By the time January 2020 rolled around, both of us had been walking for four months. I had somewhat resumed my normal activities, abet, more thoughtfully, realizing a slip could result in my curtailing the progress I’d already made. My tibia was still far from healed, and the possibility of the metal plate snapping was always top-of-mind, especially when my leg ached after hours of weeding, ripping out plants, and trimming in the garden.
Months earlier, with my leg still swollen, my physical therapist convinced me to invest in compression socks. In my mind, they were ghastly skin-toned girdles that would take considerable effort to yank on. A search on Amazon, however, revealed they come in an unimaginable range of colors, patterns, and stretchiness, and were scarcely different than high-quality knee-high socks.
Not only did my leg ache less when sequestered in a colorful pair of polka-dotted, monkey-mottled, star-splattered, penguin-dappled, multi-splotched, or cactus-covered socks, but it gave me more confidence. They provided the right-level of support and silliness to add levity throughout the day. I loved wearing the socks, except when it came time to peel them off. At night, when we watched TV, Rich would grab the top of a sock, and yank it off my leg as quickly as possible, which usually brought a bounty of previously masked twinges and throbs.
I usually elevated my leg while watching TV to reduce the swelling. Occasionally, I’d lightly massage it or use a wooden roller to stimulate the badly damaged tissue. For the most part, I didn’t like the sensation of anyone, including myself, touching my leg, especially when sockless. It’s hard to describe how it felt. It was numb and tingly rather than painful. And rubbing my calf made me queasy. Perhaps, the metal in the leg was creating an unpleasant electrical charge.
Skin contact, however, became mandatory a few months after my accident when a rash spread on my legs, up my torso, and across my arms. I immediately made an appointment with my primary care physician who prescribed a steroid cream. Success.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to remedy my ongoing sleep issues, agitation, and mania. No matter what I did during the day, I was never tired at night and rarely slept for more than a few hours at a time. I was in a constant state of fury and anxiety, impatient at work, angry at Rich, and frustrated with his slower recovery. And the less sleep I got, the more frenzied I became.
I tried listening to guided meditation, nature sounds, alpha, theta, and delta waves, and soothing music. Nothing worked. Nothing shut down my brain. Nothing stopped the ruminations.
New experiences provide relief
When you’ve been in a horrific accident, little steps become monumental moments.
While still hospitalized, Stacey signed Rich up for a prosthetic knee study. Along with getting a microprocessor knee, he had to be evaluated every few weeks to gauge his progress against the participants who received the mechanical knee.
It was a great opportunity for him to not only get out of the house but interact with others and participate in familiar activities like make ferry reservations, drive to the University of Washington, navigate the parking garage, and locate where he was supposed to go for the study. The first few times, he brought his wheelchair because he couldn’t walk very far on his prosthetic leg.
This first study led to another opportunity. He volunteered to become a model for students in the University of Washington Prosthetics & Orthotics degree program. Some of the classes were conducted over Zoom with the students interviewing Rich. Others were in person with students creating casts of Rich’s stump that were then used to make a fiberglass socket. The socket is the part that fits around the stump and attaches to an artificial knee.
Even during COVID-19, Rich participated in the program, which not only enabled him to interact with others, but he relished the opportunity to give back to the community and turn the negative of his amputation into a positive.
In September 2019, a few weeks after we were both cleared to start using our artificial and metal-reinforced legs, we received a knock on the door. A middle-aged man with a thick European accent brazenly stated, “Hey, I’m fixing your neighbor’s roof and noticed your motorhome. I want to buy it. What do you want for it?”
Stammered for a moment, Rich said, “Okay.”
The Fleetwood Jamboree motorhome had been purchased new in 1992. While dated with mauve upholstery and abstract patterned curtains and bedspread in ghastly plum, sea green, and taupe, it was in pristine shape and had been parked by our garage for the past few years.
We’d scarcely used it when we lived in Texas and took only a handful of trips when we moved back to the Pacific Northwest, preferring to charter sailboats. The motorhome was rich with memories, but in truth, we’d been contemplating purchasing a small trailer we could haul behind a truck. It would be one less vehicle to maintain and would take up less space.
“I need to look up the price in Kelley Blue Book,” Rich remarked, after regaining his composure.
The man explained he wanted the motorhome for a nephew and his wife who were going to live on a lot they owned. They didn’t have much money, so they didn’t want to pay much. With insisting that he needed to look up the worth of the motorhome, the man started hemming and hawing.
My “shyster warning beacon” went off. It was late summer, and I was aware of traveling bands of Romani who offer to make home repairs for seemingly low costs until you realize their work product is shoddy and it would have been wiser to hire a local, licensed contractor.
In Texas, we’d received a similar knock on our door, delivered by a ragtag crew of stocky men, peddling driveway repair services. Being we were months away from listing our house, we hired them to resurface our large circular driveway, knowing it would appeal to a potential buyer, even if the edges started to crumble within a year. They did a mediocre job, applying a black substance after packing down new asphalt. But, indeed, the driveway looked fabulous.
The presumed Romani who knocked on our door lived up to his clan’s reputation. We said we’d sell the motorhome for $4,000, after all, we were selling a perfectly good kitchen, bathroom, dinette, bed, and closet space, and a vehicle that ran fine with low mileage. He said “Okay,” but then backtracked, saying they didn’t have the money, and would we take $3,500.
“No, the price is $4,000.”
He continued to haggle, but finally said he’d pick up the motorhome on Sunday and bring $4,000 in cash. That gave us one, possibly two days, to clean out the motorhome, an exhausting prospect given I was just barely walking with a walker, and Rich preferred to stay in his wheelchair.
The next day, Saturday, Rich backed the motorhome into the driveway. I sat inside the door, and pulled myself upright, using the upholstered swivel chair by the entrance. Once inside, leaning against the counters, and primarily standing on one leg, I removed everything from the cupboards and closets, stripped the bed, vacuumed, and wiped every surface. It’s astonishing how much stuff we’d accumulated in a 28-foot motorhome, including blankets, comforters, towels, linens, maps, a small vacuum, and repair manual in the cupboards and drawers above and beside the bed; toiletries, medicines, toilet paper, trashcan, and chemicals for the toilet in the bathroom; and an extensive collection of pots, pans, dishes, paper goods, storage containers, utensils, candles, canned and packaged goods, cleaning supplies, pet bowls, a small TV, CDs, games, and much more in the rest of the motorhome.
As Rich assembled boxes and tossed them into the motorhome, I filled them up. And when I ran out of boxes, I started chucking everything out the door and onto the ground, since Rich was dithering on the job.
He was fixated with cleaning out the storage areas on the outside of the motorhome, which contained tools, bug-infested firewood, and rusty camp chairs. He was still primarily confined to a wheelchair, so he couldn’t easily get inside the motorhome. Nevertheless, the amount he had to clean out was miniscule compared to my waddling through the motorhome, primarily standing on my right leg with my rickety, aching left leg barely on the ground.
“I need more boxes,” I’d shout out the door, a stack of filled boxes inside the motorhome and on the ground.
“What am I supposed to do with everything still left in the motorhome?”
“Put it in boxes.”
That’s when the chucking began, including the TV. After amassing everything near the door of the motorhome, I gingerly sat on the floor, tossed my walker outside, scooted out of the motorhome, plunked the remaining stuff from inside the motorhome onto the ground, slammed the motorhome door shut, hobbled into the house, and flopped onto the bed, face beet red, steam emerging from my ears, brain afire with fury.
It took an hour or so to calm down, by then, Rich had moved the contents of the motorhome—one lapful of items at a time—into the garage. A few weeks later, we sorted through everything and boxed it up for when we get another motorhome or trailer.
The next day, a bit perturbed, we waited for the buyer to show up, hoping our frantic scramble to clean out the motorhome wasn’t for naught. Late in the afternoon, he called, saying he would have the money by Monday morning. Despite my doubts, he showed up mid-morning, $4,000 in crisp $100 bills, listened to Rich’s short spiel about the ins-and-outs of the motorhome, then got in the cab and drove away.
I thought it would be bittersweet, watching our motorhome departing our driveway for the last time, but it was a relief. It was one less vehicle, and one less occasion to be disappointed, recalling our previous adventures in the motorhome, something we might not be able to do again.
Connecting to the earth
While confined to the house, our vegetable garden grew like crazy. As the days became shorter and the weather colder, we were left with a jungle of plants, foliage, and vegetables in varying stages of decay, fallen on the ground, shriveled on the vines, and stunted before they could mature. When I was cleared to put a bit of weight on my leg, I’d hobble out to the garden with my walker and start ripping out the plants, shoving them into black trash bags, not bothering to cut them into smaller pieces.
It was restorative, removing the overgrown and dying, quelling my anger at our situation by thoughtlessly yanking and chucking, furious that I didn’t get to enjoy wandering through the garden and harvesting produce when it ripened. We’d been denied the joy of seeing our hard work of fussing over the seedlings, carefully watering, and staking them up, watching as the blossoms burst with life, and then eating or giving away the bounty.
And because Rich had installed drip irrigation prior to our accident, we grew unbelievable produce, including large heads of cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, rows of spinach and lettuce, giant beets, radishes, carrots, peas, and beans, and so much more. What wasn’t harvested by the neighbors rotted.
In October, our neighbor Holley, who has a mini-farm, wanted to do an experiment in our garden to see whether her chickens would scratch up the earth and deposit their valuable waste. She loaned us four hens, which had just molted, so their attention would be on rooting for worms and bugs, rather than laying eggs.
During the day, the hens had free reign of the fenced vegetable garden, and at night, we’d lock them in the greenhouse with their food, water, and a lightbulb for warmth. We were optimistic that they’d do a superb job of rototilling the garden.
They were a complete failure. During the day, they’d run along the fence squawking, “Where’s the rooster? I can hear the rooster. Save us.” The only ground they scratched up was by my rose trellis and a couple of the planter boxes on the south side of the garden.
After 6 weeks, I begged our neighbor to collect her hens. I was tired of letting them in-and-out of the greenhouse, which turned into a stinky collection of feathers, poop, and discarded chicken feed.
After the rooster-obsessed hens were relocated back to Holley’s farm, I donned long rubber gloves and scoured the inside of the greenhouse with buckets of hot water and disinfectant.
When I wasn’t in the vegetable garden, I was trimming—more akin to ravaging—the plants in my flower garden. They were equally overgrown in cahoots with the weeds, which covered every speck of ground that wasn’t inhabited by the intentionally planted shrubs, bulbs, and perennials.
I got joy out of mauling any plant I felt didn’t belong or had grown too big. While it was challenging to balance on one leg while only being able to put a little weight on the other—such as resting the front of my left foot on the ground—it was curative to be outside, among nature, being productive.
In October, Holley knocked on our door. “Can Kyle cut across your backyard?”
“Yes,” I mumbled, shaking my head. “Why?”
“One of his sheep escaped and ran towards the bluff.”
Kyle, or more commonly farmer Kyle, owns Bell’s Farm, across from our neighborhood, The farm had been expanding their operations from growing crops to raising Berkshire and Large Black pigs, White Park cattle, and sheep. The cattle and sheep are regularly moved to revitalized pastures with temporary fencing, which seems to deter them from escaping.
The escaped ewe had spooked when she was moved to a new pasture.
“Oh my gosh, how can I help?”
“Kyle is hoping to coax her away from the bluff before she topples.”
Our bluff is 140 feet above the shore. Even if the ewe survived the fall, and didn’t break a leg, it would be impossible to capture her with several miles between the two accessible beaches, the closest being half a mile away. Plus, with high tide often submerging the beach, chances are she’d be swept away.
After pulling on my boots, I journeyed to the backyard with Holley close behind. Kyle was next door, pacing in front of a clump of bushes that bordered the bluff. He asked Holley and me not to come any closer since it could further frighten the ewe.
I couldn’t see anything from my vantage point. “Will she not come when called?”
“No, I just got her last week from a rundown farm where she was neglected. She doesn’t trust people and certainly doesn’t know me,” he lamented. “Plus, she’s pregnant.”
The escape happened mid-morning, so he wanted to let her rest, and then coax her with food. Morning soon turned into afternoon, which stretched into late afternoon. The overcast, drizzly day was rapidly darkening with rain inevitable. Kyle brought a bucket of sheep food and some hay, which he gingerly placed three or four feet from her, concerned that if he got any closer, she’d turn and run the wrong direction, off the bluff.
I could see the tips of her ears over the brush and was equally concerned. It occurred to me that we had a pole clipper, which I fetched from our garage along with a rake for Kyle to cut and move some of the brush, so the ewe could better see the hay, and maybe be enticed into checking out the food. She hadn’t eaten for hours, and Kyle was hopeful her obstinance was turning into a need to eat and drink.
Kyle needed a way to loop a rope around her head and lead her off the bluff. I rushed back to the garage and got a long piece of PVC pipe, while Kyle got manila rope. We folded the rope in half and threaded it through the pipe, so a loop stuck out one end, and the two loose ends out the other.
The first attempt to lasso the ewe was a failure, and she moved closer to the edge. Kyle did a Hail Mary, and this time, he got the rope around her head and gave it a good tug. The ewe leapt up, spun around, freed herself from the rope, and took off across our yard.
Even if I could run, I was too stunned to do anything. I pictured the sheep, judging by the ears peeking over the brush, as being the size of a German Shepard. It was huge! Like two mastiffs. It was 200 pounds of matted fur on spindly, black legs with a slender black face!
Kyle took off after her. Twenty minutes later, a van pulled up in front of our house. Kyle had managed to corral and tackle the ewe in the neighborhood to the south where the houses are closer together with fences, garden sheds, and other obstacles to obfuscate her escapade. She was now inside the van, exhausted and defeated.
Holley, who’d helped Kyle in the capture, hopped out of the front seat, commenting, “You should name her Bonnie after Bonnie and Clyde.”
Later that spring, despite Kyle believing she was going to miscarry, she had a lamb.
Moving forward, but not at a fast pace
Within a week of getting home from the hospital and rehabilitation center, I’d started physical therapy at a local clinic. My neighbor Lauren suggested I go to the same clinic as her. I was grateful for her recommendation because the two therapists were amazing, the receptionist always cheerful, and the location a short drive with a spacious parking lot for getting in-and-out of the car with a walker, and at times, a wheelchair.
I looked forward to my twice-weekly sessions, relishing the opportunity to not only stretch and work my atrophied muscles, but have a conversation with someone other than Rich. While many people find physical therapy painful, the only thing I disliked was the handful of times they put an ice pack on my leg. I wanted to cry. I hated the cold and would have happily done twice as many leg lifts, curls, pelvic tilts, hip bridges, and arm stretches with bands than suffer five minutes with an ice pack.
Rich went a few times to physical therapy, but he didn’t find it valuable. Happily, once he got his prosthetic leg, he joined a local gym, which gave him an excuse to get out of the house and use a variety of exercise machines. Unfortunately, within months, COVID-19 put a stop to his attending, and he eventually let his membership lapse.
Years earlier, I’d purchased a highfalutin elliptical machine, which I hopped on each weekday morning, pedaling up to 2 miles or 25 minutes. I also did mini-workouts around lunchtime, using an app on my phone.
Structured exercise has always been a part of my life. I loved going to Jazzercise when I was in my 20’s, and later joined multiple gyms, taking classes, using their strength and aerobic machines, and enjoying the amenities. When I worked for Microsoft, I was a member of an upscale gym with a steam room, jacuzzi, sauna, several swimming pools, numerous workout, weight training, and yoga rooms, tennis, racquetball, and basketball courts, spa services, dining, and catering, and personal services like car detailing.
Rich, unfortunately, has reluctantly gone to gyms, half-heartedly worked out, and never seen the value in pushing himself for the sake of getting stronger and more agile. He was born with good genes and a strong body that enabled him to easily learn how to water and snow ski, hike, bike, and mountain climb, including Oregon’s Mt. Hood. His athleticism came from heredity and not hard work.
As a result, my nudging him to take a lengthy walk or use the combination rower/bike machine we’d purchased for his use was met with “I get enough exercise doing things around the house.”
“No, you don’t, and that’s why you still walk awkwardly and slowly.”
“I walk as good as expected,” he’d bark. “I’m never going to run.”
“I’m not expecting you to run,” I’d counter, trying to be reasonable. “I simply want you agile enough to use trekking poles and walk several miles on city streets or trails. I don’t want to give up what I enjoy doing to support your unwillingness to put in some effort.”
Then he’d walk away.
Despite my printing out pages of exercises for people with prosthetic legs, and sending him links to videos of amputees doing amazing things from running marathons to hiking and playing tennis and basketball, he was convinced that there was no need for him to do anything extra to improve his ability to walk further than around a grocery store or Home Depot.
Rich can be so obstinate, which is why he made a great engineer because he wouldn’t give up until he found the solution to a challenge.
Two days after our accident, I received a call from the insurance company that represented D–the in-denial dimwit that hit us–encouraging me to sign the paperwork to collect our settlement of $100,000 each. Signing the paperwork would mean we couldn’t sue D to collect additional money. However, $200,000 isn’t much when you consider the extent of our injuries and medical expenses, loss of income, and potential long-term medical issues.
No matter how convincing and emphatic the insurance adjustor was on the phone, there was no way I was going to sign anything without first consulting a lawyer or talking to Rich. Unfortunately, Rich’s head was swirling in some galaxy, scarcely aware of what had occurred let alone the near- and long-term implications.
And even when Rich and I were placed in the same room, a few days after the accident, he was disconnected from reality, mainly because he had a second surgery to refine the skin flap on his stump, endovascular coiling in an attempt to treat his brain aneurysm, and other minor medical treatments. To prepare him for all these procedures, they would restrict his food, and afterwards, he ate like a fussy two-year-old, ordering items off the menu, then complaining they had no taste or tasted terrible.
Even though I was lucid, fully aware of what had happened and its consequences, and what needed to be done in the short-term such as care for our cats, contact our employers, and manage our finances, Rich was largely in la-la-land, sporadically coherent.
I was grateful when Stacey and Chris arrived and took over our lives. To this day, I have no idea how they got ahold of our friends and neighbors and coordinated everything. And within days, they’d talked to several lawyers, both of which didn’t paint a particularly positive picture about the potential of our collecting much more than the $200,000 settlement, and hoping it wasn’t gobbled up by subrogation, a new, distressing word.
Subrogation allows insurance companies to pursue a third-party responsible for the damages caused to the insured. It sounds harmless enough. What it means is they can take 100% of a settlement to make themselves “whole” after paying your medical expenses. You’re stuck with loss of income, immediate and on-going medical co-payments and expenses, and other financial obligations, which need to be paid out of your own pocket.
One would think a victim of an accident would be coddled, allowed adequate time to heal mentally and physically, but the repercussions are immediate. You’re bombarded with calls from insurance companies, one wanting you to agree not to sue, and the other wondering why you can’t just get up, walk out of the hospital, and save them the expenses of having to pay for additional medical care and procedures.
There were also calls from the company that insured Gatsby, our motorcycle. They were probably thrilled that when Rich signed up for insurance, he neglected to check the box for personal injury protection—commonly known as PIP—thinking we were covered under our car insurance policies from the same company. I don’t know how much we would have received, but it would have been more than the $10,000 we got for the loss of Gatsby.
With insurance companies pestering me with calls, I was anxious to get a lawyer. While in the rehabilitation center, I researched attornies in Seattle and was drawn to Elizabeth C. who’d been practicing for over twenty years. In the blurb about her, she’d written that when her uncle was paralyzed from an accident, she was motivated to “level the playing field for her seriously injured clients who’d suffered catastrophic damages at the hands of others.”
In July, I pestered Rich to start exploring hiring an attorney to represent us. I presented him with the information about the lawyers Stacey and Chris had spoken with along with details about Elizabeth. I was thrilled when he concurred with my decision to choose Elizabeth.
Naively, I thought our case could be handled and settled within months. In reality, it took over a year with Elizabeth having to constantly contact, and at one point, threaten the lawyer, who represented D’s insurance company.
Initially, we had to complete an interrogatory, which asked a breadth of questions from our education and employment history to where we’ve lived, previous marriages, whether we’d been convicted of a felony, drug and alcohol use, vision and prescriber if we wear glasses, healthcare providers, location of incident and the circumstances that led to the incident, and in-depth details about the incident, including who we spoke to, use of our cell phones, and who was present.
Within two weeks, we wrote a 56-page response, complete with verbatim accounts from the accident report, photos and drawings from the scene, and photos of us in the hospital, including my Frankenstein leg with rows of stitches and x-rays of the hardware inside.
One section asked about prognosis. I exhumed my emotionally charged words when I wrote Rich’s,
“Will require the use of a prosthesis for the remainder of life, which will dramatically impact his quality-of-life, and ability to do many activities from getting out of bed and going to the bathroom without the help of a walker or crutches to doing home improvement and maintenance projects (cleaning out gutters, remodeling, painting, rebuilding deck, installing flooring, etc.), gardening (loading and pushing a wheelbarrow, bending over and easily weeding or planting, etc.), hiking, biking, kayaking, attending festivals, traveling, riding a motorcycle, and many other physical activities.
Will require purchasing a new prosthesis every 3-5 years, depending on wear-and-tear of the electronic and mechanical components. The costs of a new prosthesis ranges from $10,000 to $50,000. There will also be cost incurred for physical therapy and trips to prosthetist in Everett, WA, which requires the use of a ferry at a cost of $20 – $30 round trip.”
It took D and her husband over two months to complete their interrogatory, despite being asked to complete it within 30 days. After receiving it, Elizabeth set up a meeting with D to ask her questions face-to-face. Afterwards, she gave us a run-down of what occurred.
“She had an interesting perspective on the accident,” elaborated Elizabeth. “She claims she stopped, looked, and seeing no one, turned. It was you that suddenly appeared and hit her.”
“There’s no way, our motorcycle defied the laws of physics and simultaneously traveled forward and sideways, hitting the front of her truck,” I snapped, having rehearsed the same sentence dozens of times, knowing it was what she told the sheriff, and months later babbled the same preposterous account.
“Sometimes people make-up stories rather than face the reality of what they did.”
“What was she like,” I inquired. We’d driven by her house several times, a newer doublewide mobile home on several acres of land with a detached 3-car garage, so I was aware of her living situation. And I knew she had a clerical job at the local hospital.
“It was obvious she’d been crying,” explained Elizabeth before delving into the details. “She and her husband are the type featured on financial counseling programs because they make bad decisions and don’t know how to manage their money. A few years ago, they purchased their home for $295,000 and took out a mortgage for the same amount, so they don’t have $125,000 in equity.”
“I’m not following.”
“Under Washington’s Homestead Act, a portion of one’s property is protected, so it can’t be confiscated or sold to fulfill a debt. Since they have less than 125,000 in equity, their house is protected.”
Rich shook his head. “So, what you’re saying is we could have lost our house if we didn’t have the money to continue paying the mortgage, especially since I lost my job, and Julie couldn’t work for three weeks, and when she was cleared to work, it was part-time.”
“The law works isn’t fair.”
“It’s ridiculous,” I countered. “We could have lost our house, everything, while she gets to essentially walk away, not compensating us for the damage she caused.”
“I hear you. I have clients just like you who are faced with huge bills and no income.”
“There must be something we can take from them,” I whined. “They destroyed our lives.”
“None of their cars are paid off. The Honda Ridgeline is only a year old. They have a large RV but own $60,000 on it. And as far as I can tell, they have no savings.”
“There must be something. How much was her ticket?” According to the traffic report, she was cited for failure to yield.
“I asked about that…. and she said she couldn’t remember.”
“Wait,” I interjected, “Didn’t she have to appear before a judge?”
“No, she could have sent a check or paid with a credit card.”
For months, I’d been hanging on the hope that we could collect something. Anything. Or at the minimum garnish her wages. Nope. Basically, if you’ve been victimized you continue to be victimized and the perpetrator gets to walk away, free to go about their lives as if nothing happened. No doubt, her insurance company paid to repair the Ridgeline, along with provide her with a rental car in the meantime.
“In these cases, I often hope the offender has a wealthy uncle or a stock portfolio,” offered Elizabeth. “They truly have nothing. And it gets worse. Rich’s insurance company wants to take his full settlement, and your insurance company might do the same.”
“So, we could be left with nothing, but bills.”
It suddenly made sense why the Whidbey Island sheriff kept D’s license until he contacted the hospital. The only recourse he had for charging her with an infraction that was more punative than a traffic violation was vehicular homicide, if Rich or I had died.
You shouldn’t have to die before someone is punished for careless driving. And certainly lopping off someone’s leg shouldn’t be equal to making a left turn, which possibly causes the driver in the other lane to brake to avoid a collision. Equally, the perpetrator shouldn’t get away with paying less than $200, while the victim falls down a rabbit hole of bills and potential loss of their home because they can’t work or don’t have enough money to cover their immediate and long-term expenses.
America is definitely land of the free [to maim and injure with essentially no penalties].
What did happen
Stacey made sure we were sent a copy of the complete accident report and subsequent investigation. In the report, a Washington State Patrol trooper who responded, wrote:
“When I arrived there, I was advised that the driver of the truck was in the emergency room [Whidbey General Hospital]. I contacted the driver of the truck D.M. She advised that she was preparing to make a left turn from the southbound State Route 20 to Squire Road, and had looked ahead of her to see if traffic was clear. She advised that when she began to make the turn, the motorcycle came out of nowhere and the two vehicles collided. She advised she was not injured aside from some minor bruising. I asked M. how much alcohol she’d had to drink, and she advised none. I had not observed any indicators of impairment. M. completed a written statement.”
A second Washington State Patrol trooper related:
“I observed the Ridgeline and heavy frontend damage and was pulled out on the side road/driveway on the east side of SR20. The motorcycle was heavily damaged and came to rest on the NB shoulder. A long, single skid mark in the NB lane led to the area of impact. It separated into two tire marks prior to impact. There was blood, bone fragments, and debris throughout the scene.”
A Whidbey Island County Sheriff deputy observed:
“Responded to the area of SR20 and Squire Road. For a reported car vs. motorcycle collision. Upon arriving on scene I found that the northbound lane of SR20 was blocked from the down motorcycle. As I walked up to the collision scene I found medical personnel placing the female passenger of the motorcycle in the back of the ambulance. I was advised that she had what appeared to be significant leg injuries. As I continued to the motorcycle I found personnel working on the male driver who’s (sic) leg appeared to have been amputated at the left knee.
Witnesses at the scene directed my attention to the causing truck which was parked on Squire Road. During an examination, I found that it had sustained heavy front-end damage from both the motorcycle and its occupants. The female driver stated that she was making a left turn onto Squire Road. From southbound SR20, when she turned into the northbound motorcycle. She stated that she did not see the motorcycle when she began making the turn. It should be noted that all of the motorcycle lights were still in the “on” position. The driver went on to say that she was not familiar with Squire Road, which may have attributed to the collision.
According to two witnesses stopped behind the truck, the motorcycle was merely traveling northbound at what appeared to be at or near the speed limit. While waiting for the state patrol to arrive on scene I took a number of digital photographs of the scene and provided the witnesses with statement forms.”
A month or so after the accident, the Washington State Patrol provided a more in-depth analysis:
“Ms. M. had been traveling southbound on SR 20, she then slowed and started making a left turn onto Squire Rd. Mr. Lary was traveling northbound on SR 20 just south of Squire Rd. Mr. Lary attempted to avoid the collision by applying his brakes leaving two tire marks in the northbound lane.
Due to the braking, Mr. Lary’s motorcycle began to rotate slightly to the right. As Mrs. M’s vehicle crossed into the southbound lane it struck the front and left side of Mr. Lary’s motorcycle. The impact of the vehicles crushed Mr. Lary’s leg and forced him up and onto the hood of the Honda [Ridgeline]. The force of the collision forced Mrs. Lary up onto the right side of the hood and forward.
Mr. Lary’s motorcycle continued north and to the east sliding on the ground. Ms. M. was able to steer her vehicle to a stop on the asphalt part of Squire Rd. just east of the motorcycle.
Reconstruction of the collision concluded Ms. M. failed to yield the right of way while making a left turn onto Squire Road. When her vehicle entered the northbound lane it struck the left front and left side of Mr. Lary’s motorcycle. Mr. Lary’s leg was pinned between both vehicles as Mrs. Lary was thrown onto the hood. Mr. Lary’s motorcycle fell to it’s (sic) right side and slide northeast ejecting Mr. Lary and freeing his leg. Ms. M.’s vehicle sustained substantial damage to front and came to a controlled stop on Squire Road.”
D’s account was shorter, aimed at placing the blame on Rich:
“I was slowing down to make a turn onto Squire. I checked to see if I had the right road. I checked for oncoming traffic and didn’t see anything close. I started to make the turn and suddenly the motorcycle was there. He must have been going fast because he hit my vehicle hard enough to deploy the airbag. I slammed on my brakes, but don’t think he did.”
As our attorney mentioned, D. had a unique perspective on the accident. The only skid marks on the road came from our motorcycle. I suspect that she didn’t brake or slow. Instead, her 2018 Honda Ridgeline automatically slowed to a stop once the collision was detected. When the first responders arrived, she was sitting in her truck, probably pondering made-up injuries, resulting from her airbag inflating. Meanwhile, we laid in the street bleeding, in horrific pain, phasing in-and-out of consciousness.
Months after the accident, one of the witnesses said D. wanted an ambulance to take her to the hospital, but the sheriff said “no,” driving her in his patrol car to WhidbeyHealth to examine her bruises, and probably run a drug and alcohol screen.
“Oh well,” wasn’t good enough
Our lawsuit against D. sludged along with no word from the opposing attorney, despise being sent numerous letters from Elizabeth to respond to requests for information.
During an exaserbating conversation with Elizabeth, we asked, “What would happen if we went before a judge and pleaded our case?”
“There’s no doubt you’d win a significant settlement and you might be able to garnish their wages, but most likely, they’d discharge the debt by declaring bankruptcy.”
Rich loved this idea because their pain could never make up for the damage D. wrought by failing to look before she turned, and more pointedly, her persistent lack of culpability. We couldn’t help believing that her lawyer’s strategy was to stall in hope we’d drop the case.
“Let me get this straight? They can simply get rid of their obligation by declaring bankruptcy,” seethed Rich disgusted with our lack of options.
“Yes, but a bankruptcy would impact their credit for years,” counseled Elizabeth. “If we took them to court, I would need a larger percentage of your settlement since it would take more of my time.”
She was already battling with Rich’s insurance company, which wanted to take the full $200,000 settlement less the amount we owed Elizabeth. The insurance company was having difficulties understanding that half of the monies was mine.
“It sounds like we won’t get anything, so we might as well make their lives miserable,” reasoned Rich who accepted the accident on the outside but was fuming inside. He didn’t feel a speck of empathy for D., especially since she took no responsibility for what occurred, and therefore, we assumed, had no remorse besides the inconvenience of having to repair their truck and pay for the minor care she received at WhidbeyHealth.
Elizabeth was hesitant to bring our case to court since the outcome wouldn’t benefit us besides the joy of knowing we bankrupted D. for her recklessness. Instead, she wanted to contact their lawyer and further goad D. into “digging deeper” and finding something that would appease our outrage at the injustice of what occurred.
A few weeks later, Elizabeth called. “They’ll give you their motorhome to make up for the damages they caused.”
“Don’t they owe like $60,000 on the motorhome?”
“Yes. Plus, the previous owner of the motorhome had a dog that peed on everything, so the inside of the motorhome is gutted.” She shared several pictures that her lawyer sent. While the RV looked great on the outside, inside was nothing, but an empty shell with plywood on the floor. No cupboards, appliances or furniture.
“Basically, we would take over their debt and in return get something worth barely $10,000.”
Rich declared, “They better do better than that if they want to avoid bankruptcy.” In retrospect, it was insulting for them to think that after destroying our lives, we should graciously accept their trashed motorhome as compensation.
“I agree,” countered Elizabeth.
A few days later, she called again. This time, D. and her husband offered to give us the only thing they owned outright, a two-year-old Harley Davidson Road King, complete with a snazzy stereo, cruise control, and other upscale features, along with a large medallion on the gas tank that read, “Live to ride, ride to live.” Additionally, they had a new cargo trailer for hauling the motorcycle. Together, they were worth over $20,000. Not a huge settlement, but as Rich always said, “Better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.”
After seeing photographs of the motorcycle and trailer, which took several more weeks to arrive, we said “yes,” and signed off on the settlement. It took another month, 16 months since our accident, until their fancy Seattle lawyer got around to making the arrangement, through a lawyer in Oak Harbor, for us to pick up the motorcycle and trailer.
On a Thursday evening, we drove to the lawyer’s office in Oak Harbor, signed the necessary paperwork, hitched the trailer to Rich’s truck, and drove off. An anticlimactic conclusion to a thoroughly exasperating experience, made worse by the lawyer telling us D. was a delightful woman and didn’t mean to hit us. She was simply unfamiliar with the area.
I wanted to scream. Instead of the lawyer recognizing the pain we’d been through and our life-long debilitating injuries, he made us feel greedy, absconding with the motorcycle and trailer, which we didn’t deserve to take because D. was confused as to where to turn!
Meeting the witnesses
Months later, we contacted the two witnesses: A young man who I saw pacing while he pleaded with the dispatcher to send an ambulance, and a middle-aged man who was bouncing between Rich and I, providing reassurance, and in my case, helping me remove my helmet and jacket.
While we knew their names from the police report, we knew nothing about them besides where they lived. I’d already concluded Levi, the younger of the two witnesses, by the way he was dressed in scruffy shoes and jeans was an unemployed punk who constantly got high with his pals. Laying in the road, I could see him frantically walking back-and-forth, screaming at the 911 operator. While I couldn’t distinguish what he was saying, I was sure it was full of expletives.
But I also had my doubts. Levi is a noble name, and his surname is associated with exquisite collectibles. Even before I met or contacted him, I mulled over his name, thinking surely his personality was influenced by the historical and modern interpretation of the name Levi, joined in harmony and beauty.
Following the conclusion of our settlement in September 2020, I called Levi, inviting him to join us for breakfast at a local diner. He was hesitant, but reluctantly agreed after I assured him, we simply wanted to meet and thank him. And of course, would pay for his meal.
On the appointed Saturday morning, we arrived at the diner. While Rich was ushered to a plexiglass-protected table, I waited in the lobby, hoping I’d recognize Levi, made more difficult by the fact I’d only seen him from the knees down, and he’d be wearing a mask. As the second hand clicked past the agreed upon hour, I had my doubts that he’d show up.
Finally, I spotted a slender man in blue jeans, walking across the parking lot.
“Are you Levi?”
“Yes! Sorry, I’m a bit late. I had to park around the corner.”
“That’s okay. I’m glad we could meet,” I rambled thrilled with the opportunity to get his perspective on the accident, nervous because we were venturing out with COVID still raging with no vaccines available and thrown off balance by his appearance.
Immediately, I noticed his eyes. He had green eyes with long, curly eyelashes and a jumble of honey brown locks. He was nothing like I imagined. And to be honest, I was momentarily stilled by his magnetism.
A name popped into my head, “Raphael.” Not a religious person, I had to look it up. Raphael is the archangel, one of the three heavenly visitors who was with Abraham at the Oak of Mamre, and whose name derives from the Hebrew root meaning “to heal and can be translated as “God healed.”
Anxious to hear his recollection of the accident and also learn more about him, I nervously tried to fill the awkwardness of the situation with small talk as I escorted him to where Rich was sitting. It’d been nearly 18 months since the accident, when he wrote:
“Harley Davidson Sportster Heritage with two passengers, one male (driver) and the other female, were heading north on HW20 as I was heading south of the island when the second vehicle (Honda Ridgeline) in front of me went to turn left across traffic and struck the motorcycle. I ran to the scene and called 911. Then proceeded to check the status of the motorcycle passengers, and relay that to the woman who answered the call.
When the ambulance and fire truck showed up, I did what I could to help. Then checked on the woman driving the truck. She seemed to be shaken up, but uninjured. The motorcycle passengers, however, sustained serious injuries, which were primarily broken legs.”
After ordering breakfast, he removed his mask. He had a round face with a slender nose and lips, and a flurry of untamed soft ringlets that framed his face. His smile was unabashed and genuine, turning his round cheeks rosy. Levi “Raphael” the cherub.
He also had scratches and scrapes on his face, hands, and arms, which led me to believe he had a manual job. I was only half correct. He did hardscaping, but mostly the abrasions came from skateboarding, which he was planning to do that afternoon in Port Townsend.
Like his face, he had a soft voice and mild manner. It took a few minutes before we weren’t tiptoeing around the obvious, us not wanting to be too pushy in asking for his account, and him nervous about the meeting. The last time he saw us, Rich’s left leg was lying severed on the ground, and I was screaming in pain, my left leg askew.
When he finally dropped his guard, his words tumbled out, “I kept yelling at the 911 dispatcher to send an ambulance. They were taking forever. If I’d had a truck, I would have thrown both of you in the back and driven you myself.” Reflecting on what he’d said, he added, “I don’t know why it took so long.”
I reassured him that everything worked out in the end. Until that moment, it hadn’t occurred to me the trauma that he must have experienced, first, having witnessed the accident. He shared that he watched incredulously as D. turned right into us. He saw us cycling down the highway, smack dab in the middle of the lane, even though he was the second car behind D.
After seeing the accident and dialing 911, he had to wait 15 minutes or so until first responders arrived, and when they did, he watched them work on Rich and me, which must have been gruesome. Looking at the 911 logs, we didn’t arrive at WhidbeyHealth for the LifeFlight trip to Harborview Medical Center for an hour and a half. The medical personnel must have been working on Rich and me for at least 40 minutes before we were loaded into the ambulance.
The entire time, Levi and the other witness were watching, wondering if we were going to survive.
“What was the woman doing who’d hit us,” I inquired.
“I went over to the truck, and she was just sitting there. She was oblivious to what she’d done.”
I already knew the answer but wanted to hear it from Levi. There’s no changing the facts and the outcomes. The only path forward is through acceptance and embracing a new normal, which isn’t perfect, but defies the reality that both of us could have been killed or more severely injured. To this extent, I feel we have an obligation to help heal the witnesses and those who helped in our recovery, by thanking them for their selflessness, and reassuring them that Rich and I will continue to rebuild our lives.
Two weeks after the accident, I’d already posted two articles on my blog “rajalary,” and received dozens of messages on Facebook from people who’d read about the accident in the newspaper and my blog. One person asked whether she could share one of the articles with the first responders, from a victim’s perspective. Of course, I said “yes.”
Others were simply happy that we’d survived an accident, which made the front page of The Whidbey Times, acclaim we would have preferred to have avoided!
A week after contacting Levi, I called the other witness, Mark, a middle-aged man who also lived in Coupeville. I invited his wife and him to join us for lunch. I also extended the invitation to Levi.
I made a southern-themed lunch of stuffed mushrooms, and spinach and cheddar horseradish spreads with an assortment of vegetables and crackers for noshing while we got to know each other. The lunch consisted of ham, buttermilk biscuits, praline sweet potatoes, and garden medley, followed by a plain cheesecake with homemade mango ginger, rhubarb apple, and peach preserves that could be spooned on top.
I strongly believe that food both quells the appetite and stimulates banter. Or at least, provides a reason to gather around a table. I love to entertain, which is an excuse to thumb through my cookbooks and make some of my favorite foods like cheddar horseradish spread!
Our conversation with Mark and his wife was more relaxed. You can imagine our surprise when we asked what he did for a living, and he shared that he’d been the coroner for Oak Harbor.
Jeepers. No wonder why he leapt into action when he witnessed the accident. He was behind D. and didn’t disguise his disgust when he described, watching her turn into us. “It was if she was aiming for you,” shaking his head. “A cloud of parts, dirt and other flying objects obscured everything.”
“Yup, you couldn’t see anything for a few moments,” acknowledged Levi. “I was stunned as I watched, unable to even pull to the side of the road.”
“I had my grandkids in the car,” continued Mark. My heart sunk at that moment. It’s bad enough that adults observed what happened, but young, impressionable kids, seeing two people sprawled out on the road, splotches of blood and detritus from the accident scattered everywhere must have been disturbing. Worse, after helping Rich and me, and seeing our discomfort, Mark went back to his car and asked his grandchildren to hand over their blankets, which he placed under our heads.
Meeting with Mark brought back what had occurred. After we’d been hit, bounced off the hood of D.’s truck, and landed on the ground, Mark scrambled between Rich and I, providing reassurance and answering our questions. He said I kept drifting in-and-out of consciousness, screaming in pain, passing out, and then waking up and franticly trying to yank off my helmet.
“Stop moving. Try to stay calm.” he implored gently taking my hands off my helmet. He then gave it a good yank, succeeding where I failed. In the recesses of my rational mind, I knew moving could dislocate my spine or worse. But I didn’t care. My helmet was bulky and uncomfortable. Removing it, however, didn’t resolve my discomfort. My body was suddenly exceedingly warm, as if I’d sustained a sunburn.
“Why does Rich keep saying ouch,” I wailed. “Is he okay?”
“He’s right over there. He’ll be fine,” he lied through his teeth, having seen Rich’s severed leg, a barely used Harley Davidson boot still attached.
Perhaps, he saw one end of my tibia poking through one of my favorite pairs of jeans with rhinestone fleur-de-lys on the back pockets. The jeans, like the short JC Penny jean jacket I was wearing invoked cherished memories. The jacket was decades old, given to me by my father-in-law. I’d reverse tie-dyed it to give it a new, more funky life.
“Get this off me,” I screamed, struggling to remove the jacket, not realizing it would never again hang in my closet. Sentimental value has no place in an accident.
I also remember, Mark placing something under my head. The mystery solved, one of his grandchildren’s blankets.
“What happened,” slightly more collected, but more acutely aware of my pain.
“You were in an accident.”
It never occurred to me to ask who caused it. I’d seen the bumper of D.’s white truck but didn’t know whether she hit us or if Rich’s swerving and braking to avoid being hit resulted in Gatsby falling over. Because I wasn’t aware of the full extent of my injuries, both seemed plausible. Perhaps, I was simply banged up with a broken bone or two.
I could feel all the way down to my toes, so if my spine was fractured, it wasn’t enough to cause paralysis. Then again, moving me could be enough to sever the spine. Fortunately, the only spinal injury either one of us suffered was a cracked vertebra in Rich’s upper back, discovered when he was examined at Harborview.
Returning to the present, I spurred Mark to share more of what he remembered.
“Everything happened so quickly. I did what I could to make you comfortable.”
“I remember asking why the ambulance was taking so long. You said, ‘listen, you can hear the siren.’ That simple gesture kept me going, knowing help was on the way.”
“It was the least I could do,” Mark remarked.
“I was thankful there were two of you,” looking towards Levi. “I don’t know if others would have stopped and helped us or simply called 911 from their cars while they drove by. I’m sure we caused quite the traffic jam.”
“Yes. Traffic was stopped for several hours.” Pausing, Mark continued, “I do remember something that was kinda’ odd. You said, ‘why is my leg up in the air?’”
“I do remember saying that,” I smiled, thinking for a moment. During my follow-up visits to Harborview, they’d take x-rays of my leg, primarily focused on my lower leg and the pins at the top of my femur.
During one visit, while waiting for Dr. Nork, a nurse was clicking through my x-rays, displayed on a PC. I spotted the initial x-ray of my femur. I hadn’t seen it before, but knew a rod extended the entire length. It was broken in half with one jagged end jutting upwards. If my thigh had been thinner, no doubt, it would have poked through the skin. With the bone snapped, it must have felt like my leg was elevated.
The pain I primarily felt was radiating from my lower leg. A few hours later, this pain competed with the cervical collar they’d placed around my neck. It was cutting into the back of my head, and I was miserable, strapped to a hard backboard for hours, even when swished in-and-out of a CT scanner, and poked and prodded in the emergency room.
Even though I was knocked out, I’m sure my body breathed a sigh of relief when freed from the backboard and cervical collar.
“I know I should have tried to take off my helmet and jacket,” I offered, knowing it could have resulted in my aggravating a spinal injury.
“You were so determined, and once I got them off you, you stopped squirming.”
For the most part, Rich remembers little about what occurred, besides what he was told. He, like me, had read the various accounts of the accident, written by the local sheriff, Washington State Patrol, and the witnesses. Mark had written:
“I was heading south on Hwy 20 following a white pickup truck. Traffic was heavy so we weren’t traveling that fast.
The white truck had his left blinker on to turn into a private drive. The motorcycle was headed north. The white truck seemed to slow and then just turned in front of the motorcycle, striking them head on while making a left turn onto Squire Rd.
I immediately stopped and went to the aid of the injured. Both occupants on the motorcycle had obvious serious leg injuries.”
Since he hadn’t mentioned D., I asked if he’d spoken to her.
“No! I was furious,” his calm demeanor more animated. “I didn’t think I could control my anger having seen what she’d done.”
“She believed we hit her, having come out of nowhere.”
“That’s not what happened.”
“No, but she stuck by her story. Months later, when she was interviewed by our lawyer, she still insisted we hit her even though the front of her truck was destroyed by the impact and she was in our lane.”
Anticlimatic end to a horrific year
It rained the last day of 2019. Around noon, it momentarily stopped, and a rainbow spread across the sky, perhaps inferring there’s a silver cloud even when the prospects are damp and dark. Then the rain began again.
If it was spring and the rain was causing daffodils to become waterlogged and tip over, crocus to wilt in despair, and seedlings to simply give-up, I would have been distraught. But it was winter. The last day of December and rain is to be expected. The rainbow was the surprise.
The day before, Rich had graduated from his initial knee to a much better one, complete with a hard rubber foot that might have put a mannequin to shame with imprinted toenails. The foot was a bit smaller than the previous one, which made it easier to slip on most of his shoes. Although, with no ability to sense the ground beneath his foot, Rich preferred to wear the same clunky athletic shoes, day-after-day, rather than experiment with a shoe with a different sole.
There was no New Year’s Eve celebration with us in bed before 10 p.m., the rain, having turned into a full-blown storm by nightfall. We got up early the next morning, the first day of 2020, had our customary toast with squashed avocado and coffee, and then journeyed to Mount Vernon to see the movie, Knives Out.
While I can count on one hand the number of movies we’d seen in the first 19 years of our relationship, our accident provided an excuse to escape for an afternoon and watch a movie in a darkened theater. It made for a nice outing and the comfortable seats and buttered popcorn didn’t hurt either.