Monday, January 22nd began like every other day. I was excited to be at work because it was the week that we begin collecting all the Artwork that received a Gold Key award as part of the Scholastic Art Awards. My coworker, Laurie and I would be hanging it at the Main Library the following week. I find the work to be inspiring and gratifying. Gratifying because I can see that all the hard work we do is extremely beneficial and is displayed in the work the students are creating.
Although the work wasn’t due until Wednesday, several pieces were dropped off on Monday and the work did not disappoint. I was excited to help curate the work the following week. It is no doubt one of the best parts of my job.
Later that evening we had a final Scholastics meeting to prepare for the awards show at the Florida Theater and the official opening after the awards show. We had our meeting at the Cathedral Arts Project office located in Downtown Jacksonville. The meeting went great, all the final details were worked out and the group was enjoying each other’s company while eating snacks that everybody brought in. I knew I had dinner waiting for me at home and I was eager to get home to my family. This is by far what I look forward to the most. Seeing my wife Caroline and my awesome kids. I decided to be the first one to leave because I wanted to get home. I said my goodbyes and quietly walked out to my Jeep.
As I approached my Jeep, I saw some homeless gentlemen leaning against the outside wall of the Main Library watching me approach my Jeep. My Jeep was definitely a conversation piece and there was no doubt they were intrigued. I don’t usually place a lot of pride in physical possessions, but my Jeep was my dream vehicle. It is a vehicle that I never thought I would ever be able to own, but I did. It was a 2016 Jeep Wrangler. It has a 4″ lift, over-sized wheels and tired and LED lights all around. I recently added an AEV steel rear bumper and tire carrier. I had all the work done at Happy Trails 4×4 and I couldn’t be happier with the work. All that I had left to do was upgrade the front bumper to match the rear which I was hoping to do later in the year.
I climbed in my Jeep. I set up my phone with Waze. I use Waze all the time to prevent getting caught up in unexpected traffic. Little did I know that I would be part of the traffic that night. I started a podcast and started my journey home.
I typically never speed and this night was no different. I got on I95 North and proceeded home. Waze didn’t predict any delays in traffic. I was cruising on home and as I passed the airport exit, I set my cruise control to 70 mph. I was still going faster than people in the right lane for a while. Around the Pecan Park Exit, I was able to get over to right lane. This is typically where traffic tends to speed up so I get over and let people go around me. And then the moment that will haunt me the rest of my life…
I am a defensive driver. I’m always scanning my mirrors to make a conscious effort to know who is around me. My cruise control was still set to 70. Then I looked in my rear view mirror and noticed a red Audi sports car switch from the middle lane to the right lane. This car was going at an extremely high rate of speed. I estimate it to be traveling well over 100 mph. Then I realized that he was approaching me and was not attempting to slow down. The Red Audi slammed into the back of my Jeep. It was vicious hit. Remember, I was already traveling 70 mph and he hit me hard enough to accelerate me forward quite a bit. I had my hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 and braced for the worse. My Jeep veered off the road to the shoulder. I slammed on the brake trying to decelerate and stop my vehicle. At that point I remember my Jeep pulling to the right and I began to roll. I’ve heard of times like this, when “Your life flashes between your eyes.” It really does. Everything seemed to go in slow motion. I don’t know how many times I rolled but it had to be at least three times. After the first roll, I said to myself, “I’m not ready to leave my family.” Every time my wheels hit the ground, I hoped it would stop. Eventually my Jeep came to rest just inside the wooded area. I don’t know how, but my Jeep stopped on all four wheels.
I took a deep breath and began to evaluate my situation. I reached for my phone. It was missing. I pulled up the charging cable only to find there was nothing attached. I took a couple deep breaths, made sure I was ok and then tried to get my keys out of the ignition. At first I was having trouble, but I realized that I hadn’t put the Jeep in park. After putting it in park, I took out my keys and opened the door. I looked down and saw that there were several small trees laying on their sides under the Jeep. At this point I realized that my shoulder may have been injured in the crash. I had a dull ache and it hurt even worse when I tried to lift my arm. I stumbled out of the woods. I noticed cars were parked everywhere. A lot of people were on their phones calling 911, I assume. I immediately thought about Caroline, I needed to call my wife and let her know what was going on. I went up to a car that was parked on the shoulder. I knocked on the glass and asked to use their phone. I called Caroline and left her a voicemail. At that time a Nurse who stopped to help came over to evaluate me. At that time the lady brought over her phone and told me my wife had called back. I gave Caroline a quick update and reassured her I was ok and that I was probably heading to Shands.
I was really impressed by how many people stopped to help. The nurse who stopped had a friend in the car with him. They were nice enough to grab my briefcase and other possessions and take them to my house. Another gentleman came over and said he was actually on the phone with the Florida Highway Patrol reporting the guy as the accident happened. Ambulances started pulling up. They all rushed over to red Audi which was sitting in the middle of the interstate. Finally they sent a couple of paramedics over to me. I won’t lie that it bothered me a bit that the guy who was driving recklessly and caused the accident was getting all the help. I had to pull myself out of the Jeep and stagger up to the highway. It wasn’t until I waved people down that they even realized I needed help. I honestly didn’t expect the guy to have survived. He hit my Jeep really hard and his car suffered extreme damage. Fortunately there were no fatalities and at the time I didn’t think I was hurt that bad.
The paramedics put me in the back of the ambulance and started an IV. They tried to fix up a sling, but it didn’t really help. It was at this point I think the adrenaline was wearing off and the pain was starting to take hold. I realized at this time, it was more that an shoulder injury. It hurt to breath, it hurt to move and it hurt in general. I couldn’t get comfortable on the stretcher. The paramedics were really trying to comfort me, but there wasn’t much they could do. The FHP officer came up the ambulance, asked for my driver’s license and asked a few questions. He said he would be right back. I never actually saw his face because he was talking from the side door and I was facing the back. At that point, the ambulance said they were pulling off to the hospital. They reassured me the officer would meet me there to get my statement and bring back my drivers license.
We were originally supposed to go to Shands Hospital, but they made a change and took me to UF North. A new hospital in North Jacksonville. The longer I sat in the ambulance, the more pain started to settle in. When we arrived at the hospital, they took some X-rays and a CT Scan. They were real quick to have me sent to Shands Downtown. It turns out I suffered approximately eight rib fractures, a broken clavicle and a broken scapula. The ribs were the biggest concern because it put me at risk for flail chest. This is when I started to realize the seriousness of my injuries. They transported me to Shands where the Trauma Unit was there waiting for me. They quickly did an evaluation, took new X-rays and prepared to admit me. The Trauma Orthopedic Surgeon came over to talk to me and update me on my situation. He explained the healing process for the ribs and that the first week will be the worse. The second week will be a little better and by week three it will feel a lot better. It will take about eight weeks for the ribs to heal all the way. The Scapula is fractured, but there is nothing they can do about it and it will heal on it’s own. The collar bone was different story. He said he was going to consult with another orthopedic surgeon in the morning. It looks like surgery may be necessary, but he wasn’t sure. This was not the news I wanted to hear. They put me on a fast in anticpation of surgery in the morning. This is not what I wanted to hear. Just an hour ago, I was on my way home to dinner with my family. Now I’m looking at staying in the hospital and probably surgery.
All things considering, I was trying to keep in good spirits. It wasn’t the hospital staff’s fault I was in this predicament. I tried to be as polite and positive as possible. One nurse even said that I was her hero. I was puzzled, and asked why she thought that. She said that I rolled my car 3-4 times, have multiple broken ribs, broken collar bone, nearly died and I’m remarkably good spirits. That was a theme I heard over and over, “You’re lucky to be alive.”
I was admitted to the hospital that night. Caroline was there with me almost the whole time. She eventually left to be with the kids. Her friend Karen came over to stay with them while Caroline was with me in the hospital. I think at this point I was still in shock. I don’t think the true impact of the accident set in.
The next morning Caroline arrived to visit. I was still in a lot of pain. I could barely move, but I tried to hide it and not show how uncomfortable I was. It was at this time, I had Caroline call and file a claim with the insurance company and then we retained a lawyer. This was one of the best decisions I made in this entire situations. If anyone is ever in an accident where they are not at fault, call a lawyer immediately. We called Morgan and Morgan. I wanted a firm that has experience with these types of accidents and will work on my behalf while I can’t. They didn’t disappoint.
Caroline stayed for a bit and then decided to go back home for a while to freshen up and rest. On the way back she stopped at the accident site and took some photos. My phone was still lost. Somehow she was able to find my cell phone laying on the side of the road. This was huge! She brought it to me later that evening and I felt like I had at least part of my life back. While she was at the salvage yard, the attendant made the comment, “It looks like it was just a an unfortunate accident. The other guy just left and just suffered a few bruises.” Caroline bit her tongue and found my Jeep. She grabbed all my personal stuff from the Jeep and took them home. When she told me the other guy was out of the hospital, I was shocked and I’ll admit, a little pissed off. This guy almost killed me and he is out walking around joking with scrapyard attendant.
I still did’t have my drivers license. Apparently the Florida Highway Patrol officer left the hospital before I arrived. I had no ID. Caroline called FHP multiple times trying to figure out what is going on. We don’t even have an accident report. Apparently they have 10 days to issue a report. Who knew? They reassure her he will bring me my license later in the day. He never showed up.
Around lunchtime, I overhear the nurse telling the nutritionist that I am on a normal diet. I was a little shocked. I asked her about the surgery and she said that the Dr. decided not to do surgery. I was somewhat relieved because I really didn’t want surgery. A side effect of pain medication is loss of appetite. I really wasn’t hungry. Caroline brought me some McDonald’s, normally I would wolf down a breakfast sandwich, it took everything I had to finish it.
I started feeling my collar bone and realized there was a significant break. I began to worry about it.
That evening I had several visitors. Carlos, my long time friend and fraternity brother stopped by to see me. He has a way of lifting my spirits and I’m glad he stopped by. My friend and boss, Jeff stopped by and visited for a bit. Like we always do, we started talking shop. Probably not advisable when I’m laying in a hospital bed, but oh well. Natalie, my coworker stopped by and brought me some things to keep my busy. To my biggest surprise, Mike and Tommy came in to visit. Mike and Tommy are my neighbors and this past year we’ve become friends. It was a pleasant surprise to have them visit.
I wish I could say I was resting a lot while I was in the hospital, but I wasn’t, I couldn’t. Not only was I so much pain that I couldn’t sleep, but I also had a lot on my mind. I was talking with the insurance company about my Jeep, the lawyer about injury claims, and friends and family who were checking on me. I was wanting a shower and I couldn’t even sit up without being in excruciating pain. I got through Tuesday and found a way to sleep a little that night.
Wednesday morning came and it was the normal routine, various nurses stopping by, medicine, vitals, and tons of questions about my health. I’m still feeling really blessed to have walked away from this accident so I’m still in good spirits. Caroline brings me a breakfast sandwich. Somehow I managed to eat it, but my appetite was gone. The nurse comes in and tells me that they are going to discharge me. It will take some time, but I should be home by the end of the day. I’m relieved at this point, but I was a little worried about where and how I was going to sleep. The orthopedic doctor came in and told me he wanted to see my in a couple weeks to evaluate the collar bone. He also told me not to use or move my arm at all which was contradicting what the physical therapist was telling me. I brought this to their attention. I wanted to do the right thing.
While waiting to be discharged, I decided I wanted to shower. This is when I realized how bad I was hurt. I’m not sure how, but I managed. I had to get Caroline to help be get dressed because I could barely move. I got dressed and got back in bed to rest. It took all day, but I was eventually release from the hospital that evening. The nurses set up my prescriptions and doctor appointments. They wheeled me down to the car. I slowly walked over to the car and got in. Caroline had to buckle my seat belt because I couldn’t move that far to reach the clip on my left side. I was so excited to get home and see the kids, but I was scared about how I was going to get around the house.
Caroline made me place to sit and recline in one of her chairs using pillows and an ottoman. Although it was a great try, it wasn’t going to work. Being the great wife that she is, she went to furniture store the next day and got me a recliner to sit and sleep in. Mike and Tommy helped her pick it up and brought it in the house. What a lot people don’t realize is when you have a eight rib fractures, you can’t lay flat on your back. The pain is unbearable. What hurts even more is trying to sit up. Caroline tried to help me up, but it was so painful it sucked the air out of my chest. The recliner was exactly what I needed. It was at this time that I started to cough a little bit. I didn’t thing much of it at first. I thought it was because I wasn’t able to take deep breaths and it was my lungs trying to loosen up flem.
By the end of the day I could barely go a few minutes without the need to cough. It got to the point where if felt like I was choking. The FHP officer finally came to the house to bring my license and get my statement. This is Thursday! Three days after the accident! To me this is unacceptable. I did the best I could to be polite, but I was in pain, I was coughing and was seriously deprived of sleep at this moment.
Friday didn’t get any better, I tried taking a hot shower to loosen up my lungs. It helped a little, but it was only temporary. Friday night was even rougher. Saturday morning, I asked Caroline to call my Doctor. If they couldn’t get me in, I would probably have to go back to the Emergency Room. He wasn’t able to get me in, but did prescribe me an antibiotic. It was definitely a respiratory infection, because almost instantly I started breathing better.
Sunday my friend Rich came to help. He came to be there with me and help Caroline with the kids. What a blessing it is to have friends like Rich. He stayed for a week and not only stayed with me while Caroline went to work, but also helped with meals, household chores that I couldn’t do and just kept our spirits high. He got to see me at times when I was really low and in pain and other moments when I was feeling ok.
I continued to heal and my friend, Rich continued to be supportive to me and my family. There is a reason we call him Uncle Rich. I was feeling a little better every day but it was a slow process. On that Tuesday, I received a phone call at about 5:00pm. It was someone with the Hospital. His exact words were, “The Orthopedic Surgeon has agreed to do surgery and needs you here on Thursday.” This freaked me out. Here I was suffering from a respiratory infection with multiple broken ribs and they wanted to do surgery on me. From a Doctor who hasn’t seen me in over a week. I immediately said no. I reached to my orthopedic doctor for a second opinion. He agreed that I needed surgery and we set a date.
The surgery went better than expected and at the time that I’m writing this, I am still recovering. I’m in a sling for a few more weeks and then I can begin lifting light weight objects.
I am happy to say that the worse of this is behind me and now I just have to continue to heal.
As I reflect on all this, I really want to that all my teacher friends who sent out their love and support. Those who know me well, know that I don’t like missing work. Sitting at home for weeks was not fun at all.
I happy to be here and I can honestly say that I have the best friends and family a guy could ask for.