“Pay attention to your dreams – God’s angels often speak directly to our hearts when we are asleep.” ~ Eileen Elias Freeman
The date was set. May 5, 1990. Less than a year later, this was the day that Frank and I were to walk down the aisle; our wedding day! Frank originally proposed and slipped a ring on my finger over a pizza and a couple of beers while sitting in Giordano’s on Lawrence Avenue. However, Frank and I thought it would be special to have a romantic getaway, taking a road trip on his Harley to Sanibel Island, Florida, which is an island just off of Ft. Meyers. There, Frank would be able to propose romantically, which is what all girls want, of course.
Frank wanted to propose to me on the beach, with the sun setting behind us and the sound of the waves hitting the shore. We were very excited and started making arrangements for our trip to Florida. The company that I worked for in Evanston, where I was a secretary, had a condo in Sanibel that employees could use for free, with us supplying our own food. Frank drove a 1985 FLH TC Classic Harley Davidson and he was prepping it, getting it ready for our three-day ride, and our week’s long vacation in Florida. Not having a backrest on the bike, Frank bought one for me and put it on so that I would have something to lean against during the long hours of riding. It was just the comfort I needed. In all likelihood, this small gesture most likely saved me from a broken back. Knowing that Florida had a mandatory helmet law at the time, we also bought new helmets. In the state of Illinois, there wasn’t a helmet law; therefore, wearing one wasn’t required, so we never did. We welcomed that old saying, “Let those who ride decide.” Because this wasn’t an option in Florida, or some of the other states that we were going to pass through, we did have to wear our helmets while traveling on the bike. Frank opted for the full face helmet. I decided to go with the skull helmet, as I didn’t like the feeling of having my face concealed. Without a doubt, it was this state law that most likely saved my life.
We started our journey to Sanibel Island, Florida on Saturday, June 24, 1989. Having minimal storage on the bike, our wardrobe was somewhat limited. Bringing only the essentials… swimsuits, couple of shorts, tops, and toiletries, we tucked what we could in Frank’s side bags, as well as roping a bag down on the back of the bike. Before heading out on the open road, Frank requested one thing. He asked for my engagement ring back, the one he had given me over a slice of pizza. Handing it over, he placed it back into the ring box for safe keeping until we made it to the beach, for when he could propose to me like he wanted to. Frank’s older brother, Joey, who was a Catholic priest and, who was also going to do us the honors of marrying us, blessed us, along with the bike for safe travels that lie ahead.
We estimated that it would take us approximately three days to ride into Sanibel Island. I had a small fanny pack that I kept in front of me that consisted of snacks, water, a book, chap stick, the basic essentials for a day’s ride. I had the openness of the road all around me and sitting on the back of the bike was as comfortable as sitting in my own living room. But instead of watching television, I was enjoying the gorgeous scenery that lay before me, such as landscapes, farmlands in the distance, with an occasional farm animals looking up to say hello as we buzzed by. If I was hungry, I’d snack. If I was in the mood to read, I’d read my book. Hypnotizing as the road can be, though, I even dozed off a few times, nodding as my helmet would hit the back of Frank’s. We did come into some rain while riding but, overall, the complete time that I was sitting on the back of Frank’s Harley, I didn’t have so much as a bug bite.
On our first day out, we rode all day until we made our way to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we stopped for the evening. It was a great day of riding. Once settled into our hotel room, we decided to explore the local outlet, where Frank bought himself an authentic pair of snake skin boots. The next morning, our goal was to make it to Georgia, where we spent our second night on the road. Getting up early on the third morning, we were full of excitement, as we were eager to get to our final destination, Florida! We were having a great time and, so far, it was a trip that we would always remember.
Not only did I have the best view of the surroundings, where nothing was between you and the open road, but I also had the wind and sun in your face and it felt absolutely invigorating. Frank was an experienced rider, riding for years, and I felt completely comfortable being on the back of the bike. On Monday, June 26, we arrived in Sanibel Island, Florida, where our condo awaited us. Known as the Sanibel Island Causeway, there were three bridges that took you over the ocean that connected you to the mainland. Coming from the Ft. Meyers side, the moment you drove onto the island, the scenery took your breath away. Driving over the causeway felt as if you were floating over the ocean, as you watched the sun’s reflection dancing on top of the water. The seagulls were flying by, almost as if they were racing with you to get to the island.
Our condo was beautiful. There were two bedrooms, nice size kitchen and a living room that overlooked the beach. We immediately unpacked and decided to head to the strip to buy some groceries and essentials for our stay. Sanibel Island was approximately 12 miles from end to end and everything seemed to be located within a quick ride on the bike. After shopping in town, we spent the rest of the day at the beach, relaxing from our ride in, collecting many seashells and playing in the sand. Not realizing how powerful the sun was, I ended up getting slight sunburned, but I wasn’t complaining and it didn’t deter me from having a great time. Frank and I found Florida to be a very a tropical paradise. The beaches were clean, the people were friendly, great weather; we were having a fantastic time!
All the stores were so conveniently close, where you didn’t have to travel far. Hoping on the bike, it would take two minutes to get to the grocery store or a unique shop. I had started a practice of not fastening my helmet correctly. I would wear my helmet, but I wasn’t strapping or securely locking the chin strap in place. I would either loop my fingers through the straps, holding onto it that way or I would just let the straps dangle. My thoughts were because we were so close to everything, why bother as it would take me more time to secure the straps than it would to get to the store. That evening though, instincts took over and I had realized that this wasn’t very safe, and had even mentioned to Frank that I had better start securing my helmet properly, as you just never know what could happen.
The next day, Tuesday, June 27th, we had decided to make this our special day, the main reason why we decided to come to Sanibel Island to begin with, so that Frank can propose to me on the beach. We spent the morning at the beach and the afternoon was off to the store to buy items that we needed for our romantic quest. We bought a bottle of champagne, two plastic champagne glasses, as well as bags of ice. Frank filled his saddle bags with the ice and placed a bottle of champagne inside to keep it chilled. We later made arrangements to eat at The Bubble Room on Captiva Island, where it’s known for its quirky collection of memorabilia. Frank dined on steak while I had the largest shrimp that I had ever seen. Enjoying each others company, we were both sensing a wonderful and special evening ahead of us. After dinner, we rode down to the beach on Captiva Island. Parking, Frank brings the bottle of champagne and glasses and we proceed to walk to the water. The sun was starting to set and the glow in the sky was mesmerizing. The sky was painted a crimson red with a touch of cadmium orange that spread from one end of the ocean to the other. The sun was an enormous ball of fire that seemed big enough to reach out and touch. The evening was aglow, not only within the sky but within ourselves, too. On the way to the water, Frank asked me to pick up a seashell in the sand and he would do the same. Looking for the perfect one, I found a shell and handed it to Frank. Finally reaching the water’s edge and finding the perfect spot, we set down our champagne and glasses. Frank bending to one knee, with my hand in his, he starts to cry. Between his sobs, Frank could barely speak the words, will you marry me. By now, an audience has gathered around us, watching Frank cry more than me. Frank was a sentimental person, always tearing up at this or that. Sometimes pulling off his glasses, he would say to me, “Look, look at the tears in my eyes,” as if trying to convince me that he was sentimental. I’d even catch Frank crying at the Close-up toothpaste commercials, where two young lovers would be kissing passionately, while both admiring their fresh breath! Trying to compose himself on the beach, Frank attempts once more to ask for my hand in marriage. Still on one knee, Frank holds my hand and with an open ring box in the other, Frank asked me through many heart-felt tears, “Jack, will you marry me?” Crying myself, I tell Frank yes, I would be honored to marry him. Placing the engagement ring on my finger, Frank stands to give me a warm and passionate kiss. Suddenly, we were surrounded by a collection of applauses, as the audience that was watching our special moment came to us with congratulatory handshakes, hugs and many best wishes. Popping the cork on the champagne, we toasted to our future and the wonderful times that are yet to come. It was at this point that Frank took my seashell that he had me collect from the beach, as well as the one that he collected, placing them both inside the ring box that once held my engagement ring. Shutting the lid tightly, Frank stood at the water’s edge and proclaimed, “Whoever finds this box, may they have as much love as we do.” Frank then throws it deep into the ocean only for the waves to carry it out into the setting sunset. With the help of our new friends, Frank and I took a couple of pictures to always remember our special moment, as we toasted to our new life together. After celebrating, we rode back to the condo and, with the champagne still tickling our noses, we held each other and made love throughout the night.
“The place you are right now God circled on a map for you.” ~Hāfez
Upon waking up the next morning, I starred at the engagement ring that sparkled on my finger. The band was called Golden Lace, as the gold was intricate and interwoven, resembling lace from a wedding gown. It housed three diamonds that were to resemble the shape of a marquee diamond. The ring was absolutely stunning! As we lay in bed, we were planning our day and what to do. We decided to press our luck and head to the local Grey Hound dog track in Ft. Meyers. We thought we could spend a few hours at the track, then come home and go out to dinner. While getting dressed and ready to head out for the day, I had mentioned to Frank that I had the strangest dream the night before. It was almost hard to explain. I told Frank that I dreamt that I was in a dark place, almost as if I was inside a black box and that there was darkness all around me. I also shared that the first thing I did in my dream was take the gum out of my mouth so I wouldn’t choke on it. Not thinking too much of it, I tossed the dream aside and continued getting ready for the day at the track. While heading toward the bike and, unbeknownst to me, Frank saw a penny on the ground and, as the old saying goes, “Find a penny and pick it up, and all day long you’ll have good luck.” Realizing we were going to the dog track, he thought why not? As I continued walking toward the bike, Frank is still behind me and tucked the penny into his pants pocket for extra luck. We put on our helmets and, remembering what I decided the night before, I completely buckled my helmet straps securely, tightly, underneath my chin. Once adjusted and comfortable on the bike, we were off for a day of fun at the track. Back in 1989, in order to get on and off of Sanibel Island, you had to cross three bridges. These bridges were known as Bridge A, Bridge B and Bridge C, with Bridge A being the closest to the Ft. Meyers side. The total length of all three bridges from Ft. Meyers to Sanibel Island was 2.8 miles. We were 0.4 miles away from exiting the bridge and heading into Ft. Meyers on that fateful Saturday in June. Traffic was starting to slow down. I noticed that we were almost at a stop, when Frank turned to me and said, “Oh, look, the drawbridge is going up, it’s being opened to let a boat go through.” While leaning to Frank’s left to try and take a look around him, those were the last words I remember Frank ever saying to me.
“There is an unseen life that dreams us. It knows our true direction and destiny. We can trust ourselves more than we realize and we need have no fear of change.” ~ John O’Donohue
As my eyes began to open and focus, I was noticing blue skies with puffy white clouds dancing above me. I continued watching the clouds pass by. I turned my head to the left and saw that my left arm was completely covered in blood. I went back to looking up toward the sky, trying to grasp what was going on and where I was at. Taking another look at my left arm with the blood dripping down, I then looked to my right and this is when I realize that I was lying flat on my back in the middle of the road. Everything seemed so dark and vague, almost as if I was in a dream. It was at that moment that I realized I was chewing gum. I took my right hand and pulled the gum out of my mouth so that I wouldn’t choke on it. It was then that I started screaming for Frank. “Frank! Frank! What’s going on?” It was at that moment that Frank suddenly stood above me, frantically screaming, “We were hit! Fuck, we were hit, we were hit!” This is when my reality came rushing back to me, as if I my thoughts were suddenly being rushed through a tunnel. I knew at that moment that something tragically went wrong. Frank and I were hit from behind by a twenty ton construction truck. As traffic was stopped due to the drawbridge being up, the construction truck made no effort to stop, colliding directly into us from behind going 40 miles per hour. Frank noticed the truck in his side mirror coming toward us and made the attempt of getting out of his way, but it was too late. The driver of the construction truck hit us so hard that we caused a chain reaction, where we pushed four additional cars in front of us, creating additional accidents. Two of the four cars that we hit had to be towed away, as they weren’t drivable. The impact of the truck made Frank ride all the way up the gas tank, with his crotch riding all the way up and resting on the handle bars. We were hit and pushed to the opposite side of the causeway, now resting on the other side of the road.
Not having any feelings from my waist down, I didn’t realize that Frank’s motorcycle was lying on top of me, compressing my legs underneath me. After being hit by the construction truck, I was thrown directly underneath the motorcycle, which trapped me underneath the seven hundred pound plus bike. As Frank stood over me, he saw that gas was leaking from the bike’s gas tank. In fear that it would explode, Frank pulls the bike off of me and drags it to the side. Once the bike was off of me, Frank saw how distorted my legs were, he thought if he straightened me out, he was helping me. The moment he touched my legs, trying to straighten them, I let out an agonizing scream. It was apparent that something was definitely broken.
The truck driver who hit us from behind was a young man who was applying for a job with a Fort Meyers trucking company. The applicant’s driving skills were being tested. At the time, it was a Florida law that an experienced and licensed driver must accompany the driver in the truck at the time of testing. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. The applicant was alone in the truck and the tester was driving behind him. I think it’s safe to judge that his driving skills weren’t up to par.
I don’t remember being hit by the truck. I don’t remember the impact of the truck. Nor do I remember sliding all the way to the other side of the roadway in the other lane, resting in the opposite side of traffic. I do wish I knew how it all happened, the sequence of movements and the mechanics of the accident. Surely, something my mind is protecting me from. The accident happened at 11:10 a.m., with the first officer arriving on the scene at 12:13 p.m. Seeing that the drawbridge was up and unable to be put back down due to the accident occupying the bridge, it took over an hour for the police and emergency vehicles to reach us. Both sides of the bridge were up, not allowing any traffic to come through from the Ft. Meyers side of the bridge. We were only a few feet away from the Ft. Meyer’s exit, but all emergency vehicles had to travel from the Sanibel Island direction, as that was the side that I was lying on.
Once the ambulance arrived, the EMT’s began assessing my injuries. After putting a cervical collar on my neck, they took off my helmet that I was still wearing. Inside my helmet they found my earrings. The impact from the truck was so forceful that my earring and the backs popped completely off. Because of my extensive injuries, a medical helicopter was called to take me to a trauma center. But, because there was so much traffic on the bridge, the helicopter couldn’t land. I was placed in an ambulance and escorted a few feet down the bridge toward Sanibel where a medical helicopter was waiting for me. When the EMT’s lifted me to place me on the stretcher, I felt a pain in my lower torso that was indescribable. The pain was so intense that I thought I was going to pass out and the sound that came out of my mouth while transferring me to the stretcher was frightening. I was airlifted and on my way to Lee Memorial Hospital in Ft. Meyers, as this was the closest trauma center. During the whole flight to the hospital, I tried moving my toes, my legs, but I couldn’t. I tried wiggling my toes, but they wouldn’t move for me. It was at that point that I thought I may be paralyzed. I was really starting to get scared. I was suddenly alone, in a state that I had never been before, heading to a hospital with doctors that may share some news with me that would change my life forever. A hundred images passed through my mind. Will I be in a wheelchair and, if so, how will I live in my apartment that had stairs, how would I get to work every day, when I took three buses to get there, how will I walk down the aisle at my wedding… how would I survive in general? Another ambulance was taking Frank to the hospital via roadway. Several minutes later, the helicopter landed on the on top of Lee Memorial Hospital and it was just moments later that they finally wheeled Frank into the Emergency Room to join me. I was relieved to see Frank there with me. I felt less alone and stranded. We were both lying on gurneys in the ER, both being assessed by the medical team. As I was lying there, the adrenalin from the accident was starting to wear off and I was now starting to feel the pain in my hips and pelvis even more. The pain was so intense that I felt as if I was going to pass out. I kept asking if I could get some pain medication, but the physicians were still doing their assessment of me. Finally, I was given a small amount of morphine to take the edge off and relax me, as I was being taken to have a CT scan done. All images that were taken of my chest, abdomen, bladder, spine, kidneys, femur and lower legs were intact. The good news was that I didn’t have any internal bleeding or injuries. However, a CT of my pelvis showed that I had bilateral acetabular fractures, left being worse than right. The acetabulum is the ball and socket of the hip joint. The top of the thigh bone (femur) forms the ball, and the socket (acetabulum) is part of the pelvic bone. I also had fractures of the pubic bone as well. Basically, it was determined that I had two broken hips, along with a broken pelvis; the reason that I couldn’t move any part of my lower body. I also had many cuts, abrasions and burns throughout my body. Because the bike was resting on top of me, I had severe burns on the top of my legs from the exhaust pipes. I had cuts and abrasions from my face all the way down to my legs. I had long gashes on the backs of my upper legs; most likely caused from something sharp on the bike. My left inner arm was covered with road rash, causing a burn, due to my arm being dragged against the asphalt. I wasn’t playing it smart that morning. I didn’t wear any protection gear. I didn’t wear my leather jacket or pants. I wore shorts and sandals instead and, because of this decision, I now have body scars from my face to my feet, up and down by body. I was more into looking cute than protecting myself. Although, I’m very thankful that I listened to instincts, fastening and securing my helmet properly, as this is probably the reason I am here today. That helmet saved my life, protecting my skull as I was sent bouncing from one side of the road to the other. We were hit so hard from this truck that my earrings popped off, the face of my wrist watch was shattered and my beautiful new engagement ring that Frank had just placed on my finger no more than twelve hours earlier, was damaged, with sever dents and gouges, along with the frame being twisted and bent. Thankfully, because of the back rest that Frank installed on the bike for me, somehow my back was spared from injury.
Knowing that I didn’t have any control of my legs and that I wasn’t able to move them myself, I had such fear that they were going to fall off of the side of the hospital gurney, surely leaving me in pain that would shoot me right to the stars. I was constantly asking someone in the ER to gently lift up and move my legs closer together to the center of the table. With every movement they made with my legs, it felt as if my body was being ripped apart. While Frank and I were lying together in the ER, I remember looking at him and calmly saying, “If this pain is anything like having children and being in labor, I’m letting you know right now that I will never give birth to any babies!” I had never experienced such pain before. It was so intense, stabbing and I felt it directly in my pelvis. Eventually, I was given more morphine. I immediately felt more relaxed and the intensity of my pain was being somewhat controlled; that is, until they moved me. As I was resting, the ER doctors examined Frank. Thankfully, he had no broken bones or internal injuries, but the impact of moving up the gas tank made Frank turn completely black and blue from the top of his groin all the way down his legs to his ankles. I never realized that a body can become that bruised. Because Frank rode the gas tank with such force, one of his testicles was pushed up inside him, never to be seen again. Frank was released from the hospital that day, but I was admitted and was sent directly to the intensive care unit, where I was placed on heavy sedation and where surgery was apparent in my immediate future. While in the ICU and waking up from time to time, I would always find Frank close by my side.
Later that evening, after spending time with me in the ICU, Frank went back to the condo that we were staying in. It was now up to Frank to deliver the news to our family and friends back home in Chicago, letting them know that we were in a horrific motorcycle accident and that I was in serious condition in the ICU. His first call was to his mother, Bubby. Frank explained what happened, while at the same time, crying uncontrollably through the whole conversation. It was decided that Bubby and Frank’s twin sister, Frannie, would begin their travels driving to Florida to be by our sides. Frank made his second call, which was to my mother, where he said she didn’t know how to respond and appeared to be in shock. In return, mom called my best friend, Donatta, and relayed in a nonchalant way, “Well, I guess those two got themselves into an accident.” Once again, mom was being emotionless. Mom gave Donatta the phone number to reach Frank. Donatta gave Frank a call to find out exactly what happened and, upon hearing about the accident, Donatta burst into tears. Afterward, Donatta offered Frank encouragement, letting him know that everything will be just fine, as well as sharing that she and her family are there for the both of us and, if there was anything we needed, just let them know.
Within a couple of hours of me being in the ICU, I was awaken and seen by several physicians. I was informed that they needed to place me in traction. Traction is a directional pull on the trunk or on an extremity. Its applications include immobilization and reduction of fractures, correction of deformities, relieving pressure on nerves. Skeletal traction requires pins, screws, or wires to be driven into the bone which allows traction directly on the skeleton. I was given intravenous sedation, along with morphine and the drilling began! I felt the pressure of the bit being drilled into the tibial part of my knees. The physicians placed an approximate nine inch pin through my knee, trimming and cutting off the sharp edges from each side. I was then hooked up to traction unit, where weights were added to pullies to keep my skeletal straight. It wasn’t long after the physicians left that I once again went into a deep sleep.
It was determined that Lee Memorial Hospital wasn’t equipped to do my surgery and a transfer to another hospital was in the process. It was discussed that I either be transferred to Tampa General Hospital to have surgery or have me flown home to Chicago and have the surgery done there. Frank consulted with a very close friend of his, Dr. Mitchell Goldflies, who was an orthopedic surgeon at Columbus hospital in Chicago. Not only was Dr. Goldflies a friend, but Frank also worked with him in the orthopaedics department, setting and removing casts, as well as riding bikes together. Frank asked Dr. Goldflies if I should be flown home so that he could perform the surgery or if I should stay in Florida and have the surgery done at Tampa General. Dr. Goldflies recommended that it would be more beneficial if I had the surgery done in Florida, as I shouldn’t wait any longer to have the surgery nor did they want to risk any further injuries by flying me home.
Bubby and Frannie finally arrived to Lee Memorial Hospital, after driving for many hours from Chicago. They met Frank in the ICU waiting room. They came to visit me, but my memory of them being there was vague, as I was sedated with morphine. I do remember that Bubby and Frannie bought me a night gown and some essentials to make me more comfortable. That evening, Frank went with his sister and mother, as they had rented a hotel room to stay for the evening. Frank needed to stay with his family to catch up and explain in more detail of what happened with the accident. Every night, Frank went back to the condo, making phone calls to family and friends, giving updates. He would then sit there alone, going over and over in his mind on what had just happened, how did it happen, why did it happen? He said he would end the evening, crying himself to sleep. I’m sure he felt comforted knowing his family was with him at least for one night anyway. The next morning, Frank, Frannie and Bubby all stopped by the hospital to see me off as I began my trip to Tampa General. They all had plans to drive to Tampa General and meet me there in a few hours. Everyone said their good-byes, along with sharing hugs and kisses. They left and told me that they would see me soon.
Lee Memorial had made final arrangements to have me transferred by medical helicopter to Tampa General on July 2. This would be my second emergency air flight within the week. The thought of going on another helicopter trip made me nervous. I didn’t like to fly to begin with and there I was being crammed into a small aircraft once again. The medical staff began prepping me for the flight. I was positioned on a flat gurney and placed inside the helicopter. I felt like I was being slid into a brick pizza oven, where I was close to the floor and fit so perfectly inside. The medical team, which were all women, consisted of critical care paramedics and critical care registered nurses. The nurse placed headphones on my ears so that I was able to hear them speak and ask me questions, as the noise from the helicopter was quite loud. There, the nurse performed a brief history and physical exam, checking my vitals and asking me questions along the way. One of the questions the nurse asked me was if there was any chance of me being pregnant. I guess the look on my face must have answered her question, as she started laughing and even making a comment to the other medical personnel. I must have looked at her with my eyes as big as the moon, along with an unexpected look on my face that said NO WAY! In fact, I was actually on my period at the time of the accident. I remember when I was in the emergency room and they were putting a Foley catheter in me, I thought I would give the nurses a heads up and tell them that I was on my period and that I had a tampon in. The nurse confidently said, “Oh yes, I know, I already removed it.” This is how numb by bottom half was, as I didn’t even feel her rummaging around down there in Tuna Town. So when the flight nurse asked me if I was pregnant, I knew I wasn’t, but just hearing the question that it could have been a probability had left me stunned. While high on morphine, I remember asking my ICU nurse if I could continue being on the pill, as I didn’t want to interrupt my cycle. She grinned, sending a loud giggle through the air and commented, “Honey, that won’t be necessary, as I you won’t be having sex for a very long time!”
We finally landed at Tampa General Hospital, where I was taken to the ICU, access by nurses and, eventually, hooked back up to traction. Once I was settled in, an orthopedic surgeon on staff, Dr. David Heflet, came and introduced himself to me and performed an evaluation of my hips and pelvis. Dr. Heflet and his medical team decided that I would have reconstructive surgery the next morning on July 3.
Shortly after my arrival at Tampa General, Frank, Bubby and Frannie made it to the hospital. I felt relieved to know that they were all there with me. It’s such a scary and empty feeling knowing that you are all alone, not knowing anyone around you, where pretty much everyone’s a stranger to you. Although, one of the nurses in the ICU, Steve, who was taking care of me, just moved from the north side of Chicago to Tampa. He actually didn’t live too far from where I was living at the time. Somehow, knowing he was a Chicagoan, it made me feel comforted. He was so attentive to my needs. He made sure that I always had water by my bedside. He made sure that I was always comfortable and there was even one point where he washed my hair to get the blood and debris out of it. He knew it would make me feel better knowing I had clean hair and it was combed. I remember him delicately washing my hair, so as not to pull it in anyway. He used a dry shampoo where he didn’t have to use any water. It did leave my hair snarly and not as smooth to comb but, knowing this, he was all that much more gentler. He knew I was alone and was scared. His compassion and making sure that I was taken care of, made me think of him as my own angel.
Frank was no longer staying at the condo because our weekly rental was up. He had been sleeping in the hospital’s waiting room. Because Frank was sleeping in the ICU waiting room, he made the decision to leave behind all our riding gear, leather jackets, helmets, etc., because he couldn’t carry everything with him back to the hospital. The cleaning lady for the condo, who heard about our accident, made the gracious effort to drive all the way to the hospital in Tampa to deliver our personal items back to Frank. Our accident even made it into the local newspaper, where we now had our fifteen minutes of fame.
I was starting to receive phone calls from family and friends, as the word got out that I was having surgery the next morning. I chatted with Donatta for a while, as well as with Frank’s brother, Geno. Geno was very optimistic and trying to make me laugh, even though it hurt with every chuckle I took. I also remember speaking with my brother, Steve. They all wished me well and that they were thinking of me. The last call I received was from my mother. It was the first time that I have heard from her since our accident and, sadly, it was the last. I found it hard to carry on a conversation with her, as I don’t think she knew what to say to me. Once again, it was hard for my mother to show any compassion or her concern over me or for the situation. She acted as if I was about ready to have surgery for an ingrown toenail. I got the impression that she didn’t want to hear about the accident and it was at one point that I felt like I was consoling her. I can tell that she had started smoking again. I could hear her taking draws from the cigarettes and exhaling. She had quit for so many years, but the news of the accident was too much for her nerves, I’m sure, so she started up again. Our conversation was very short, almost uncomfortable. As I was about ready to say good-bye, mom said, “I love you.” This was the first and only time in my life that I ever remember mom telling me she loved me. It sounded strange to me. I wasn’t use to hearing these words and I felt her words were almost forceful, as if she was being obligated to say them. I never grew up with mom telling me she loved me. It was something that I never heard from her; something that was just never said in our home, unless it came from Melvin. Her words made me feel awkward, as if I was hearing them from a stranger. Sadly, I didn’t know how to respond to mom’s words of I love you, but only to say, “Yea, me, too.” Knowing I probably wouldn’t have a chance to speak with mom after my surgery or even for the next couple of days, I wished her a happy birthday. Mom’s birthday was July 3, the day of my surgery, and she was having a milestone birthday; she was turning fifty years old. Perhaps, this is why she told me she loved me; in fear that if something went wrong with my surgery that she would never have another chance.
The next morning arrived faster than I anticipated. I wasn’t allowed to eat after midnight so there was surely no breakfast in sight for me that morning, not that I had any strength or desire to eat anyway. As a matter of fact, I don’t even remember eating the past couple of days that I was in the hospital, except for morphine and an I.V. drip. Frank and his family arrived and greeted me a good morning, trying not to show their nervousness, making small talk, trying to keep my mind off of the surgery. They stayed with me until it was time for me to head to the operating room. Frank was walking beside me every step of the way, holding my hand, caressing me, trying to comfort me. I wasn’t too nervous about the surgery at that moment. I tend to wait to the very last minute of a situation before I tend to panic or show my anxiousness. Perhaps, if I found out how long the surgery was to take, I may have worried sooner. I remember being wheeled through the halls, onto an elevator, and eventually making my way through two double doors. It was there that Frank and his family said their good-byes; Frank kissing me, crying, trying to let go of my hand. I was still in fear that my legs were going to fall off the gurney and, with every bump I met, while riding through the hallway, made my pelvis and hips vibrate with pain. Making it through the double doors of the OR, I now laid there, looking all around me. There were so many machines in the room, all surely with their own purpose and, scary enough, all were meant for me. I remember the room being cold. I started to shiver, asking a nurse if I could have a blanket. She came and draped the warmest blanket that I had ever felt over me. It made me start to relax. The anesthesiologist was starting to prep me for surgery. The room looked so sterile, uninviting. I remember trying to make eye contact with everyone I saw, asking them how they were doing, trying to make myself comfortable within the situation, within the room. I thought… here we go! Never having any type of surgery before, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t wake up. I wanted to wake up! Once again, trying to find comfort, I asked the anesthesiologist how he was doing, as he placed an oxygen mask over my face and asked me to count backwards from twenty. I didn’t even get to number nineteen and I was completely out! It’s frightening to realize how powerful those drugs can really be. I knew nothing, heard nothing and saw nothing for the next several hours. Dr. Heflet and his team performed my surgery, reconstructing my hips and pelvis with plates and screws that would repair my bilateral acetabular fractures. The plate and screws that were now holding me together, extended from the left side of my hip all the way across and down to the right side of my pelvic bone. After equipping me with surgical drains, sutures and bandages, surgery was complete and I was returned to the recovery room, where I was in stable condition. The surgery lasted over ten hours. As the nurses were trying to wake me up while I was in recovery, they started pulling the intubation tube out of my throat, making me gage with each reflex. It was at that point that I had crapped all over myself. I had lost total control of my bowels. I kept apologizing to them, as they now had to wipe my ass and clean it. Unfortunately, for me, the nurses had to roll me on my side in order to clean me up and, just coming out of surgery with a freshly done procedure, I felt every ounce of that pain from the pressure as they rolled me over.
I vaguely remember Frank and his family being with me once I was out of recovery and back into the ICU. I was so heavily sedated, but I recall looking up, as the nurses were wheeling someone out of the room next to me but, unfortunately, the patient had a sheet over their head. Frank tried to distract me and have me look out the window at the fireworks that were being blown off in honor of Independence Day so that the deceased could be taken to the morgue. They didn’t want to frighten me. But, I knew what it meant. The poor soul didn’t make it. So, as much as I could, while trying to stay awake between morphine shots, I continued to watch the fireworks that shined so brightly high in the sky, close enough that I thought I could reach out and touch them. Relieved to know that my surgery was now behind me, I closed my eyes to rest, as I lay there listening to the boom, boom, booms of the fireworks.
A few hours after surgery, I managed to wake up long enough to realize that I was in extreme pain. I noticed that I had a central venous catheter sticking out of my neck. That was very uncomfortable, basically unnatural. I knew I didn’t like it. It was hard to turn my head from side to side or to even rest in a particular position, constantly pinching my neck. Every once in a while I would bump it, thinking that it was going to snap right off. I would have to brace myself with a pillow over my fresh surgical scar to ease the pain. I was praying that I wouldn’t have to sneeze! Not only was I suffering from recent broken bones, but I now also had pain from being cut open and having surgery.
Orders were written and I was given my very own PCA pump, which was a patient controlled analgesia with morphine, which allows the patient with pain to self administer an analgesic at a dosage predetermined by the physician. So, if a patient felt that they needed some pain medication, they would just give themselves a dose. I was told that a shot could be given to me every eight minutes or it could not. Just because I push the button doesn’t mean a dose would be administered. This is how the machine was set up. But, it didn’t stop me from at least trying. I was in such severe pain that I wanted to make sure that I didn’t feel anything. Bubby gave me her wrist watch, which I strapped to the handle bar above my bed. I watched the time constantly, making note of every eighth minute, the sixteenth minute, twenty forth minute, hoping that I was being given a dose every time I activated the pump. After days of being obsessed with the morphine pump, it got to a point that I was totally out of it. I was so high on morphine that I was now afraid to go to sleep in fear of not waking up. My body was begging me to go to sleep, as I was so exhausted, but my mind was full of paranoia and just wouldn’t allow it. I shared my concerns with the nurse and she asked if I wanted a sleeping pill. Excuse me… what?! I was so high on morphine that I was trying not to go to sleep in fear of not waking up. Now, they want to give me a sleeping pill and have me do exactly what I was afraid to do to begin with. All I kept thinking was that if I took the sleeping pill, I’d never wake up! After twenty minutes of reassuring me that it was okay to take the sleeping pill, I did. With their night-night pill and my exhausted mind and body, I slept for a very long time… hours! I woke up the next day, feeling so much more refreshed, as well as more coherent, too. It was at that time that I asked to have the PCA pump taken away from me. I no longer wanted it. It made me feel uncomfortable knowing that it had that much control over me. It was from that point on that if I needed any pain medication, I was to be given a Demerol shot directly into the hips. This form of pain medication made me feel so much better.
Not only did I have the fresh wounds from my hip and pelvic surgery, but I also had abrasions on my face, road rash on my left arm, deep cuts on the back of both legs, and severe burns on both knees. My right knee was worse than my left, which had exposed cell membrane. Several times a day, my left arm was cleaned and had wound debridement. Because I was healing, it felt so good when they were scraping the dead tissue off, but after a few minutes, it would start to bleed and get very raw, causing it to get very irritated. I still had a foley catheter in, so I was still peeing into a bag, as I was still bedridden and unable to get up. I was wrapped in bandages from my arms to my legs and knees, even having compression bags on both legs to keep the circulation moving in my legs to avoid blood clots. On top of all of this, I also had a sunburn on the top of my legs from laying in the sun just days before. I looked like a hot mess!
Days after my surgery, I was transferred into a regular hospital room within the rehabilitation unit at Tampa General. It was there that I would begin my therapy to make my lower extremities stronger; strong enough to be transferred home to Chicago. I was still lying flat on my back and was not allowed to extend any further than a 30 degree angle. I wasn’t allowed to place any pressure whatsoever on my hips and pelvis. On occasion, they would transfer me to a chair, which sent my pain level into a whole new direction. As long as they left me alone and not moved me, I was fine. But, every time the medical staff transferred me, the pain in my pelvis and hips were so excruciating that I just screamed out. I felt like my bones were being shifted in all directions, like a toy skeleton on Halloween, where when you move them around, their limbs got jumbled and out of whack. It was at this time that my foley catheter was removed. From this point forward, I was to use a bedpan and, whenever I needed to go to the bathroom, I would have to ring the nurse and ask for assistance. In our minds, it’s not a natural concept to pee while lying flat on your back and the thought of taking a bowel movement in the same position is even more unfathomable. When I did ring the nurses, it would literally take four people to come and lift me, one person under each limb, hoisting me in the air, while one of them slides a bedpan underneath me to do my business. When I was done, they would all come trotting back, lifting me up again, removing the bedpan and then someone would have the lovely task of wiping me. This routine was performed every single time that I had to go to the bathroom, day and night, and each time they lifted and moved me, I would scream out in sheer anguish because of the pain that I felt in my hips and pelvis. The pain that I felt was very sharp and piercing, almost as if I was being stabbed with a carving knife directly into the pelvis. The pain was so intense that it knocked the wind completely out of me. And, because the doctor ordered my catheter removed, I had to go through this pain every single time I needed to use the bathroom. It got to the point that I didn’t want to tell them I had to go to the bathroom. I’ll never forget the one evening where I experienced a pure nightmare! It was directly after having my catheter remove and I must have slept heavier than I thought because when I woke up I really had to go to the bathroom. My bladder was completely full, so full that I was having stomach pains. I called for the nurse to let her know that I needed to relive myself. She walks into my room and was in the process of trying to get me out of bed and escort me to the bathroom. I told her that I wasn’t able to get out of bed, nor was I able to stand on my feet. The nurse had no clue whatsoever that I was confined to bed and that I wasn’t allowed to be weight barring. I finally had to tell her that I had been using a bedpan with assistance. She excused herself to go look for a bedpan. In the meantime, my bladder is about to explode. Shortly later, she came back into my room with a bedpan, asking me to lift my hips so that she could shove the pan underneath me. I told her that I had no control over my lower extremities and there is no way possible that I would be able to lift my hips so that she could shove a bedpan underneath my ass. I was starting to wonder if she had updated herself regarding the patients that were now under her care for the evening. At this point, I was starting to get upset, as the pain was getting very intense, where I’m starting to feel nauseous. The nurse proceeded to tell me that there was nobody else on the floor that would be able to help lift me to put the bedpan underneath me and that I would just have to lift my hips. I told her that it was completely impossible for me to maneuver my hips into the air. I was in severe pain and I just didn’t have the strength to lift my ass into the air for her. I started to question her at that point and told her that I couldn’t believe that there was nobody around that she could call for assistance. She replied with a sharp tone, “no, there isn’t.” I was getting more upset as time went on. I had asked her to then put the catheter back in so that I could relive myself. She had told me that she couldn’t do that, as it was doctor’s orders to remove it. It appears that if the catheter is left inside too long, it could eat at the pelvic bone and this is why the doctor ordered it to be removed. As puns would have it, I was starting to get very pissed off at her. Not only was I in pain from needing to go pee, I was also starting to get sick to my stomach because I had to go so bad. The pressure I my bladder was getting to be unbearable. The only option I had at that point was to try and squeeze this bedpan underneath me. I had a trapeze handle bar above my bed that allows me to lift myself up to a certain degree. I pulled myself up as far as I could and the nurse literally squeezed and pushed this bedpan underneath my hips. I didn’t know what hurt worse, my bladder or the wrenching pain she just triggered in my hips and pelvis. The nurse leaves the room so that I can go to the bathroom but, at this point, I was now having trouble releasing the urine. I tried so hard to relive myself, but because my labia’s were so swollen from the accident and surgery, the urine wouldn’t pass through. The only way I could describe it was as if I was being “corked up.” I reached down to my vagina and this is when I realized how swollen I actually was. Trying to take my fingers to spread my labia’s apart, I was hoping that the urine would now be able to pass through easier, but I was so tender and sore that with every touch I was in pain. It didn’t help any either that I had very long fingernails at the time and, whenever I tried spreading my labias, my fingernails would scratch me, pinching me. I kept trying, but I kept hurting myself, making me more irritated, as well as causing the pain I was feeling in my bladder to move to even a higher level. Not only did I have a bladder that was ready to explode like a whoopi cushion, but I also had a sore woo-ha! I tried with everything I had to relax myself enough to go pee, but the frustration that I was feeling from dealing with my over extended bladder and the nurse, left me someone on edge. I was very sensitive down there in tuna land and because my nails were so long and they were in the way, I made the decision to literally tear and chew them all off. I thought if my nails were shorter, perhaps, I would be able to grab my labias better, helping them spread to release the urine. Chewing a couple of nails off, I made another attempt trying to go pee. But, absolutely nothing worked. I was so frustrated at this point that, sadly, I couldn’t piss on myself if I tried! I called for the nurse again and told her that I was having trouble peeing and, once again, begged her for the catheter to relive myself and my pain. She was the rudest and most callous nurse I had ever encountered. During my accident, I met and dealt with a lot of nurses, doctors and other allied staff members during this hard time in my life and every one of them were pleasant, except for this one particular nurse. She had no compassion whatsoever. She just couldn’t understand why I was having so much trouble urinating. She thought the moment that I saw the bedpan that I would piss to my heart’s content. I tried explaining to her that my vagina was so swollen that I was having trouble. I tried as hard as I could to compose myself, but I finally broke down. I started to cry and told her that she had to do something to help me, as I was in so much pain. She finally offers the suggestion of using an intermittent (short term) catheter, which is where they insert a catheter just long enough to release the urine from the bladder. I told her I’d take anything at this point, just as long as it helps me to go to the bathroom. She left my room once again to go get the catheter. I tried not to take anything personally, but I felt like she was taking her time once she left my room, as if procrastinating on purpose. Finally arriving back to my room, she uncovers me to try and inserts the straight catheter into my vagina. To her surprise, she saw how swollen I actually was and then realized how severe my injuries were. She manages to spread my labias apart enough to where she can find my uretha. She inserts the tube from the straight catheter and within seconds, the urine comes gushing out, even making a comment on how much I really had to go. If I was able to lift my leg, I swear, I would have kicked her straight in the fucking head! I have to admit that this was the best piss I ever took in my life! I was not fond of that nurse and even shared my concerns with Frank, who then shared them with the daytime nursing staff. Ironically, I never saw her again after that. So, now, I lay there with chewed off fingernails, a sore scratched up snatch, and a tender bladder from holding my urine for over an hour. It was at that moment that I really wanted to go home, back home to Chicago to my one bedroom apartment, with my two cats, Déjà Vu and Leather, cuddled up with me on the couch. Up until that moment, before I experience what I did with that night nurse, I was truly taking one day at a time, in stride, and making the best of a very horrible situation. I knew that my life had been turned upside down; I was badly hurt, and I had no clue as to the outcome of my condition but, knowing all of this, I still tried to find the positive side things. From everything I went through in my life growing up, I knew I was a fighter. But, when that night nurse made me feel like I wasn’t worth the time or effort, discrediting how I was feeling and showing no compassion whatsoever for her patient, it was at that moment that I felt like my world came crashing down around me and the ugly predator called defeat had won.
Time was coming to an end and Frank had to think about going back home to Chicago, going back home to work, and living his daily life again. He had extended his vacation so that he could spend more time with me in the hospital in Florida. Eventually, he needed to get back to work; back to his daily life. Bubby and Frannie had left the next day after my surgery and drove back home to Chicago. It was so nice to see them, from what I remember, and that they drove all the way from Chicago to make sure me and Frank were going to be okay.
Frank didn’t want to fly home so he decided to take a bus instead. Admittedly, he was too afraid to fly, especially since our accident. Therefore, Frank made arrangements and bought a one-way Greyhound bus ticket to travel back to Chicago. Prior to Frank leaving, he went to the gift shop and set me up with magazines and even bought me a pad of paper and crayons, as he knew how much I liked to draw. It was there that I duplicated the scene of Frank proposing to me on the beach.
The morning came where Frank had to leave. He stayed by my bedside as long as he could, we held hands and kissed. We said our good-byes, but Frank just couldn’t leave my side. He started to cry, forcing himself to leave and walk out the door, only to come back in crying even harder, to once again hold and kiss me one more time. He was so afraid to leave me alone, by myself, with no one to be with me. I told him that I would be just fine and that it wouldn’t be too much longer and I would be heading home soon myself. Frank made a second attempt at trying to leave me, only to come back to my shoulder, crying all that much harder. With Frank sobbing uncontrollably, I reassured him that I would be okay, I was safe and, if I needed anything, I’d surely ask the nurses. Frank had been by my side the moment that construction truck hit us and leaving was so difficult for him. I shared with Frank that I loved him very much and the strength of our love will get me through the next few weeks, until it was my turn to come back home to Chicago. I kept a smile on my face that beamed true confidence and optimism. Frank hugged and kissed me and, walking to the door, he says one last good-bye and slips around the corner. I wait for him to come rushing back to my side, but knew moments later that he was finally gone. With everything I had in me, I tried not to cry. Trying to control my quivering lips, I couldn’t hold back any longer, as my own warm tears streamed down my face. Frank had been only gone for moments, but my heart ached and I felt so empty. I was now totally alone, all by myself in the middle of a Florida hospital, not being able to move or walk. I lay there helplessly, only being able to depend on the medical staff that was present around me. I took a deep breath and made a solemn affirmation to myself that in five years, our accident, the heartbreaking feelings I had, all the mental and physical pain that I was going through would be a complete blur. In five years, all of these feelings would be behind me. In five years, it will all be a memory. It was from that point forward that I worked very hard, keeping a positive attitude, as I needed to get myself out of Tampa General and back home to my family, my fiancé.
It was everyday that I was starting to feel much better, getting stronger, mentally and physically. I was still immobile and unable to stand on my feet or even attempt to walk at that point. But, I was now able to sit up much higher in the bed; allowing me to sit at a forty-five degree angle. I was going to physical therapy couple times a day and only needed Demerol shots occasionally. I was eventually weaned to oral pain medication. Because I was still pretty much flat on my back and not mobile, I was having trouble making a bowel movement. The more you move around, well, so does your bowels, creating a normal poop routine. Occasionally, I would pinch out something that resembled a small tootsie roll, which when landing in the bottom of the bedpan sounded like a rock hitting the side of a tin barn. The physician prescribed me some Metamucil, which was a laxative and fiber supplement. Twenty minutes later, I was sliding out something that resembled soft serve ice cream. Now, it’s strange making a normal bowel movement while lying flat on your back, but it’s even stranger when it’s completely soft served. I felt like I was an automatic ice cream dispenser! All I kept thinking was this poor nurse is going to have to wipe my ass tenfold! But, the Metamucil worked and the nurse didn’t even bat an eye to clean up that was served before her.
The day came where the doctors felt I was strong enough to make my journey home. Arrangements were made for me to be discharged from Tampa General on July 17, 1989. The only way that I was able to get home was via plane, therefore, arrangements needed to be made for a flight home. Frank didn’t want to get on a plane to come and get me. He was still recovering from his own injuries, as well as he was nervous about traveling, especially by plane. Geno volunteered to come and get me but, it was decided that Frank’s mom, Bubby, who was seventy two years old at the time, would fly to Florida and bring her future daughter in law back home.
It was wonderful seeing Bubby walk through the door to my hospital room, where she was full of smiles and greeted me with a strong hug. Arrangements were made for an ambulance to drive us to the airport, where we were schedule for an afternoon flight back to Chicago to Midway Airport. Once at the airport, I was placed in a wheelchair, where Bubby pushed me through the airport, up to the terminal, and all the way through the jetway, where airport personnel got me settled into a front row seat. Upon landing, Bubby did it all over again, pushing and carting me through the airport to where another ambulance was waiting for us to take us to back home to Bubby’s home. Unfortunately, this is where there was a lack of communication. What should have happened was for me to be admitted to another hospital or rehabilitation facility, as I was still unable to sit properly; I was not capable of standing on my own, nor was I able to walk. Not being able to do any of these tasks should have alarmed someone enough at Tampa General to make arrangements for a hospital to hospital transfer. Instead, I stayed two days at Bubby’s home, with Frank and his brothers.
Arriving at Bubby’s, the EMT’s placed me in Frank’s room, which his mattress and box spring were on the floor, and that’s where I laid for the next two days. I had a TV in my room to entertain me during the day while Frank was at work and I also had magazines. But, the majority of the time, I slept. Although not in my own bed, it did feel comfortable to be out of the hospital and somewhere more familiar. During the day, Bubby was very accommodating to my needs, getting me this or that, trying to make me feel comfortable. Still using the bathroom via a bedpan, I limited my drink and food intake, as there was absolutely no way that I was going to allow Bubby to wipe my ass after I used the bathroom. I absolutely refused! Therefore, I would hardly eat or drink during the day so as to not promote urine or a bowl movement. I waited until Frank got home, where he was able to do it for me. I felt more comfortable for Frank to assist me than Bubby. In my eyes, it was like asking Mother Teresa to wipe my ass. Sliding a bedpan underneath me, this is when I would relieve myself from holding it in all day. This routine lasted for two days until I was admitted to Columbus Hospital on July 19, the same hospital where Frank had worked at for over eleven years. I was placed in a room that had another patient. Ugh! I had a roommate! It was there that I stayed for the next seventeen days. Trying to take a bowel movement while lying on your back was tough enough, but when there was an audience and you had another patient just inches away from you while they lay on the other side of the curtain was just strange and bizarre! Afterward, once I was done and the nurse wiped my ass, I commented that I gave her credit for wiping a patient’s ass and, in particular, mine! Her response… “It beats being a secretary!” And, with that, she took my poop and walked out the door.
I was going to physical therapy every day, building my hip and leg muscles to become stronger. The day finally came where I would learn to walk again for the first time in over a month and a half. Using the parallel bars in physical therapy, while having assistance from the therapist, I placed one foot in front of the other, where I walked the length of the bars, turning around and walking back to my wheelchair. It was at that moment that I started to cry tears of joy, as I had been waiting for that day to come. I was started out by using a walker to help balance me, teaching me how to step one foot in front of the other. Once I was stable enough to stand on my own and maneuver, I was then promoted from the walker to a pair of crutches. Once on the crutches, I was then placed in occupational therapy, which taught me how to do everyday routines while at the same time housing crutches underneath my arms. I wasn’t as mobile as I liked, therefore, I had to learn how to move around my apartment with crutches, how to get up and down the stairs in the hallway and even learning how to cook for myself. One of my assignments before I was able to go home was to plan, prepare and cook a meal using the stove, while all at the same time being on crutches and learning to maneuver around the kitchen.
I was asked what I wanted to cook and I thought preparing cheese burgers would be simple enough. I also had a date who would be joining me for lunch that day, so not only was I learning to cook for myself; I was also cooking for a guest. I was determined to ace this assignment! Learning to balance myself using the table and countertops in the therapy kitchen, I started to prepare my burgers, cooking them on the stove, with an occasional flip making sure they weren’t going to burn. Once done cooking, I prepared two plates and patiently waited for my date to arrive. Moments later, I could hear the clicking sound of cowboy boots coming up the hospital hallway, as his heels knocked against the floor. Keys jingling at his side, they matched the rhythm of his stride with every fast pace he took. Entering the therapy department wearing a Harley shirt, his leather motorcycle gloves and holding a large box of candy in his hands, Geno announced, “Why hello there boys and girls!” At last, my date had arrived! Geno hands the therapists the box of chocolate to show his appreciation to the staff for taking care of his future sister in law. Plating up our cheeseburgers, Geno sat down and ate lunch with me that afternoon, all the while commenting to me how well I was moving around, how good I looked and that he enjoyed the burger. I can tell that the accident shook him up, as he wanted to confront the man who hit us, but we both knew that wouldn’t solve anything. Geno was sorry and sad that the accident happened, but very thankful that it wasn’t worse than it was and that I was still around to talk about it. We talked for over an hour, as he stayed with me, telling jokes, making me laugh, making the therapists laugh, taking my mind off of my limitations; even it was for just a little while. I’ll never forget Geno coming to the hospital that afternoon to spend time with me, making sure that I was okay. It was a special moment that I was able to share with Geno and my heart will never forget his wonderful act of kindness, compassion and spirit.
August 5, 1989, final destination… “Home Sweet Home!” Not only was I going back home to my apartment on Ainslie, but I had exactly nine months to the day to plan a wedding! I was finally discharged where I left Columbus Hospital with a pair of crutches and an inspirational and optimistic attitude toward life. I was determined to walk down the aisle at St. Alphonsus Church unassisted, using no walker or crutches. Although with a slight limp, I did walk down that aisle less than a year later on May 5, 1990.
Lying in the hospital, for many days and nights, by myself and all alone, I had plenty of time to think. For hours on end, my mind went over every detail of the accident, every bump and bruise I had, every single pain that stabbed my body. What was the reason for all of my pain and discomfort, learning how to walk again, learning how to do certain things all over again and some things completely different for the rest of my life? After analyzing every detail of this journey, I came up with no other explanation other than this accident was supposed to happen. I believe in my heart that this journey was written to be one of my life encounters and something that was just meant to happen.
There were too many coincidences on this journey that tells me that Frank and I were in the right place at the right time. I never once considered Frank and me to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. As strange as it may sound, I truly believe that this accident of ours was meant to happen; it was our destiny.
Surely, the only thing that saved my back from being broken was the backrest that Frank put on the bike for me before our trip started. The only reason that I am here today is because instinct told me that I need to properly fasten my motorcycle helmet. Since our accident in 1989, a new helmet law went into effect in the year 2000, changing the helmet law to where if you’re over twenty one years of age, you don’t have to wear a helmet. If this law was in effect at the time of our accident, surely the outcome would have been different, I could have been permanently damaged, if here at all. The bridge’s sides were only a few feet high. I could have easily been sailed over the side of the bridge and, with two broken hips and pelvis, I could have easily drowned. If that bridge wasn’t in the up position, allowing a boat to pass through and blocking oncoming traffic, what would have happened if I was hit and thrown into oncoming traffic?
The Sanibel Island bridge that was built in 1963 no longer exists. A new causeway was completed in 2007. The new bridge features a “flyover” span tall enough for sailboats to pass under, replacing the old bridge’s drawbridge, never having to be lifted again. The original bridge was demolished and its remains were sunk into the water to create artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.
I’m convinced that I received a premonition and my dream was a warning, making sure that I remembered to take the chewing gum out of my mouth so I wouldn’t choke on it. What a coincidence that the hospital that I was first brought to in Ft. Myers was named “Lee” Memorial, which was my mother’s name and that I also had surgery on my mother’s birthday, July 3. Or, the nurse who once lived on the north side of Chicago that recently moved to Florida, who took great care of me. His name was Steve, which was my brother’s name. The driver who hit us, his birthday was January 11, the same birthday as Frank’s. Still not meant to be?
Frank and I went back to Sanibel Island for our honey moon. I had to drive over that bridge one more time, almost as if to prove something but, this time, we drove in a truck. While standing in the same condo parking lot that we had done a year before, another guest stops us, recognizing us, asking if we were the same couple that was hit by the construction truck just the year before. Yes, it was us. They commended us for coming back, especially to the place that could have clearly been our demise.
The company I worked for at the time of my accident was located in Evanston, Illinois. I assisted a salesman by the name of Mike. It was just prior to me leaving on vacation that I found out that he sold Frank a motorcycle a few years prior to me ever working there. What a coincidence I thought. Frank still has the receipt to this day, showing proof that he bought a motorcycle from Mike back in the early 1980’s. This world of ours can be very small at times.
To this day, I no longer pick up any change I find on the ground. Yes, I have become very superstitious since the day Frank picked up that penny for good luck while on our way to the dog track that fateful morning.
Several years after our accident in 1996, Frank and I were driving in our truck down Diversey Avenue, when a young man was driving along side us who was trying to get our attention. Looking at Frank who was driving at the time, I told him that some guy next to us was trying to get our attention and he kept screaming Frank’s name. Looking over to my right, Frank suddenly comments, “That’s Jimmy Mullen!” a friend of Frank’s who he grew up with on Seeley Avenue. Both of us pulling over, Jimmy came over to my side of the truck, where he leaned in, chatting and catching up with Frank, who haven’t seen each other in years. It was at the end of our twenty minute conversation that Jimmy picked up a quarter that he found lying on the ground underneath him while standing on the side of our truck. Jimmy hands the quarter to Frank and with several good-byes later, we were all on our separate ways. We were half way down the block when I rolled down my side window and told Frank to throw the quarter out the window. Of course, Frank was questioning why and I quickly reminded him that the last time change was picked up, we were hit by a twenty ton construction truck. With that, Frank tosses the quarter out my window. It was exactly a week later that we heard Jimmy Mullen, who was a Chicago Police Officer, was shot in the face when he was responding to a call, leaving him a quadriplegic, leaving him unable to breathe on his own, forever using a respirator.
Having being newly engaged and surely to encounter early struggles in a new married life together, establishing ourselves trying to purchase a home of our own, saving money for the future, for a family, I believe that my grandfather had a chat with my higher power. In my eyes, I felt grandpa made a few pre-arranged agreements that not only took care of us at the moment, but also secured us for our future. Grandpa knew I was strong individual who could handle any tribulations that were placed in front of me and, for that, I was compensated. Nobody wishes ill fate on their loved ones, but grandpa knew for a little discomfort in my life, we would then be granted securities for our future that would have surely taken us years to achieve. I was awarded insurance money from the state of Florida, which helped Frank and I buy our first home together, the same home that we continue to share today, with each other, with our family. If this challenge wasn’t put in front of me, I am not sure what position Frank and I would be in today.
For all the discomfort, the pain and the sacrifices that I had to go through during this time, yes, I do believe that it was fate, my destiny, my karma. I believe God doesn’t give us any more than we can handle. God knew my limits, my strengths, therefore, moving forward with my life’s plan and challenges. I truly feel that I had been blessed by the hands of God that morning on June 28, 1989 and, because of this, I am thankful for everything I have in my life today and I wouldn’t have altered my course for anything in the world.
“Each day of human life contains joy and anger, pain and pleasure, darkness and light, growth and decay. Each moment is etched with nature’s grand design – do not try to deny or oppose the cosmic order of things.” ~ Morihei Ueshiba