Memories of a dark night six years ago

The aftermath of my cow encounter on U.S. 221 in Roanoke County on Nov. 9, 2012.
(Photo from The Roanoke County Police Department)
Not exactly the mark I wanted to make on the area but that was what I left on U.S. 221 at Poage Valley Road on the evening of Nov. 9, 2012. (Photo from The Roanoke County Police Department)

Time to remember, as my wife and I do on each Nov. 9 of each year.

I was heading home late on a Friday night on Nov. 9, 2012, on my Harley Super Glide after photographing a playoff game of the Floyd County High School varsity Buffaloes football team south of Staunton.

That Friday in early November was a warmer than normal day for this time of the year so I opted to take my bike, a 2009 model that turned over 100,000 miles just the day before.

After the game, I headed Southeast on Interstate 81, then 581 into and through Roanoke before stopping first for gas on Bambleton Avenue and then BoJangles on the same road for a box of chicken and a quick phone call to Amy to say I would be home in about 45 minutes.

Approaching Pogue Valley Road extension a few miles south of Cave Spring, I spotted a white-faced cow on the road in my lane.  I swerved and missed the animal and had settled back into the southbound lane when an all-black steer suddenly appeared in the darkness.

Instinctively, I laid the bike down to try to avoid t-boning the animal.  The move slammed my helmet encased head into the asphalt, tearing off the face shield, breaking most of the bones on the right side of my face, dislodging my right eve and fracturing my skull.

The engine crash guard of the bike collapsed as the bike and I slid by the cow with the windshield of the Harley striking the animal’s hind legs as the weight of the bike shattered the tibua, fibula and other bones of my right leg.  The bike then continued to slide into the ditch on the side of the road, leaving me in the middle of the highway.

Lee Ann Keenan Gregory of Roanoke, headed north on 221, saw my form on the dark road and stopped.  She had slowed on the highway because of a tailgating motorist following and that, she later remembered, helped her stop in time before striking me with her car.

Mark Hirsch of Roanoke also arrived at the scene.  I wasn’t breathing and he used his cell phone to call his wife, an ER nurse at Carilion-Roanoke Memorial, and she talked him through the steps he needed to take to restore my ability to breathe.  His and Lee Ann’s actions kept me from dying on that road six years ago.

Thirty-five miles away, Amy was standing outside our house on that warm November night waiting for me to arrive home with the promised chicken when a Floyd County Sheriff’s patrol car with Deputy Tim Dulaney and a second officer drove up the driveway to let her know I had been in an accident.

With one deputy driving her Jeep Liberty and the other following one in the patrol car, they brought her down the mountain to the emergency room, driving past the scene of the crash en route.

At the ER, one of the doctors advised her to call a priest or minister.  I wasn’t expected to live through the night.  I had stopped breathing twice more in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.  I did make it through the night with a lot of help and attention by the trauma unit of the hospital but coded once again in a grand mal seizure at one point while still in the intensive care unit.

Over the next month and 23 days before I left Carilion on Christmas Eve, she was told I might not remember her face or name when I woke up, might have the mind of a two-year old because of the massive brain trauma of the accident, might not be able to use or walk on my right leg or function anywhere close to how I could before the accident.

With Amy’s love and help and the support and assistance of a good friends in Floyd County and the surrounding area, I walked out of the hospital with aid of a walker, discarded the walker the following week, the “walking cast” on my right leg the week after that and worked with therapists for most of 2013 to get back on my feet and, yes, my bike by 2014.

i’m here today because of the help and support of many good people.  Tonight, Amy takes me out to a steakhouse so I can have the largest cut of beef they have on the menu and I will eat it all, pretending it came from the cow that almost ended everything on that dark night on U.S. 221 in Roanoke County six years ago.

Thanks to all of you who made it possible.  I owe each and every one of you my life.

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1 thought on “Memories of a dark night six years ago”

  1. I thought that today was the “anniversary”. Hard to believe it was 6 years ago. From my perspective, I was driving to pick up my daughter (who is now in her 4th year at UVA) from Cave Spring HS since she was in the marching band and had had a game.
    I was dressed in slippers and sweats since I expected a quick drive to get her and a fiend and just go home. I wasn’t prepared for what I came upon and don’t handle medical emergencies well. This was as gruesome as the guy whi got hit head on while riding on his bicycle on 12 O’Clock Knob several years earlier. He was at lest breathing. My wife Maria, who is a CRNA; DNAP, walked me through both accidents. I was just the instrument. Without her, I wouldn’t have been if any help.
    In Doug’s case, he did stop breathing but I had loosened his leather jacket and was able to use chest compressions to get him to start his shallow labored breathing again. All the time I asked God to not let him die. It seemed to take forever for the ambulance to arrive and by their less-than-urgent attention, I think they felt Doug didn’t have much of a chance to live. I helped get him on the back board and no one asked me anything. I had to seek out an officer to fill him in.
    My wife checked in on Doug the first few days and spoke with Amy. Months later, I had the opportunity to meet Doug. He lamented that his memory was lacking and he just wasn’t the same.
    Doug,I’ve read your musings the past several years and have seen a gradual improvement in your writings as well as how you interact with others. None of us will ever be the same as we were when we were in our 20s but I think you are doing great. And although we differ greatly on our political views, that matters little as to who you are and the fact that I am grateful that you are alive and with us today.

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