Archive for the 'accident' Category


Hooray-hooray, it’s not yet May, but rehab starts a week today

I’d love to do a leaping dance, but under the circumstances, maybe not.

Only a few days after receiving word that my medical rehab has been approved by the Berlin powers-that-be I get a call from the clinic saying my three-week program starts April 24.  Yipppeeee!  :)  I had been counting on it starting only sometime after the first weekend in May.  The clinic here in Hamburg has a great reputation and has just re-opened in brand-new facilities.

It’s just in time.

I’ve ditched the brace that had been clasped to the leg from ankle to hip for six weeks to keep the knee stable after the operation, but there’s still so little movement in the knee, I get worried that it’ll never be the same again.  It’s hard to see over the lip of the hill when you’re standing at the base.

I now get around mostly without crutches with a tension bandage around the knee, but it’s a hop-along scene.  This is what it looked like four days ago when I made the switch:

A friend congratulated me on the quick approval for rehab, saying all the pain they’ll be putting me through to stretch out the tendon again will be worth it.

I can’t wait…


my bike split in half in the middle of the street

Well, it wasn’t my bike.  It was wife K’s, but I use it when out running errands.

Crossing at a busy intersection just before noon today – on the green – thinking about how much I’m looking forward to the rest of my day off and about my mountain biking holiday coming up this Friday, and three weeks in Newfoundland next summer, what I should get K for Christmas, and all those sorts of things that just rattle through your head when you’re not focused on anything in particular, when all of a sudden WHAM! The bike simply falls out from under me.

In a flash I’m hitting the ground and land in a heap on the back half of the bike, the front half splayed out in front like some wheezed-out mule.

It just split in two.  Just like that.

Sinking to the pavement in the blink of an eye is the last thing you’d expect to happen at any time of day, so for a second or two I just lay there feeling like I’d suddenly found myself underwater, confused as hell and not comprehending.

I get up and realise I’m scraped on the elbow and knees, but I’m more shocked and bewildered than anything.  I look around and a lady is asking if I’m all right, another picks up and hands me the air pump that popped from its mooring and skidded away, and then HONK!  HONK!  Some prick behind the wheel on the cross-street figures I’m taking too long clearing what’s left of the bike off the street, so I should just get the hell out of the road.

Then the cops come over.

I’d seen the pair of them while approaching the intersection, all decked out in their police biking gear and e-bikes to boot.  It’s a tall man and a short woman.

“Did you see that?” I ask the man.

“No,” he says, “but looking at your bike – I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Are you injured?” the woman asks me.

“Naw,” I say, pulling up my pant leg, “I’m more shocked than anything.  I just can’t believe it.”

By now the male cop is taking out his iPhone and taking photos of the wreck that was wife K’s bike, purchased three and a half years ago after hers got stolen, and only three days ago outfitted with a new front light and internal hub generator.  He says he’ll send them to me the photos in a day or two.

“Guess I’ll have to take this in to the shop where I bought it and get them to replace the frame,” I say.

That’s what I did this afternoon.

They were pretty shocked to see the wreck that was a bike as I wheeled it in, the two halves still connected by the brake and gear cables.

I hope they replace the frame at least. It’s just had normal riding around town, nothing out of the ordinary.


It takes a village to take care of an old lady

Small-town Canada is changing, but the old spirit of helping each other out lives on.   Living as we do half-way across the world, that’s at least some comfort when things go wrong and we can’t be there.

As she told me on the phone last night, my mother was walking on the main street of the town she lives in half-way between Vancouver and Whistler four days ago when she misjudged the curb, fell forward, smashed her head on the ground, broke her glasses, and ended up with a black eye and scrapes on her arms and knees.

Two men who were there came over right away and got me on my feet again, she tells me. I haven’t been picked up by a man in years!

That’s because you don’t hang around in the local bars, I tell her.

Yeah, I know, she says, and laughs a bit.

Then she adds:

I was on the way to the post office to mail that package for (the little red-haired girl’s) birthday when it happened.  One of the guys stayed with me and the other went back to his truck for a first aid kit and they bandaged me up.  Oh, and two ladies who saw it all from the insurance company office on the corner came out and were quite upset.  They stayed and made sure I was all right, though.  They helped me get to the post office, and then one of them drove my car home for me.

They even drove you home?

Sure, they were really worried about me, because with the broken glasses I couldn’t get back into the car and drive anymore.


If you screw up, you could kill someone

By the time I was 19 and started training in McBride, BC, for my summer with the Canadian National Railway, I’d already racked up a long list of jobs from house-builder to ferry deckhand to supermarket stockboy, but none so far boiled down to this: If you screw up, you could kill someone.

That point was hammered home my first day of training with a jovial, red-faced, pot-bellied, silver-haired gent named Jim, who told me the story of why being precise in everything you do on this job was a matter of life and death.

In 1950 the Canadian army was sending troops over to fight in the Korean war.  The troops were often sent west to Vancouver by train, but one of those trains never made it.  It slammed head-on into a passenger train, killing 17 soldiers and four train crew.

Here’s how it happened, or rather, here’s how I heard it, because there are different versions out there.

Canadian National Railways Kitwanga CN station board signal 1980

The train order operator’s job was to pass messages from the train dispatcher to the trains, either at the station before the train left, or as they were rolling past stations down the line, so the train crews knew where they’d be meeting trains coming the opposite direction.   Much of Canada’s mainline train traffic is now double-track, but back then most areas were single-track, with sidings every few miles to pull off and let opposing trains pass.

We’d bang out messages – called train orders –  onto a form as the dispatcher dictated them over the wire, and repeat the order back to him.   The dispatcher would then give the OK that what we’d typed out was correct.  After the dispatcher was sure that all trains had their meeting points planned out, he issued a clearance to attach to the orders and we’d hand it over to the crew.  Back in 1950, even the high-traffic mainline trains between major Canadian cities were still being run this way.

One day an operator, after repeating back a train order, noticed he’d made a mistake, so he threw the order away and typed out a new one.

Unfortunately, he made two critical errors.  He not only wrote the wrong meeting point on the new order he typed out, he failed to repeat the order back to the dispatcher.  Had he repeated the order with the mistake back to the dispatcher, he and the other operators listening in to the repetition would have immediately spotted the wrong meeting point, and he’d have had to go back and type it yet again until he got it right.

As it was, he passed a message along to the passenger train to meet the troop train one station beyond the point the dispatcher thought they would meet.

So the troop train and the passenger train met in the middle – head on, around a curve, in the middle of the Rockies.

The train order operator, a young man only three years older than I was when I started my training, was charged with manslaughter.  In the trial, his lawyer argued that the man was actually being used as a scapegoat, and that the real culprit was the shoddy way the railways were being run.  Standing up in the courtroom, he held the railway rule book high over his head and ripped it to shreds, saying the rules by which the railway was then running trains were unsafe and must be amended.

That’s why on the rule book I was issued it said: Uniform Code of Operating Rules, Revision of 1962 on the cover.  They completely re-wrote the rule book based on that one disaster, resulting in a daily routine for train order operators from then on:

All train orders had to be letter perfect.  All times and all place names had to be spelled out letter-by-letter in the operator’s repetition back to the dispatcher.  And if a mistake were made, you could be charged with a criminal offense if it were found that you’d passed the order to the train without having first repeated it back.

The operator’s lawyer, by the way, was none other than John Diefenbaker, a man who later became Canada’s Prime Minister.

Caveat: I’ve re-told this story as I remember it being told to me.  When looking up for information on what’s known as the Canoe River disaster, you come up with several variations.

Disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a trainspotter.


Letter to my friend about Turkey – Part 6

In which we have arrived at mid-point of perhaps the longest letter I’ve ever written.  It’s OK, she’s a special friend, and the trip back was wonderful.  This section is a bit of a ramble.  Please bear with me, or read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here or part five here.

The only time I have ever taken a photograph of a meal was the time in France when I ate roasted sheep heads for dinner with the family I was living with as a student.  Or was it goat?  Anyway… not about to start taking phots now just for a blog, but I will mention…

Food! I haven’t told you about the food yet!  Trish, the food is the one big improvement over the time we were there. It’s simple, honest fare and outside the tourist areas, still a great deal. Ten euro will buy three people a good lunch, dinner around 15 or 20. Even in the areas with higher tourist traffic, we felt prices were reasonable. And no worries anymore about falling ill. We were also smart this time around, drinking only bottled water, which is cheap and sold everywhere. Sometimes I think back then that for a few more dollars a day we could have saved ourselves a lot of grief in the long run.   Remember how sick we were?

turkey-istanbul-topkapi-palace-line-upI was going to say you shouldn’t go to the Topkapi Palace unless you’re a masochist, but I still have to post the section on Turkish trains.

But if hanging out with hordes of people in line-ups starts to turn you off and you’re prepared to pay yet another entrance fee once inside the place just to see the Harem, where you’ll be treated to the most interesting part and be sheltered away from the crushing throng. I found the idea of seeing all that wealth and religious relics kind of enticing – who wouldn’t want to see a whisp of the beard of Mohammed himself? – but having to stand in line to do it just turned us off, so after a while we just didn’t bother.  The Harem, by contrast, proved to be quiet, sheltered and full of gory little details about palace intrigue and death.  Great fun for the kids.

I hate to harp on about the tourists, but they kind of ruined our visit to the Chora Church as well. Although we marvelled at some of the most well-preserved and beautifully restored Byzantine mosaics anywhere, the tour groups just wouldn’t GET OUT OF THE DAMN WAY long enough for you to stand back and really appreciate the setting and feel of the place.


I wanted to collectively bash together the heads of this particularly annoying group of blue-rinsed Greeks, who seemed more interested in yakking on amongst themselves about the weather and taking pictures of each other than really seeing what was in front of their blabbering gobs. I’m starting to feel the annoyance leading to aggression I felt at that moment, so will stop now.


Except to say the Little Hagia Sophia and the Mosaic Museum were ours to enjoy all to ourselves. Little Hagia Sophia is what they call a smaller mosque down on the southern shore of Sultanahmet coloured the same ochre as the Aya Sofya. It’s newly restored, and a jewel that had me holding my breath after walking in and turning skyward. The Mosaic Museum wasn’t even around when we were there because the actual restoration work didn’t start until a few years after, and wasn’t completed until the mid-nineties. Wonderful pieces, not all complete but when you think of the number of invasions and the looting that must have gone on, it’s a miracle they’ve survived at all.

turkey-istanbul-bosphorus-wooden-villa-yaliWe also had the pleasure of enjoying the amazing autumn weather on a Bosphorus cruise, taking an old tub from Eminönu right near the Galata Bridge way up to a small town on the Asian side very close to the Black Sea entrance. It stopped at several little ports along the way, giving us a great look at the grand old houses still left, what hasn’t burned down over the years. Those old wooden buildings are disappearing fast. Apparently if you buy one they have a law which says you have to restore it to its original look,which of course is too expensive, so people live in them and one day, a candle happens to fall over, or be given a nudge…


Speaking of fires and the Bosphorus, do you remember that huge, black, half-sunken shipwreck dominating the harbour back then? For the life of me I can’t figure out WHY I never took a photo of it, and I’m kicking myself still for not having done so, but I remember being so dumbstruck that amidst one of the busiest and most important waterways in the world this wreck should be even there.

On the outside of the Haydarpasa station there is a mention of the accident on a placard. We MUST have also seen it close up, because it was only 500 metres offshore from the station we had to have taken if we took the train going east. Again – no memory of it close up, but the view from afar I’ll never forget. I found this on the net:

1979–The Greek cargo ship Evriyali spears the Rumanian tanker Independenta offshore of the major Haydarpasa railway station, shaking the city with an explosion and causing pollution in both the Marmara Sea and the Bosphorus. About 95,000 tons of oil were spilled into the water and the wreck burned for nearly two months before the fire could be extinguished. Out of the 44-strong crew, only three survived. The wreckage of the tanker affected the area for many years.

So I’m not losing my memory after all.



Screaming OH MY GOD while Granny does a backflip

Sunny Sunday, no real plans, just get out and enjoy the warmth and that special atmosphere that only a German Sunday can offer. So after cleaning my clock at Monopoly the little red-haired girl helps me bundle Granny – known as Oma around these parts – into her wheelchair so the three of us can all go out for a Sunday stroll. Our destination: down to the Elbe waterfront.

The bus comes, so we head inside after the friendly bus driver lowers the platform for Oma’s wheelchair. Carefully observing the sign on the wall, I turn the chair in the reverse direction as indicated and set the brakes.


At the central bus station we all pile off and do the same thing when our connecting bus comes, only this time while setting the brakes the little red-haired girl and I are already deep into a conversation about skunks.

We sit down facing Oma and the bus pulls out.

“Have you ever been sprayed by a skunk?” she asks me.

“Nope. I’ve been pretty lucky. But I did run over one once. It was with the first car I ever owned and it must have been cursed because I’d only had it for two days when I ran over it.

“What’s cursed?”

“It means something or someone that for some reason gives you nothing but problems from the start. Anyway, some friends were along for a spin and it was at night and I sort of saw the thing in front of me but by then it was too late and then we heard this THUNK and right away the whole car reeked to high heaven. It stank for two years. Well, it actually only smelled bad for about three months. But for a couple of years you’d catch a whiff of skunk every once in a while. By the way, do you know the only thing that works to get the smell off if you do get sprayed?”

“Yeah, tomato juice. You told me before.”

“Right. I think there’s some acid in it or something that dissolves whatever’s so bad in their spray.”

“Too bad you didn’t wash your car with tomato juice!”

“Nah, that would have been pretty hard. The thing was splattered all over the wheel housing – that’s the part that covers the wheel – and I sprayed it over and over again, but the smell like I said took a long time to

OH MY GOD!!!!!!!

By this time we’ve already made one stop and rounded a corner and gone through the light and turned another corner and we’re headed down to the Elbe waterfront, which is kinda steep. The bus driver for some reason hit the brakes and Oma, with nothing but fresh air behind her, was doing a slow-motion backflip onto the floor. Never changed expression, never said anything, just tipped backward until she was staring straight up at the ceiling.

So in the instant I’m lunging forward way too late to be of any use it flashes through my mind that somehow I’m going to have to explain to my wife that her mother – a woman who lived through the worst of the Second World War by having to abandon her ancestral home to flee the advancing Red Army and live like a refugee for four years with a small child while her husband wasted away in a prisoner of war camp never knowing for the longest time whether he was dead or alive and who scrimped and saved to bring up her family and made it almost to the start of her 10th decade – was finally done in by the negligence of some twit Canadian who may have set the brakes, but didn’t stand behind her wheelchair just in case.

But as I lean down I realise the reason she’s not the least bit upset is because her head is being cradled by two feet – two feet which are placed in the footrests of ANOTHER wheelchair placed it just so happens in exactly the right spot to catch her head as she fell backwards.

The other passengers and the bus driver are all over us at the same time, making sure everything’s OK and that she’ safe and sound, and demonstrating the best way to position the wheelchair to make sure it doesn’t happen again. They suggested sideways, but basically any direction will do as long as you STAND BESIDE IT.

Oma later said she thought I was more rattled by the whole thing than she was. She’s right. We were going to start our walk along the Elbe straight away, but I needed time to let the shakes die down. We headed to the beach where she watched the little red-haired girl and I throw the football around and get sand in our shoes.

Note to self: Use your head. Don’t always pay attention to the instructions.

© 2007 lettershometoyou


Twenty-four things about the last 24 hours

1. Our friend’s birthday party was a success. Many people that I didn’t know, some of whom I now do.

2. I don’t remember any of their names. I’m like that.

3. We copied out our Page 50 quotations and put them on a billboard covering an entire wall.

4. Mine was the only one in English. It also ran the longest. I like Paul Theroux very much.

5. I managed to copy down a few others. I hope to translate them over the next day or so.

6. The evening flowed like the meanderings of a slow-moving river stretching back many years.

7. At one point, I came up behind a beautiful woman, put my arms around her, kissed her on the neck, told her she was beautiful and that I loved what she was wearing.

8. That woman was my wife.

9. I started off with champagne and then shifted to beer. Sometimes I’m downwardly mobile.

10. After we had dinner, some got up and started to play music. Two were on guitar, another on electric piano, while two sang.

11. All the songs were in English, but everyone knew the words. I tried not to sing too loudly when they played the Beatles tunes.

12. We rode our bikes there. On the way home, there was a minor earthquake.

13. As I was riding along, the ground shifted. This made me lose my balance.

14. I was instantly reminded how much it hurts when flesh hits pavement.

15. My brand-new glasses got bent all out of shape, to boot.

16. K put on a band-aid when we got home to stop the bleeding. I think my leather jacket needs dry cleaning now.

17. Sometimes I think I’m the world’s oldest teenager.

18. I learned back when I was 15 not to mix different types of booze, and never drink the last one no matter how much you want it.

19. Sometimes I wonder if I’m setting a good example for my 10-year-old.

20. Those last three are just musings, but I’m leaving them in anyway.

21. I just remembered that I wrote two haikus to Haikus yesterday morning and can be found at the bottom of this post’s comments list. I hope he doesn’t think I’m a Canadian idiot.

22. I am dreading the sunrise, because that just means it will be closer to the time I have to head to work.

23. In the last 24 hours, I also had some content stolen from this blog. The thief is a splogger. They are nasty creatures.

24. I sent them a polite request to take my content down off their site. Most Canadians are polite, and mean what they say. Beware of exceptions.

The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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