My husband is a car magnet.
When my husband was 11, on September 3, 1981, he got hit by a car while on his bike. He had pulled out of the Taco Bell/Brothers parking lot on Waring Road in San Diego, and a woman ran a red light through Zion, and hit him.
This was before the age of helmets. His skull cracked seven inches from his left upper forehead to behind his ear, his jaw broke, his back was one big scab from sliding across the road, and his doctors suspected he would die. Everyone thought he would die. Imagine his poor parents, already dealing with his sister’s kidney transplant.
Nothing happened to the woman.
The skull fracture swelled around the part of his brain dealing with manners. He was so rude, legend has it, that my father-in-law, a legendarily imperturbable man, the kind of guy who barks like a seal at amusement parks, was embarrassed and apologetic. “Waiter,” Cadillac called to the doctor. “Get out of my way, stupid,” he said to the nurse.
“If you come get me out of here, I’ll get you six Baskin-Robbins coupons,” he told his brother.
“Do you know where you are?” asked the doctor.
“Deborah’s bed,” he said.
The doctor pulled his mother aside and told her he must have brain damage, because he didn’t know where he was.
But he did know where he was. His sister Deborah had spent so much time in the hospital since she was 4, he figured he was in her hospital bed, not his.
He remembers nothing of the time in the hospital, only of being released.
Then about six years ago, he got hit by a car again. Another woman running a red light. This time, Cadillac was on a motorcycle, heading back to work.
Several people from work, also heading back, saw it happen. Saw him fly in the air over the top of the car and hit the black asphalt of the road. He tried to get up and catch a ride back to work, but someone told him to lie still and an ambulance was called.
He called me. “Hey, I have good news and bad news.”
“Bad news first,” I said.
“The bad news is, I was hit by a car. The good news is, I have the rest of the day off.” He was already out of the hospital, having no more than a torn-up leather jacket and a bruised ankle. The motorcycle was totaled.
Turns out it was more than these minor ailments; he went in and got checked out by neurosurgeons, and his spinal cord was in danger, surrounded by vertebrae about to crumble and snap it. “Hit your head on a car door and you could be paralyzed,” the doctor warned him. He got three opinions. Two said to operate.
It could be that the damage was cumulative, caused by the first auto accident, by jumping out of airplanes in the Army, by this accident, all of which successively caused these disks to degenerate.
The operation was performed by Dr. Tyrone Hardy, an excellent neurosurgeon who holds 11 patents in various neurosurgical technologies. My only complaint about Dr. Hardy is that he did not call me as promised after the surgery, leaving me to wonder what on earth had happened. Many great surgeons are not known for their bedside manner.
Both Cadillac and I were remarkably sanguine throughout the whole thing. Maybe it’s because we both grew up used to dealing with hospitals and failings of the human body. My mother’s heart, his sister’s kidney. It becomes a matter of course. Maybe it’s because we had a two year old and a four year old and you simply cannot fall apart when you have children.
The insurance company dickered with us, as insurance companies like to do in times of urgent need; we hired an attorney, who got the woman’s full pay-out, saying it would not be worth it to sue her as she’d probably just get rid of her assets.
The surgery left a faint horizontal scar across my husband’s throat, where the surgeon accessed the spine, as if he survived a knife fight. Now he has titanium in his neck. He is completely better. Sometimes he cannot turn his head all the way, but he can run and do whatever he likes. He could probably even jump out of an airplane again. I would sooner have him do that than ride a motorcycle again.
Oh, and the day he went back to work after surgery, someone in a Porsche rear ended him. Luckily, he was in a car. He won’t ever ride a motorcycle again. (There’s a saying it’s not if you’ll get in an accident while on a motorcycle; it’s when. My oldest brother has one leg shorter than the other after a bad motorbike accident when someone ran an obscured stop sign).
But here is the real miraculous thing. Shortly after the accident, Cadillac’s National Guard troop was called up to Iraq. The accident that broke his neck might have saved his life.
I’m just happy he’s still around. It’s Mother’s Day, and he’s the one who made me a mother, three times over. I like to think he did not die those times so he could serve some purpose here, and luckily for me, part of his purpose is being my partner.
And his brain has healed enough to remember his manners, most of the time.