Accident and recovery, Nov.-Dec. 2006

On Saturday, November 4th, 2006, Louise and I went on a cycle ride through the northern suburbs of Copenhagen to the 1200-acre deer park. We had a picnic lunch in the park and about 2 PM were headed to a concert of Gershwin music at a neighbourhood church. As we left the park and were cycling along the bicycle path near the park, Louise tells me that a car spun out of control and struck the back of my bicycle. (I have no memory of this at all.) Some time later, I woke up in hospital and was told there had been an accident.

According to Louise and police reports, I was thrown 15 feet and landed on soft grass and leaves in the forest - luckily not hitting any rocks, trees or pavement. Several people stopped and Louise asked for volunteers to call the ambulance and the police. Aside from me sustaining serious injuries, my bicycle (which I'd brought with me from Canada) was damaged beyond repair. The young fellow driving the car that hit me was Danish, 29 years old, and a criminally inexperienced and careless driver.

The police came in 5 minutes; the first ambulance came in 20 minutes but its crew called for an "intensive care" ambulance to come instead. Louise says it was a huge (25') truck full of medical equipment and staffed by 4 paramedics. A policeman drove Louise to the closest hospital, but then after a 2-1/2 hour wait, took her to the downtown Copenhagen "Rigshospital" which is the country's major trauma centre where I had been taken.

Louise called on our good friends Karen Mardahl (an American of Danish descent) and her husband Joe McKernan (a Scottish expat). They immediately took a taxi to the Rigshospital and waited with Louise while the doctors came by with regular progress reports. I had 3 hours of emergency surgery, lasting from 9 PM til midnight. I regained consciousness just once in the operating room and remember seeing a circle of 12 doctors and nurses dressed in surgical gear. The chief doctor was in front talking to me; he was a large East Indian man who said I'd been in an accident and was now in the hospital in New Delhi, India! His operating room humour puzzled me and I didn't entirely believe his explanation.

Louise saw me in intensive care at 12:30 AM, spent the night at Karen and Joe's apartment, then returned to the hospital twice the next day. I was kept unconscious for 3 days for my own protection, then couldn't talk for the next 10 days because I was on a respirator. I tried using a pen and paper to write messages to Louise and the nurses, but my penmanship at first was not very good.

I haven't yet mentioned my injuries. The major ones were a broken left arm and leg and lots of damage to internal organs around my tummy. I spent the next 2 weeks in intensive care, with 24-hour nursing care and Louise who came to visit me every day. They gave me morphine for the first 4 days, which prompted very vivid hallucinations of me visiting a series of treatment houses in various locations, trying valiantly to get the staff to fix me up. At the same time, I was afraid of losing my job at Nangate, so spent the first week trying to escape and go to work. However, I could not lift myself out of bed so had to give up on that idea.

I was worried about the hospital bill. A nurse asked me if I wanted a particular treatment, so I asked, "How much would it cost?" She laughed and said, "This is Denmark, the health care is all free."

The next 2 months involved a tedious regime of sleeping, resting, washing, eating, having therapy and trying to recover. I made daily progress but after initially hoping to be out within days, resigned myself to measuring my progress by weeks and months. The main handicap was waiting for the bone in my lower left leg to mend enough to support weight. I should mention that I had no casts (or traction!); the doctors left my limbs au naturel and allowed healing to happen on its own.

The amount of pain decreased over time, helped by all the therapy. Initially, I could not make a fist with my left hand, but therapy fixed that. I didn't have much of an appetite and lost weight so that at one point, I weighed only 144 pounds.

After 3 weeks at Rigshospital, they moved me in an ambulance to Herlev Hospital in the Copenhagen suburbs, closer to our home. Louise still biked over to visit me every day and Karen and my coworkers also visited frequently. The ward I stayed in was on the 19th floor with views over the whole city. The patients were an even mix of men and women in their 70's and 80's with broken legs. I shared my room with a succession of Danish men with broken bones or having surgery.

Brian in the hospital

My stay was memorable for a few laughs, lots of movies on TV, and visitors who brought me flowers and a little Christmas tree. The nurses all spoke English to me and were glad of the chance to practise. Here's a sample: the food menus were in Danish and the soup listed for one meal was "champignon suppe" (mushroom soup). So the nurse translated and said "Tonight, we offer you champion soup!" Then she realized her mistake and laughed about it.

I struggled to combat the boredom and routine. What I missed most were my normal, everyday activities - going to work, meeting expats from various countries, and seeing museums and sites in Copenhagen. Therapy enabled me to walk sufficiently well to leave the hospital on Dec. 24th and I am continuing to recover and practise walking at home. My goal is to be walking fully without crutches by the end of January, so I can return to work and eventually start cycling again. I'm visiting Herlev Hospital twice a week to exercise under the physio-therapist's guidance, and she is very pleased at my progress.

Some things that I am grateful for:

at the duck pond

Brian and Louise in January 2007 at the duck pond close to our home in Denmark

Some further thoughts about my ordeal

  • Your life can be all over in an instant -- so be prepared and have all your affairs in order. When you're still capable, organize your finances, insurance and bank account records so that someone else can easily take charge of them.
  • Did the accident -- and near-death experience -- change my perspective on life? No, I guess I'm much too level-headed for that. I'm glad to be continuing in the same general direction as before -- trying to help make the world a better place.
  • I now wear a cycle helmet all the time when riding.
  • My injuries have all healed up.


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