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A Traveler's Tragic Tale!

September 17, 2009

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What is the last place you want to visit while traveling in a foreign land? Riding an ambulance late at night to visit the local hospital as a patient needing surgery was definitely NOT the way we planned on ending our fabulous 18th wedding anniversary river cruising  day!

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Thousands of bikers tour the gorgeous bike trails along the most picturesque section of Austria's wine country along the Danube in the Wachau Valley between Krems and Melk. It's a great place for family travel and we saw and met many families biking together as we toured the area.

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Our RV was camped just a couple feet from the Danube and we enjoyed watching the many river cruise ships pass by and we were a very short walk or bike ride to Melk and it's famous abbey. If we got up very early we could see several boats load a crowd of mostly seniors onto buses at a nearby restaurant to tour. Most of the independent travelers were hard core bikers with tiny tents who would arrive just before dark and wake up very early and leave.

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Thus we had this whole huge beautiful park on the Danube almost entirely to ourselves during the day and felt like we ran into high season nirvana for less than twenty bucks a day! We were absolutely in bliss just hanging out and leisurely touring by bike as a family.

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On August 25, we decided to take a river cruise ship from Melk to Krems and back that stopped in many quaint villages along the way including darling Durstein where Richard the Lionhearted was once imprisoned. We took our bikes with us to aid & enhance our explorations.

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We had a fantastic time despite not trying any of the luscious wines because we were biking. We so enjoyed it that we had planned to spend the next day deeply exploring Durstein via train so we might do a little wine tasting and get even closer to the vineyards, castles & architecture.

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Fate had different plans for us. When we got back to Melk that evening, I headed to the only free wifi in town, a smoky sports bar called Enzo while DaVinci & Mozart grabbed an ice cream nearby. Then we all got on our bikes for the short ride home in the dark.

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We always ride with DaVinci in the lead, followed by 8 year old Mozart and I bring up the rear to keep an eye on her... especially at night and in traffic. We had already ridden this exact route at night many times, so felt confident. There was a short street near the abby where we rode on an elevated sidewalk just as an extra precaution as we don't like Mozart in traffic even though many bikers would ride on that street. Sometimes cars would go by too quickly, so I thought it best to error on the cautious side.

It must have been garbage night because for the first time, there were two rubber garbage cans set out, which we had never seen before. DaVinci and Mozart rode right past them with ease, but I was not so lucky. In 20/20 hindsight, I see I should have gotten off and walked past them as I often do if I have any doubt of making a precarious move. But I had negotiated many narrow paths like this so thought I  could do it.

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BOOM! My pedal hit the garbage cans which sent me into a tumble and the 8 inches of elevated height of the sidewalk over the street below prevented me from getting my foot down, so I found myself in one of those dream like free falls where time stood still for about an eternity, but I knew I was totally in God's hands and totally out of control. I was a little like one of those cartoon characters who over run a cliff and find themselves in midair doing a double take and saying "Uh Oh!" before crashing to the ground.

Nothing to do but surrender and hope I would be okay. Some how I could not even get my arm out to catch myself in time. I thought about my beloved brother who was a brave, free, tremendously kind soul who died when a car hit his bike when he was forty and far from home. Strange, but I thought that this must have been what it felt like right before he died and I was comforted to know it wasn't really scary in these last seconds because the dye is cast in that eternal second and I felt a sense of peace in that surrender and acceptance.

Suddenly I hit the ground hard, dressed all in black in the middle of the street and I knew I was hurt badly. It felt like I had landed on my right elbow. Then I heard my precious 8 year old baby scream out a long anguished "Mommy!" The poor darling told me later that she was afraid I  was dead because I was not moving...every child's worst hidden fear. My fingers and arm felt numb and at first I was a little concerned about being paralyzed.

I somehow realized my butt was on my right hand and managed to lift it off it, but the numbness, uselessness and severe pain in my arm continued. I had broken 2 bones in my right lower leg at 12, crushed my right knee and broke a femur at 40, so was all but certain that my arm was broken immediately. I wasn't afraid, except perhaps a bit about a car coming & not seeing me, but mostly, reassuring my frightened daughter was on my mind. I yelled back to her that I was okay as she ran towards me sobbing. DaVinci parked his bike and ran to me as well and they told me people were poking there heads out of windows.

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We were very close to a restaurant where people were outside dining and drinking on this lovely August night. Soon there was a young Italian man next to me who spoke English and told me he was a surgeon and a small crowd began to gather. I heard him say something in Italian to his friend that sounded like "compound fracture" but when I (once a nurse long ago) asked him if that was what it was, I did not hear an answer.

Soon two ambulances & police were there and a woman who spoke good English & several languages was helping out and controlling the crowd as I laid there and answered questions. By strange coincidence I had already taken a few ambulances and visited 2 hospitals in Austria on our world tour, so felt confident and grateful for the care I would receive. (Though I must admit the fact that it was in a small town and not in Vienna and it's top hospital made me nervous once it was clear surgery was necessary.)

We have few clothes and finding anything decent in my size at a decent price, especially in Europe is very difficult, so the fact that they had to cut off my favorite and ONLY sweatshirt that we just bought last fall when visiting home, made me almost as sad as when they had to cut off my favorite ski pants when I broke my leg at 12. I soon moved into acceptance though since there was no choice. I also lost the new sleeveless top underneath that I loved due to those shears, but I'm grateful that I had happened to just have added my hoody over it, because even with the velour sweatshirt covering my bare skin, I got some nasty cuts from hitting the road.

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Out of the three broken-bone-ambulance-rescues  that I have experienced (two were in the U.S.), this was the best one by far because they put in an IV and gave me pain medicine BEFORE moving me. Why don't they all do this?

It also must have had some amnesia quality to it because I don't even remember being moved, riding in the ambulance, going to X-ray, or getting a temporary cast for the night although DaVinci and Mozart tell me I was awake and moaning in pain. Trust me, these are experiences one feels blessed to not remember, as even the tiniest movement can cause agonizing pain with a badly broken limb.

The last thing I remember is the look of horror on the pretty blond, very young nurse, doctor or ambulance attendant who had put my IV in while I laid in the street. (My guess was  that she hadn't seen too many pain related accident cases yet in this small town as they use ambulances for transport here too). The next thing I remember was the hospital ceiling going by as they moved my bed though the hallways & my mind was like when coming out of a dream, wondering where the heck I was. (Waking up trying to figure out where you are is not an uncommon experience with our lifestyle!)

I thought the surgery took place that first night and remember vaguely talking to doctors, surgeons, anesthesiologists and signing permission with my left hand at some point. I remember waking in the middle of the night, surprised to find a big cast on my arm and it was killing me with pain in my fingers because they had swollen, so they cut and ripped some of it off. It turned out my surgery did not happen until 10 A.M. the next day (because it had to be scheduled) and lasted almost 3 hours. I guess the cast was just to keep my arm still in the night.

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I am very grateful that they allowed DaVinci and Mozart to be with me in the ambulance & even provided beds for them to stay over night every single night next to me, including one in the recovery room! This is always a good idea that promotes healing, but even more so when one is in an environment where very few people spoke English ( including most of the doctors and nurses). Sadly,we speak almost no German.

I am now a bionic woman as they placed a rod inside my humerus bone to give it stability because it was such a bad break and added 4 screws to hold the rod in place. Unfortunately, the bone chipped a bit at the elbow when  the rod was put in and that and the numbness in my thumb, parts of my arm and my  inability to have full movement of my fingers and hand, seemed to give the doctors lots of concern the first few days.

It is not uncommon to have temporary nerve damage when one breaks a humerus, we found out because the main radial nerve runs from the spine at the neck all the way to the fingers and wraps around the humerus. They took lots of x-rays, catscan's , MRI's and such test to gather information and a neurologist visited to consult. It was hard & painful work in my condition. I was beginning to feel like a celebrity as I often heard "American" scattered in their many German discussions and I am sure we were probably an extremely rare patient.

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Later, I read that over 90% of those who have nerve damage due to a broken humerus have full recovery which was encouraging. Finally, a few days later they sent us by ambulance to another hospital about a half hour away that had a top neurologist and the best instrument in the world to measure the nerve damage. At last we could get a definitive prognosis and the news was good! The electrical test showed that despite having nerve damage that started at where my bone broke, I still had connection from neck to fingers which meant that there was no doubt that full recovery of the nerve would come in time.

Needless to say, this was a big relief to me as well as the surgeon who had seemed very concerned. We still don't know exactly how long full recovery will take but soon I will return there for another test which will give us an excellent idea. I just found out my aunt broke her humerus years ago and it took her 4 months for full recovery.

The smoky bar in town was the only place with wifi, so DaVinci finally got a few moments to bike over there quickly and leave a message about my accident that went to Twitter and Facebook. As I had hoped my sis and mom got the news and tracked me down in the only hospital in Melk. Travel 2.0 comes in handy again!

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You can just imagine my joy to get a call from my mom in  California a few days later, when one of the nurses handed me a cell phone! Her husband and my brave step dad is going through another series of chemotherapy for his cancer, so I was happy to reassure her that I was on the mend & hear her sweet voice! We got a T-Mobile stick for our Austrian apartment near the hospital, so we have given her regular webcam/phone updates! Seeing a loved ones face and being able to talk to them helps so much. I also really appreciated all the support and prayers that I got via Twitter and Facebook friends!


My brace comes off on September 22 and we have already started physical therapy, so we're hoping I will be able to travel by early October. My arm needs to function well enough that I can pull myself into the high truck-like cab and get in and out of the RV with it's somewhat precarious steps (for me even before this due to my bad knee mobility challenges) as well as doing simple things like taking a shower, going to the bathroom & getting in and out of bed on my own. We want to make sure we can get out of the north before the snow starts!

Life is an adventure and conquering this is our current challenge. A travel disaster does not have to ruin one's trip and I always try to focus on the good. I feel blessed that it happened in Austria where I got good care at a good price. I'm so glad that it was me instead of Mozart and glad I broke my arm rather than my neck!

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Amazingly, we still managed to find ways to have fun like when Mozart and I devised a unique way to cuddle while she read and I rested. I was in the hospital for about a week and so appreciated the kind people who took care of me and demonstrated their loving ways despite the language barriers. The tour office in Melk helped us find a perfect monthly rental apartment, just a half block from the hospital while I was an out patient, although we spent our first few days in an apartment near the campsite until it was ready.

We have now entered our fourth year of our world tour as a family and continue to feel like we live a blessed life. Mostly it is idyllic but even when we run into a tragedy like this, we feel grateful that it has not been worst. Some how we seem to be lucky even when the rare disaster strikes.This might slow us down a bit, but not for long.

Luckily, I have lots of great posts about our travels and experiences already written, so DaVinci can help me get them up until I am at full tilt again. Plus, I can always slowly lefty peck a new one like this from time to time! Breaking ones humerus is not very humorous but life is good and I am on the mend, getting better every day!

What travel tragedy have you survived? Makes for exotic travel memories that you will never forget, doesn't it?

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Sheila @GoVisitHawaii

Oh my, what a pain, literally! Wishing you a speedy recovery!

Daniel

Glad to hear that you are well! Despite the pain and worry — at least one thing is true. The tale makes for an epic blog post! Thanks for sharing.

Lola

Wow. So sorry to hear about your accident. Wishing you a speedy recovery. God is definitely in control and watching out for you guys.
Sending lots of love your way.

Lise

Hope your recovery goes well. You're in my prayers.

Carrie

Goodness, Jeanne. Our thoughts are with you.

There is nothing worse than receiving medical care in a foreign country -no matter how good the medical professionals there - nothing beats being home with your family and friends who can give you the support you need. There is no doubt in my mind that you are in good hands though.

We wish you a speedy recovery and are glad to see that you are handling everything like a trooper.

Inger

Hey Jeanne,
I've been (silently^^) following your travel blog for a few months now - loving it!

I was shocked to see+read about your terrible accident, thank god you only broke your arm and not your neck!! O_O
Hope your recovery goes smooth and you can proceed your marvelous journey soon.

Best greetings from Northern Germany - btw. have u ever been here? Planing to come? :)

nika

I am so sorry to hear about your fall. Wishing you a speedy and not too painful recovery.

Nika

Alex Berger

Glad you are on the mend. What a frustrating end to what looks like an amazing set of days. Hope to see you back up on your feet and back at 100% soon!

Costa Rica Hotels

Sorry to hear about your broken arm! hopefully you will be back on track real soon in order to continue with your family adventure!

Kymri

Wow, thanks for sharing your tale! If that's the worst of your travel woes...count your blessings!

Glennia /The Silent I

Oh my goodness! You poor thing! I hope you are mending well. Take care!

Caitlin

I'm really sorry to hear about your accident and glad to hear you're on the mend.

Caitlin

I'm not sure when you'll be next on a bike (if ever), but I did cycle safety training in London and would like to share a tip with you and your readers that may be helpful. I'm definitely not having a dig - I would go on the sidewalk too if I felt uncomfortable with the traffic, especially with children involved. I just found this information useful and thought others might too.

You mentioned that the reason for riding on the sidewalk was because cars would pass you too quickly on the road. I am inferring from this that if you had been on the road, you would have been close by the sidewalk (or parked cars) rather than in the centre of the lane.

I was taught you should always ride in the centre of the lane. It's tempting when you're nervous about traffic to want to stay as far over to the sidewalk (or the parked cars) as possible, but this is actually not safe for several reasons.

The main reason is that it encourages cars to think there is enough space to overtake you when it's actually not safe to do so. You are far safer with a car behind you than wedged between a passing car and a row of parked cars.

The second reason is that it means that you are very vulnerable if there is someone in the driver's seat of those parked cars who opens their door without looking. If you are in the centre of the lane then you should be safe from this on most roads.

No one likes riding with traffic backing up behind you, but the right thing to do is to put safety first. You are not 'blocking' traffic - you are part of the traffic and you have a right to be there. When it is safe to do so, it's polite to pull over and let cars pass. However, on most suburban streets on flat or downhill territory, this shouldn't be necessary.

Sarah V.

I broke my humerus when I was 12, and I know what a pain it can be to not have use of your arm. I hope you're feeling better soon.

Dominique

That's some story! I remember seeing DaVinci's initial tweet about the whole thing and hoping you were in good hands.
I'm glad to see you back online and posting again.

Jet Set Life

I am very sorry for the pain that you have experienced but I am very glad that you are going to be well. Thank you so much for sharing. My readers and I will pray for your complete recovery.

Jen Laceda

I just read about your accident. I'm sending you cyber hugs and wishing you a speedy recovery!

Heather on her travels

So sorry to hear about your mishap and hope you'll be on the road to more travel adventures very soon

jessiev

girlfriend - those moments in an accident are seared into our minds, aren't they? i am so glad that you had such good care - GOSH. how lucky you were, to have this happen near such great medical care. please know you'll be in our thoughts -and heal quickly! HUGS!

Sharlene

I am so glad it wasn't anything more serious (this is not to say it wasn't a greusome accident). I follow you on twitter and remember when the accident happened. Certainly not an occurance one would hope for while on an extended super vacation.

Karen

Oh my goodness! How scary! I really hope that you are feeling better.

Bridget Smith

Wow Jeanne!!! Glad to hear your on the mend. My daugther broke her arm recently in a less exotic way...falling of the couch!

Enjoy your rest and recovery in capable hands. Looking forward to hearing more about your adventures when you get back on the road.

Sending prayers your way.

-Bridget

soultravelers3

really appreciate all the kind words & comments, but slow lefty peck typing, bad internet & recovering has slowed me down! Thx all for your caring words, support& prayers!

@Sheila- thanks so much!
@Daniel- Ha! That's for sure!
@Lola- Yes, indeed! Thx so much!
@Lise-Thx, much appreciated!
@Carrie Thx for your caring! It certainly is more challenging in many ways, but since my family is with me, I'm so glad it happened here rather than US as it would have cost a fortune there for the ambulance ride alone!!
Inger- thanks, I appreciate that! Yes, we have seen some of northern Germany like beautiful Lubeck! I have more stories to tell than time to tell them, but I will get that up as soon as I can! Probably won't return right away, but one never knows with us!
Niks-thanks!
@Alex thx! Looks like a slow full recovery because of nerve damage, but we will be off to London on Oct 1st bum arm & all!
@costaricahotels Thx! Can't wait until we get to Costa Rica one of these days!
@kymri Yes, indeed, we are counting our blessings! Still, a year of a paralyzed dominant arm is not quite a minor detail and effects everything from eating to sleeping!
@Glennia Thx, getting a little better every day!
@Caitlin-Thx 4 sharing!
@sarahV Thx! It is a pain isn't it?
@Dominique Thx so much!
@Jet Set Life I appreciate that!
@JenLaceda Thanks!
@Heather on her travels- Thx! We will be headed your way..ie London on Oct1!
@jessiev Thx! I know you have struggled mightily with your own past injuries! Quite a test, eh?
@Sharlene-Thx! Nope, twas definitely not in the plan, but we'll make lemonade out of this lemon!
@karen Thanks so much! Yes, it was scary in much of the beginning when I was so feeble, but not now, thankfully!
@Bridget-Thx a lot! Hope your daughter is fine now. It really can happen any where, can't it? We will be doing some fun short trips starting with London on Oct 1 while we wait out our recovery time & do more physical therapy here! Can't keep me down too long, bum arm or not!

GotPassport

I just saw the pictures and this post and I am so sorry for all the suffering you have gone through. Again, sending you well wishes and healing thoughts. take care,

From
The GotPassport Trio

David G Carpenter

Dear Jeanne,
I love the attitude you are choosing to have about this accident and your recovery. Your thoughts are so powerful; keep sending healing images to those parts that now need healing. How can I connect with your
mother and Stepfather re: Resources that may assist in his recovery from cancer?
David

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