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 2-1/2 hours 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 plastic 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, 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 house

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.

Reader responses to "Accident and recovery, Nov.-Dec. 2006"

(These comments were added to a different interactive web site. Send me a mail if you'd like yours added.)


December 29th, 2006 at 8:54 pm

  • Mike Lipinski says:

    I'm glad you are on the mend, old fella. I felt terrible when I heard about your accident. You must have been in a lot of pain. I tried to reach you on your cell phone several times and I couldn't get thru.

    All the best. I know you'll recover and be just fine.



    December 29th, 2006 at 9:06 pm

  • Lynn & Joe say:


    We all were so worried about you when we heard of the accident. We called Louise frequently, and exchanged news amongst ourselves. It was really frustrating not to be anywhere closeby, and the timezone differences made the communication window somewhat small.

    We are so very relieved and thankful that you are truly on the mend! What a great Christmas present to know that you were released from hospital in time to spend Christmas at home.

    Keep up the wonderful effort to get back to your old self. We're all still praying for you and sending you as much positive energy as we can muster.

    Lynn & Joe


    December 31st, 2006 at 1:23 am

  • John S. Batts says:

    Dear Brian:

    You have been both extraordinarily unlucky (the accident) and extraordinarily lucky (the treatment). It has been interesting to learn of your version of the events and subsequent sufferings. Previously I had only heard of these things via Karen -- who was very good at informing us. At one stage in our correspondence I dubbed her "Brian's Boswell"!

    Keep up the improvement, however slow and frustrating that may be.

    Meantime, every best wish for an accident-free 2007!



    December 31st, 2006 at 1:15 pm

  • Gareth Jones says:

    Brian, I have just read the account of your accident and so relieved to hear that you are making progress towards a good recovery. A very sobering experiance by all accounts which reminds me of when I was working in Rome 7 years ago and nearly died. I didn't realise until some time afterwards how serious it had been.

    Do keep us informed of your progress and I wish you both a very Happy New Year.

    Best Wishes



    December 31st, 2006 at 3:47 pm

  • Doug & Sandra say:

    Hi Uncle Brian,

    Glad to see that you are well enough to use the computer again and it is nice to hear a recount of your accident straight from the horse's mouth. It must have been a nice Christmas gift for you and Louise for you to be back home. Hope you continue incident free on the road to recovery and hope to see you again soon.

    All the best,

    Doug and Sandra


    January 1st, 2007 at 12:08 pm

  • Brian says:

    Thanks for your comments! I realize I gave everyone a terrific fright - including myself (once I came to). I am now off the "conveyor belt" of hospital treatment and care, with just Louise and I attempting to further my recovery. We're finding that takes real determination and persistence! Brian


    January 1st, 2007 at 9:12 pm

  • Bell and Chester Hackett say:

    Dear Brian and Louise,
    We are so glad you got home and are able to get out for a walk. Also that the therapy is helping you. It is all hard work, this recovery process.
    Where along your leg and arm was it broken and was it screwed together or why was it not in a splint? Maybe you were too sick to worry about extremities. Gett well soon and we hope you are soon better.
    love Aunt Bell and Uncle Chester


    January 3rd, 2007 at 8:33 pm

  • Clive and Julie Hawes say:

    Thanks for the update letter, Brian. We send to both of you our best wishes for 2007.


    January 3rd, 2007 at 8:41 pm

  • Sabine says:

    Dear Brian and Louise,

    My very best wishes for 2007 - I sincerely hope that it will be a different kind of exciting.

    See you in February, then.

    Kind regards,


    January 4th, 2007 at 1:16 am

  • Jaci Tomkinson says:

    WOW - I had no idea you had such a thriller at the end of the year. Dave does a lot of race bike cycling and so far has only suffered one crash, but it was nothing compared to what you just went through. I do hope you continue to have a good recovery. Stay in touch and let me know if there's anything I can send you from America to make you feel better.

    Give my love to Louise.


    Jaci & the boys


    January 4th, 2007 at 2:42 am

  • Cathy says:

    Hi Brian and Louise
    What a gruelling time you've had - glad to hear that you're on the mend. No real news here. Hope you're both back touring museums soon. Here's to 2007!


    January 4th, 2007 at 4:43 am

  • Ralph and Paulette Coneybeare say:

    Way to go Brian! You certainly have come a long way in your recovery - glad to hear you made it home for Xmas. Keep up the good work and may 2007 bring a speedy rehab. for you. Hi, Louise. You definitely have been a pillar of strength and endurance for Brian. May you get a chance to take alittle break for yourself as you see Brian gaining strength. Bye for now and may our prayers and hopes for both of you assist you as you journey your path of life into 2007.


    January 4th, 2007 at 10:36 am

  • Kevin & Clare Lawton say:

    Great to hear that you're now out of hospital and well on the road to recovery!

    With very best wishes for your continued progress.

    Kevin, Clare & family.


    January 4th, 2007 at 10:50 am

  • Anna Molbak says:

    Happy New Year Brian and Louise

    I'm so glad you are on the recovery road and wonderful news you were released from the hosiptal in time for Xmas. Very scary how quickly things can happen as I recalled I had only met you in town on your bike just 2 days before the accident. Hope your rehab for 2007 continues to be speedy and we see you out and about soon. I have loads of DVD's if you wish to borrow them, just in case you are getting tired of the danish tele re-runs.

    Take care and keep in touch.



    January 4th, 2007 at 11:38 am

  • Alice Jane Emanuel says:

    I am in awe of your writing ability! I love your account of the accident and your recovery so far. It has convinced me to wear my helmet from now on, even if I get helmet hair. I actually think you look pretty chipper in the picture, too. Go, Brian!

    Happy 2007 to you both and speedy continued recovery, Brian.

    All the best from your biggest fans in Amsterdam!

    Alice Jane (and Jonathan)


    January 4th, 2007 at 4:21 pm

  • David & Maria McParland say:


    We thank God for protecting you and we will continue to pray for your full recovery. We can only imagine the truama this accident has caused your dear wife Louise. She is one of the strongest women we know. With Louise at your side, Brian, we are confident that this accident will be a distant memory sooner than later. Thank God we still have you here with us.

    May 2007 be healthy, safe and prosperous and may God's miraculous blessings preserve you and Louise.


    January 5th, 2007 at 4:46 pm

  • Angela Coles says:

    Brian, I am so sorry to hear about your ordeal. I hope that you continue to mend. Doesn't stop you from flashing a bit of thigh when the opportunity arises. Very risque.

    Interesting dreams and hallucinations. I would give up those drugs at the earliest opportunuty if I were you.

    Louise you must have been so worried. All that cycling good for the weight though. Do not take his drugs no matter how desperate you feel.

    love, Angela


    January 15th, 2007 at 5:15 pm

  • Ross and Gee Gee Robinson say:

    Gee and I were quite upset to hear of your accident, via forwarded emails from JSB. Hurry up and recover completely, and do come see us in Canada the next time you are over here.


    January 16th, 2007 at 6:10 pm

  • David & Margaret say:

    Thanks for e-mail and picture! We are so pleased that you are home now and recovering after your terrible ordeal. You seem to have had wonderful care and support from the medical team etc. and of course such good support from Louise.
    Trust you are getting stronger every day and soon be fit again to play your music and enjoy Denmark.
    We look forward to seeing you sometime when you come over to England.

    We continue to pray for both of you that you will be guided in the future.
    God Bless


    February 8th, 2007 at 2:39 pm

  • Debbie, Victoria & Amanda say:

    Dear Brian & Louise,
    I am so happy to you about our successsful recovery, Brian. I have been asking Lynn & Joe about your progress frequently and we all toasted to you at Christmas. I keep you in my prayers every Sunday and look forward to the day we will see you two again.

    Unfortunately, horrific experiences like the one you have gone through, puts thngs into perspective for those that feel life is too hard. Take care and the girls wish you well as well - they remember you as the aunt and uncle from England!

    Love, Debbie, Victoria and Amanda


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