Part 1: The Car, The Knife, and The Boa
On April 20th, 2015 I had one of those moments where I thought I was going to die.
It was a rather ordinary Okinawan late Spring afternoon; the temperature warm and the weather slightly overcast with the promise of a light rain. I went out for a casual “quickie” on my triathlon bike. Those who ride can appreciate the difference between a bicycle, a road bike, and a triathlon bike. From my house I rode about 20 km going north past Camp Hansen on highway 329 and toward Camp Schwab before turning around and heading back home. The ride was great: it was one of those days where I felt like I could go forever. My bike rolled smooth as my HED H3 wheels made a soft helicopter-like whirring noise and the promised rain began a cool refreshing drizzle. Going through Kin Town on the way back I sat up from my aerobars and kept my hands on the brakes. Too many close-encounters taught me to be especially cautious going down roads with lots of side streets. Besides, city traffic is usually too congested to make any use of an aerobar.
Passing the front gate of Camp Hansen, I began rolling down “The Hill” heading south on Hwy 329. Sometimes when going down The Hill I get lucky with traffic lights and can roll all the way through without having to break pace for a red light, and usually if the light turns soon enough I can slow down and creep my way up without having to unclip from my pedals. Today was a lucky day. All lights were green going down, and I was able to coast the whole way sitting upright while lightly feathering my brakes to maintain solid control on the freshly rain-slicked road surface. Coming down around the final corner the last light turned green as if on cue. The car that had been waiting its turn took off ahead of me before I could catch up. Approaching the intersection, I gently feathered my brakes while assessing the traffic. Do they see me? The cars on my left idled behind their red light while those ahead continued straight. A male runner approached on the far left sidewalk. All clear.
I released my brakes and pushed into the pedals to make up lost speed and utilize the last portion of downhill to finish my ride home. I pushed through the intersection.
A white car turns in front of me. 1.5 seconds until impact: he doesn’t see me! I grab a handful of brakes and my bike responds with a classic death wobble. The rain…I am going to get smeared by this car. Half a second until impact: I release the brakes and swerve left. Somehow my mind decided in this last half moment of time that my best bet was to take the hit at an angle. I would like to take this moment to emphasize how unpleasant it is deciding how you are going to hit / get hit by a car. Swerving right meant a head-on collision with oncoming traffic and riding the brakes meant wiping out and most likely going under the car.
Fuck, I don’t even have 1,000 miles on these wheels. –my last thought.
I don’t remember the feel of the car or flying through air. My guess is I closed my eyes the same way you do at the doctor’s office when you don’t care to watch a hypodermic needle slip beneath your skin. I do remember hearing a thick cracking sound like a combination of glass breaking and ice splitting beneath one’s feet. It was my only sensation at impact as if the sound filled every corner of my mind.
Usually when your body takes a hit there’s a surge of adrenaline and blood flow to extremities is constricted as a sort of survival mechanism to prevent pain and blood loss. In past experience this is what I am familiar with…take a hit one day, feel pain the next. For whatever awful reason this night was an exception: I felt it all, and I felt it immediately.
My body screamed as a super-heightened sense of pain washed over every corner of my flesh. I took a breath in and felt a butcher knife plunge through my chest as freshly cracked ribs ground against each other with the expansion of my diaphragm. I exhaled and felt hot fluid run out of my mouth. My chest tightened as an invisible boa-constrictor squeezed tighter around my lungs. My body throbbed as waves of pain pulsated through the flesh. Right arm doesn’t move, left one does. Left leg feels broken. Right leg moves. Hopefully no spine or neck injuries. I stared toward the sky, lying on my back considering the chances of a second car running me over. If I move, I might make it worse. Nearby tires squealed.
An impossibly calm local Okinawan female voice comes from my left, “Are you okay?” I don’t respond, it hurts to breathe. Someone unbuckles the chinstrap on my helmet. I breathe in and force another butcher knife through my chest. This time it’s only a half breath. The boa won’t allow more air. Something catches in my throat and I cough. The contractions saw through my ribs as I try to force myself to stop. More fluid sputters from my mouth and runs down the left side of my face. I wipe my mouth with my left hand to examine the fluid. It looks like foamy pink tapioca pudding with blood bubbles. It looks like what comes out of an animal’s mouth when shot through the lungs.
I started using a spearfishing breathing technique I had learned months earlier for underwater breath holds to control my breathing. Breathe in four seconds: one…the knife enters my chest, two…the knife twists through my lungs and between the ribs, three…boa won’t let the air in, four…boa squeezes against me. Breathe out eight seconds: one…the knife twists, two…I listen to my breath hiss through my lips, three…the boa squeezes tighter, four…air hissing, five…the air is gone, six…boa squeezes, seven…I imagine more air, eight…the air is gone. More lung-tapioca goes down my face.
I hear sirens. Ambulance. Four in, eight out. The boa’s hold tightens. Three in, six out. Lung-goo runs down my face. Two in, four out. The boa squeezes. One in, two out. The knife stays in my chest. Someone braces the sides of my head and a spine board slides under me. One in, one out…one in, one out. Someone speaking English assures me that I will be alright. I’m going to die suffocating on my own blood. You’re supposed to tell the victim he’s doing fine…that’s how every Marine is taught to treat for shock. I could have my heart ripped outside of my body and they would say, “Hey buddy it’s just a scratch, hang in there just a sec and we’ll have you back in the fight in no time!” I’m lifted into the ambulance. Half in, half out, half in, half out. The boa is almost finished with me. I’ll never see my unborn child. I cough and bloody tapioca oozes out. The knife saws back and forth. One in, one out.
“How far to the Naval Hospital?” Someone asks in clear English. An oxygen mask covers my nose and mouth while an IV needle slides into my left arm.
“Camp Foster uh…20 minutes?” Broken English, Okinawan driver. A paramedic keeps talking to me asking useless questions I mostly ignore or grunt a response to. I focus on breathing. I continue through cycles of shallow breaths, coughing, filling the oxygen mask with blood and pieces of lung, and occasionally grunting a response to the English-speaking paramedic. The English-speaker finds my phone and asks me who he should call. I give him a name. Half in, one out. I close my eyes and focus on breathing. Half in, half out. I imagine more air is in my body. More blood and tapioca fills the mask. Half in, half out. Someone removes the mask, wipes away the gore, and places it back on my face. I think about my wife and what will happen to her if I never see her again. I failed her and our baby. This thought makes my eyes water and my mind drifts. I feel exhausted, like I haven’t slept in days. It’s not even that late and I’m so tired…there was still daylight outside. The weight of sleepiness overtakes my body. I allow myself to sink into it. I’m so tired. I deserve to rest.
My eyes already shut, a deeper warm darkness closed around me. The ambulance siren faded as if it were driving away into the distance. A tingling warmth filled my veins and the darkness offered to take the pain away. I agreed. I’m so tired…I deserve to rest.
Continued in Part 2: Narcotics