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Margo: Not just another bump in the road

Alison Berkley Margo
The Princess’s Palate

“I have bad news,” my mom said, her voice steely and calm.

“What?” I said, my heart already racing, eyes welling up with tears.

“Dad’s been in an accident.”

If there is one thing I am not cut out for, it’s dealing with an emergency or a crisis. I’m the girl in the first-aid class who is scared that the dummy we practice CPR on is going to die. I’m the girl who gets choked up every time an ambulance drives by, just knowing someone is in danger.

Mom starts telling me what she knows: “He was hit by a truck on his bike” and “He’s being flown to Denver by helicopter as we speak.”

And I’m already in tears, my voice shaking uncontrollably, and all I can say is, “Oh, my God,” over and over.

Oh, I totally saw this coming. We’re talking about a guy who, after completing century rides two weekends in a row (the Triple Bypass from Evergreen to Avon and then the Steamboat 100), complained that he wasn’t fast enough, that too many people were passing him.

“How many of them were 72?” I asked, exasperated.

“I need to be more competitive. I’m, like, a pack guy. I’m not a lead guy,” he said.

“No, you need to respect your limits,” I said. “And you need to be proud of what you can do, not focusing on what you didn’t do or think you should be able to do.”

A week later, he decided he wanted to ride his bike to my house — from Steamboat to Basalt.

“It’s fine,” he said, his tone that of a child. “I’m in great (expletive deleted) shape.”

“If you keep going at this rate, you’re either going to get sick or you’re going to crash,” I said.

Exercise can become an addiction just like any drug, and Dad is a full-blown addict. I mean, the guy practically has a rubber band tied around his elbow with needles poking out of his arms and toes, only instead of heroin, it’s endorphins, and instead of needles, it’s him pedaling his skinny little ass up and down mountains all the livelong day.

I just hope this is his rock bottom.

Details started rolling in. He was in a head-on collision with a pickup truck on a particularly dangerous section of Highway 131, about seven miles north of Wolcott. He was in the wrong lane. The driver, who was kind enough to stop and stay with him until help came, said it looked like he had lost control of his bike.

He was conscious when the EMT came, though he doesn’t remember anything. One of the first things he said was, “Is my bike OK?”

Here he’s worried about his bike, and meanwhile, he’s got a shattered elbow, a broken heel and four broken ribs that are dangerously close to his lungs. He’s got internal bleeding and injuries that are life-threatening enough that the doctor at Vail Valley Medical Center took one look at him, stuck a tube in his chest and said, “Get him out of here.”

When I arrived at the intensive-care unit two days after the accident, he was sitting up, reading his iPad, even though he’d just undergone five hours of surgery. He was high as a kite on pain meds, but still, he was his usual humorous self, making jokes and charming all the doctors and nurses. He kept telling us, “You guys are so beautiful,” and saying to his nurse, “Aren’t I the luckiest guy in the world? Look at how beautiful they are.”

His nurse Jason tended to him constantly. Jason looked familiar, not someone you’d expect to find draining the blood from the tube in your dad’s chest but like the kind of guy you might meet on the gondola or at apres, drinking a draft beer. He has tattoos and close-cut dark hair and warm dark eyes that crinkle around the edges when he smiles. He has a quiet, soulful cool I’m used to seeing in pro surfers or snowboarders, someone who knows he’s good at what he does and doesn’t have to say it. He brought an informal air and lightness to that room, a room designed to keep people alive who otherwise would be dead. I marveled at him like he was another breed, some exotic creature whose ability to take care of others is like some innate gift, so superior to my own. He talked to my dad like one of the guys, a bro, a dude, and somehow that made the ugly things seem less ugly, like he was sitting in a locker room, not a hospital bed.

One night as we were leaving, he thanked us. We gawked at him.

“We should be the ones thanking you,” I said.

“You guys are taking good care of him,” he said. “That makes a big difference: a family who cares.”

When Dad finally was moved out of the ICU on Tuesday afternoon, Travis Kirby, the man from McCoy who had been driving the truck that hit him, called to see how he was doing.

“I’d like to be able to say I was happy to run into you, but that’s not really the case,” Dad said with a laugh.

I laughed, too, the tears not far behind. How was he still alive? Was it fate? Good luck? Physics? Was it his powerful mind, his sense of humor, his huge heart? I felt like my ribs were broken, too, every breath constricted by my love for him, the ache I felt seeing him in so much pain.

A teacher of mine once said that all you need in life are a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone. All I can say is that when it comes do my dear old dad, thank God those are three bones that weren’t broken.

The Princess is looking for an apartment rental in Denver for August. Please email any leads to alisonmargo@gmail.com.


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