The first time I rode in an ambulance I was in the first grade. It was in the spring of 1964. I was on an Indian Guide (“Like Father, Like Son, Pals Forever”) outing with my father and other fathers and sons in our “tribe.” We were riding our bicycles to a park where we would have lunch and play “Capture the Flag” until it was time to ride back to our neighborhood.
I had just gotten a new 3-speed Schwin Speedster, which was a little too much bike for me. I was already nervous about the trip because the last year when we had gone on a similar trip, as we had bicycled past a farm, the farmer’s German Shepard spotted me as the smallest of our cycling herd. The dog ran alongside us like a lion after a baby wildebeest. Suddenly he broke through the other bikers and leapt up at me, tearing my pants and sinking his teeth into my butt cheek, until my father could beat the dog away from his shrieking son. This year my father assured me he had called the farmer in advance to make certain the beast was chained during the hours we expected to pass so I could ride by without fear.
I had a different trouble this time. Coming down a hill too fast for my handling ability, I got caught in a sand patch, and went sailing over the handlebars, knocking myself unconscious, and as my father would say, giving him his first gray hairs. I remember waking in the back of a low slung Cadillac ambulance to hear the sirens and look up at the ceiling, and feel the sway of the road before drifting off again. I stayed three days in the hospital with a concussion and lacerations to my head, face and right hand. I bear the scars of them to this day. Of course I had no idea at that time that as an adult I would be the one bringing the sick and injured to that same hospital on an almost daily basis.
The ambulance in our town then was run by volunteers. I remember one young man who worked in maintenance at the country club and also volunteered on the ambulance telling stories about seeing people cut in half by seat belts. “You wear a seat belt, my partner’s going to be picking your bottom half off the road, while I’m in the thorny bushes, hauling out your chest and head. I never wear a seat belt, that’s for sure.” (This of course was back when the seat belt consisted solely of a lap belt.)
I didn’t know whether or not to believe any of the grotesque tales he told. But I did believe another story I heard a few years later in the barber’s chair one day as I got my regular crewcut. There had been a bad accident in town. A group of high school friends had been drinking at the bowling alley. Afterwards they sped back toward town along a curving road in their sportscar convertible. They came around a corner and ran right into the back of a stopped tractor-trailer. I remembered the road being closed and my mother, tears in her eyes, giving me a hug when I returned home that day in a neighbor’s car from a school outing. She had heard there had been a fatal accident in town and was worried to death I had been in it. In the barber’s chair I heard the story of how the head of one of the boy’s was cut off at the forehead as their car shot under the back of the truck till it finally came to a stop. The barber told a man waiting for his trim that the boy’s father was on the rescue crew and never knew it was his son until he was finally told later, the boy was so disfigured by the crash. No, a paramedic wasn’t something I was thinking of becoming back then so long ago.
I recently started riding a bike again after over forty largely cycle-free years. I got the crazy notion that I wanted to be a triathlete, and while a good swimmer, I was a poor runner and a complete non-biker. Still, a man’s gotta dream. As a reward for running my first 5K (3.1 mile) race and coming in 84 out of 103, I rewarded myself by purchasing a hybrid bike — hybrid meaning not a road bike with thin high pressure tires and not a mountain bike with fat thick tires. The man at the store told me if I expected to race with the hybrid, I could expect to be somewhat slower than the rest of the pack. I was more concerned with stability than speed. Plus a hybrid was $350 and the entry level road bikes were $800.
In the six triathlons I entered and finished, I came in last in the bike portion four times. It was disheartening to always come out of the water in the top 30 percent only to watch 70 percent of the field pass me. They all had road bikes. I don’t think I passed but three or four other bikers all season and those were either walking their bikes, changing their flat tires or, in one case, lying in the grass over the curb next to his mangled bike (There was a first responder there already, the guy was moving (honest) and I could hear the ambulance coming not too far off. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to be last!)
This year I decided if I could run a 10K (6.2 miles), then I could reward myself with a road bike so I could compete not only at the sprint level triathlon (1/2 mile swim, 12 mile bike, 5K run), but complete an Olympic level triathlon (1 mile swim, 24 mile bike, 10 K run).
Well, I ran the 10K coming in 249 out of 273, but managed to make it without dying, without walking, without vomiting or spitting. So I went to take a test ride on a road bike.
Not far from the bike shop was an abandoned supermarket. I thought wow, what a great place to try some sprinting. So there I am racing across the lot when I look ahead and see someone has cut a long foot wide six inch deep trench in the middle of the lot running the length of the lot. I don’t know if I can stop in time and I don’t know if I can Evil Knevil it. I try, but the front tire goes into the trench.
My first thought is, well, at least my tire didn’t pop, then I think, hmm, I seem to be traveling forward. Am I? Yes I am going over the handle bars. How about that. I’m actually airborne. Jees, I probably should have put my helmet on. I always wear my helmet, but this is just a test ride. Well, at least I didn’t hit my head, my shoulder has just landed, but I’ve managed to keep my head from hitting, though my head does seem to still be traveling in that direction. Wham! Oww! I am hitting my head right now, and my head is bouncing, and it is now coming back to the ground to rest. Son of a gun. I am lying on the asphalt in a vacant supermarket parking lot. I hope I am not dead. I don’t think I am. I hope no one is dialing 911. I feel pretty silly lying here.
It was all so slow motion. It does make me appreciate what patients go through in those seconds before they get really wracked up. Oh shit.
I manage to get up. Straighten out the bike, refit the chain on it, and ride back to the bike shop, where I tell them the good news is I really like the bike, but the bad news is I just went over the handlebars. I think they are surprised that standing there bleeding in front of them, I am actually slapping my credit card down. I was test-riding the white one, but had planned to buy the red one. But I feel now that the blood from the scrapes on my hands has stained the white tape on the handlebars that I have bonded in some way with this bike, and maybe this is our one crash. I hope so anyway.
Stay safe everyone in all your summer adventures!