I have been terribly slack about writing this story. It happened nearly five months ago - Christmas Eve 2007. It's a story of boy gets bike, boy rides bike, bike meets car, boy lands in hospital.
I have finally pulled my finger out and decided to write because one of my favourite bloggers, Tom Reynolds, is thinking of giving up his big yellow bus for a desk. This one's for you, Tom.
We have three choices at Christmas - we can stay at home with just us, we can visit my parents on the other side of the island (a flight of up to 5 hours and an expenditure sometimes approaching $2,000 just in airfares) or visit the in-laws (a drive of a minimum of 7 hours, and up to 12 if the kids are not having a good time).
Last year, we did the in-laws. They live in a country town of about 4000 out west of Wagga Wagga. If your knowledge of Australian geography is limited to knowing where Bondi is, consider this. You leave Bondi Beach, get on the highway heading south and drive for six hours. That will get you to Wagga. You then turn right and drive for another hour or so, which gets you to our country town.
J's parents are not farming folk - they are townies, and always have been. J's brother and sister lived in the area at the time (her brother is now up in PNG teaching the fuzzy wuzzies how to bang on logs), meaning that our kids have a small tribe of country cousins. I am pleased to report that none of them own banjoes, but they do own a couple of kids motorbikes and plenty of skateboards and a dog.
One of the cousins has his birthday just before Christmas, and his present last year was a shiny new push bike. He was so proud of it, he brought it round to J's parents to show us what a grand bike it was. This meant of course that all the kids had to have a go at riding it down the driveway.
A word about the driveway. Eddie the Eagle could have used it for his training runs. I'm surprised that 4WD marketers have not knocked on their door asking to use it to film an advertisement for a Jeep or a Pajero. It's that kind of driveway. In other words, a complete hoot to shoot down on a bike.
Now before you start to tut-tut about the dangers of letting kids getting in touch with their inner Evel Knievel, consider this. The house is at the end of a cul-de-sac, and only two cars go past the driveway per day. Those movements are the only neighbour going to work, and the same neighbour coming home from work. So you can expect that for 23 hours, 59 minutes and 50 seconds of the day, roaring out of the driveway with your pants on fire will not be a problem.
Which is probably why I was so bad at calculating probabilities at school.
I have no idea what transpired on the day. I had driven the entire distance the day before, so when the Monkey had to be put down for his afternoon nap, I went with him. I was out like a light when boy met car.
The first I knew of it was when J's mum bashed on my bedroom window and yelled at me to get outside. I came stumbling out barefoot to find an ambulance, a police car and the entire neighbourhood clustered around a mangled bike and a slightly less mangled junior. Yep, he had managed to time his descent of the driveway with the neighbour coming home from work. I could go into the mechanics of the sightlines up the street and the efficiency of the brakes on the bike and Junior's bike handling skills, but I won't. All we know is that either he went into the front passenger wing of the car and thus across the bonnet, or the car collected him and he went over the bonnet and into the windscreen. Whichever way you look at it, it was not a great manouvere.
When I first laid eyes on him, one of the ambo's were applying a towel to the back of his neck, which was bleeding nicely from a six inch split from just below the base of his skull to down between his shoulder blades. The other was looking at his leg, which was looking a bit floppier than it should have. He was pretty much hysterical from the shock and the pain, and the poor old neighbour was absolutely distraught. I had to give the police a few details, and I doubt I was too coherent as I had been utterly conked out 1 minute before and had come outside to find a horror scene erupting in front of the driveway. I hadn't heard the crash, hadn't heard the sirens of the emergency vehicles, hadn't heard Junior screaming. I thought I had emerged into a bad dream, and Junior thought he was stuck in one. He was yelling, "wake up, wake up", thinking that he was trapped in a nightmare and waking up was the way out.
All up, it was one of the more thoroughly disturbing and distressing scenes that I've witnessed, and I've practiced treating dummy gunshot and shrapnel wounds and burns and evacuating casualties and that sort of thing - but nothing prepares you for the real thing. It was nasty and horrible and I felt completely helpless - a useless spectator to someone else's pain and shock.
It didn't take long for the ambo's to load Junior up on a trolley and whip him off to the local hospital, which was less than 1km away. It had taken them about 1 minute to get there from being called out - sleepy country town and no traffic and all that. The police were about the same distance away. Even if I had heard the crash, they probably would have beaten me to the scene.
At the hospital, they quickly worked out that he was too seriously beaten up for local treatment, so I rapidly packed a bag for J, and she jumped in the ambulance for a quick burn into Wagga. It normally takes me 70 minutes to get to Wagga, and that includes a bit of nudging the speed limit from time to time. They did it in less than 40. J was understandably a complete mess - she was in the back with her firstborn, and he was not in the best of shape.
The crew though did their best to be very relaxed and calm and helped her to keep a lid on it. The last thing either of us needed to do was lose it in front of Junior. We had to be strong and confident for his sake, and the ambulance crew and the hospital staff were amazingly supportive and helpful. Stiff upper lip and all that. Will you keep your head whilst all about you are losing theirs?
I did a bit more paperwork with the Police, woke the Monkey up and headed into Wagga. Once there, we found that he had a small fracture of the skull, numerous nasty gashes here and there, and had broken his lower leg in a few places. The head would heal on its own. The gashes were closed with some stitches, but the leg would require a plate and 8 screws. Given that this was Christmas Eve, the hospital still managed to quickly swing into action and organise an operating theatre and orthopedic surgeon and all the rest of it and he had a plate inserted before the day was out.
I can tell you that it was a Christmas that I'll never forget. J stayed in Wagga with Junior, whilst I commuted back and forth with the Monkey every day to check on progress - clocking up 1000 miles in the course of a week. J camped on a pull-out sofa in the children's ward, which wasn't the most comfortable of beds, but she thought that was better than staying in a hotel up the road. The first few days were really hard on Junior - because of swelling, the surgeon couldn't close his leg up. He had an 8 inch long incision in his calf which was completely open (and just nasty), and Junior didn't take well to seeing his leg laid open like a side of beef. As the swelling slowly subsided, he'd go back into surgery for it to be closed up a bit more until after several ops over a couple of days, it was completely closed.
Here's the classic thing. The day before, another kid had driven his go kart under a car and had to be air lifted out by chopper to Wagga emergency. When Junior checked into the kids ward on Christmas Eve, there was one other kid there (I think go kart kid ended up being shipped all the way to Sydney). By 9pm on Christmas Day, the ward was full of kids - too many skateboards and bikes I guess. The plasterers were kept busy that day.
As for the outcome, the bike was a write off (and I had to buy the replacement). The funny thing was that the car was also a write off - Junior hit a certain spot in such a way to make it uneconomic to repair. When I got collected by a car last year, it was car 1, bike 0. Junior at least managed to score a draw. I was hoping that the bike shop could repair the bike, making it car 0, bike 1 - but the bike shop owner failed to see my point, hence the new bike.
Oh, and somehow his iPod ended up in the backseat of the car. None of us having any idea of how it made it in there. Took a couple of days to find it.
So, Tom. I'm the sort that views an ambulance as a last resort. Junior rated one since he did indeed have a bone poking out of his leg, and there was quite a lot of blood. When I got cleaned up by a car nearly two years ago, I dusted myself down, checked for blood and broken bones and found none. So I slung my broken bike across my shoulders and carried it home. No ambulance for me. (Of course it started to hurt like the devil 3 days later, and I was off work for nearly 3 months, but that's another story). I could walk - buggered if I was going to waste an ambo's time with my scratches and bruises.
In the end, whether you stick with something depends on how satisfied you are with the results. I used to manage a front line service operation of 40 people (nothing to do with health care by the way). I always found myself slipping back into working on the front line with my people as it was infinitely more satisfying than sitting in my office contemplating either the view, the next management meeting or a stack of reports that needed writing. Every job involves a certain amount of crap, but it's only worth chucking it in if it no longer delivers the occasional gems of satisfaction. The warm feeling in the cockles of the heart. I hope this little story is a reminder that there is (unfortunately!) plenty of worthwhile work waiting to be done, and I can't express how much appreciation I feel for all of those that did their bit to help Junior out during a very dark week for our family.