David Feherty Got Hit by a Truck and Lived to Tell About It
|THE HIT MAN: Feherty, a golf analyst for CBS, was hit on Park Lane, just five minutes from his driveway.
Seven months ago, I was on my beloved bicycle, a 6.5 trek Madone with the SRAM Red groupset and Easton climbing rims. Tipping the scales at a featherweight 13.8 pounds, it is like riding a carbon butterfly. I was closing in on a 50-miler, just five minutes from my own driveway, and the sun had not yet risen. It was a good start to the day.
I was riding west on Park Lane between Greenville Avenue and Central Expressway, approaching the light at Bed Bath & Beyond—when a pickup truck knocked me into the Beyond section. His wing mirror barely missed me, but the trailer was wider than the truck, and even though I was doing about 20 mph, the impact was shockingly violent.
I’m an alcoholic and a narcotics addict. A couple of years ago, I bought a bicycle and started to ride to my meeting. I liked it, and after a while I started riding farther. Then, one day, I kept going. Now I’m riding instead of meeting. My bicycle is my lifeline, my meditation machine, and without question one of the reasons I’m alive. I acquired the addiction to painkillers from years of playing professional golf with bad elbows and a worse first wife, and the alcoholism I guess is just an Irish thing. I have the double curse: the thirst and the internal stoicism to consume an utterly absurd quantity of alcohol and still remain lucid. I quit drinking not because I was a bad drunk; on the contrary, I was spectacular.
Having kicked all my bad habits for the better part of two years, I finally thought I was addicted to something that wasn’t going to kill me. The irony flashed through my head milliseconds after the corner of the trailer made contact with the middle of my saddle and then my lower back. I remember thinking, Oh, crap, I hope it’s not a beer truck. My head snapped back and I began to fly, like a silhouette of E.T. across the moon. All that was missing was the basket on the handlebars. I had everything else, down to the glowing red light, of which I had two—one on the back of my helmet and the other, a dazzling Planet Bike flasher, clipped to the back of my jersey. I am, if nothing else, safety conscious on a bicycle. The only person who could hit me would have to have a grievance against Christmas trees or, as it turned out in this case, a pressing need to get to a red light. He just had to get to the red light before I did.
With three broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a separated shoulder, a crushed left elbow, and several other gashes and bruises, I lie on the grass writhing silently like a goldfish on the carpet. I cough, spraying scarlet across the powerful beam of my front light, and I feel a piece of bone in my mouth. That’s not chicken, I think. That’s ribs. Unable to speak or take a breath, I am losing consciousness when a pair of hands comes from behind me, cool on the back of my sweating neck. One of them cradles my head, while the other picks my crushed left arm out of the road and holds it against the wreckage of my chest.
“Hold on, honey,” she says. “Help is coming. Can you hear me? Hold on. Can you feel me hold your hand?” Coughing and gasping for air, I force my head back far enough to see a face. “Don’t move,” she says.
Then a man standing above, his arms folded. He is not looking at me. The lady says, “You just ran him over!”
“He was in the road!” comes the reply, defiant.
At this point, I don’t know if I’m going to live, but I do know that if I die, I definitely want to take this guy with me. If I could just get up, maybe I could push him into oncoming traffic. That way, even if the bastard survived, he’d know what it feels like to be hit by several tons of fast-moving metal. (For the record, it hurts.)
Then sirens and paramedics and a board, to which I am strapped, hard. The nice lady with her cool hands is gone, and I miss her. The pain in my chest and shoulder is unbelievable, and my ears are filled with tears, but still I can’t talk. I know I’m in trouble, because we’re going fast. Every bump in the road feels like a stab in the heart. The centrifugal force of every corner feels like it is tearing me apart. I can’t scream. And is a big, burly man with chiseled features using an ugly pair of shears to cut off my beautiful $450 skinsuit? Oh, no, being hit by a truck has made me gay! I wonder if I will ever see my family again. As he gets to my groin, I’m realizing that I’ve been in a skinsuit for three hours. There are compression issues. Normally it’s bigger than that! Great, I’m dying and spending my last minutes as George Costanza. But the medics are talking about hockey, so maybe I’ll live. I can’t help but wonder why that guy in the truck needed to get to that red light before I did.
Lights, bright white lights, and my wife Anita and daughter Erin, who is crying. I try to smile, which serves only to frighten my baby girl more. I must be in the E.R., I think. I try to talk and find I can get out one word at a time. “Did. I. Crap?” I ask my wife. She looks grimly at the doctor, who for some reason is preparing to drive a stake through my heart. Apparently, they think I’m a vampire. “He’s going to be okay,” he says, smiling, as he hands the apparatus to an intern, who has a stab at it but misses on her first attempt, hitting a rib. Hey, what’s another rib? When a lung collapses, aka a pneumothorax, an instrument sharp enough to penetrate the skin and connective tissue of the ribs, but not so sharp that it might damage the lung further or anything else important, like the heart, must be driven through the rib cage. That, friends, is called a thoracostomy. It’s like having a tent-peg hammered through your breast. Then a tube is inserted to extract air from the pleural cavity, allowing the lung once again to expand.
Hours later, I’m wheeled into a hospital room, surrounded by the usual paraphernalia, the IV drip, monitors, gauges, etc. And, wouldn’t you know it, Eliot Spitzer is on CNN. Not being able to laugh at this jerk might be the cruelest blow of all. Nope, I can’t laugh, I can hardly swallow, my left arm is on fire, my chest feels like John Daly has used it for a trampoline, and my left shoulder is so separated that Baylor is probably charging it for another room.
“How’s your pain level?” someone asks.
“Compared. To. What?”
“On a scale of one to 10.”
Now this is a problem for a narcotics addict, but my shattered body is not in a position to negotiate with my addled brain, which is making me say, “More. Phine?”
The first few weeks were agony, even with the drugs. Anyone who has ever bruised a rib or torn one of the intercostal muscles between them will attest to the pain. I had broken three under my left armpit, one of them in two places. Yay, I had a floater! I shall call him Chip. Finally I had something to celebrate. And the lung was on its way back, as the tube in my chest sucked out a mixture of blood, air, and, uh, stuff. I couldn’t feel my elbow at all, which I figured was due to the anesthetic, but, as it turned out, four months later I still couldn’t feel it. I may never feel it again, as the nerves, veins, and lymph drainage are blended into a puree, all because that guy had to beat me to the red light. Or maybe he was daydreaming of hookers in Amsterdam.
In early March, the CBS golf crew was off work for the Madness. No big deal, I thought. I’ll watch the tournament, torture my broadcasting colleague Jim Nantz with text messages, and be back for the Masters in early April, fresh as a daisy. I whined my way out of hospital, probably a little earlier than I should have, and from my recliner in front of the TV, started driving Anita berserk. But my friends had other ideas.
|TWO SWINGERS: Feherty’s golf game was never as good as Tiger’s. After the accident, it’s even worse.
The text messages and e-mails came hard and fast. One day alone, I replied to 85 of them. I was getting winded on my BlackBerry. It’s nice to have so many people who care, but this was a bit much. Two days later, I was screaming in a voice only my dogs could hear, “We have to change our phone number.” A week later, so many people had inquired about my well-being that I was, in fact, being worse. I was sui-homicidal—a danger to myself and anyone within arm’s length. The single messages were okay, but I quickly grew tired of the ones that, when I answered, came back with follow-up questions, followed by more, followed by “Well, if there’s anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate.”
You know, here’s a helpful piece of info for anyone who is tempted to say this to a seriously injured friend. If, in fact, there were anything you could do for him (and there isn’t), the ambulance would have stopped at your house before the emergency room. Meaning well is nice, but for the wounded, thinking well is much better. Try one short text, preferably laced with inappropriate humor, like “Nice work, I have dibs on your patio furniture.” If you’re a close friend, he’ll know what you mean, and if you’re not, don’t call. Give it some time, explain why you waited, and it will be appreciated.
A little more than a month after the accident, I had to get out of the recliner, or Anita, the love of my life, was going to perform an amateur thoracostomy on me with a kitchen knife. Just as well, because I have to go to work anyway. It’s the Masters. I’ve done 11 of them in a row, and, by God, I wasn’t going to miss No. 12. What’s more, I took my provisional bike with me, as Skeeter the 6.5 Madone was still evidence, hanging mangled in Bicycles Plus. A little honey with a set of Reynolds carbon rims, Jenna the 5.2 is a couple of years old, but she’s as comfortable as an old shoe, and when I got out of town and out of quack-sight, my butt was going to hit the saddle. My doctors told me I shouldn’t be flying, but screw them. What did they know?
Quite a lot as it happens. I survived the flight to Augusta with Anita, who, as my left arm is useless, had to drive me down to Augusta. After a day of being hugged, grabbed from behind by the shoulder, and slapped on the back by well-intentioned friends, I stopped at a pharmacy and bought a sling. I didn’t really need it, but if I had another day like the first one, someone was going to be in the IC unit of Augusta General, and it wouldn’t be me. I wore it for the rest of the week, like a “Keep off the Grass” sign.
For an Irishman, I’m usually pretty quick-witted, but it took me at least a month to figure out that I was very seriously injured. It was pollen season at Augusta National, and although it wasn’t as bad as in previous years, outside the house I always share with Peter Kostis and Verne Lundquist, there was a layer of green dust on the hood of the car every morning. I had survived one sneeze at home, but it had shocked me to the point that I was terrified it might happen again. During a sneeze, the rib cage expands and contracts violently, which is not good news for anyone with broken ribs. Chip the Floater would shoot out like a boomerang and take his time coming back, leaving me incapacitated for several minutes after each sneeze, again in agony and struggling for breath.
Unfortunately, I had neglected to share this information with Verne, who on the morning of the first round was reading the local newspaper while I was eating a massive bowl of Kellogg’s All-Bran (a wise move if you’re on painkillers and would like your eliminatory efforts not to feel like you’re giving birth to an asteroid). I had already successfully stifled several snotbursts with the old thumb-on-the-roof-of-the-mouth trick, but apparently the human sneeze is an adaptable little bastard. If you deny it an exit, I don’t know, maybe some of them turn into farts or something and find another way out. But the cunning alpha sneeze is determined to ensure the survival of its species. It learns to avoid producing the usual welled-up feeling that serves as a warning of its imminent arrival. I don’t know the science—perhaps it was hiding behind my tonsils or something—but this one just jumped out of me like a gunshot. I spackled the wall of Mrs. Zimmerman’s kitchen with a mouthful of liquid wicker and went down into the fetal position.
Verne, always cool in a crisis, lowered his paper and peered at me over the top of his pince-nez, a little concerned. At this point, I could do nothing but roll around like I just took a Randy Johnson fastball in the twin’s bullpen. Verne let me go for about five seconds, then sprang into action with remarkable agility for one so rotund, dropping to one knee over me. That’s when it hit me: I was about to get mouth-to-mouth from Verne Lundquist! “In your life,” I thought, “have you ever seen anything like this?!”
Now, I love Verne dearly, but not in that way. I was fending off his gallant attempts at resuscitation with one foot when Kostis walked in, took one look, turned on his heel, and left. A good decision. Verne and I both survived, but had Kostis stayed, someone might have died laughing.
Up in the 15th tower, my elbow began to leak. My shoulder was still separated, and there was nothing anyone could do for it until I got the elbow healed up, but it was starting to look like my lung, ribs, and shoulder were the least of my worries. My left elbow had been crushed, and in triage, the wound had been loosely sewn up, to allow for drainage. My left forearm had steadily been filling up with a mixture of blood and other bodily fluids, and because the bursa sac and lymph drainage system were mangled, the nasty brew had no place to exit except through the gaping hole on the point of my elbow. As the week wore on, my arm became increasingly hot, sore, itchy, and swollen, and I was manually milking the wound like an udder onto my spotter, Ron Thow, who didn’t take it well. Served him right for sitting on my left, I told him, but deep down, I was becoming worried. Something was horribly wrong.
Back in Dallas, my fears were confirmed. I had to undergo another surgery at Presby to remove the ruptured bursa sac, and nobody knew what the recovery period would be. Alas, I would not be working Hilton Head. The following week was the Byron Nelson, a home game in Irving, and I worked the weekend from the 15th tower, with my left arm roped up to the scaffolding in a Hitler salute. I considered shaving my mustache down to a toothbrush but decided that only Mel Brooks could get away with it.
The arm was no better. It was now stapled shut, and the fluid and other post-op matter, with no place to go, was welling up behind the dam. I had been on industrial-strength antibiotics for six weeks and was starting to kill off the fish in my doctor’s aquarium. My stomach was revolting against all the meds. My left arm was the size of a ham hock, and it was cooking at around the same temperature.
It was time for the full-court press: off to the wound clinic at Medical City, where they tore me open again, cleaned out the elbow, and stuffed me with yards of surgical packing. The doctors put a sponge over the hole, followed by a tube attached to a vacuum pump, which I wore 24/7 for nearly six weeks. It was the second-biggest pain in the rear I have ever endured (first marriage still wins), but it worked. The sponge and tubing had to be replaced every other day, I did two hours in the hyperbaric chamber five days a week, and I had manual lymph drainage for an hour five days a week.
All this at two different hospitals, while CBS golf, speaking engagements, charity events, playing with my daughter and attending her events, and my social and sex lives went on without me. Golf was utterly out of the question and will be forever, as the chances are slim that I will ever regain full use of my left arm. Because that guy in the pickup just had to beat me to the red light.
|SCENE OF THE CRASH: Feherty revisits the spot where he was hit. He now has to wear an arm brace when he rides.
A lot of people have told me I was lucky to survive the accident, which is nonsense. It’s like people who survive an airplane crash and consider themselves blessed—a sentiment with which I strongly disagree. The witness on the ground whom the plane just missed was lucky. Winning the lottery is lucky. The man who crushed me was lucky—he wasn’t even ticketed! Surviving a plane crash is unlucky—because you were in a plane crash! I think the expression these people are searching for is “Dude, it could have been worse.” And, yes, it could have been. My only luck was the kind lady with the cool hands.
We are going to see more and more cyclists on U.S. roads, which is a good thing for the obese, health-care-challenged, gas-slurping country I love. But it also means that more riders will die, unless drivers experience a paradigm shift, especially here in Dallas, the third-worst city for cyclists in the country, according to Bicycling Magazine. In the less than three years I have been cycling, I have endured shouted obscenities, been hit by a flying bottle, blown away by horns, spat on, and several times deliberately forced off the road by vehicles. It seems we are closer to having a bag limit on cyclists than having a police department that will protect us.
In an 11-day period in June, eight cyclists were struck by Dallas-area motorists. Three of the riders were killed, and one did time in intensive care. The others had “minor injuries” like mine. Ha! Lucky them! Later that month, I witnessed one of Dallas’ finest writing up the cyclist in front of me for going through a three-way stop at a walking pace, an act of gross stupidity by the Police Department that, given the events of earlier that month, further highlighted the astonishingly arrogant and erroneous thinking of city and state officials.
The life of a cyclist does not seem to matter. The fact that I, an F-list celebrity, got mown down is probably somewhat helpful to the cause, but it’s clearly not enough. Maybe we need Tommy Lee Jones or Matthew McConaughey to get flattened before our elected halfwits in Austin get their heads out of their tailpipes. In May, a bill that would have required motorists to give cyclists at least 3 feet of space when passing died in the Texas House of Representatives (some of whom clearly need to get off their flabby buttocks and ride a bicycle). Three feet is too much? Even with 3 feet of clearance, the turbulence created by a vehicle doing 50 mph is enough to force the kind of speed wobble that can bring a biker down, into the path of following traffic. But, hey, who cares? You make sure you get to that red light before that guy on the bike.
Cycling is coming to Dallas whether motorists care or not, and I am sick up to my coin purse of hearing cyclists apologize for the behavior of a tiny minority of morons on two wheels. Sure, they give the rest of us a bad name. Get over it. This problem is caused by careless and inattentive drivers, period. (If you haven’t picked up on it, I’m now feeling well enough to be seriously pissed off.) In the greatest irony, cyclists are often riding to find a cure for the diseases that many drivers will get because they drive everywhere. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there’s a Road Rage for the Cure. (If you’re driving while reading this, pull over, read that last bit again, roll this magazine up tight, and check your prostate with it. And stop whining. At least it’s a glossy.)
Washington, D.C.; Louisville; Minneapolis; New York City; Chicago; San Francisco; and many more are getting the message and gearing up with long-term expansion plans for bike lanes on major roads, miles of bike- and pedestrian-only paths, bike parking lots, and public showers. Portland, Oregon, already has bike boxes at some high-risk intersections, painted areas in front of cars that give cyclists priority, a measure that, had it been in place here in Dallas, might have meant I could have taken a shot at the Champions Tour, starting in August, when I turned 50. But now I’ve got this arm that doesn’t work properly. Fifty is a little late to start learning the game all over again. I suppose I could be like Calvin Peete, who picked up the game later in life, (if I had a gold tooth and a longer driver) but, realistically, I think not.
|“For an Irishman, I’m usually pretty quick-witted, but it took me at least a month to figure out I was very seriously injured.”
I could give some kind of windbag lecture here on what cyclists need from motorists, but it’s really very simple: hang up and watch out. The state needs to pass a law with teeth, and—duh—the court system has to hold responsible for their actions those who control large, heavy, lethal machinery.
In conclusion, I have some suggestions: a) Go ride. b) Spend a few weeks in a hyperbaric chamber with a catheterized elbow that looks like a vervet monkey’s ass attached to an 8-pound vacuum-purse. (Given how hard it is to get shoes to match, I recommend the first option.) And c) when you see a red light, slow down, even if there isn’t a cyclist in front of you.
EPILOGUE: In August, David Feherty worked the PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, in Michigan. While riding in Dearborn before the tournament, he was again apparently struck by a car that this time didn’t stop. He suffered a concussion and has no memory of the accident. Feherty had to use a cane to walk the course but sustained no permanent injuries. He now plans to employ a tail gunner and start riding a tandem bike.
David Feherty is a golf analyst for CBS, a columnist for Golf Magazine, and the author of four books, including, most recently, An Idiot for All Seasons.