November 9, 2012, was — like this year — a warmer than normal time when I lashed my camera bag to the luggage rack of my 2009 Harley-Davidson Super Glide motorcycle for a ride up to Riverheads High School near Stanton for a first-round playoff game of the Floyd County High School football team.
My assignment for the evening was photo coverage of the game for The Floyd Press, one of my “contract jobs” as a photojournalist and reporter for media organizations. The Harley was my transportation of choice when weather cooperated, with it did that day and night. The bike had hit 100,000 miles just two days earlier and was scheduled to receive its regular service the following week.
The Buffs lost that game and on my ride back to Floyd and I stopped for gas at a station near the school and called my wife to say I was heading home and should be there in about two hours. I offered to stop and pick up some Bojangles Chicken at the fast food location on Brambleton Avenue in Cave Spring before heading onto U.S. 221 and Floyd.
A short time later, my bike and I had “an encounter” with an all-black steer on U.S. 221 at Poage Valley Road near the bottom of Bent Mountain. To this day, I have no recollection of that accident on Nov. 9, 2012 or anything that happened until the morning of Dec. 5 when I woke up in the hospital room at Carilion Community Rehab Center on Elm Avenue in Roanoke.
As the Roanoke County Police Department reports :
On Friday, November 09, 2012, at approximately 10:24 PM, Officers of the Roanoke County Police Department responded to a single vehicle crash on Bent Mountain Road at the intersection of Poage Valley Rd. A Motorcycle had collided with a cow that was blocking the roadway in an unlighted portion of Bent Mountain Road. W Douglas Thompson Jr. was the only occupant of the motorcycle and was transported to a local hospital with life-threatening injuries.
Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey, a longtie friend, reported more on the story:
When Mason Cass came upon the wreck along Bent Mountain Road the night of Nov. 9, the scene was surreal.
A black cow stood in the middle of U.S.221, near the intersection with the Poage Valley Road extension.
A mangled Harley-Davidson was tipped into a ditch on the right roadside about 50 feet away. Lying on his right side below the animal was the leather-clad rider, on top of the double yellow line. Between the cow and the bike, the motorcyclist, Doug Thompson, was in the worst shape by far.
He was in and out of consciousness, struggling to breathe, bleeding from his mouth. “His face was a bloody mess,” Cass told me. “There was blood all the way from the center line to the side of the road.”
Cass, one of the owners of the restaurant and nightclub Blue 5 in Roanoke, was afraid to touch the rider because he feared he might have broken his neck. The driver in the car ahead of Cass, who was first on the accident scene, tipped Thompson onto his back as the cow limped away.
Both men yelled at Thompson to stay awake until paramedics arrived. They got there quickly, took one look at the accident victim and scooped him into an ambulance, which raced off to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital.
Thankfully, I have no memories of that night or the days and nights that followed in the intensive care unit of the hospital, where doctors admitted that I should have died but, somehow, survived. On doctor asked wife Amy about her religion. “Catholic,” she said. “Then you might want to have a priest standing by,” he said.
She almost laughed. “I said I was part of a Catholic family,” she told the doctor. “If didn’t say my husband was.”
I don’t remember the surgeries of orthopedic doctors who struggled to save my right leg below my knee, broken multiple times, or the efforts of the platic surgeon who rebuilt my face and fashioned a socket for my right eye to replace the one “blown out” by the crash.
Nor do I remember the discussion on the extent of what the doctors called “traumatic brain injury.” At first, they thought I had “closed head trauma,” then they found a crack in the front the skull not far from my right eye. Doctors warned Amy that I if I did ever wake up, I might not know who she was. I might have permanent, and serious brain injuries.
On Dec. 5th, I woke up with a nurse standing over my bed.
“Welcome back,” she said with a smile. “Can you tell me your name?”
I did. She asked for my date of birth. I answered correct.
“My wife,” I said.
“I think she has gone home to take care of some things,” she said.
Another nurse came in. She asked the same questions. I gave the same answers.
Then I had a few.
“Where am I?”
“You are in the Carilion Rehab Facility,” one said.
“Rehab? For what?”
“Your crash. “
“Your motorcycle. I think you hit cow.”
“A cow? When?”
“Last month. Just relax. The doctor will be here shortly,”
I spent a lot of time with doctors and physical therapists and others who tested my mental and physical capabilities. On June 6, they told Amy that I would probably need to remain in the rehab facility until “March or April ot the following year. After a week of intensive work, they then said I could be back home by February. Then, on Dec. 17th, my 65th birthday, they announced I would be released on Christmas Eve.
“You heal quickly,” one doctor said, “particularly at your age.”
On the morning of Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th, 2012, they wheeled me down to the entrance of Community where Amy was waiting with the car. The cast on my right leg had been replaced by a ‘walking one” that I could remove for sleeping at night at home.
“Patient is a walking miracle,” one of the doctors wrote on the final report they gave us to take home. I would start several months of intensive rehab as Carilion in New River Valley, but I was on my way home.
At my request, Amy pulled into the Sonic Drive-In on the way to U.S. 221 where we “feasted” on hamburgers (bacon and cheese), fries and milk shakes before the drive home, where we slept together on a large sofa in the first floor living room (to avoid stairs up to or down from the master bedroom).
The year that followed was a difficult one. I still have to use medications to control the constant pain. My right leg is now three-quarters of an inch shorter than the left, and I have memory loss issues and other problems from the injuries.
We got through a lot of it because of the help and support from many people in the area and around the country. I hope I have properly thanked those who prayed and helped. If I failed to do so, please know that it took a long time to catch up and the process is not over.
On each Nov 9, Amy takes me out to a steakhouse for the “largest steak we can find” to eat and pretend it came from the cow. This year’s dinner will be delayed until this weekend because I have a regional volleyball final to shoot tonight.
That motorcycle was repaired, and I still ride it, but Amy asked me, after the cow encounter, to top riding at night. I have.