Having a good map on you is a Very Good Thing. Mine showed me the location of the nearest hospital, in Montrose around 35 miles north. It also showed me that Ouray has its own fire station ( a good job, since those 35 miles are alleged to take around 50 minutes to drive, and many historic details of these old towns were lost to the flames in the past — all credit to Ouray, which is one of the few that hasn’t).
Seeking some temporary wrapping I visited the fire house but it was closed. Not a surprise — in a small town like that the fire department is strictly a part-time voluntary business. After enquiring at the community center next door, and taking care not to drip on their floors, I was helped by the town’s part-time emergency medical technician, who slapped a nice large pad to the elbow and confirmed that Montrose was by far the best and closest option. So I rode north (in a distinct state of denial, to be honest), past my camp site and back up the road to Montrose.
Now, a word about road-inflicted injuries. I had an apparantly not too serious elbow wound, but the depth and the dirt were a worry. These things have a very high (well, 100%) infection rate, and that can include the bone and joint as well if it is deep enough. At the very minimum this was going to involve a lot of antibiotics, some poking and prodding, and a good set of stitches.
The hospital was easy to find and I parked the bike, took off the most stealable items from it and wandered into the emergency room and presented my “free medical care” military
discount dependents ID card like the AmEx gold card that it was better than. At least I was going into this emergency room vertically and under my own power :D
Now, a word about having an English accent. American nurses seem to like it. ‘Nuff said. They also like it when you are able to report that yes, you were wearing protective boots, trousers, gloves, a jacket and a helmet when the accident occured.
I had a nice lie down for a while, but was cruelly denied iced beverages in case there was a need for an operation. Fortunately (or not) I had anticipated this and had just guzzled about 20oz. of water in the car park outside. Suckers!
I should say that up to this point I was really feeling no pain at all, as you can see in this semi-grisly photograph of the injury. So the happy face was nothing to do with drugs, I assure you. Enter the orthopedic surgeon, who put on his gloves and wipoed the smile off my face by poking around in the wound to see what was in there — quite a lot of dirt apparantly. He managed to poke my ulnar nerve from the inside, which was an interesting sensation.
Diagnosis: horribly dirty wound with ragged edges and pieces of road lodged in it.
Recommendation: off to the operating room for the edges of the wound to be “cleaned up” (ie. cut away) and the bone scrubbed and pressure washed (or some other technical term). I cleared my throat and said, “Sounds a bit painful”. “Oh yes, we’d do a general anaesthetic, we couldn’t numb you enough otherwise. Besides, it’s a bit um .. messy and noisy. Lots of water and stuff everywhere.” “Stuff”, eh?
So be it then. I went out to get my book from the bike, since I was going to be hanging around for a while, and walked myself off to the intensive care unit feeling like a bit of a fraud, although I was carrying my own saline drip bag with me to gove a little credibility. “We don’t usually have patients walking themselves in”, said a nurse. “I’m more interested in being able to walk out again”, I quipped.
I was in a holding pattern for the operating room, so I read a book, cleaned myself up, and took photos of my bike out in the car park. At about 7:30 pm I was told that I’d be knocked out pretty shortly, so I made a brief “Hi! Guess where I am?” phone call home, optimistically marked my current book page in case I survived the oredeal, and submitted myself to the knife.
Now I said before that passing out is a great way of going to sleep but I should add that it is second only to a general anaesthetic, because the latter avoids the potential problem of getting headaches later on. I woke up in a quiet and pleasant room and was tenderly ministered to for the next few hours .. very pleasant indeed.
The surgeon stopped by the next morning to remove a drain from the wound, and casually mentioned that there had been a large piece of asphalt pushed under the flesh and right against the bone, so it was a good job that they’d gone the full Monty on the treatment. And I still wonder that such a thing didn’t hurt at all.
With those thoughts in my head i declined the bacon and eggs and went for a caffeine-based breakfast, then wrappings were changed, and the stitching admired. After another infusion of antibiotics at 12pm I was released back into the wild at 1:30 clutching a prescription for Vicodin and my wordly possessions, ready for a 300 mile seven hour journey home with additional breaks required for packing up my completely unused tent and sleeping bag, filling the gas tank and getting something to eat.
Next episode: “What could possibly go wrong with this?”