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!
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.
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.
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.
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 &
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
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?