Story about Heather

Dear Family and Friends,

I feel the need to let you know about something. I flew to Chicago last Wednesday where I met Heather and drove back with her to the West Coast.

We arrived home last nite at about 5:30. After being in the car for 4 days, we were anxious to stretch our legs. Heather suggested we take a quick bike ride before dark. Within an hour we were on our bikes heading to the newly completed “Esplanade” along the river. On the long ramp leading down to the Esplanade (a floating walkway on the east side of downtown) she attempted to jump over a crack. The fork on her bike crumpled. Heather went over the handlebars and landed on the left side of her head. I was about 50 yards ahead, and didn’t know that it had happened until a witness starting screaming at me. I looked back and saw her in a lifeless heap about 100 yards back. She didn’t move that entire time I was riding back to her. She was face down and slightly on her side. Her head was at a strange angle, wedged inward toward her chest and resting on her helmet on the left side. Her left shoulder was contorted inward and appeared dislocated and her right arm was limp. She was breathing with a gurgling sound. I thought she’d broken her neck.

I tried to check her pupils, but didn’t have my glasses on and couldn’t see because of my vision, the light, and the fact that her head was twisted downward. I also didn’t want to move her because I thought her neck was broken and didn’t want to worsen a spinal injury. I realized it was potentially serious because she was also incontinent of urine. For about 5-6 minutes she was completely unresponsive. A German couple walking on the Esplanade had a cell phone. I called 911. We were on the river halfway between 2 bridges. 5 blocks from the major Trauma Center, 25 yards from the Interstate and in the middle of downtown…..and yet no way for ambulance access. Her pulse and respirations indicated that she was alive, but I thought she was dying and was waiting for her to begin to seize.

It was the worst 5 minutes of life for me. Her pearl earring was lying about a foot from her head. The post was bend. I was in this near-panic state wondering if I should roll her in the event I had to do CPR, but fearing I’d complicate a spinal injury if I did. I could hear her breathing and sort of moaning and gurgling. Her lips were ashen and she wouldn’t/couldn’t respond. The German guy turned about to be a doctor, but we both knew we were pretty helpless. I called 911 again, and told them to hurry with a backboard. For the second time I quickly handed the phone back to the German guy thinking that I would be needed to do CPR. He was pretty helpless because his English wasn’t very good. I turned and saw fire dept paramedics running down the Esplanade (the nearest access at either end was approaching a 1/4-mile).

As I was turned, Heather moaned and began to roll over. It was the first time I had hope that she was not paralyzed. I tried to prevent her from moving thinking that she still could complicate a spinal injury. But she had already corrected the contorted position of her head and was halfway between face-down and on her back. I went ahead and helped her roll and tried to get her to respond. She opened her eyes, but was glaring up with no signs of recognition or response. I kept telling her to relax and stay still, when she finally responded somewhat to one of my questions. I had already asked her several times if you could hear me and to respond in some was which she did not respond to. I finally asked her if she could feel or move her legs and she said, no. Within 30 seconds she lifted a leg to adjust her position.

She was moaning more now and breathing more easily, and within another 30 seconds began to respond to my questions about pain location. By then, the paramedics were there and I backed off. I called home on the German guy’s phone and told her mother to hurry to where we were. I knew that she could there before Heather could be moved. As the paramedics were doing there thing, an ambulance crew was coming from the direction of the other bridge with a gurney. By now, Heather was near-consciousness. She was placed on a backboard. I had to argue a bit with the ambulance crew about which hospital to take her to (the regional trauma center was 5 blocks away and they said they were going to take her to the University Hospital)…..I was insistent, and the EMT said that these decisions were made by dispatch according to location and ER census at the moment. I asked him to call and request transfer to Emanuel, which he did and was granted permission to do so. They took Heather on the gurney toward the southern bridge where the ambulance was, but the northern approach was the shorter way to the hospital and the point I had told her mother to go to. The fire dept paramedics were hauling the crumpled bike back to their engine, and I hopped on my bike to go to the hospital. Her mother was by then running down the Esplanade. We took the crumpled bike from the paramedics, and hiked up to the road where her mother had parked the car.

We beat the ambulance to the hospital. Heather’s looking like she’s OK. A helmet saved her life. Had she not had a helmet on, she would be dead… doubts. The helmet is cracked and the left side flattened where the helmet took the brunt of the force. I’m sure it would have cracked her skull. She had full body xrays and a catscan. She has a nasty abrasion on her left shoulder, two on her left jaw and a large bruise on her left cheek bone. Her jaw is sore. My guess is that she is full of minor sprains. She spent the night in the Trauma Unit, and is there now. Her mother is with her. They’ve pulled her urinary catheter, and just minutes ago her mother called and said that she was up for the first time and brushed her teeth. She vomited the first attempt at oral pain medication.

I had to write this for the catharsis for myself and to give you the news. I’ve also included some of you who are Heather’s friends or still have kids in hopes that you will insist on helmet use. I had the worst 10 minutes of my life last night. It was a hellish 10 minutes that I hope you or I will never have to experience. Without a helmet, the nightmare would be continuing now.

We’re OK. Heather lives, but will probably be sore for a while.

Take good care of your loved ones.