Who am I to be writing about survival? Well, I’m someone who’s survived. It’s happened a few times, but this is the story that was closest to being my last.
AU Editor’s Note: This story is from Gizmodo’s Survival Week.
So there I was one night, riding home on my motorcycle, nothing out of the ordinary. The bike I was riding was one of the fastest bikes ever made and I’d ridden it an hour away to meet a friend for dinner. It was warm, so I just threw on riding gear that worked pretty well, but also looked good off the bike. That meant abrasion and impact protection for my head, hands, upper body and feet, but nothing but jeans from the waist down.
Rounding a corner — I don’t remember how fast — all of a sudden I was leaning way over, then I was sliding on the ground with the 450lbs motorcycle bouncing and flipping on top of me. There was no warning and no time to react, just the surprise realisation that something bad was happening.
It was over almost as soon as it started. I kicked the bike off my left leg and stood up. Doing that was confusingly more difficult than usual. I looked around and there was a car sitting right there with a lady looking at me just totally aghast. Mouth open, a look of shock on her face. I remember seeing her eyes and knowing it was bad, but also remember refusing to accept that.
Autopilot kicked in and I tried to pick my bike up to move it out of the road. But my left arm wouldn’t work. There was a man there — I guess he’d gotten out of his car — and I told him to pick it up for me. He also looked aghast, but didn’t argue.
I remember leaning the bike against something — the sidestand either wasn’t there or wasn’t working — and coldly evaluating the damage to it. It’d slid and bounced mostly on its left side and all the controls there were broken off. No left clip-on, no clutch lever, no foot rest and no shift lever.
I’m not really sure how my thought process got here, but I was beginning to get really worried. I was worried I’d get in trouble and I was worried I might not be able to get home. So I did the logical thing and used my one working arm to put the bike in second gear, then pulled the clutch cable free of its perch and wrapped it around my left hand. My left leg still wasn’t working and I’m not sure how I climbed on, but I managed it somehow, pulled my left arm off to the side to slip the clutch, go the bike started and somehow managed to get it going.
A highway on ramp was right there, so I just rode up it and started the 30 mile journey home. It was hard to pay attention, so I missed a turn and had to go about 10 miles out of my way to get back on track. It was pretty easy to ride along at 60 or 70mph, but it was hard to keep my left arm and leg supported without places to put them. I remember my arse and lower back feeling numb.
I got off the highway in Hollywood and had to stop at a red light at the bottom of the off-ramp. I stalled the bike and almost fell over when my left leg refused to take any weight. Got it going again, but was worried I might not manage that again. Some friends lived close to the exit and I managed to get to their house, open their gate and ride the bike around the back of their house, where I knew it’d be safe.
I walked through the door and they were just sitting there getting high on the couch, like normal. At first, they didn’t look up, but when I collapsed on their couch, they all started to look at me really funny. Loren went to the kitchen and came back with a cold bottle of vodka while Frank helped pull my helmet off.
I took a shot, looked at them and said something along the lines of, “I think I crashed my bike, but I’ll be fine.” Loren told me I had to go to the hospital. I didn’t want to. Mark said he’d drive me, but not before he put towels down to keep the blood off the seats.
He pulled up outside Cedars and asked me if I’d be OK. I shrugged it off and strolled into the ER where I waited in line for 15 or 20 minutes. People were staring at me. I told the lady at the counter that I’d been in a motorcycle crash. She took my information and told me to wait, so I went and sat down.
A lot of it’s a blur from here on out, but I started to hurt. All over. The energy that I’d had just drained out of me and suddenly I had nothing. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I remember looking down in a detached manner and noting that the red puddle under my chair was really big, and getting bigger.
I think I was there for five hours before someone came and put me in a bed. I woke up at one point because that bed was shaking and calmly watched two police officers battling a guy clearly high on some sort of drugs. I passed out again before they’d subdued him. Woke up again to a nurse with her hand on my shoulder. She had a paper cup with water in it and two aspirin.
The next time I woke up, I was being wheeled through hallways, out of the ER and into the hospital, proper. I think that was about seven hours later. I still hadn’t gotten real painkillers.
The next time I woke up, I had tubes in my right arm and a girl who’d told me a few days earlier that she didn’t want to date me any more was lying next to me. She told me it’d be OK. It wasn’t.
Turns out I’d destroyed most of the left side of my body. A metal plate in my forearm had pulled out, taking most of the arm with it. Two ribs were sticking out of my chest. There was a two-inch diameter hole clear through my left knee and I’d lost a good portion of my butt to road rash and managed to fracture my coccyx in seven places.
And not only did I not have health insurance, but I also didn’t have an income. I’d just sold my own company to a group of friends and started a new one with them. “You’ll have a six-figure salary,” they’d promised. They never paid me. “Health insurance starts next week,” they’d say, every week.
Living through the crash wasn’t the hard part, it’s just what happened. Ever heard of fight or flight? I’d learned a long time ago that I have fight, so it was just a superhero named “adrenaline” that got me home on autopilot. The hard part was going to be the three months it took me to get to the point where I could walk again, a period in which it was all I could do to change my bandages and clean my wounds, never mind freelancing and doing everything I could do from my couch (it was softer than my bed and my wounds didn’t stick to it as bad) to try and make that new company work.
It didn’t, and I lost everything I’d ever worked for as a result. One of my friends paid my rent and, despite my protests, she fed me too. I lost a lot of other people I’d previously considered friends, but it turned out they weren’t.
Someone who was a good friend made weekly deliveries of a powerful indica he grew in his garage. Large quantities of it were the only way I could manage the pain and get a few hours of sleep a night.
Every morning, I’d wake up and spend a few hours undoing dirty bandages, cleaning out my wounds, packing them with triple-antibiotic cream, then wrapping them back up. After that I would try to eat something, then I would try to work. Most of the time, I was fielding calls from the hospital’s finance office and, later, debt collectors. I desperately tried to scrape together a few bucks so I could get through the next day but, as often as not, didn’t manage. I spent Christmas at home by myself, then New Year’s.
I was lonely and desperate and it was really, really hard to see a way out of it. One part of me knew I could get through it, but another just wanted it all to stop. When I say this is the closest I ever came to dying, I’m not just talking about the crash.
Then, some friends called me one day and told me to come get my new puppy. What puppy? The one they knew I needed. Wiley gave me the first reason I’d had in a long time to make sure I made it home. But, it probably wasn’t until Lara showed up six months later that was able to work up the guts to walk away from the parasitic company that would sucked the life out of me and to put my life back in order.
It will be three years next month. My credit is ruined for at least two more years and I still can’t quite squat the weight I was doing before, but otherwise I’m doing good. I made it.
Why am I telling you all this? This is the reality of survival as it exists for most people. It’s not about dashing a snake’s head against a rock so you can drink its blood or building a raft from grass so you can face whitewater, it’s the extremely challenging and often very sad reality of keeping your shit together when everything is against you. It doesn’t matter how tough you are or how many ways you know to find water; survival is the art of persistence.