Big Medicine is
Team EMS Inc.
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
W. David Stephenson
News & Terrorism
Stop Violence Against Women & Girls
The views expressed here reflect the views of
the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any
of their organizations. In particular, the views expressed here do
not necessarily reflect those of Big Medicine, nor any member of
Team EMS Inc.
VIEWS: SUSAN E. NEWMAN
by Susan Newman
seasoned bike riders in Montreal, I had a certain arrogance about
wearing a helmet. Yes, I would wear it when riding for a long
distance, but secretly I thought my bike riding skills would preempt
any serious collision. Having survived many a near miss with car
doors springing open, and pedestrians leaping off curbs, I was sure
that even if I were in an accident I would have the instincts and
reflexes to emerge unscathed.
The Friday afternoon I got hit by a car I was returning from a
four-hour bike ride, which was the only reason I was wearing my
helmet. After hours of carefully navigating through the thick
traffic and congested bike paths in the east end of our city, I was
in the home stretch, only a couple of blocks from home. The area
where I would not normally be wearing a helmet.
I was in that zone where, after riding for hours, your body and bike
are like a seamless well-oiled machine. My mind was miles ahead
already. As my legs and lungs pumped, in my head I was already
picking up corn for dinner and walking the dog. Mentally I had
already passed onto the next activity as I flew around the corner,
just as the light turned green, at rush hour.
The car that hit me turned left onto the street just as I turned my
right. We met in the middle. I never saw it. I was going top speed,
when, out of the corner of my eye, I sensed rather than saw a blur
of colour. Burgundy? A thought flashed through my head – almost too
fast to register. Uh oh. Another thought – to my hands – apply
brakes. Then, before my hand could act, the sound of a crash, miles
in the distance. So far that it sounded like it was blocks away. As
if I had already reached home, and, from my living room, was hearing
the sickening metal crunch of a car making impact. The terrible
noise of an accident, with the associated dread: I hope no one is
Then: nothing. I have no recollection of the accident itself. The
car had over $2500 in damage. I think now, how could I have had that
much impact with metal and not remember it? All I know is that one
moment I was on my bike, going full speed, and the next thing I knew
I was smashing back onto the ground, full force, onto the back of my
head. This is bad, I thought.
Suddenly there was sky, blinding my eyes. Dimly, I sensed a flurry
of activity around me. Cars, people, too much commotion. A voice,
coming from the side. Frantic, panicked. The driver of the car.
Pulling me, lifting me, dragging me the side of the road. Don’t move
me, I thought, but I was too dazed to speak.
Then I was on the grass, next to a sidewalk, lying face down. A
crowd had gathered around me. Excited voices shrilled all around me.
Stay calm, I thought. Stay focused, I thought. Don’t lose
consciousness. The light, and reality, was too glaring to observe,
so I kept my eyes shut. I begged the crowd to call an ambulance.
They all seemed far more panicked than I was. I was amazed at my own
calmness, observed it patiently, detached. I asked someone to move
my bicycle to the side of the road. A frenzy of disorganized voices
buzzed around me.
A young man’s voice next to me suggested that he would try to move
me. He explained that he was a lifeguard. What? He sounded like a
panicked teenager. The sister of a paramedic, the one thing I knew
for sure is that I had taken a bad hit, my head was hurting badly,
and I couldn’t move my shoulder. Moving me anywhere would not be a
good thing. I said, “Don’t move me” softly, and when the young man
attempted to move me anyway, I said, loudly, “Fuck off”. His hands
sprang back, and I felt contrite, but remained adamant about not
being moved. I insisted that no one touch me until the paramedics
My head started to bleed. A lot. The panic in the crowd around me
ratcheted up to fever pitch. Voices shouted shrilly, “Look at how
much her head is bleeding!” I could feel hot blood running down my
face, my arm, my chest, I could dimly sense the grass going dark
with my blood below me. I observed it all calmly, from a great
distance. One person, perhaps the young lifeguard, gasped in panic
to another, “Is she still breathing?” The other responded, in equal
panic, “I think she’s still alive…she’s still breathing, I think…!”
I thought, angrily, I can hear all of you.
I thought, shut up. All of you, go away. Please, just go away. There
was just one woman who remained calm, with a soft voice. She kept
quietly repeating that an ambulance was on the way, and I was doing
fine. I focused on her, listening to her voice, her gentle
breathing. I reached out and held her hand. A complete stranger I
couldn’t see, and yet, at that moment, her steadying grasp was
I asked to borrow a cell phone. I was afraid I would lose
consciousness, and my mind remained riveted on my dog that needed
walking. The man who hit me handed me his cell phone. He was
babbling, hysterical, grateful to do anything to assist. Dimly, I
felt sorry for him. He seemed like a nice guy. He could have been
me, my neighbour, anyone. He was just a normal guy in the wrong
place, at the wrong time, heading home to his family on a normal
Friday night. I kept telling him not to worry. Shit happens, I
mumbled. He wasn’t terribly comforted, however, as blood poured from
my head all over his cell phone.
My husband answered his cell, thank goodness. I told him I had been
in a car accident with my bike, and that the dog needed walking. I
told him I was waiting for an ambulance to come get me. I was so
calm he asked me why I didn’t just come home. I told him I needed
help. I was tired, I didn’t want to talk. I just said I thought it
had been a bad accident, and I was bleeding alot. He said he’d come
meet me, and he sent over our nephew to walk our dog. I felt
relieved. I lay there, with my hand in a stranger’s hand, and waited
for my husband, and the sound of the siren.
The ambulance arrived. The paramedic wanted to take my helmet off. I
was afraid. There was so much blood, I was afraid my head had split
open. Mostly, I was terrified of the crowd’s reaction. I kept asking
the medic to tell the crowd to move away. They seemed reluctant. He
asked them to leave once, nicely, and when they didn’t disperse, he
said it again harshly, loudly. I heard their rumblings in the
background. Disappointed, I thought. Show’s over.
Then silence. It was just the two paramedics and I. I felt better
once the crowd was gone. I hated how their scared voices and
frightening words kept trying to punch fatal holes in my calm. My
husband arrived just as the crowd dispersed. I listened carefully to
his voice as well. He was trying to remain calm and cheerful, but I
could detect a note of shock and alarm in his voice, his pitch
higher than normal. When your eyes are closed, it is amazing how
important the sounds around you are. In a moment of crisis, it feels
as if your very survival depends upon what you hear.
The medic gingerly removed my helmet, and the two paramedics
carefully placed me in a neck brace, and onto a back board. My
biggest fear was that I would be paralyzed. Strapped down, my hands
were tingling badly. I was rolled into the back of the ambulance,
and my husband got into the front. I could hear him speaking loudly,
trying to remain cheery, a fear under his words. I was relieved he
would be riding with me.
I kept asking the medic if I would be paralyzed. I started to
tremble uncontrollably. The fear and shock were catching up to me. I
was afraid I would be car sick, because I suffer from motion
sickness. The medic told his partner, and they drove slowly and
carefully, which was a relief to me. Becoming frantic at that point,
I kept imploring the paramedic for his assurance that I would be all
right. Finally, tiredly, he promised I would be all right, with an
impatient chuckle. His words were comforting to me, and I calmed
down a bit.
When we arrived at the hospital I thanked the medic who had rode
with me. I couldn’t really see him, or anyone, with my head strapped
into place. It was a strange, disorienting feeling. From the moment
I was hit, I felt cut off from the rest of the world, floating, by
myself. The paramedic, obviously at the end of his shift, said
something a bit bitterly like I shouldn’t sound so surprised he had
been helpful – paramedics did more than drink coffee, after all. I
quickly told him my brother had been a paramedic for years.
Instantly, his voice was apologetic, human, personal, and he hastily
asked me who my brother was. But we had arrived at the hospital, and
I was already being rushed down the halls on a stretcher, my eyes
fixed on the white ceiling above, listening to the strangers on
either side of me.
I was raced into the trauma room. Instantly, there was a pack of
medical personnel around me. I thought, numbly, how different it was
from waiting for hours in a hospital waiting room to be seen. Here
there were doctors and nurses rapidly firing questions at me, over
and over again. What was my name, how old was I, what year was it?
They tried to take my top off, but my shoulder was in so much pain I
begged them to cut it off, which they did.
They asked me if I could feel my hands and my feet. They were still
tingling, which set me into a panic. I told a nurse how scared I
was, and she gave me an Ativan, which I appreciated. They rolled me
onto my side. The doctor told me a nurse was going to check my butt
reflexes to test if I was paralyzed. Strangely, I wasn’t the least
bit perturbed by the thought of this. All I wanted was to be told I
would be all right. In moments of crisis, dignity and modesty are
instantly rendered irrelevant.
My initial test passed successfully, I lay in my stretcher in a
hallway and waited for an MRI and CT scan. The shock fading, and
facilitated by the Ativan, I started thinking more rationally. I
looked to see what time it was, and realized my gold watch was
missing. I asked a nurse who passed in the hallway if she could see
it anywhere. She discovered it in a little baggie, crumpled on the
bottom shelf of my stretcher next to my cut-off clothing. Amazing, I
thought, what would normally be perceived as precious was just
another useless belonging that had gotten in the way of saving me.
I asked the nurse if she could send in my husband, and she kindly
agreed. My husband was ushered into the hallway with me, and there
we waited for both tests to be done. The CT scan was a little scary,
as I am claustrophobic, but by that time I was used to closing my
eyes. I just glued my eyes shut and waited, praying that they
wouldn’t find anything.
I was one of the lucky ones. If I hadn’t worn a helmet, I wouldn’t
have been. Hours later, when I caught my reflection in a mirror, I
looked like an extra in a horror movie. My hair was matted with
blood, and dried blood was all over my face, neck, chest, stomach
and arms. Despite all the blood, I didn’t need stitches on my head,
and it was determined that I had a Stage 3 separation of my
shoulder. Outfitted with a sling, I was sent home.
My shoulder hurt badly at first, and six weeks later, it still
aches. I also have a Frankenbump on my shoulder that will be there
for life. I suffered from bad headaches and a very sore and scabby
scalp for the first week, and room spins and vertigo for weeks
after. But I lived, and I walked out of the hospital that night. My
helmet - a good one, that I paid a fair amount for – had survived
the accident bloody, but intact. I left it behind at the hospital
anyway. When I am ready to go bike riding again, I will go out and
buy another good solid helmet. It may be the most important
investment I will ever make.
Sometimes I think about what would have happened if I hadn’t been
wearing a helmet. It’s so scary, I try not to think about it too
much. The paramedic said that my helmet surely saved me. He said
that I had been going full speed when I had the accident, so I
probably hit the pavement at over 30 miles an hour. He explained
that the helmet absorbed most of the accident first, and then my
brain second. If I hadn’t have been wearing it, however….
I shudder to think about it. I can’t help flash to the
possibilities, however, when I see the teenage boy next door heading
out on his bike – without a helmet. When I stop him, he says he’s
only biking a few blocks away. I tell him that I had a major bike
accident – just a few blocks away. I tell him my story. His face
registers alarm, but he leaves, helmetless, anyway.
I watch him bike away, his confident pace clearly communicating how
invincible he feels. I fear for him, and all the bikers who navigate
our streets with their hair blowing in the wind, sure it could never
happen to them. It can, and it may someday, I think, helplessly, as
I watch them.
It’s so simple to put on a helmet, I think. It’s so easy to die
[Every emergency is
[Feb 6 2009]
afternoon I kept hearing odd...rustling coming from downstairs. I
thought, "Trigger is having a restless poo moment." As it was
freezing, I decided Trigger's deafness was contagious (yes, I'm
evil). Anyway. Finally went downstairs around 4ish. I realized the
rustling was coming from the dining room. I looked in the dining
Dramatic pause. Oh please. I am going to milk this.
There were birds. Big black birds. Two of them. Flying all around my
dining room. Smacking against the window. Strolling down my dining
room table. Sitting on the chairs.
Big black birds.
I stared at them in horror for a good five minutes. I honestly
thought the most logical explanation was that I had lost my mind and
they were two big black hallucinations. Then I surmised that there
were escaped maniacs in the house who had left the door open in
their haste to butcher me. When the big black birds were still there
after five minutes of blinking rapidly, and I wasn't macheted, I
called Eric in a panic.
He raced over to
his mother's from work. He told his mom that we have two big black
birds flying around in our dining room. Josette calmly answered, and
I quote, "Go get a couple of the big nets in the garage." As Eric
headed to the garage, his mom specified, "The ones with the long
handles". This is a woman who
is clearly prepared for anything.
By the way, the entire time the two black birds were performing a
circus in our dining room, (including swinging from the chandelier),
all four predators who share the house with me cowered in the living
room in terror. Two cats with claws. Two big wolfish dogs.
useless, useless and useless. 1700 frantic cell phone calls later,
Eric arrived home with his two nets with long handles. We both
donned parkas (with big hoods - I hate an unidentified flying animal
in my house). Wonders of wonders, after much shouting, arm flailing
and general hysteria, Eric caught them one by one and whooshed them
out the back door.
We have no idea how they got in. None. It takes, what, a second to
walk in the door with the dogs? Don't you think I would have noticed
two big black birds flying in with me? This morning at the breakfast
table Eric seemed in deep thought for a moment, then spit out, "The
only logical explanation is black magic". We both nodded and kept
eating our toast.
Of course, to
determine the precise meaning of a bird flying into one's home, I
also turned to the most reliable source for truth and
information: the Internet. As my search engine searched I thought,
perhaps it is great luck. Win the lottery times two? No such luck.
Turns out a bird flying into a home means death is imminent. I'm not
sure what two big black birds on your buffet mean, but my instincts
are saying not so good.
I haven't heard any rustling downstairs today. If I go downstairs,
however, and find a raven and/or Edgar Allen Poe in our dining room,
we are moving.