This is a pretty good story. Sounds a bit scary at first, but pretty good.
As is known, I will be 83 in September. A pity, you could say, but I’m having a surprisingly good time, just as I did in my 70’s. I am not nuts about the idea of dying sometime in the next five or ten years but, hey, there is nothing to complain about so far. A rich, full life and a nice one. Largely because I do all this dreary Younger Next Year stuff. The six days a week of exercise, the close connections… blah, blah, blah. Boring but wildly true. Do this crap and you really can be your own, sweet self until close to the end. I do it, and I’d know. I am roughly as fit as a healthy 50-year-old (okay, maybe a healthy 60 year-old) and am living the life. For example, I just finished one of our best books yet, The Younger Next Year BACK BOOK, with the Jeremy James which is going to change millions of lives, man… millions of ’em. A ton of work and hugely satisfying. Other stuff, too. So…am I content with my life? You bet I am. Wish it were a tad longer but this’ll do. And I rejoice.
“FATAL ACCIDENT”: CAR GOING 40 SMACKS INTO 83-YEAR OLD GUY, WALKING HIS BIKE! OH, NO!
But shit does happen, as we used to say, and sometimes it’s bad. Here’s an example: a few days ago, I am finishing a bike ride near home and see Hilary, driving toward town. She stops, parks and walks across the street (the street we live on, a little ways outside the small town of Salisbury) to say hello. We agree I’ll walk my bike over and stick it in the car so we can go shopping together (we’re giving a dinner party tonight).
The two lane road is wide and straight here, just repaved and with broad, grassy shoulders and no obstructions. Perfect visibility. We look both ways and start across. I am walking my bright orange Orbea bicycle, wearing a bright green helmet and bright bike clothes, and Hilary is walking right behind me. Quite the little procession and by no means invisible. It does not occur to either of us that we are doing something vaguely risky. We’re just, you know, crossing the road, the way you do.
But the 25-year old who is driving her long commute does not see us. At all. I am not watching her but Hilary is and she is astonished. The woman does not slow down, does not swerve, takes no “evasive action” at all. So far from there being any skid marks, this woman doesn’t take her foot off the gas. And slams into me. Really, really hard.
You cannot believe how hard, how incomprehensibly hard that blow was. Absolutely astonishing. And terrifying. It felt like… well, words fail, but it felt like a fatal accident. With me at the center of it. You’re mighty busy and disoriented in those milliseconds, but that thought comes fast and clear: you’re probably going to die. Huh, and it seems so damned silly. Really? Here? On the outskirts of our pleasant little town? Good grief!
It is irrelevant to my main story but one can’t help wondering how in the world this happened. How did this woman – on a bright, straight road with wide, grassy shoulders on both sides (lawns, in fact) – fail to see me (in my bright green helmet and bright shirt, walking a bright orange bicycle across a wide-open street, with my wife right behind me)? How did she so utterly miss our little caravan that she didn’t even take her foot off the gas or try to brake or swerve?
We won’t really know unless this goes to court (and I don’t have much appetite for that), but our confident guess is that the young woman – facing that long, familiar commute – is texting or making a call. As Hilary knows (and as the driver almost certainly knows, too) she has just come into an area with good cell service. And it is only going to last a few minutes before going dead again. We’ll only find out if we have to sue, but our strong guess is she doesn’t see me – or Hilary or the orange bicycle or the green helmet – because she is texting. Or making a call. She doesn’t look up – and doesn’t touch the brakes or swerve – until she slams into me. She is probably as surprised as I am, poor dear. I do know she never got out of her car to see how I was…just sat there and “blubbered” as a passer-by put it. Well, it must’ve been quite a shock. I know it shocked me.
I am not knocked down, for some reason. I am spun around and stagger to the side of the road. Still standing. Paramedics are having a meeting nearby and they swarm the scene, tell me to sit down, call an ambulance.
I don’t have accidents. I have never had a biking accident in 75 years of heavy biking. And only one skiing accident in 70 years, at Stowe in 1960. I had a minor hiking accident in Aspen in 1980, and that’s it. I’m just not the type. When I stop skiing, I look over my shoulder and then stop at the side of the run, and turn to face up-hill. To watch for boarders or people who are out of control. Cautious, man, very cautious. And it’s worked. Until today. Nothing would have worked today.
The ambulance people are wonderfully competent and calm. And kind. They quickly get me strapped down and we are off to the local hospital, in nearby Sharon. Where the staff again seems wonderfully competent, fast and kind. The details don’t sink in, but it is a comfort.
But there is one odd piece, almost the oddest of the whole story. A rookie State Policeman, who has already interviewed the woman driver, shows up in the Emergency Room and asks me a few questions. I am a little out-of-it at this point but it doesn’t matter much. He only has a few questions and he has already made up his mind. The woman who hit me, he says, was going 35 miles an hour, exactly the speed limit. Does it occur to him that she is lying? Does he ask why in the world she didn’t hit the brakes or any of that? I am not with-it enough to ask those questions but apparently it doesn’t matter because I am liable regardless. Because I did not wait to cross at a cross-walk, as required by Connecticut law. What! Yes, and he is very dogmatic about that, very stern. I am flabbergasted, as spacey as I am. I say that simply can’t be right. Not because the nearest cross walk is 0.3 miles away so that one would have to walk 0.6 miles, just to cross the street. No one is going to do that out here in the country. Or anywhere else. Which makes the rookie cop angry, for some reason. He says if I want to argue he will give me a citation instead of a warning. All I want is to let the hospital get back to caring for me, so I shut up and take the warning.
The cop’s view about Connecticut law turns out to be nonsense, as you’d expect. Pedestrians and drivers have a shared duty of care, which makes perfect sense. I first learned that from the insurance agent for the company that represents the woman. She couldn’t believe the cop had said that. We’ll get it straightened out, but it added to the weirdness of a weird scene.
After that, the Emergency Room people are wonderfully effective and caring. They quickly put in a saline solution and begin a rigorous course of X-rays and more. This looks to them like serious business. Me too.
I do not have a broken hip, or a broken pelvis or a broken leg. A near miracle, they all agree.
I do have a massive bruise (a “hematoma”) on my butt. It is huge. We all have about five liters of blood in our bodies and the hematoma has gathered two liters to itself. That only leaves three liters to serve the rest of my body… no-where near enough.
The impact of that blood drain comes soon enough: I start shaking convulsively, all over, and cannot stop. I cannot get warm, my color is ashen and my blood pressure drops into the low 30’s. My blood pressure is always low but not like this. This is scary. Suddenly there are ten medical staff people in the room and there is a strong sense of urgency. Not from me, by the way. I am almost unconscious. But I am aware enough to think, for the second time, that Hey, now I actually may be dying.
There had been a faint sign of internal bleeding from an earlier scan and they send me roaring back to the CAT scan guy again, a tough old bird who says, “They must be worried; they told me to really hurry.” Great; I am back in Stephen King country. But he’s right, they are worried. They have laid on a helicopter to air-lift me to a larger hospital, if there is organ damage. A helicopter because time is of the essence. Happily, I am not aware of any of this.
But I am not rushed off to the helicopter, because there is no internal bleeding anywhere, thank God. Not in my gut, not in various organs and – best of all – not in my spleen which is near the impact and a delicate organ. Oh, boy. The guy in the helicopter shuts it down, takes off his flying duds. I lie, semi-conscious, in my crowded room, docs and techs all over the place. Someone has the excellent idea of giving me a transfusion and “Cat”, already my favorite nurse, quickly gets that going.
Having a transfusion is a little more complicated than you might think: they feel ever so strongly about not giving you the wrong blood type. But finally it’s done. The convulsions stop and I start to feel a little better. By the way, there were two docs involved throughout: an osteopath who would have drained the hematoma, if that had been necessary and an internist…both intensely interested. Both able, as far as I could tell.
The pain is fierce and unrelenting and there is no way to get comfortable. But Cat starts giving me whopping doses of Morphine which helps a lot. I am vaguely worried about becoming a morphine addict – very popular in the hills of New England for some reason. But that, I conclude, is tomorrow’s problem.
Now for the miracle:
“Tomorrow’s Problems”, it turns out, do not amount to much. When I wake up from a drugged sleep, I still have horrendous pain, but it is perfectly clear that I have not broken a thing, that there are no internal injuries and that I will be fine in a few weeks. THEN BEGINS the pleasant business of being told what amazing shape I am in and how that – being so fit – has made all the difference in my survival, especially at me advanced age. I am the best old sport in the world at listening to this stuff. They go on and on. I purr.
They literally cannot believe it: I am almost 83 years old; I have been smacked into, head-on, by a car doing 40 miles an hour and I have more or less walked away. That, they say, is unheard of. They are astonished…bring in other docs to look at my quads, my glutes. They have never seen the like, blah,blah, blah. I love it.
Want to know the actual secret? POWERFUL GLUTES. Sounds banal but it isn’t. Most people in this country, after age 40, certainly 50, have no glutes at all, to speak of. Your glutes – the big muscles in your butt that are so pronounced on serious runners and football players – are designed to be the biggest muscles in your body. But we mostly use them just sit on. So they atrophy. They develop “gluteal amnesia” as one scholar puts it, which is to say they just dry up… turn into drapery. Disappear.
As I well know because of our new back book. Because atrophied glutes are a prime cause of back pain. Your glutes are designed primarily to hold up your neutral spine. If you let them go to hell or disappear – as most people do – then lesser muscles and bones have to do the job. Which they cannot do. So the spine itself has to take over. Which it cannot do, either. And you, poor baby, have very, very bad back pain. I just wrote a long chapter about this so I know the subject. And I know my own glutes, which aren’t bad.
I am a wretched athlete and not much of a physical specimen (at 83) but guess what? My glutes are beauties. Because of all the skiing and biking and rowing and squats and lunges I do, year in and year out. My quads, too. Pretty strong and they work. So I don’t have back pain. And, just the least bit weirdly, I walk away from accidents that could have been a bit worse.
If I had the glutes of the typical American 80-year-old (which is to say, none), that girl’s car would have instantly turned my right hip into rubble. Then, a fraction of a second later, my pelvis. And then my spleen, which is right next-door. That’s what the people in the hospital were particularly worried about, a ruptured spleen. Not good.
But none of that happened. Because of my terrific glutes. The very next day, I am in fierce pain from the hematoma but am walking about, first, on a walker and then on a cane. Two days later, I am walking around – still in a ton of pain- but no walker, no cane.
I get hold of Jeremy out in Aspen, tell him the story. He understands it, of course, but even he is incredulous. “Can’t believe it, man. You’re almost 83, you get h it by a car going 35 or 40 and you more or less walk away? Un-$%&!- believable.” Jeremy is a loving man and he absolutely adores this story. We talk a little about physical therapies to avoid collateral damage; not a biggie. But mostly he’s amazed. “Un-believable. Just unbelievable… nice going!” The dear man.
To say that I “walked away” is a bit of a stretch. Technically true but those first days I was walking pretty oddly. Because of the pain. But it is basically true; a few days later, I am walking almost normally. Still some pain but no wheel-chair, no walker and no cane. Not even much of a limp (I consciously try not to limp because I know about the risk of throwing off your over-all balance and causing collateral problems by favoring a bad joint or whatever). I hope there’s a picture here somewhere, showing me walking around our driveway, four days after the hit.
In the Younger Next Year books we claim that adherence to the regimen will reduce the risk of many serious sicknesses – heart disease, lots of cancers, diabetes and so on – by 50%. True, too.
We also say you reduce the risk of serious accidents by 50%, which sounds odd to a lot of people but is also, absolutely true. And important because accidents have as much to do with bad aging as sickness. The usual impact of the regimen on accidents is that you fall less often because the exercises make your legs stronger, you are more coordinated, have better proprioception and faster feet. Makes sense. But sometimes it’s a little more arcane: sometimes it’s just a matter of having sweet, sweet glutes. Like mine. To soak up a hit. Walk away.