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Ted Laturnus is lucky to be alive after a motorist hit him head-on while he was atop his motorcycle. (Police photo)
Ted Laturnus is lucky to be alive after a motorist hit him head-on while he was atop his motorcycle. (Police photo)

Motorcycles

The day a careless driver hit my motorcycle Add to ...

Life is nothing if not ironic. Three years ago, just a couple of weeks after I had written a story about novice riders and powerful motorcycles, I was hit by a driver while riding.

From what I gather, it was the classic bane of motorcyclists everywhere: a left-turning driver not watching where she was going, and all of a sudden, coming face-to-face with a rider. I was left with no escape and nowhere to go. She hit me head-on.

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This scenario is the fourth most common cause of motorcycle accidents - some 8 per cent overall, according to the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Many lawyers, however, dispute this, citing it as the most common type of accident situation.

Either way, it happens a lot, and the phrase "I just didn't see him" is a refrain well-known to attending paramedics and police. Indeed, that's just what the youthful driver kept saying over and over again to the police - or so I was told. I couldn't say for sure, because I was out cold, lying on the roadway, busted up, with a helmet full of my own blood.

Although I was knocked unconscious and lost my short-term memory temporarily, it gradually came back to me while I was in hospital: the blur of a vehicle of some kind, the sickening crunch of impact, and the ugliness and violence of the whole episode.

No time for fear, regret, panic or anger. One minute, I'm placidly riding down a familiar neighbourhood street, the next, a vehicle appears in front of me, and after that, nothing.

I eventually came to lying face-up on the wrong side of the road, with a paramedic shining a flashlight in my eyes, asking me what my name was, what day of the week it was and - absurdly, I thought - what the date was. Got the first two, but never did get the date right.

I was bleeding out of my left ear, my nose was broken, and my right leg a shattered mess. Eventually, I found out - among other things - that my right knee was fractured, and my right heel bone - the calcaneus - was broken and would require immediate surgery. After being bundled into the ambulance, it was off to the emergency ward, where I spent almost 12 hours laying on a gurney in front of the reception desk, vomiting uncontrollably, waiting for a bed. I went under the knife the next day.

The emergency ward in a large city is, in a word, a madhouse. I was comparatively lucky; things were relatively calm during my time there, but there was still a constant parade of broken bones, gasping asthma patients, motor vehicle accident victims, moaning octogenarians, and, worst of all, disruptive and abusive drunks and druggies who heap abuse on the very people trying to help them.

Late in the evening, a boozer who had obviously gotten the worst of a fight was wheeled in and he spent his entire time cursing the attending doctors and nurses. Police and security had to eventually be called in, but it didn't matter. He wouldn't let them take blood samples, wouldn't allow them to take his blood pressure, insisted on smoking, challenged the intern to a fight, and wouldn't put on the hospital gown. I would imagine that the amount of time hospitals across the country waste on these individuals is incalculable - while the rest of us sit there and wait to be treated. He should have been frog-marched off the premises.

Three days later, when I was released, I was confined to a wheelchair and, for the next three months, faced the challenges of learning to walk with crutches, navigating my way around the house on a wheelchair, avoiding stairs and taking a shower with someone else's assistance. For the first few weeks, I couldn't do much by myself and was unable to get involved in anything for more than 15 minutes without having to lie down and elevate my leg and rest.

I've been told that, because I blacked out at the accident, I likely sustained a concussion and needed to do things that were "unchallenging" to my brain. Some would argue that I've been doing that my whole life, but for the first few weeks after the accident, I couldn't read for more than 15-20 minutes at a stretch, couldn't spend any significant time on the computer, and writing became a hundred times harder than it used to be.

All this because an empty-headed young female driver was too distracted to notice a motorcyclist. She swears she didn't see me. I'm pretty sick of hearing this pathetic excuse. She saw me, clear enough, but decided that, somehow, it would be OK to cut me off, that nothing would happen if she completely ignored me. How could you not see a bright purple and chrome, 400-kilogram motorcycle with three driving lights?

After the dust settled, the driver received a $125 ticket for "failure to yield to oncoming traffic" and was sent on her way. And just so motorcyclists know where they stand in this country, the attending constable admitted that he was reluctant to give her a ticket because she was so "distraught."

I underwent months of pain, suffering and physiotherapy and now have a permanent limp, recurring vertigo and chronic headaches. Because of the ensuing lawsuit, I haven't been able to talk about the accident until now.

But I'm one of the lucky ones. Many riders involved in this kind of mishap don't live to tell the tale and, all things considered, I dodged a bullet. I also made a conscious decision during rehab to not be a victim and to get back to normal as soon as possible.

Nonetheless, I want to say, in the loudest voice and largest typeface possible: A MOTORCYCLIST IS NOT JUST AN IMAGE! That's a real person out there, with as much right to be on the road as someone behind the wheel of an automobile. For all you motorists: motorcyclists deserve as much respect as you do, and we are vulnerable to your stupidity and carelessness.

How many more of us have to be struck down, lying on the road, like road kill, before drivers get the message? How many more motorcyclists have to die or be seriously injured before people start paying attention?

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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