Never one to pass up a statue and leave it undisturbed, the Golden Bear Bridge in northern California provided simply too much of an invitation to ride one of its life-size bears! The lovely overpass above Klamath River on Route 101, just 56 miles (90 km) north of Arcata, California, cannot be confused with the Golden Gate Bridge 330 miles (530 km) south in San Francisco, but the bridge’s nickname is inviting. http://www.klamathchamber.com/home.cfm?dir_cat=37747
My wife, sister-in-law and I had just spent the day walking among trees that took our breath away as much as a first visit to the Grand Canyon does. Some of these behemoths were just saplings during the reign of Caesar Augustus a world away, about the time Jesus of Nazareth was born in Bethlehem, Judea, in a backwater province of the Roman Empire. Think of the Ents of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and you could almost hear the whispers of the branches wondering who these tiny creatures were scurrying between their ancient legs.
We were returning south to our hotel in Arcata when we paused at the the beautiful golden statues of California’s mascot ahead. With the warming sun still overhead and cool breezes off the northern Pacific coast refreshing us, I masterfully climbed my Ursidae adversary. Astride his back I felt like King of the Coast, Conqueror of Sasquatch, Ruler of the Avenue of the Giants. Assured that Ellen had taken my picture, I began my regal descent to the lowlands . . . and missed the base of the statue.
From only three feet (1m) off the ground, I found myself curiously looking at my foot going by the base and actually thinking, “Why did I DO that?!?” The next 0.5 seconds was a lesson in physics. Without anything to grip on the bear, my weight flung me around to the left and propelled me backwards into a vertical 8×8 (20 x 20 cm) guard-rail post. Before anyone feels sorry for me, let me just say that my guardian angel, though somewhat clumsy, is very good at catching up to my ineptitude.
Six inches (15 cm) higher, if my mass had propelled me further horizontally, I would have been impaled on a three-inch (7.5 cm) bolt anchoring the guard-rail to its post, which would have easily ripped my back open and likely killed me in a few minutes of profuse bleeding. Slower propulsion from the bear would have landed me on the gravel and rocks below the statue, breaking innumerable bones or splitting my head open, again, a less than attractive option. Any other landing promised any number of means of death. So landing sideways on a flat piece of wood, as if I had fallen flat onto it, provided my guardian angel with the best option once I was airborne.
The blow knocked the wind out of my lungs, and I wondered how nearly I was clinging to life as I rotated to my hands and knees for the final moment of descent. Able to manage a small breath, I called my sister-in-law as she ran to see if I was injured. “Are you hurt, c.a.?”
“Yes,” came my muffled reply. “My back, my back, Ellen press on my back!” fearing it might be bleeding. Seeing no blood around me and feeling her assuring hands on my back without the requisite scream blood would have elicited, I gingerly got off my knees and raised myself to a half-crouch stand. Now if you think my sister-in-law is heartless for taking a picture of me in my fallen state, let me defend her; in her rush to assist me, she just bumped the camera with no idea this picture was there.
Anita had been in the car through the photo-op and glanced up as Ellen rushed to my aid. “Oh, brother, where is c.a. going now for more photos?” she thought. However, seeing me limp across the guard-rail, she realized something was not right and came lightning fast to assess the damage. I assured her I was alive, but needed medical care as soon as possible. While Ellen helped me back to the car, Anita ran ahead to GPS the nearest hospital, and after a few minutes of heavy breathing I was in the passenger seat as Anita sped toward Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City, just south of the Oregon border, 25 minutes away.
Once past the bureaucrats in the admission area of the Emergency Room, the radiology staff and the doctor and physician assistant were as good as any at UK hospital here in Kentucky. The radiologists positioned me as gently as possible for my spinal x-ray and CT scan. Out of courtesy for how difficult it was for me to move, they re-positioned equipment so they could take side pictures while I still lay on my back, rather than have me try to roll onto my side.
As soon as the pictures of my back had been viewed, the PA ordered some long-awaited morphine by injection! Within minutes, I began to believe I was not really going to die yet. The pain was subsiding substantially, and I could talk without wincing. I could almost breath normally, though deep inhaling was still beyond my capacity. My back was broken, the L2 vertebra smashed across, with torn ligaments on L1 and L3, and a couple of cracks up in the thoracic vertebrae.
A consult with a neurosurgeon concluded I would not need surgery, but would need pain meds and careful attention to my back for a few weeks. Anita and Ellen went to Arcata to get our gear and move us up to a Crescent City hotel where I could get bed rest just a mile from the hospital. A local pharmacy had a back brace and walker for me.
The first med, oxy-codone gave me itches and a rash and I thought, “Well, that’s bearable.” But when I read the patient insert, after listing all the inconsequential side effects, it said, “See your doctor if any of the following serious allergic reactions occur, such as itching, rash, . . .!!” Apparently an allergic reaction can “go south” quickly! So they changed me to hydro-codone, the same drug with a couple of CH3 moieties difference; same itch, too, for me. Since I had taken hydro-morphone by injection in the hospital without reaction, they shifted me to this drug, which was okay except for the extreme nausea it caused.
So less than two weeks later, I am weaned off the opioids and glad to be rid of them. All of them, besides relieving the pain, made my head feel “loopy.” Now I am down to extra-strength ibuprofen and that seems to be managing the pain well, and I am back to driving since no longer “under the influence.”
So where was The God Who Is There in all of this? I’ll share some thoughts on this in next Sunday’s blog, September 4, 2016. For now, rest assured: God is good . . . all the time; and all the time . . . God IS good!