I laid crashed on the ground. The paramedics said they didn’t see the fire engine by the time they got there.
As I re-read the writing of my timeline, I started to see images in my mind. Were they memories? Or were they imagined memories that I inserted? I slipped in the image of the fire engine across the street and imagined the fire engine rushing up the street blasting its sirens. Maybe I was frightened, swerved, crashed my head against the pavement and blacked out.
This would sound so much better than that I had fainted for no reason. They call this syncope in medical terms and there is no reason for it. You could be walking down the street and crash to the ground and hit your head. Would I have to start wearing a helmet while simply walking around town?
I remembered that a friend of mine had a similar freak bike accident a few years earlier. One minute, she had been riding down a fire trail on a mountain bike in Steamboat Springs, CO. The next thing she knew she was in the hospital and they were cutting open her head and putting part of her skull in her stomach to preserve it while the swelling in her brain went down.
Her accident was way worse than mine. But there were lots of similarities. She was also just slowly riding in a non-dangerous situation. Luckily she also recovered with no apparent damage. She also doesn’t know what happened. She thinks that an animal must have darted across the path causing her to swerve and crash.
I tried to explain to her how our accidents were similar in the fact that both of us will never actually know what happened to make us crash. I will never know if I was frightened by the fire truck, if the brakes on the bike failed, or if I simply fainted. She will never know if there was an animal that darted across the path or if maybe she fainted.
She could not, or would not, see the similarity in our stories. She denied the possibility that she could have fainted and clung to her story that an animal must have darted across her path. I had to let it go. At least she was wearing a helmet.
My estranged husband didn’t call to check on me until two days later. When he finally called, he had some news for me. He told me we couldn’t get back together because he had a girlfriend for the last ten months and they were in love. She was jealous when he went to the hospital to get me. And she was worried this would happen for the rest of our lives. So that was that. He was the first person I saw when I woke up from my sleep, and he did take me home, but he wasn’t my prince.
I wouldn’t meet my true prince for 12 more days after my convalescence at home. Finally I went back to work. I rode the bike again, but this time I wore my helmet. I arrived safe at the train station for the 4:25 PM train. And there he was. The train was crowded but miraculously a seat opened up right next to him and he said do you want to sit here? “Yes” I said sliding in past him, taking off my headphones and saying “Hi, what is your name? I don’t usually ever talk to anyone on the train but I want to talk to you.”
I told him my story and showed him my photo. He gently traced my bruised face with his fingers. He said he wished it was him who had found me unconscious on the ground and who was there when I woke up. He said he would have jumped into the ambulance with me. And I told him it was him. He was my prince who found me unconscious and woke me up. He was my prince who inspired me to pick up my pen and start writing.
That is the silver lining of my freak accident. Fainting, concussion, amnesia and waking up to writing and my new prince. This is my fairytale.