Heaven Can Wait!

Heaven Can Wait

This describes my Motorcycle Accident the 30th May 2003.
I have put this together for friends and relatives to learn what happened.
For fellow motorcycle riders as well as other motorists, Maybe there is something to learn from these events.
If it can help someone to be extra cautious in a similar situation, it's worth telling the story.

Setting off from Rockhampton Midday 30th May.
Starting as any other working day, at the end of this day I would be hanging by a thread above the abyss of eternity, my wife and family out of reach and in deep despair.

There were many small events leading up to this split second catastrophe. At midday I got ready to leave work early, around 12. Well dressed in leathers and other protecting gear I set off on the bike, with a blue sky and sunshine. The route to Brisbane was almost routine. With great weather, not much traffic and over 30 years experience (75000 k on this Harley); there were no clouds on my horison. Not like when you set off on a dark night in pouring rain and heavy weekend traffic.

The ride was uneventful but enjoyable, with a fuel stop at Calliope 110 k south of Rocky where I had a quick chat with another Harley owner heading north. I was not in a hurry and was cruising at about 100 k/h heading south towards my destiny. If I only had spoken another half a dozen sentences, to delay me for a couple of seconds (mouse over picture for Info).

The scene of the accident.
Southern BP Entry looking south-CLICK to enlargeThe small BP gas station on the right side of the road was another hour and a bit away, 5 k south of Miriam Vale, about 220 kilometer from Rockhampton.

There were no road markings for turning in or out from BP, which is otherwise often the case, to prevent this type of accident. Several years ago, we had stopped there for a cup of coffee under a pontiana tree with the family and the mother in law, having a chat with a truckie mate of ours.

Southern BP Entry looking North-CLICK to enlargeThe BP gas station has a southern and a northern entrance. We ride on the left side here in Australia, so heading south, there is a small extra bitumen shoulder on the left side, but only opposite the northern entry to BP. Picture yourself approaching this scene.

How it happened.
After coming out of Miriam Vale, I had a small mini truck in front of me of the type we call tray top utility here in Australia. It was loaded high and wide, blocking much vision of the road ahead. Can you see it? Can you see this loaded utility in front of you on a straight and leveled road?

I was riding about three car lengths behind. The speed was about 100, and I had no immediate plans to overtake. Then very suddenly, without slowing down, the utility in front of me swerves to the left, partly out on the gravel side of the road, like if to avoid an animal or a hole in the road. Instead, in front of me is what appears to be a stationary car.

Can you picture it? I'm doing 100 k /h. I have three car lengths to do something, or just over 2 seconds. No, braking is not enough you need more than 18 meters to pull up from a 100 k. To the left, there is gravel, a slope, ditch and trees. The car might be going extremely slow or have suddenly stopped. It's not indicating to turn. There is no oncoming traffic. I swerve to the right.

Half way past, he starts turning to the right. I lay down as much I can and almost pass him. Bang!! Like a gong in my ear, there is a smash. In the collision with the car. I hit his right front corner bumper bar with my lower leg, which braced against the tank (knee) and the motor (foot) snapped like a matchstick. The left side pannier was torn off with great force. With hardly any breaking having been applied, the impact and subsequent slam into the ground was dangerously violent. I realised that this was probably the end, all in that instance.

I was slung and crashed into the ground with such force that I could feel my insides being torn, I could feel the power of the crash inside me, like being torn apart by four horses. I didn't pass out. I didn't receive a direct hit against the head. I could see out of the visor as I lay in an awkward position. Someone laid me out carefully on my back and started talking to me. My lower leg felt very strange. That leg was definitely broken, but it was braced by my strap-on leg protectors, like the light horsemen, but more like strapped on leather gaiters.

Another motorcycle rider talked to me as well. The ambulance officer found a racing pulse and a very low and falling blood pressure and realised I had severe abdominal bleeding, since there was no visible bleeding and I started to swell.

Race against time to Hospital.
This was very critical. With police escort we raced towards Rockhampton, to meet up with the Helicopter after just over 20 kilometer.

The helicopter ride took almost 40 minutes, during which I was conscious, in pain and very uncomfortable. I was given morphine in doses no more than to keep me awake. With falling blood pressure, they first considered going to Gladstone which was closer, but another bottle of blood and they could maintain a critical but somewhat stable blood pressure.

The trip appeared to take forever finally touch down at the Helipad at Rockhampton base hospital. I signed some papers and then I was gone. Except for short gaps of drugged but somewhat woken consciousness, June passed me by. Meanwhile Ann had been contacted and was on her way up to Rockhampton.

The leg had to wait until next day. The blood loss in the abdomen was critical. A major opening of the belly was made, from sternum and way down past the belly button (which they past around). The lower intestine had to be lifted out and emptied. The torn artery had to be repaired first. Then there were parts of the small intestines that had withered and died due to blood loss. These parts had to be cut out and removed. There were several such parts, amounting to 1.5 to 2 meters in total.

The lower intestine was stitched up and put back in place and some parts in the abdomen that had to be re attached. The lungs gave up, due to the massive blood transfusions, and I was on respirator, involving tubes going down to the lungs.

I had 14 bags of blood during the first 24 hours and 32 bags in all. Some monitoring required a very thin tube to be inserted via the main artery in the neck straight down to the heart, this tube was also used for adminestering the morphine and that other drug that kept me sedated; it was also a way to be able to quickly give more blood if another emergency occured. This arrangement was sewn onto my neck. After the surgery, I also had the entire digestive system shut down. Nutrition and fluids were given intravenously for several weeks.

Since the stomach continuously produces acids, these also had to be drained constantly. With all these attachments and respirator and various other needles and pipes and sensor equipment attached on several parts of the body, I had to be sedated to a level where I would be lying still.

The next day the leg was set. There were compound fractures. The bone having broken well through and out in places. The leg protectors I had worn had saved all my soft tissue though, muscles, tendons, etc. Thanks to these I would have a very rapid recovery after a month of intensive care for the abdominal injuries.

The leg was rebuilt using a special alloy rod and four screws. The rod being inserted inside the larger of the two bones. The other thinner bone had to repair itself like when you have a collarbone fracture. At first the pieces would not line up but they will grow together. With time (a couple of years) that thinner bone will come straight as well.

Intensive care.
I had 24 hours intensive care for over a month, but I had not much proper consciousness. June is pretty much just nightmares. Whether it was the level of drugs or the effects of the drugs when they were momentarily wearing off I don't know, I had no sense of time, except that it felt like forever. After many weeks when I could communicate, I thought it to be September or October, but it would then only be early July..

During all this time, Ann had managed to take time off work and be at my side. She was almost always there. During many weeks of semi consciousness and nightmares, I was often calmed by her reading out loud from a book or just talking or holding my hand. When awake whilst drugged, she was the only one I would trust. Even some medical staff was then sometimes under suspicion, in my warped reality.

I cannot imagine how it would have been without Ann's support. After two weeks on the respirator through the mouth they "cut my throat" and I was breathing through this cut via a tube. About 10 days lates I was well enough to practice breathing through a valve, when it was not hooked to the respirator, for shorter periods of time. At this stage they had completely turned off the morphine and the sedation but I could not communicate and was even too weak and shaking to write messages. That was very frustrating.

I had two CAT scans or whatever it's called of the abdomen, plus very many x-rays and they had to open up again and check the state of my insides, with a couple of scares during the first weeks. Staff was like angels at ICU. I also didn't first realise that my children were often visiting as well.

It was strange all these weeks not getting any food and even worse not a drop to drink. I had to learn how to swallow again, a process that was painful. Towards the end at ICU, I could hug my children as well and start to appreciate all the well wishes, cards, flowers and other visits and support from all my relatives and friends. The nightmares and warped realities were finally gone.

I spent a week in the surgical ward. By now all the tubes, needles, electrical sensors had been removed and I started getting around on crutches, then I signed myself out and we flew home to Brisbane and I spent one uneventful week at Redcliffe hospital with some physio training.

Following some love and tender care at home and training with weights and physio training, I was well and truly back. Not until then did I think about the bike, which was written off. In late August ,Ann and I drove 3220 kilometers in our 38 year old Volvo 122s to Shepparton in Victoria and bought an identical Harley, year, model, colour, everything. It only had 4,000k on the clock, 71,000 less than the old one.

My Angels.
The staff at BP probably called the emergency services. The Ambulance driver, Jimmy, called in the helicopter after a brilliant diagnostic. The Care Flight Helicopter Service, Paramedics and helicopter pilot and strangers helping out. Then there were the skilled doctors that patched me up and the nurses at Rocky Base Hospital, 24 hours per day observing, checking, nursing.

My wife for critical soul and emotional support. My children for their thoughts and cheerful support. Well wishes and prayers from relatives and friends close and from the other side of the globe. Finally, there might just have been some real Angels there as well.

Together with providence they all helped make the miracle to give me my life back and a second throw of the dice in the game of life we play for a short while. I guess I still have something important to contribute?

Why did it happen?
Now comes the $10,000 question why did it happen? What have we learned, you too I hope? Firstly it was a bit freakish, every moment leading up to that combination of events. I was frustrated over why it had happened, cause I don't want it to happen again.

If it had been a truck in front of me, it would have slowed down more and taken enough time for me to get a clue. Had it been a car I would have been able to see the other car though his windows. Had the utility not been as loaded I would have seen above it or through it.

But what should I have done different. What would you do different? Ok, you might not have the addiction to risk your life in a dangerous hobby or past time like riding a motorbike, but this can happen to any motorist. In the end it's always your own fault, but let's entertain the idea of blaming someone else.

The car in front of me was not slowing down or giving any indication, but just a sudden swerve at the last second to give me this deadly surprise. The turning car according to the police report, first tried but failed to pull up first at the northern entry. At the northern entry there was a bitumen road shoulder to pass on the left. Instead it proceeded to the southern entry. At this time, if his indicator had been on before, it was no longer indicating when I made my split second decision to swerve right.

However, blaming someone else will not help you survive the next time. I had to find a strategy. Looking at the scene in September I discovered the fact about there being no bitumen shoulder to avoid turning cars at the southern entry, cause they normally don't turn from the left side there. That explained my maneuver, but didn't help my strategy.

My conclusion is that:
a) Whenever you have the luxury to do so, spoil yourself with an excessive distance to the car in front of you, double the proposed text book safe distance. Ask yourself, how many accidents between motorists travelling in the same direction would have been avoided, had there been double the distance between them.??
b) If you are up closer, like about to overtake, move about and try to observe what's in front of the car in front of you.
c) When approaching any type of cross road or turn off, don't settle for standard safe distance, but increase it to at least six car lengths, especially when it blocks your vision.

You might not agree with this conclusion, but if you do, make sure to do something to remember it and practice it
or you might have to try my experience instead.

Some pictures. (click for a fast and larger version)
Some of the damage to the old bike, that was written off  The left leg protector My mate the ambulance driver Jimmy from Miriam Vale
This is where the helicopter pickup was if you know the road 20 k north MiriamVale The Squirrel Helicopter, the Technology Angel that picked me up Picking up the new bike 2200 South of Rockhampton, Shepparton Victoria 25 Aug 2003

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Links for you to check:

A pin-up boy for a great cause Careflight Appeal
The Old Bike leaving Melbourne
Country Music, Caves and Million Dollar Views..
Travelling the Great Ocean Road
The New Motorcycle
New Zealand The ride of a lifetime
Careflight Australia