This past Tuesday, January 22, 2012, I was out on assignment covering a bicycle tour of Los Angeles. Was this my first time biking? Definitely not. Was this my first time touring Los Angeles? If only. Was this my first time admiring Will Smith's former TV-home? As if!
For better or for worse, it was my first time busting my face. And what an adventure that was!
I thought I was doing fairly well trailing the bike tour guide, Kim, as she wove through West Hollywood and Beverly Hills, off to Holmby Hills and Bel-Air, down through Brentwood to my home neighborhood of Santa Monica. Sure, my thighs could feel the burn heading through the hilly parts of town, but the minor huffs and puffs were balanced with walking the grounds of Greystone Mansion and excellent guiding, so by the time we were on LA's westside and the hills flattened, I was reminded by Kim "We do the tough stuff first. It's all smooth sailing from here". (Not an actual quote by Kim, but that was the sentiment...)
Unfortunately, that promise came too soon, as there was one hill left: the downward slope of the Santa Monica Pier. And what the other hills didn't have (crowds of people), the pier had plenty. The sun was shining and the weather was well into the 70's, so everyone and their mother was out. I was heading down the pier...
... someone cut me off...
... I reacted by slamming on the hand-brake...
... I have zero clue what happened next. But I was on the ground and everything hurt. As Kim told the police officer who appeared within seconds asking if I lost consciousness, "She popped right up." (Well, there's some good news). I recall opening my eyes, all I could see was WHITE, I spit something out that - in reflection - may have been tooth enamel, I closed my eyes, I'm fairly certain people dumped water all over me, I opened my eyes, everything was spinning... A lady burst onto the scene who worked for the City of Santa Monica, spoke with the police, a Santa Monica medic arrived, then 7 or 8 different EMT's and paramedics surrounded me...
I WAS IN AN AMBULANCE.
Kim and her trainee shouted after me they'd take care of the bikes and see me at the hospital. And the ambulance was off...
In the back of the ambulance, the EMT worker (let's call him "Bob" because I can't remember if he introduced himself or not), applied pressure to my chin. He said it was bleeding. Ok, Bob, if you say so. I was like "Bob, dude, look at my gnarly hand!"
He asked what hurt most. "My TEETH" (Oh God, all I could think about was my teeth).... "and my PINKY FINGER!"
"You're lucky you were wearing a helmet. This would have been really serious otherwise" - UH OH, wrong thing to say to a bleeding person in the back of an ambulance! Thanks, Bob, for THAT unpleasant thought!
"Not your chin?" - "My chin doesn't hurt at all" - "Ok, sometimes people feel the minor injuries more than the major injuries. (Ok, right, Bob, look at my finger!) Does your neck hurt?" - "It all hurts, so yeah". UH OH, wrong answer!
Apparently, if you tell an EMT that your neck hurts, they are obligated to take out a "collar", which is about 4 inches tall and an inch thick and immobilizes your neck, then strap you down on a gurney, which is like a plastic surfboard that immobilizes your spine. I turned to Bob and in full honesty said "If the CIA wants to torture people into confessing, they should strap them onto one of these." THAT'S how uncomfortable a gurney is. In minutes, we arrived at Santa Monica Hospital, and Bob and the ambulance driver checked me in.
Bob, oh Bob, you say the most reassuring things.
So, somehow in the waiting room, as I stared at the only thing I could see: the ceiling, my stomach grew increasingly nauseous, the shock and adrenaline wore off and being immoblized was taking it's toll on me, I did what came natural. I started to cry. And I cried and I cried. And I didn't know why. And Bob told me "Hey, you're in a hospital. That's what people do".
At last, my friend Rachel arrived and they moved me into the CT Scan Room. Rachel, by complete coincidence, is a volunteer at Santa Monica Hospital, but on a "boring floor" (her opinion), so getting to witness all the action of the ER was the highlight of her life. The bed began to rise and my head disappeared into the machine, but then the nausea kicked in.
"I'm going to throw up!"
"Are you?" the technician asked.
"I think". The machine moved me back out. A barf bucket (thank the lord for the ER, barf buckets must be everywhere) was under my nose in 0.001 seconds. I threw up a little. The collar was restricting the natural pathways of my gag reflex. I took a breath. Then, I threw up a lot.
I apologized to the tech. "It's ok, sometimes people throw up ON me. Head trauma does that to you". Ohhh...
Rachel piped up something about "equilibrium", the tech chucked my chuck in a bin labeled "Bio-Hazard" and they took the scan. No spinal damage. No skull damage. No brain damage. Maybe a minor concussion. The collar could be removed! Sweet, sweet freedom!
I was moved to a hallway, where we encountered my next caretaker: an EMT who I allege liked Rachel, Rachel alleges liked me, and we came to an agreement that her blood-and-guts fascination coupled with my doped-up musings (did I mention they gave me Hydrocodone?) and our combined cuteness (I rock the bloody look, what can I say?) probably made us preferred to screaming babies, old people with old people problems, or anyone who is crazy-gross. This EMT gently cleaned and bandaged my hands and my cheeks, then he and Rachel chatted extensively over my chin. My crazy chin that felt no pain. That was getting everyone all hot and bothered. That they were going to stitch up. That I had no idea, at the time, contained a laceration an inch and a half wide and an inch deep, and was interesting to Rachel because she could see all the layers of skin and fat and "it was almost to the bone". (Rach waited 24 hours to drop that bomb).
They wrote me some scripts and sent me on my way, with the instruction, "Dentist tomorrow!"
When I got home, I finally realized what all the fuss was about. My shirt, my sports bra, my chest and even my pants were COVERED in blood that must have dripped from my chin. The wound admirers were right: the skin that no longer existed on my left palm and pinkie finger really were nothing in comparison.
So that left me with one remaining task: "Dentist tomorrow!"
I was completely terrified, with the combined wiggling and gaping hole, that something was wrong with the source of my one vanity, my teeth. But thankfully, the dentist, who was basically a rock star of dentistry, made me feel great. He said two teeth had chipped enamel (easy fixes), no root or nerve damage is apparent (though they'll keep an eye out for it), and one tooth needs bonding & filling, but he will follow up.
Then, he started spritzing me with Novacaine (I was high on vicodin as well, and I thought he was just spritzing water) and started drilling (which, again, didn't feel a thing) and bonded my one tooth up until he can unhinge my jaw and get in there for some permanent work. Between the chin stitches and apparent jaw-ligament bruise/strain (what did he say? ugh, don't take meds and try to remember the details), my mouth couldn't really open in any way that was useful.
All in all, I'm in pain but made it through today with Advil, ice packs and just the antibiotics. Hopefully, in two weeks time, I'll have forgotten any of this has ever happened.
But here are my firsts:
(a) First time wiping out (and bleeding on) a site listed in the National Historic Register.
(b) First time riding in an ambulance.
(c) First time getting a CT scan.
(d) First time having "dental trauma", and, as the dentist stated, "This is the first time you've ever had a drill in your mouth, isn't it?"
Can't wait to find out what the scars look like! And also a big thank you to all my lovely baby-sitters and care-takers. You're the best. :-)