Monday, October 22, 2007

There Are Two Types Of Riders...

Originally posted to El Cantar de la Lluvia on Friday, December 08, 2006

Do you know the saying? There's two types of motorcyclists. Those who have had a fall and those that will.

Summary: On Tuesday night I had an accident on the bike. A car hit me, and it was entirely the responsibility of the driver. The result was a large impact to my shoulder, and my arm is in a sling, and a large impact to my left foot, which is in a strap-on boot. Other than that, a few abrasions, all obtained through my leather jacket and knee/shin guards. It pays to wear your protective gear.

Note 1: If you don't feel like reading this whole post, please just read the final section, titled "Recommendations". The rest, if you like, can be skipped, but I do ask that you glance at that last section. Thanks!

Note 2: If you landed on this post entirely by chance, before you close the page and say Bah, how can people ride a motorbike given that they're so dangerous, then I sugegst you take a look at some of the other posts on this site, linked in the right-hand column.

How it happened: At 22:30 I was coming up Bilbao headed East. I left the stoplight, placing distance between myself and those behind me. I was in my left lane. I saw a car intending to turn across me onto Sanchez Fontecilla, and I assumed it had seen me. When I was five metres from it, it accelerated across my path, and I hit it hard. I flew, I think I may have done a somersault in the air. What I remember is the instant transition from the deep, loud sound of the XR's unrestricted exhaust to the sound of hitting the ground and having my helmet bounce a few times. The transition was marked by one of those sickening loud plastic sounds that cars make when they hit things.

My shoulder hurt, my left leg hurt. The car! It'll get away. I stood up, and hobbled in the general direction of the car, pointing at it with my functional right arm, repeating the license plate over and over out loud, lest I forget it. I probably looked like a pitiful one-armed zombie.

The car stopped, they came over. A 30 year old woman and her french boyfriend. Or ex. Or something.

I lay down. I asked him to cut the fuel at the petcock and pick up my bike. He couldn't find it, she joined in the search. I twisted my head around to see, and I remember seeing a stream of fuel the size of a horse's piss coming out of a hole where the petcock used to be. Lovely.

My ass started to sting. The smell of petrol was overpowering. I shifted a few metres away, so I was not lying in a river of petrol.

I called KarlitosGP, my good friend you have seen in pictures at the races at Leyda, since I had just left his house. I called my parents. My cellphone was intact, and my hands-free was still stuck tightly in my ear, so I was able to call using my good arm, still lying there.

Bit by bit people started arriving. One of these people was a guy whose hobby was being a paramedic (yes, for real), and he stayed with me the rest of the time I spent on the ground. A great person. I also got the standard medical students, trying to make intelligent medical comments (and failing utterly to do so) and other people.

My shoulder still hurt a lot, and so did my leg. I began to worry when my left started doing a shivering routine all on its own.

Karlitos arrived, my parents arrived. Carabineros arrived. From then on, confusion reigned. The state ambulance service, SAMU, said they could only take me to a state hospital. Unfortunately, state hospitals are not renowned for their great service (though they do the best they can), and thing could turn ugly if I did go. I had good coverage at the Clínica Santa María, and my parents decided to let SAMU take me to the hospital, and try to get an ambulance to transfer me over to the clinic.

While all this was being discussed, a woman came over. Blonde, over 45 years of age. "Are you ok?" she asks. I had been lying there surrounded by a bunch of people for quite a while, and nothing much was happening. "And where does it hurt?" she said, pressing heavily with her hand on my injured shoulder. "Right there, right where you're touching, please stop". She faded into the background for a while, and then reappeared, stating, out of the blue: "Oh but you motorcyclists also share responsibility for this, you drive like crazy people!". Instantly, the faces of Karlitos (rider), Sergio (rider) and everyone else, turned towards her. That did it. "Excuse me, but are you a relative of someone here?" I asked. "No, son". "And are you a paramedic?". This took her slightly by surprise. "Oh no, son". As steadily as the awkward angle of vision allowed, I stared at her and flatly said "Then do us all a favour and leave. You're not contributing anything useful". It's a pity that she didn't understand that she'd put her foot in it, but lying on the ground I wasn't about to take shit from anyone.

I was finally placed in the SAMU ambulance and carted off to Hospital del Salvador. The girl that hit me was not happy to go there, not happy at all. A while back she was involved in a car crash (gee, I wonder if there's a trend here). She was a bit cut up, and had pieces of the windscreen in her face. From what I could gather, she was placed on a stretcher in a hallway for a few hours, and then an assistant just wrapped a bandage on the glass-encrusted cuts. Anyway, she was coming along for the ride, since she had to have a blood alcohol test by law, and it was going to be done at that hospital.

The smell of gas was overpowering in the cramped ambulance. My clothes were soaked in it. We were all extremely dizzy by the time we got to the hospital.

I was parked in a waiting room. Naturally, my head was immobilized via styrofoam blocks, and all I saw during all of this was the night sky, the ambulance ceiling, the waiting room ceiling, and any head that happened to pop into my visual range.

Over to my right, one of the ambulance crew was leaning against a wall. Further over, another SAMU person, older. "And what's wrong with this wanker then?" asked the older guy. "Nah, a car hit him". "Blimey, light a cig in here and we'll all blow up". Beyond him, on a stretcher, was an old drunk, snoring away and tinkling urine down into a puddle on the floor.

The girl was still going on about being in the Salvador. Bad memories.

I was finally wheeled into another room, larger than the cramped waiting room. It was divided into four sections via four curtains that were a few metres shy of meeting at the center of the room. Each quarter held two beds. A nurse arrived. They had wheeled the old drunk in, and a second old drunk was moaning in one of the beds. The fat nurse, hands on the general area of where her hips should be, barked "Right! That's enough pissing! Otherwise we'll have to cut your willie off!", and with that, barely able to contain my laughter, I was wheeled out the door: my ambulance from the Clínica Santa María had arrived.

As background to all of this, I should point out that I was very ill at ease about something. It's a fact that not everyone has the same opportunities, the same luck in life. And there are times when that difference of opportunities becomes exaggerated. Sometimes these differences are not important. Sometimes these differences are extremely important, as is the case with medical attention. I have access to a good health insurance plan, and I can be seen at a good clinic. Others can't. I was uncomfortable for having made this difference so evident: hesitating before accepting to be loaded into the SAMU ambulance, having taken up room in the waiting room, having caused the inconvenience of tying up a spot in the examination room only to be whisked away to white walls and polite health workers by the angels that can and have.

It is a fact that these differences exist, and that the difference between one health world and the other is enormous... but I detest to make it so evident, so "in your face" to those that work there day after day; to reject what they offer for not being "good enough". Though extending my thanks on a blog post may seem vacuous and pointless, I am grateful for the SAMU and Salvador personnel that helped me, and I offer my apologies for having rejected something that, for others, is the only choice.

And indeed, from then on I entered into another world. The way you were treated, the ambiance, the feeling you got just from being there. The poor Carabinero had to stick with us for the whole trip, presumably since I was a party involved in an accident where someone was hurt, and he probably needed to make sure I had the alcohol blood test done properly. Or something. He ended up been driven all over Santiago that night.

A male nurse came to my box, hooked me up on keto- or ibuprofene, I can't remember. I was finally able to rid myself of my petrol-soaked jeans: the stinging of my butt was extremely annoying. I think the doctor came in then, and looked me over. Off I went to the X-Ray room. Initially we thought that my shoulder might be dislocated, and that's when I had my first look at it. I was surprised to find the skin quite abraded. It had happened through my leather jacket, which itself was intact.

My shoulder was extremely swollen, and I didn't recognise its shape. After several x-rays, they ruled out a dislocation or fracture. It seems that the three hours since the accident had allowed for considerable swelling.

That's when KarlitosGP arrived, what a night for the poor man. When I set off in the ambulance, Sergio stayed with my bike, and Karlitos went off to leave his own bike at home. He later took a taxi back to get mine, and pushed it the 10 or 15 blocks back to his house. These men are saints.

I was finally released, and we drove home (taking the Carabinero with us, obviously), stopping on the way at the La Reina police station to sign the declaration of what had happened. We were given a hearing date after Xmas, and then we set off home.

The bike: That's what everyone asks about, and that's what I'd ask also. What state is it in? Well, there it is. It seems the car hit the left shock, pedal, case protector, exhaust header, left crank case and fuel petcock. There is damage to the rack, the petcock is broken, the shock absorber is marked and possibly out of alignment. The handlebars are visibly twisted, my left mirror is broken and the left foot pedal went from being a rounder rectangle to a squared rectangle.

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Marks on the rubber:

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I'm surprised how far in these marks went:

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No mirror.

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Bent handlebar.

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Marked crankcase.

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Scraped tank cover:

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The header took a whack.

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The petcock, broken.

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My new trendy rectangular pedarl. Who needs Touratech?

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My rack:

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I'll have to get a damage assesment done. She said she'd pay for it all, but you never know.


If you're a motorcyclist:
  • Never trust cars that are intending to turn across your path. Never. It is one of the most common modes of car-bike accidents. I normally distrust them, but this time I didn't.
  • Use your protective equipment. Don't be an idiot: buy a proper jacket with armour, use gloves. Wear footwear that covers your shins. Use a proper helmet, not those cheap chinese pieces of crap (and don't even think about one of those prussian-style potties. If it looks like a receptacle for piss and shit, then don't put it on your head. Simple, no?)
  • Use knee and shin guards, even though they're a bother.
  • Create an "emergency card" with several phone numbers of trusted people on it, the phone numbers of your primary clinic and their ambulance service. Also, it pays to find out about a 24 hour truck service that can handle motorbikes.
If you drive a car:
  • Looking is not enough. Stop. Look. Listen. Reason: is it possible that a motorbike will apear without seeing it? Be extremely careful when turning across oncoming traffic. Announce your intention of turning. As you can see from this post, not all accidents are caused by recklessness. This one was caused by lack of caution.
  • Remember to actively look for motorbikes, day and night, because it's difficult to see a single light among a sea of pairs of lights.
All that's left is to thank those that helped me that day. I recognize that the bike and I were very lucky. I hope I can return the favour to Sergio and Karlitos some day.

I guess that's al. There won't be any ride reports for a while.

Update: While I've been going to physical therapy, arguing with the bimbo that hit me, and figuring out how to repair the bike, someone's been up to his usual tricks. Congratulations, champ. And that's not just a nickname.

Some may say Karlitos looks like Santa Claus on a hunger strike, but anyway. Congratulations!

Update 2: I'm writing this just under a year from the accident, as I translate these posts into English from El Cantar de la Lluvia. Long story short, the initially very nice and repentant woman turned out to be not as nice as she had originally seemed. The process was long and very tiring, but we did not go to court (I would not have recovered any money even if I had won, and I would have lost a lot either way) and she paid for a new helmet and repairs to the bike. The whole process was like arm wrestling with mud, as she kept invoking motorcyclist friends who were "very honest, great family person, knows a lot about bikes, and he says..." in order to back up whatever piece of random crap someone squirted into her head. I doubt she was this way out of malice; indeed, if she had wanted to cause me grief, she could have done much, much more. And I would have had no way to obtain compensation.

If there's anything that I've learned from the situation, it's that:
  • People's willingness to help you decreases rapidly after the accident,
  • You should ALWAYS communicate via email for ANYTHING concerning the accident. Really. Ill-intentioned or not, she claimed I had changed my version about something, and thankfully I had emails to prove it was not the case.
That's it, this post has gone on long enough. Rest assured, there's many, many more rides still to be translated. The best of The Flight of the Platypus is still to come.

Albuquerque, October 2007


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