By Marissa Baecker
En route back to LA on the 101 Pacific Coast Highway, I could practically taste the fish n’ chips Jamie from MotoGeo had suggested in Morro Bay when ‘Life’ threw me a curve ball . . . .I crashed.
There were a lot of different voices around me, unfamiliar ones, some with international accents, all asking questions and telling me to open my eyes and asking me who I was. I had no idea.
As the voices grew louder and began to make sentences I could comprehend, I forced my eyes open and made my best attempt to compute my surroundings. There was a black umbrella over me trying to shade the sun from my eyes. I could see the double-yellow line of the highway leading from the tips of my fingers down the asphalt and around the corner. I looked toward my feet and the gravel look out over the cliff of the California coast was laden with people and behind them, I could see a helicopter hovering.
“That can’t be good,” were my thoughts about the helicopter. I mustered up some words and asked if the helicopter was for me. I didn’t like the answer.
What is your name? Where are you from? Do you know where you are? How old are you? Can you wiggle your toes? Where do you have pain? Do you know what happened? We’re praying for you.
All questions I had no answer for. Thoughts randomly roaming through my head made no sense – What is going on? Why is that woman praying for me? I am so tired. It’s really nice here. Why am I lying on the road? I have never been in a helicopter. Did I shave my legs? I hope I get to look out the window. Where are YOU from? Who are YOU?
Then things began snapping into place. I recalled the gravel in the turn, I recalled sliding and I remembered feeling like I was thrown into a tunnel and seeing the rapidly approaching guardrail prior to impact. “Damn, I went down”.
At this point the voice of the Norwegian doctor on vacation registered, “Can you wiggle your toes?” I couldn’t answer. I looked straight up into the upside down eyes of an off-duty female firefighter who was holding my head so tight in between her knees that I asked her to let go. “I don’t want you to move your head,” she said, “you may have a back injury.”
My eyes returned to my feet and on their way, passed my ripped up jeans and a nasty gash on my knee, just as my new boots and socks were being gently removed. ‘Of course I can wiggle my toes’, I thought, and I did, on the left, but the right wasn’t cooperating despite my best efforts.
I was surprisingly relaxed and peaceful, not panicked, unusual for the situation at hand. Just lying there on the road in the afternoon sun, the smell of the ocean, the sound of the gulls, the beautiful rockery of the California cliffs, the slight salt from the mist and then the taste of blood on my tongue snapped me back to my impending reality.
There was a young firefighter, said he was 21, the same age as my son, and I felt saddened that he was there to tend to me. He was too young, in my motherly mind, to be in that situation and as I studied his baby face, he explained to me that they were going to have to cut my leathers off me.
“Not my new leathers!” Alpinestars had sent me a Stella GP Plus Jacket fully armoured with elbow, shoulder, back and chest protection, which fit like a glove and I was proudly wearing it.
I heard the scissors break through the leather and felt the blade slide all the way up to my shoulders and as if that wasn’t bad enough, they also cut my sweater, my new MotoGP t-shirt and then made their way to my one-of-a-kind European jeans. “We’ll get you another sweater and a t-shirt,” said a familiar voice on my right. “Haas!” My riding companion. It was good to see him yet bad at the same time as he was riding behind me and must have seen the entire incident.
Someone had pulled out tarp and was opening it up over top of me. “I’m not dead!” – to which the explanation returned was they were trying to shield the dust up of gravel as the helicopter was looking for a place to land on the look out ridge but the plan had to be abandoned. As they slid me onto a back board, directions were handed out to the nearest fire hall a ways down the road and I was put down in the back of a pick up truck and the sky began whizzing by in a beautiful blue streak.
I could hear the whir of the blades of the helicopter and more voices introducing themselves as the flight nurses that would be with me on board. “What about Haas?” I couldn’t leave him behind – I didn’t even know where I was going but I couldn’t do anything but stare up at a heart monitor, IV bags, and feel the pain at the back of my head. I was taped down, wrapped tight and all I had to work with were my eyes and confusing thoughts.
I need a nap. I’m tired. No sooner did I close my eyes the nurses told me I had to keep them open. “Open,” I thought, “you could at least let me look out the window if you wanted me to keep my eyes open. I can’t see anything from here.”
Wheeled down the hospital hallways, the fluorescent lights flew by and soon I became the centre of a football huddle in the final quarter of the Superbowl. One man in charge ordering everyone in the room what he wanted, how much of this, give her some cc’s of that, this test, that x-ray – surgery is standing by. “Am I on TV?” I have seen this stuff on TV and now I was certain I was part of some show.
X-rays on my leg, back, chest, and who knows where else – my own doctor commented that she was ‘surprised I wasn’t glowing after all that radiation.’ Back and forth through a tube, heat up my body with some dye, more back and forth through the tube and then racing back down the gauntlet hospital hallway to the football huddle where ‘players’ lined each side of my stretcher and two doctors/surgeons behind my head went over the test results.
“No breaks in lower leg.” “Knee looks ok.” “Vitals are good.” “Don’t see any internal bleeding.” “Chest is clear” “Looks like a bit of bruising in the lower right lung.” “There isn’t even a fracture anywhere.” “Wow. She must have been wearing some really good gear.” With that statement, they faced the rest of the ‘team’ and ordered one ‘player’ to “clean the wounds of gravel, stitch up that leg and then she can be released.” Huddle over and everyone disappeared.
It’s been a week since my accident. I am pretty banged up and sporting a variety of colour on my right side where I hit the guardrail (my luggage went over the cliff and is currently floating in the Pacific). I have two perfectly shaped metal plate bruises on either side of my ankle – a testament to my S-MX 5, Alpinestars ladies boots doing their job making sure my ankle didn’t break. My stitches have been taken out of my knee and I walked the stairs for the first time without crutches.
I know I am lucky but I also know that this situation could have been so much worse if I had not been wearing the proper gear for riding. If I had not been wearing jeans, I wouldn’t even have had stitches.
“Are you going to keep riding?” Yes. I have ordered a new Shoei helmet, just like the one I was wearing because clearly, it did it’s job too as my headaches have significantly lessened. My friends at Alpinestars have graciously offered me another jacket if I promise not to conduct anymore research and development on my own as they have in-house people for that.
The gear saved my life – what are YOU wearing when you ride?