Mobile Eyes: What did they say?
I hate articles about bike crashes. They make people think riding a bike is more dangerous than it actually is and most people are already unreasonably afraid. Add a concussion to that, and you'll understand why it has been hard for me to write about getting hit by a car on February 12th.
I'm sharing this story in several installments or it will never get written. Act I – Impact, describes the moments immediately before, and after the crash. If you haven’t read it, start here. It is less than a 4 minute read. Below is the second installment.
A few notes to remember:
You do not get to use this story to stop riding a bike, fuss at someone you love who rides a bike, or use it as an excuse for not riding a bike. No. Just no.
You do not get to use this story to hate on people. Not drivers. Not police. Not medics. Not engineers. No one.
You DO get to use this story to invest your time, talent, and treasure to create safer streets.
The Crash: Act II – City of Columbus First Responders
I call 911. The scene is loud (rush hour traffic) and I’m a bit rattled (just got hit by a car). When I’m asked where I am, I describe my location: bike lane at the intersection to a surface parking lot on Spring, just west of the red bridge. The 911 dispatcher is not familiar with the area, so I’m asking people around me to assist. I’m asked if I need a medic. I hesitate, I don’t think so, but I can tell adrenaline is coursing through my body, so I don’t know. I’m asked questions about the car. I cannot even remember the color of the car. Luckily the driver has finished parking and is at my side, relaying information. I give my name and phone number, and then am asked again if I need a medic. I hesitate. I don’t think so, but I can’t tell, because of the adrenaline. It is at this point I’m informed that police are not responding to non-injury accidents. I am instructed to exchange information with the driver. The driver returns to the parked car to gather her paperwork.
Let’s pause the story here for a moment. I was just hit by a car while riding a bike, I don’t think I’m injured but I’m not sure, but police are not coming. OK, back to the 911 call.
The 911 dispatcher encourages me to call back if I need a medic. I ask how to get a police report filed. He explains how to do that online or at police headquarters. I’m frustrated, but thank him and end the call.
I walk back to my bike with the intention of wheeling it over to the driver to exchange information. The bike will not roll. Crap. I lock it to a sign. I search the parking lot for the driver. It takes a few moments. I begin to worry she has left the scene. I find her. We start to exchange information. She offers to drive me where I need to go, she says it is alright if she is late for class. The person who helped me off the ground is her lab partner so he’ll let the instructor know what is happening.
I realize I’m having a hard time thinking clearly. I might be missing something. I decide to call a work colleague for advice. My phone log says it is 3:30pm. I get lots of advice, all of it familiar. I should not have got up so quickly. We shouldn’t have moved the car and bike. I need to get photos of the driver’s license and insurance card and not count on my hand writing or memory. But the most important thing my friend says is, “Call 911 back, you don’t know if you are injured.”
Oh. Right. I actually know all of this. I’m the Executive Director of an organization whose sole mission is advocacy and education for transportation bicycling. It is actually my job to know all of these things, and yet, I am behaving otherwise. I’ve heard stories of smart people, in similar situations struggling in the same ways I am. OK, back to the crash scene.
I call 911 back. That 1 minute and 26 second call is here. The scene is still loud. I don’t realize I have the same operator so I briefly tell the story and say:
Me: I called a few minutes ago. I was traveling in a bike lane and was hit by a car by someone pulling into a Columbus State parking lot. Um. Uh. I’ve been advised that you probably should send a squad out to look me over.
Dispatcher: Ok, so you’ve been advised that you are injured?
Me: I’ve been advised that I need to be looked over. I can’t tell what’s going on . . . with my body. I’m pretty shook up right now.
Dispatcher: Ok, why did someone else need to tell you that you need a medic?
Me: Could you please send a squad out?
Dispatcher: OK, but what’s changed since last time I told you, or asked you?
Me: The frame of my bike is bent and I hit the ground and I cannot tell what’s going on with my body right now.
Dispatcher: Ok, let me get you connected with the medics. Stay on the line.
The 911 operator questions my request for medical attention. I have to ask multiple times before he agrees to send a medic. Yep.
I take a few photos, I’m not thinking very clearly. I call the people I’m supposed to be meeting with, apologize, and cancel our 4pm meeting. My phone log says it is now 3:41pm and that call was 34 seconds.
I hear sirens and see the ambulance driving south on Cleveland Avenue. It passes Spring. I move away from the driver’s car towards the street to wave it down. It turns on Long. My phone rings at 3:43pm and I talk with someone asking for my location, the ambulance can’t find me. I’m standing at the crash location waving my arm. That call lasts 1 minute 20 seconds, ending as the ambulance arrives.
The ambulance pulls over. The medic asks if I’m sure I want to be seen. I must look ok, but seriously, I was just hit by a car! Maybe I’m I making too much of this? I respond “yes”, I’d like to be checked over. They invite me onto the squad.
I’m asked a series of questions. What happened? I describe traveling down the bike lane at 12-15 mph hour, (a big underestimate, actually 20 mph,) and seeing the motorist turn into my path. I describe attempting to stop but not having enough space and turning with the driver. They ask if I hit the ground. Yes. They ask if I hit my head. I don’t know. I look at my helmet. There are no huge scrapes. No? They attempt to get my blood pressure, but the machine does not appear to be working. They take it manually. My blood pressure is 150/110. One of them says, “You don’t look like you’d have high blood pressure.” I respond that I don’t have high blood pressure. My blood pressure is normally 110/60, but I did just get hit by a car, so . . . I’m trying not to be a smart ass, but what does someone with high blood pressure look like? I keep that thought to myself.
The left side of my head is starting to hurt. I let them know and examine the helmet again. My left shoulder and left knee are beginning to hurt more. There is other conversation. The content is not completely clear. I might look ok, I might be responding appropriately, but I’m confused.
They say I look fine, and I’m given three choices. I don’t remember what the first two are, but I think the first one is to walk it off, and the second is to follow up with my doctor. I could be wrong about those. The third choice is clear. They could transport me to Grant Hospital (.7 mile from the scene). They cannot advise me on what to do. They are very clear about that. I’m having a hard time making a decision. I ask what will happen if they take me to Grant. Their description is not helping me decide. More than once they clearly state they cannot advise me on what to do.
A police officer comes into the ambulance. He asks a question. I don’t remember what it is or if it was directed at me. The medics respond. The police officer looks at me and asks, “Are you going to the hospital?” I respond, “That is what we are trying to decide.” I ask if he needs information from me for the police report. He says he is not taking a report unless I go to the hospital.
Really? There will be no police report unless the medics transport me to the hospital? Again, my job is in transportation biking. I know crash reports are used by engineers and planners to identify problem areas and create better street design. I know crash reports are used to influence safety campaigns. Also, this driver just cut me off and my bike ended up 3/4’s of the way under her car between the front and rear wheels. My body hit the side of her car and the ground and I was thrown off my bike and away from her car. But there will be no police report unless I go to the hospital. It’s too much. I don’t have the capacity in this moment to educate you and care for myself. Take me to the hospital.
I immediately begin worrying about money. I hope insurance covers this. I couldn’t get insurance before the Affordable Care Act. I’m glad I have health insurance now.
The medics place a neck collar on me and have me lay down on the stretcher. They hand me papers to sign. I sit up to read them and am immediately told to lie back down. I’m assured there is no need to read they will explain what the papers say, I should just sign them.
The next time I see the police officer from the crash scene, I am naked on a table in Grant Hospital’s trauma unit, covered with a blanket, immobilized. He hands me a card with his name and a handwritten case number. He informs me the driver has been cited, then he turns and walks away. I am given no opportunity to give input into the crash report, which can be found here.
You can imagine my surprise when I read the report for the first time 3 days later and discovered the report describes me as traveling at 7 mph and the motorist as traveling at 10 mph. The speed limit on this corridor is 35 mph. All car traffic was passing me and I was traveling 20 mph when she failed to yield and turned in front of me.
There is more to tell about my experience in the hospital, including: the release with no injuries identified; my return to work the next day, my inability to complete complex tasks, the subsequent discovery of a concussion and other physical injuries, the loss of range of motion, the loss of my beloved bike, and flood of phone calls and mail from lawyers and people identifying themselves as medical professionals, the calls from the hospital about billing, the discovery that driver’s auto insurer does not believe she is covered, and enough other crash aftermath details that become a part time job.
Am I irritated? You bet. Did anyone in this story act with malice? Probably not. Did the impact of their actions cause barriers to good care? Yes. Do we collectively have the ability to enact change to prevent what I encountered from happening to others? Absolutely.
Stay tuned for The Crash: Act III – A Call to Action