Black as in a bad bicycle accident, black as in bad luck, but lots of red as I was bleeding a lot. From the head. 2.30 pm. Tuesday 31st of May 2016.
Trying to recall the events in detail, 16 days later is no mean feat, but I’d like to think I am recovering well enough to remember every moment. There will be lots of words and graphic photos (from my dear wife’s phone cam) so be warned.
Running errands on my bikes have become second nature. Took out the 16in wheel Bike Friday tikit for a test ride, while getting a late lunch at 2 pm, sending my Coleen’s tights to a neighbourhood tailor, to be altered and then off to the supermarket for some supplies, seemed like another mundane bike ride. Job done in under an hour.
Those familiar with Bishan will know where the Bishan Loft Condo is. On Street 11. There’s a slight downslope to the left as one heads toward Braddell Road. A quiet neighbourhood street, with thankfully little traffic on a weekday afternoon. I crashed near the big tree in the photos, managed to pick myself up and walked to sit down under it.
I really can’t remember the moments before the crash. It happened in milliseconds. Was not speeding but bikes do pick up speed on a small downslope even. Looks like the long lock that was hanging in the bike’s front rack, crept slowly downwards onto the front wheel, got tightly jammed between the tyre and mudguard/fender, front V brakes and wheel dropouts.
Instantaneous stopping, strong enough to severely bent the front fork way inwards. At least that was what I saw after I picked myself up, and held a hand against the right forehead as blood was gushing out from a deep cut there as well as the right nostril.
I could have hit the bike’s stem as there were blood stains there. Better designed stems have nice rounded shapes and NO sharp edges. I saw a pool of blood on the road and the bike about 10 feet ahead of that.
I came to realise what happened as I sat on the road, at the same time looking back to check for traffic coming around the bend and top of the hill outside the condo entrance. All cyclists do that.
I slowly stood up, and being able to do that was a relief, walking to a grass verge and asking strangers for help. Seeing my bloodied face, the first lady at the scene panicked and asked who to call. I remember telling her, ‘ambulance and police’. She saw me crash, parked her car and came to help. Another calmer woman, did the same. I asked her to take my bike and get it off the road. Plus I instructed her to unlatch the front Ortleib handlebar bag, as all my stuff including wallet and bank book was inside. All this while no traffic passed by.
Then God sent another angel to my aid. A man parked his car where I crashed, came to me and asked me to sit down and lean against a tree. ‘Dont worry, I am a medic’ He gave me a clean towel and told me to hold it against my head. I heard another passerby asking how he could help. Mr Medic asked for clean water and was given some to wet the towel and wash off any dirt. I heard their chatter saying something like the gash was about 1 cm deep and they could see ‘a bone’
He also checked the rest of my body especially the back, arm and leg movements as these areas are usually the parts to take the impact from a bicycle fall. Thankfully, I just had a slightly scraped right shoulder.
Ambulance and police arrived in about 10 minutes and Mr Medic briefed the ambulance crew. As fast as he appeared, I could not see his BMW. I can’t thank him enough. As well as the 2 ladies, who wanted to help in asking me to contact my relatives. Now traffic was starting to build up, cars and buses that normally ply this road quite heavily during peak hours.
4 yr old Limar shades, right lems missing from impact, left lens probably protected my left eye. $80 from a Muar bike shop, $150 in SG. I win again.
Now I know I was not going to leave this earth this soon, as I was able to give my wife’s contact number, my NRIC number and home address to the policewoman and ambulance crew. the police were kind enough to sent the battered bike to my home. Drop it with Mr Kumar, the day security guard at Lakeview. Done deal, no paperwork for them and no bike hunting for me later on, at some police station where the bike will surely rot. Plus I wanted to see what really caused the crash.
I had hit my right cheek real hard it seems. Scans later in the following days, showed 4 fractures there, another one above the right eyebrow and a small one above the left. Minor internal bleeding above the left temple but with a 1% chance of causing problems later on.
Different doctors were giving different opinions on my brain’s condition in the coming days, so I just took the most optimistic ones and left it in God’s hands. I did question the NS, neuro surgeons, plastic surgeons, ENT doctors quite a bit though, with the eye specialist giving the most reassuring answers to question about my brain and fractures even.
Lying and waiting in the A n E department of TTSH, I was told that both the police and ambulance crew had contacted my wife a few times. Timing wise, it was wiser to do that as I had to get to the hospital asap, and only then should she be informed. That would also give her maybe 2 to 3 hours of ‘worrying less’
Although I got cleaned up and treated at the A n E, it was a good 6 hours at least before I got to my hospital bed at past midnight. Silly me, thinking that I would get stitched up, stay a night and get discharged the next day. It took 8 days and 7 nights, and there were certainly good reasons for it.
Singapore’s A n E departments or emergency rooms, are notorious for overcrowding and my experience was no different. Beds are parked side by side, inches away from the next patient. Doctors and nurses scrambling and even running from place to place.
Seeing that I was left aside for long stretches of time, meant that there were much more serious cases to attend to. Got to count every blessing I had. After being cleaned up I was pushed into a more quieter but ‘high dependency’ section. Off limits to visitors. A CT scan soon followed.
The airconditioning was a plus here. I did ask for some water and that took an hour to arrive. At least a scurrying nurse remembered ! Coleen and I were able to communicate somewhat as she stood next to a sliding door that separated me n her from the ‘holding room’ of about 30 other people. She could see my legs only. And the water I asked for, from her was delivered in a minute via a nurse that was traversing between the 2 domains. Holding room and high dependency room.
I am very grateful and touched that Pastor Alvin and internet cycling friend Bob, showed up at the A n E. Not so much for me but to reassure Coleen that I was banged up but generally OK. Bob a retired American Homeland security officer, now living in Thailand, with his Thai wife he met in California, had to leave the country for 5 days before re-entering it. Something to do with his long term stay visa.
Bob likes my sexy purplish eyeshadow ! Blah !
We had plans for lunch the next day, but that was obviously scuttled. Bob and another long time friend Peter, of Tiong Bahru No 7 fishball fame, saw me the very next morning. How they managed to get past security, official visiting hours and visitor screening is beyond me. Haha these guys are good !
A rich dude with a crappy phone cam !
In his own affable, OK sickening way, Peter told me that I looked like shit, real shit. Trained in sports medicine he told me of concussions, brain bleeding, strokes and comas, bruises and wounds. Blah blah blah. As he was not a real doctor, I did not take his teasing to heart. We have been teasing each other since 1991.
I’ve just got bruised eyes. He’s had a detached retina, ruptured tendons, and lately a slipped disc. Maladies that come with hero macho stuff. 180km real (silly) man off road runs in Vietnam, Hongkong and Thailand.
2nd day versus 15th day (of discharge)
God is on my side, he will never leave me. If no one is ‘for you’ who else can there be but God? I am more than ready for my 120% restoration !
In fact Peter, please feel free to leave anytime. Haha. 120 minutes later he did. We had a really good chat. Me still in my bloodstained shorts and underwear from 18 hours ago. Bob had checked out of his Geylang hotel and made a decision to go to JB. As Peter was on his way to his second home to JB, I asked him to be useful and give Bob a ride too.
Bob’s planning to take a train to Woodlands and the a 170 bus across, is no fun even though thousands do it 24/7. I think Bob was most pleased he didn’t too. I shook his hairy hand firmly and thanked him for his visit, promising that the next time we meet, it won’t be in a hospital. A beach in Thailand would be just perfect. With wives in tow of course.
Precious friends. God like status to those bringing salty, spicy hawker food !
In the following 7 days and nights a constant stream of friends dropped by, after hearing of my plight. Let me recall them, in no particular order of importance, length of friendship or what goodies they brought me. Well the bearer of 2 servings of wantan mee from Hong Lim Food Center, just one hour after my surgery, is the exception LOL.
Fishball Peter, Bob, Alvin and Celia, George and Wendy, KC, Ying Chang and Doreen, Kung Fu Peter, Joeel and Esther, Roland, Betty, Christoph and Angkana, Sandra and Kelvin, Sandra’s sister, Matt Lee, Matt Chia, An Dien, Constance and Pearlin.
3 VVIPs stand out. My wonderful wife, the only person allowed to bathe me, and mum and dad in law, who came down from KL. MIL stayed 5 days to look after the nurse looking after me. Dad and Coleen were overjoyed also to find $300 on the floor, outside a money changers at Novena Square. Wished I was there too. God’s rewards continue to surprise us daily. That actually paid for other healing stuff in the pics below.
With such wonderful company, is was not difficult to heal well and fast. As the slew of medicines made up for most meals, I decided to forgo the painkillers, laxatives and what not. The nurses were surprised that there was no pain, but there wasn’t any, just numb swelling on one side of the face. Maybe a few nerves were traumatised but in this case, that was a very good thing.
The nights were however quite long. When everyone left, it was just me and my mind. And the noises that seemed OK in the day were magnified ten fold. Closing and opening of drawers, bins and even faraway chatter from the night staff. Sleeping at 10 pm and waking up at 2 am expecting and early dawn, was de rigeur. Not a hint of daylight from the east.
Again God was generous. I had a bed by a window facing south and the city. Twinkling lights and very importantly, cool breezes. If fact it rained quite a bit in those 7 days, even in the daytime, making the non AC ward, most bearable even at noon.
My facial surgery was scheduled 4 days after the crash. the plastic surgeons were gung ho and ready to go. This was after the eye specialist said that surgery was a 50/50 option seeing that the fractures were ‘not severe’
We rejoiced for a day, until the chief neuro surgeon decided that my swelling was still pronounced and it would be better to wait till Monday to do it. So a weekend in hospital was certain. Again this was a God guided decision, as my right nostril was leaking moisture and blood each time I stood up and walked. Fed up, I just stuffed a tissue into it and cursed the devil ! I swore at him a lot.
Doctors were concerned that brain fluid might be leaking through the nasal passages also, as well my membrane was also ruptured at the forehead. They told me to keep watch. What do I know? What does brain fluid look like?
Scary stuff like this bothered me for a minute or two. Sleep came easy with industrial strength earplugs from George. For about 3 hours.
Coincidentally, Friday night was also the worse in terms of stuff trying to leave my body. I woke up feeling something gagging in my mouth. Then I realised that it could be phlegm, from the nose. Hurried to the bathroom and lo and behold, a mouth full of coagulated, jelly like blood was dumped into the sink, followed by lesser red blood.
Gargling produced more diluted blood and I knew nothing else was coming up my throat, except for some tiny squiggly bits of gelatin like residue stuck onto some teeth. There satan, you go play with that and choke on it.
Went back to bed and slept instantly. Don’t want to think too much. The weekend came and went by quickly. Not because of more rest, but the larger than normal crowds of visitors for all 5 patients in the ward. On a hilarious note, I got to befriend an ex soldier now down with diabetes and back problems which might require surgery.
A tough, bald Singaporean Malay man who of all things, ‘offered’ me some char siew pau (red pork dumplings) once I got back from surgery early Monday morning. Right.
I knew he was the ward jester after facing and looking at his toes across from my bed, for almost a week. Each time he stood up, he would come around all of us to take orders for beer and burgers, but he only got as far as the toilet.
D Day was on Monday, just 7 days after the crash. Managed to clear my bowels twice without laxatives. It was bright and early at 7.30 am. I think the nurses and doctors were more excited than me. I wanted to sleep some more. Wheeled into the icy cold, operating theatre at 8.00, and the action started at about 9.00. Got gassed and next thing I knew, I was in a hallway at 11.00. Done.
Drenched in sweat and heart racing like a road bike in the Tour de France. Possibly 150 bpm. Everything was over. Calmed myself down, as I felt my bed rolling back to my ward on the 10th floor. No painkillers again, but I had to deal with a different set of stitches, swelling and bruises from the operation, not so much the crash.
Deep down inside there was this desire to ‘reign over’ any obstacle, any pain. Thankfully only numbness prevailed. Pain was plucked out by it’s roots and tossed into the sea, so to speak.
The promise of a discharge, and giving up my bed of 7 nights to someone more deserving, the next day was reward enough for me.
Through the wonders of Dr Google and FB this is the man, Dr Sam, responsible for my quick and painless surgery. God bless you and your guiding hands !
Day 18. I found out later that incisions were made at the left eyelid, right eyelid, right eye socket or orbital floor and inside the mouth, for the plastic surgeon to access and look at the fractures, and inject a polymer compound including some screws of the same, that will help to hold the fractures together and aid in bone growth where the cracks were. 100% bone healing would take about 6 months to a year.
Removing the stitches, the surgeon was most pleased that my bruising was fast disappearing, but more so was very proud of his work in that the stitching left no visible scars. What a nice guy to talk to and ask a myriad of questions.
Apparently the layman’s idea for such surgeries would be titanium implants and screws but aside from being beeped by airport scanners, titanium is a permanent, while people are not, as with age facial features and bone start to shrink, causing more problems. Like having surgery again to remove or realign titanium plates a few years down the road. Ouch!
16 year old Oakley Frogskins came in handy. Don’t want to scare too many kids that I bump into outside of home.
During a follow up session 3 weeks later, I took a quick photo from a computer screen when both doctor and nurse were not around.
The technical terms are grim to the layman. Lots of fractures, but good news too.
1. Acute SDH with possible acute SAH as described. No mass effect, midline shift or hydrocephalus.
2. Comminuted depressed right frontal vault / superior orbital rim fracture is seen with underlying pneumocephalus
3. Numerous facial bone fractures are seen, including bilateral orbital lateral walls, right lamina papyracea, bilateral sphenoid sinus walls, right maxillary sinus all walls, right orbital floor fracture involving the intra orbital foramen, bilateral and right medial plerygoid plates, right zygomatic arch, left zygomatic body, comminuted nasal bone fracture, medial aspects of left squamous temporal bone, involving the foramen spinosum, bilateral planum sphenoidale, right sphenoid body and wing, right maxillary alveolar ridge.
4. Emphysema is seen in both orbits, the sella and both cavernous sinuses. There is no extra-ocular muscle herniation or entrapment. Blood is seen in bilateral maxillary and sphenoid and right ethmoid sinuses. The globes are intact. The mastoid air cells are unremarkable.
‘Unremarkable’ and ‘resolved’ Very good words to hear.