Friday, June 24, 2005

Compression Fracture

The morning started beautifully. I got to sleep in because of a later than usual start time. I had a delicious breakfast. The weather was glorious. On the way to work I stopped for a fill up, and won a can of Pepsi on the scratch and win ticket that came with the gas. Continuing to work, I was ahead of schedule so a red light was of no concern to me. I braked gently and waited behind another car.

My window was open and my radio wasn't on, but I didn't hear any braking. I never saw the car that struck mine from behind at what police say was 60 km/h. The ambulance attendants said that it was just as well I didn't see it, because there was nothing I could do to escape, and tensing up in anticipation of the impact would have made my injuries worse. The driver's seat had collapsed somehow but I could still reach to turn off the ignition and put on the handbrake. The horn didn't work to summon help, but the driver ahead, whose car mine had been pushed into, came back and helped me call for an ambulance. The fire department came first, determined that it was not necessary to cut the car open to extricate me, and turned my care over to the ambulance paramedics. They asked me lots of questions, including hard ones like my name and the day of the week, loaded me onto a clamshell stretcher, fitted me with a collar to prevent my neck from moving, and took me to hospital. After half an hour or so in a corridor I was taken to an exam room and poked and prodded and asked all the same questions I was asked in the ambulance. They sent me for x-rays, and finally told me I had a compression fracture of one of my vertebrae. It's the one roughly behind my belly button, maybe a little higher.

The doctor showed me the x-rays. I could see a column of ghostly tubes aligned one above the other, and I could clearly see that one of the tubes had a ridge around it that the others lacked.

"Imagine if someone took a pop can and lightly tapped it with a sledgehammer," explained the doctor. "It would compress down a little bit, becoming shorter, with a wrinkle around it. That's what has happened to your vertebra."

"Like the fuselage damage when an airliner lands hard on the nosewheel," I said. But he wasn't familiar with the recent Skyservice incident.

"There's not much we can do to help you, just manage the pain, and let you heal."

"So the wrinkle just fills in? Goes away?"

"No, it stays. You know how people get shorter when they get older? Well you just got acutely shorter."

The ambulance attendants had asked for my height to adjust the stretcher. Guess I got it wrong. It took me a moment to remember that acute means "sharp, sudden" and not "severe".

The police had the remains of the car towed to an impound yard. I sent someone to collect my bag from the wreckage and mentioned, "plus there's a can of Pepsi you can have for your trouble."

When he brought the bag, he brought cellphone pictures showing front and back end damage, no broken glass and not a lot of crumpling, but a crease through the body that gave me company in the being-a-bit-shorter-than-yesterday department. It's probably a write-off, and I've had it since the first week of my aviation career. Finally, he produced the can of Pepsi. I turned it around and held it up to the light to discover a wrinkle running half way around the circumference of the aluminum skin of the can. Three for three: me, the car and the can.

This entry outs me to anyone at work who has been reading this blog, but really what's in here that anyone couldn't guess? I have flip-flopped several times on my decision to post this personal story, but it's definitely part of my career. I won't know for a few weeks whether the injury will cost me the job at Ichneumon, or make it difficult for me to continue my current job. It will definitely cost me a few weeks of revenue at the peak season of the year. Can a person develop an Advil addiction?


NigelH said...

Oh no! I hope things work out for you.

Anonymous said...

Hope you are OK, Shorty. It'll mend.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about this, and I hope that the recovery isn't too hard.

You showed an amazing presence of mind after the crash, turning off the ignition, locking the brake, etc. -- do you think that comes from all the emergency-procedures practice in your flying? Did you fumble for a checklist (just joking)? How long did it take you to understand what had happened after the impact? Show this posting to TC if they give you any grief about your medical -- in my opinion, it shows exactly the kind of pilot anyone would want to fly with.

We'll be watching for info about your recovery.

Aviatrix said...

Interesting question, David. I'm not sure. I don't remember looking for the master or the fuel shut-off, so it may have simply been me automatically doing the things I always do when I'm done driving my car. I then reached for a jacket from the passenger seat to hold my head still, loosened my tie, (my first aid instructors always liked that) and checked to see if any other bits of me seemed damaged.

I'll answer your question about understanding what happened in another blog entry.

Kris Johnson said...

Good luck with your healing.

You now have a personal flying-is-safer-than-driving anecdote to tell.

Avimentor said...

I'm very sorry to read about your accident. It sounds dreadful. I know a little bit about what you must be thinking and feeling. Three years ago, I had a lower back injury that required surgery and grounded me for several months.

Take things slowly and I hope that you are pain free soon.


Anonymous said...

That's awful. I'm really sorry to hear about it. Hope you're up and about and pain-free soon.

Michael said...

As always, it's not your ability to drive the car that puts at the greatest risk, but the ability of those around you. I'll bet there was a cellphone in the driver's ear. Were I there, and able, I'd find another orifice to put it.

I really hope all goes well with your medical. Hang in there and heal up.

Lost Av8r said...

I'm sorry to hear about your accident. I hope you recover in short order.

Connie said...

Sorry I'm so late posting this - Hope you are feeling better!

silver horde said...

I'm sorry to read this. Hope everything gets sorted for you!
What rotten luck!

ttfn Jane