Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brooke's accident: The first person on the scene

Now that Brooke is able to think about the accident--it happened in mid-November, and for quite a long time he couldn't think about it at all--he's been trying to piece it together by talking to people who were there. Here's the story of the first person on the scene after the accident occurred--he came to see us in the hospital; Peggy took verbatim notes and then massaged it into a narrative, and Jim then checked it for accuracy and gave us permission to put it on the blog.


Sometime in the early weeks after the accident, a man came to see Brooke in the hospital. This stranger had been the first on the scene after the accident, and he told Brooke something about what happened. But that was pretty early on and the details hard to face, so a couple of months later we asked him to come back again and recount the events one more time.

His name is James Richards. He lives in Federal Heights, and bikes up City Creek a couple of times a week, at least in the summer. He’s a lawyer, a professor of philosophy of law at BYU, and a Stake President in the LDS church, and when he came to see us on the 1st of March he was impressive in a suit and tie, quite in contrast with the hospital scrubs worn by the staff in Rehab and Brooke’s highly informal hospital garb: a shirt and a pair of brightly colored lounging pants we’d bought in a flea market in Myanmar the year before.
On the day of the accident, November 14, Jim had found himself biking uphill behind someone else and had tried to keep up with him, but because Jim uses a mountain bike rather than the faster road bikes, and, as we later discovered, the man ahead of him is a competitive bike racer and was doing training hill-climbs, but even though he wasn’t going much faster than Jim, Jim couldn’t quite manage to keep up with him. Somewhere between a half and three-quarters of a mile up the canyon, the cyclist ahead of Jim disappeared from view around a blind curve to the right, just before the section of the road that’s in perpetual shade. It’s the curve just below Campsite 6. Jim heard a loud crack! and when he came around the corner at (he estimates) 5-10 seconds later, he saw a bicycle crumpled up in the middle of the road, the front wheel deformed, and the cyclist Brooke had just collided with getting up off the pavement.
Jim asked the biker if he were alright and the biker said, “I’m okay, my shoulder hurts a little bit.” Brooke’s body was lying to the left of the road, face down, partly on the pavement but with his face in the dirt. Walkers and joggers and bikers in the canyon know this spot: If you look carefully, there’s a skid mark of a truck tire in the asphalt; it has always been there. Jim said to the biker, “How’s this guy doing?’ The biker replied, “I don’t know, but don’t touch him.” I think he was worried about a broken neck, explained Jim. Jim recounted that he rushed over to the body lying there and knelt down on his knees; Brooke wasn’t moving, wasn’t breathing, his eyes were shut, there was no response. Jim remembers that he said, “This guy isn’t doing very well; I’m going to see if he’s got a pulse.” Jim took Brooke’s wrist and didn’t find anything; when he came to see us in the hospital later, he said he should have checked the artery in his neck, but he’s not a doctor. He said he thought Brooke was gone.
Then there were a couple of older ladies just standing there, they’d been walking on the stream side of the road, and Jim later speculated that the cyclist Brooke hit may have been in the center of the road to avoid them. He was definitely in the center of the road, Jim said, and clearly so was Brooke. In fact, said Jim, all the time you’re going up the canyon there are people all over the road. The other cyclist said that Brooke was going very fast, though he didn’t normally do so. They must have each swerved to avoid the other, but swerved in the same direction.
“We’ve got to do something,” insisted Jim, and just then this LifeFlight nurse walked up—within a minute or two of the accident, Jim estimates. “I said to her, are you a doctor? I’m worried about touching him.” She rolled him over.
Jim said, “I need to call 911,” but he couldn’t get bars. Some other guy on foot said I’ll go down, went down just a little way and got bars.
Brooke was on his right side, and Jim remembers a gash on his head (these were actually fairly minor abrasions on his left forehead); he was wearing his helmet. The flight nurse rolls him over and starts to do heart pumping; then another guy starts mouth-to-mouth, with the flight nurse telling him what to do. “We got some gurgling sounds, “ reports Jim, “but no response.”

He says he backed off and was just praying, praying with all of the effort that he could make that this man could be preserved, if that would be best for him The flight nurse kept doing chest compressions. It wasn’t long before a fire truck and an ambulance arrived: they got the ventilator out, a hand pump; put a collar around the neck. The flight nurse backed off a little as the paramedics took over, but she kept pumping. They kept his heart going, Jim remembers, but can’t remember any other treatment, and can’t remember the paramedics’ using any electric shock.

But he does remember the gray face, and says he’d only seen a gray face like that once before. A year before, a man had collapsed on the street in New York as they were looking at the Statue of Liberty. He died. “So this was dej√° vue for me,” said Jim, and recalled that he’d said to himself as he looked at Brooke, “I don’t think he’s going to make it.” He wasn’t responding at all.

The paramedics put him on a board, lifted the board, put him in the ambulance. More and more people collected. The weather was decent, ,Jim remembers, but cool; he was wearing a cap. It was sunny. He looked up in the sky, hearing the helicopter—a news helicopter—and later would see the accident on TV, on the evening news. Jim could see himself on the news, in the footage taken from the helicopter: the bike in the road, Brooke lying there. His head was down-canyon, his feet up-canyon. The bike was five feet away, maybe ten, more into the bushes than his body.

When we were finished talking, Brooke asked Jim if he had any dreams: Jim said that he didn’t have dreams, but he did have real images: he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He slept okay but couldn’t stop thinking about it, was really surprised that Brooke made it. He says that he’d thought that even if Brooke survived he’d have had severe impairment, but here as we converse in this hospital room, the physical impairment even of quadriplegia seems way less disastrous than the mental impairment a serious brain injury would have meant.


Brenda Cowley said...

This is just amazing. Jim's story is compelling (and tear jerking). While not being a person who resorts to Prayer in the general sense...I had to ask myself after reading this...a Man of God, AND a flight nurse within moments? A man praying and a trained Woman keeping his heart alive within the same time frame? These are questions that I will deal with at a later date, but Brooke and Peggy -- my GOD! I guess it just looks to me like so many of the "bases were covered," in this case. I don't think it EVER hurts anyone to have someone nearby praying for them -- If Jim reads this, I hope he understands how much it means for so many of us to read his story. Thank you, Jim.

I'm sorry I could not join Michael for "haircut day," -- I was sick, and knew that I could not bring that into the room with me.

I love you two --
Thank you for this posting.

Brenda Cowley

Lorraine Seal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorraine Seal said...

It’s good to read James Richards’ account of Brooke’s accident. I think recovering the puzzle pieces lost in traumatic episodes in one’s life does help heal. As we re-create an image of what happened, even if some parts remain elusive, we begin to move out of fog-like confusion into feeling and expression. I hope as the picture becomes clearer for Brooke, as he becomes able to articulate the re-covered experience, his recovery will move forward.

I’ve been working through my own fog to find a way to express what this post arouses in me. I would say I wish I could have been in the room with you as you discussed the relative merits of quadriplegia and significant brain injury. I agree with your shared conclusion, ultimately, because despite the agonising restrictions on Brooke’s present life, he retains autonomy; he participates in – I’m sure drives – decisions regarding his care and his life. Indeed, he could choose, should he wish it, not to continue life.

One of the primary disasters of brain injury is the loss of autonomy, putting life-and-death decisions in others’ hands. The problem, in my opinion, is not only that quality of life is impaired, though it is, but that one is no longer deemed worthy to have opinions about one’s life, even, in some cases, whether it should continue. To the indignity of impaired quality of life may be added the – disastrous – judgment of others that one’s Self – personhood – is so changed that life can not be worth living. That judgment, based on external observations, may not accurately or wholly take into account the internal experience of the impaired person.

I’m profoundly grateful, as I’m sure are all those who follow this blog, that Brooke has chosen to fight for recovery. His life is valuable; it makes a difference to know he remains with us, breathing with or without the vent. I would add, though, this thought: Had Brooke’s injuries shattered his mind rather than is body, he would remain the precious man he is, loved by many.

s'wild said...

I rode my bike up City Creek Canyon on Wednesday and then again today. The snow got deep about a mile past the water treatment plant and I had to turn back. Coming down I thought of Brooke like I always do and I remembered that the accident was five years ago this week. My thoughts are with you Peggy. Scott Williams