The accident

The first day I didn’t ride in to work was Bike to Work Day. That’s when thousands of cyclists from the east, west and north of Toronto converge at Bloor and Yonge, ride together in a long, happy mass down Yonge Street and end up at City Hall for a free pancake breakfast.

Instead, I was in the trauma unit of Sunnybrook Hospital.

The uber-talkative owner of a garden centre in the bed to my left had mangled his right foot with a lawn mower and was awaiting his third operation. (The doctors had decided not to amputate, he explained, because, at 52, he was still considered young.)

The Asian woman on my right, pumping breast milk, was a threat to herself and had someone keeping a 24-hour watch on her. I could only speculate why.

There were always a few police officers in the hallway. “Spring starts off busy season,” explained one nurse. “Motorcycle accidents — organ donors,” said a doctor.

I had arrived at the hospital by ambulance on the morning of May 27th. “Woman, 53, bike accident” is my story in a nutshell. I had hit my head and suffered a brain injury. My cheek was fractured.

It was only many weeks later, when I had the courage to peek into my online clinical records, that I came to realize the realness of it all. “Scattered SAH over right temporal area AP. Polysystem trauma with mild TBI… Patient reports feeling ‘out of place’ and had difficulty remembering the writer’s name…” read the report.


I have no memory of the accident. One minute we’re snacking on apples and energy bars, the next we’re cycling down what might be Toronto’s only switchback bicycle trail.

“This is like San Francisco!” I shouted back to David. Then he passed me and wiped out. Then, apparently, so did I.

I’ve since learned that we sometimes make ourselves forget things so that we don’t have to remember. But remember what? I ask a lot of questions to try to find out.

“I got up. You were lying on the ground unconscious with blood coming out of your ear,” explains David for the umpteenth time.

David threw the bike off me and two cyclists walking up the hill rushed over to help. David called 911. That’s when, he says, he kicked into search-and-rescue mode, which is what he does for a living. Coordinates. Vitals. Get this case resolved as quickly as possible.

I’m told the paramedics boarded and collared me. In the ambulance, I was concerned about turning off my cycling app. I was also worried whether I’d make it to my great aunt’s funeral later that afternoon. (I did not.)

My first memory is in the ER. They can’t find my rings. “No sweat,” says an upbeat, female voice. “They’re here somewhere!”

I remember being wheeled down a long hallway for a CT scan.

I remember my three daughters lined up on the left side of the stretcher in the little alcove of the emergency room hallway. There aren’t enough beds at Sunnybrook, just as there weren’t enough beds at Toronto General for my mom last winter.

Collared in the emergency room

“Do you know why we were standing on your left?” asks my eldest daughter, Marika, many weeks later.

I don’t.

“You couldn’t turn your head to the right.”

Right. And that painful feeling, as if a screw was being drilled into the edge of my ear.

They kept me in the hospital for four days because I randomly threw up blood. I understood later that was the beginning of some good luck. I wasn’t sent home too early: that heightened the gravity of what happened.

My friend H wasn’t as fortunate after her bike accident. Her CT scan, which turned out to be false, revealed cancer. Three months later, when she went to get five teeth replaced, the dentist discovered she had a broken jaw. Four months later she was taking medication for anxiety.

D’s story started four days after mine. She fell and hit her head in the bathroom sometime after midnight. After they released D from hospital, she started to pull her life together. Months later she still gets dizzy if she walks for more than 15 minutes.

Three weeks after my accident I started seeing a physiotherapist for my shoulder and neck. Danny thought I was a good candidate for Paul, the in-house concussion guru.

“They call me Dizzio,” said Paul during our first appointment. Paul’s background is in sports and training.

I don’t know what I would have done without them.


12 thoughts on “The accident

  1. Wow, wow wow Mara! I had no idea you were in such a condition. I’m embarrassed I didn’t know! I’m so sorry but so relieved you are ok. You are ok? Amazing story,

  2. So sorry to hear about this, Mara. Cycling in Toronto seems like a kind of compromise between sheer child-like pleasure and ever-present danger. Hope you come out of this back in 100% form.

  3. Mara – I’m so sorry to hear about your accident. Your writing is incredible and it’s amazing how you are coping. I got your blog link from a parent at NTCI after I told her I was in a cycling accident 4 weeks ago.. While I can relate to the “woman, 53, bike accident” , (I ended up with stitches to the jaw, ‘writing’ hand in a cast and some bruising), I can’t imagine what you went/are going through. Let me know if I can help in anyway. Keep up your spirit, blogging, determination and inspiration! Your post is inspiring to me.

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