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Friday, July 8, 2011

Exclamation Points of Life

It has been a while since a new post for me, in part because of one of the exclamation points of life. You know what I mean: an event that is unexpected, dramatic, emphasizes something, marks a transition or a surprise... 
Well, we had a very BIG exclamation point on June 29, 2011, at, oh, about 6:05 pm. That date was my very last day at Hennepin County Medical Center. I made the decision early this spring to stop practicing medical oncology and transition to hospice and palliative care, and the final day had come. I was driving home in rush hour, as usual, after a poignant and satisfying day saying goodbye to friends, colleagues and patients. I had two bags of stuff and got into our silver 2003 Eurovan for the drive home. We've used that VW van for many road trips and carting things up to Cascade Bluff (including big stuff that wouldn't fit into the pickup truck!) We had named the vehicle Panserbjorne, which roughly means "Armored Bear", a favorite character in the Philip Pullman books for kids of all ages (the trilogy that starts with "The Golden Compass".... Don't bother with the movie, it sucked. The books are totally awesome and really worth reading no matter how old/young you are...)

I had called Val with a big smile on my face and got on the freeway heading south to our home in Bloomington. Traffic was surprisingly smooth and I moved along thinking about the evening, what errands I might run on the way home and what it would be like to wake up in the morning and not have to go into HCMC for the usual Thursday 7am staff meeting.I saw the traffic slowing down and slowed in anticipation of the usual congestion as the freeway continues south. I passed under the 494 overpass and a second later WHAM!  

Long story short, I was rear-ended as I was slowing down by someone coming at full speed, got propelled into the median (thank goodness for medians, or I would have landed in the path of traffic coming north) and was slammed into the driver's side door. The impact deployed the airbags and broke the windshield, shredded the left front tire and smushed in the door. The airbags made another huge BA-BANG and then the car got smoky inside, which I learned later was the stuff inside the airbags. I was, in all honesty, screaming my head off and sure that the car was on fire and my life was about over. 

Somehow I veered to the right (probably not the smartest maneuver) and crossed all the lanes of traffic before coming to a halt in the grass off the right side of the road. I remember having to tell myself that it was time to put on the brakes! A Good Samaritan stopped and helped and things went fast and slow from there as the first responders arrived, the State Trooper came, and the ambulance came. I got a bumpy ride to the ER, Val met me there, and though I have some really beautiful multicolored bruises and a few broken ribs, NOTHING ELSE is wrong. Ribs heal, bruises fade, and I am on the mend!

I was extremely lucky, in my opinion, to have been driving our dear buddy Panserbjorne. Just like Lyra in the Pullman books, the Armored Bear was my friend and protector. Our other 'city car' was (note the tense) the 2002 Prius, which probably would not have done nearly as well in this collision. By the way, Panserbjorne is a total loss. We got to empty out the remaining possessions and say goodbye the next morning at the tow lot, and we heard from the insurance folks that the VW van has way more damage than the car's value a few days later.

So you'd think one exclamation point would be enough, but another came very quickly. Thursday June 30th we set about on the tasks of dealing with a car accident and got our insurance folks helping us out. They emphasized how important it was to get all the info we could about the crash. I got nothing at the scene, in part because I had come to rest a few hundred feet south of the other car. I never spoke to or really even saw the other driver or vehicle (I learned later it was a Honda Element, one of those boxy cars they make fun of on "Car Talk". The driver and passenger were also transported off by ambulance, but I have no details... not sure I want them...) The Trooper had even pocketed my driver's license! (We got it back a few days later...) A check on the website led me to a blind loop -- a phone call (with a long wait) later revealed that in anticipation of the state of Minnesota shutdown, set to happen on July 1, the website was already disabled! How about that for efficient government? So in addition to our visit to the tow lot, a soy Chai with a shot of espresso (my stress drink of choice) and a stop at Walgreen's for a new heating pad, prescriptions from the ER and more naproxsyn, we then set off for a drive to the central Driver and Vehicle Services office in downtown St. Paul to try to get a copy of the crash report, as instructed by a nice fellow on the phone. 

Well, not only was the nice guy on the phone wrong about that (of course we should have guessed that no crash report could possibly be available the very next day! But we had to stand in line in St. Paul to finally get that information...) but our dear old reliable friend the Prius decided to die on the way to St. Paul!

Our little snow white Prius was one of the first models, has been really good to us and totally reliable. She had about 140,000 miles and we had named her Cloud Pine which is another allusion to The Golden Compass. Enchanted Cloud Pine branches were what the witches (really good witches) flew through the air in the novels. Seemed appropriate for us and for a hybrid car! But little Cloud Pine had to be towed (another long and silly story, involving sitting in the back of a police car to wait -- not a comfortable place with broken ribs!) and is also a total loss! Pure coincidence that the main frame computer and the transmission both go at the same time a day after our other car is totaled. I couldn't write fiction like this--any worthwhile editor would say it was too unbelievable! 

Since then each day has been a new experience of forms, phone calls, ouches and aches and interesting methods to avoid sneezing and roll over in bed. I feel enveloped by all the caring phone calls, messages, real (gentle) and cyber-space hugs, flowers, good wishes and love from friends and family... and feeling incredibly lucky to be alive and in good shape (relative to what could have been) and most of all, extraordinarily grateful for Val. She has been WONDERFUL!!

So we are recovering up at Cascade Bluff, and the weather is sublime -- whether raining, thundering or sunny -- it is all good. It is healing for me to be here and away from freeways, traffic and at least momentarily away from thinking about avoiding distracted drivers. I am mending and moving about, though even thinking about sneezing is tough!  I harvested a bunch of beautiful radishes yesterday... 

(hmmm... I wanted to post the photo but Blogger seems to be preventing me from loading images at the moment... more later....)

...the first fruits of the garden. The lettuce is coming up, the tomatoes look healthy, the onions are lush and the beans and beets are zooming up. Even the little snowshoe hare bunnies are so darned cute as they circle around the garden!

In other words, life is good... really, really good!


  1. What an amazing story; you hooked me right from the beginning. And like the saying goes: when it rains, it pours. I'm sure Cascade Bluff will be an excellent place to recuperate.

    We are sweating to death here in the North Georgia Mountains; almost a solid week of near 100 degree temps. We're ready for autumn; hope you feel better.

  2. I loved this story. Thanks for sharing it. I also love the car names. Karen and I are not as creative with our car names. I am so glad you are on the mend at the side of your best friend. Dave

  3. Such a wonderful photos....Hope to hear more from you! Siding contractor minneapolis