How can I thank the doctors and nurses who saved my life?

Ouch! My Colnago took it on the chin in 1981 from a head-on collision.

Maybe it’s too late now, but like the TV show “My Name is Earl,” I will try to make amends. As you can see by the photo, my head-on encounter with a car did not go well.

My trip to Stanford Hospital took place on a warm summer day, July 12, 1981, with an ambulance ride from Portola Valley.

It was my good fortune to be hit a hundred yards from the Portola Valley fire station, where I received medical attention within minutes of the accident.

The EMTs stabilized my broken humerus, a compound fracture that tore a hole in my brachial artery. My left kneecap broke like an eggshell when it took out the car’s left-turn signal. Whiplash from crashing into the windshield left me with a sore neck and maybe a fracture in the C7 vertebra. X rays were inconclusive.

I had some minor facial cuts, but no internal injuries.

I wouldn’t be in surgery until around 10 that evening. I was in good hands — in fact, extremely good hands. William Baumgartner and Michael J. Cummins masterfully sewed up the artery. As it turns out, Dr. Baumgartner left Stanford Hospital for Johns Hopkins a year later, going on to become the head of the cardiology department where he specialized in heart and lung transplant surgeries.

It doesn’t end there. The orthopaedic surgeons who repaired my humerus were Donald Bunce and Chris Mochizuki. Dr. Mochizuki may still be practicing in Redwood City.

Dr. Bunce died of a heart attack in 2003. I only learned recently that he was the Stanford University quarterback in 1972, and led his team to victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl.

My surgeries went well and I left the hospital 11 days later on my own two feet.

How do you thank all the people who saved your life? It’s tough. You realize how vital medical care is and you understand why it’s such a flash point in politics. Good health care is a matter of life and death.

As for today’s health insurance, it’s a reflection of changing times. In 1981 I paid a modest monthly fee for 100 percent coverage with Blue Shield. The hospital bill came to $40,000. I didn’t pay a dime; just $200 for the ambulance ride.

That brings me to the here and now and why I’m stuck in my garage on a trainer going on two months. It all leads back to that fateful day so long ago.

It wasn’t my arm or my knee that came back to haunt me, but my neck. It was so stiff that I couldn’t turn it after the accident. Riding a bike was awkward, but I rode anyway, covering 50 miles to the ocean by October.

The neck got better after some physical therapy by Doris Sukiennicki, but bike rides have always been accompanied by a sore neck. It got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore.

Physical therapy is helping, but it remains to be seen how much it can undo 35 years of ignoring stiff, scarred muscles. I’m making progress, but that impact point with the car windshield will never let me forget my transgressions.


4 Responses to “How can I thank the doctors and nurses who saved my life?”

  1. ted Says:

    wow! tuff stuff you are!!!

  2. Jon Blum Says:

    As a physician, I can tell you that the “just doing my job” mentality is real, and the best thanks is a patient doing well. I don’t get a formal thank-you from most patients, and I am just fine with that. But a thanks is appreciated, not so much for the gratitude as for the satisfaction of knowing that I really helped someone.

    I think there are three great ways to thank a health-care professional (doctor, nurse, or anyone else). First, send a card. I keep them all. Some people send presents, which is very nice, but most doctors have enough stuff, and I really like the cards best. They mean a lot to me. Second, send a letter to their boss (department chief, chief nursing officer, etc.) Those usually get into their personnel file, which can’t hurt. And finally, pay it forward. If your doctor or nurse inspires you to help someone somehow, that is the best reward of all. It’s OK if we don’t know; the great philosopher and physician Maimonides said charity is most noble when it is anonymous.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery!

  3. Jay Says:

    Wow, I had no idea this happened to you. I’ve had a few accidents–certainly not as bad as this–and I find they have sort of become reference points in my life. The strangest thing for me is that after a couple of high speed crashes I felt sort of elated for a while to have survived without being too badly hurt. I think the hardest thing about being a cycling enthusiast for decades is the knowledge that any one particular ride can end badly. Still, the benefits feel enormous at times and makes the risks worth it to me.

    I agree it was a simpler time back then as we didn’t worry obsessively about health coverage and how to pay for it or what our deductibles would be if we needed it.

    Can’t believe you grew up here and didn’t know about Dan Bunce’s history. Sad he left us so young.

  4. Ray Hosler Says:

    Jay – The best rides are “uneventful.” I’m a transplant, since 1977.

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