Friday, April 3, 2009
Leif - Motorcycle Accident - Tampa, Florida - July 27, 2007
Leif loved riding motorcycles and said that was when he felt best in his life, when he felt alive and free. He rode like a demon and didn't want to admit how fast he went, but he did tell me that he had reached speeds well above 100 miles per hour. He loved speed.
He wanted to get a motorcycle when he was still in high school, and then during his first year of college. We wouldn't agree and told him that if he insisted on having one, he would have to wait until he could pay for it himself, pay for the insurance, and no longer lived at home. At his first opportunity, he purchased his first cycle. He couldn't truly afford it, since we were still providing financial assistance for college and some living expenses, but he was on his own and married to Nikko. He would scrimp on other things to make sure he managed the payments. I'll post photos of this cycles tomorrow.
We worried constantly that he would have a terrible cycle accident and be badly injured or killed, with good reason. One of the reasons I always made sure I had my cell phone with me or beside my bed, was the fear that I would get a call saying he had been in an accident.
He, of course, dismissed our fears as silly. However, he hadn't had the cycle so very long when he did have a minor crash. He was taking a college algebra course offered out at Fort Riley by K-State. One day, coming back to Manhattan, he headed down a long, steep, winding road on the base too fast, hit an area with some sand or gravel on a curve and slid out off the road. He luckily escaped serious injury but he got some nasty "road rash" on his leg. It shredded his jeans on the leg that scraped the pavement. He was pretty shaken up and probably in shock, but managed to ride back home and clean himself up. He didn't go to the doctor because he had no medical insurance and didn't want to pay the bill. He also didn't tell us what happened until a couple of days later. I don't think he wanted us to know, given our fears and disapproval of his fast riding. By that time, his leg looked awful and had some infection. He was fortunate that it cleared up and left no nasty scars. The bike survived with just a few scratches. After that, he put a small round decal on the bike that said, "Crashing sucks."
Leif always contended that most bad cycle accidents happen to new riders in the first six months of riding because they don't know their bike's capabilities well and aren't experienced riders. Statistically that may be true, but there are still too many accidents with cycles and with no protection from much heavier vehicles, and not much protection from the road surfaces, injuries can be terrible.
When we moved him to Florida with us, we also moved that first motorcycle, but he quickly sold it and bought an even faster, more stylish Suzuki. He had one minor incident with that one in a parking lot where he worked. Apparently, a car cut right in front of him so he had to "lay the bike down" to avoid hitting it. He was upset that his brand new cycle had scratches and scrapes on it, and used his insurance to replace everything to pristine condition.
In May 2007, when he was living in an apartment in Tampa, his prized Suzuki crotch rocket was stolen and he purchased a used Honda touring cycle, a much different kind of bike.
Leif had phenomenally bad luck. On July 12, 2007, he was returning to work from his apartment after lunch, a late lunch because he was on a late shift, on 56th Street in Tampa, when a white Cadillac cut in front of him abruptly. Drivers often don't even see cycles. We never knew whether the driver didn't see Leif or just cut him off as some drivers do, but in order to keep from hitting him, Leif had to lay the bike down again. This time he was injured. His collarbone was shattered. He had road rash on his hands because he hadn't worn his cycle gloves and a big scrape on his bald head. He wasn't wearing a helmet. He was fortunate that his head injury wasn't worse.
He was also lucky that in the traffic, someone coming behind him didn't hit him. A young couple stopped and stayed with him, called for help, and used their cell phone to call me. Leif talked with me so that I would know he was "okay," and we headed to the hospital ER to meet him. After hours, they sent him home with instructions to see an orthopedic surgeon who specialized in collarbone surgery.
He had surgery on July 27, 2007. He thought it would be a piece of cake. To him, it sounded like an easy operation on a bone just below the skin. He wouldn't believe me that it would be painful and a painful recovery. He was shocked and depressed to find out that I was right.
I was the one who took him to Tampa General for his surgery and visited him often at his apartment during the month after it. We wanted him to come stay with us while he was recuperating but he didn't want to do that. He wanted to be with his things in his own apartment, though he could have brought his computer with him. He needed help, though, in addition to the nurse and therapist that came to his apartment a couple of times a week in the month following ths surgery, and his ex-girlfriend came back to help him. We all appreciated her helping him, but I was concerned that it wasn't a good situation. Leif had come to the conclusion that they weren't a good match and they had broken up earlier in the summer. He was trying to get over that and get on with his life and having the two of them back together in the apartment meant their status wasn't clear. He saw it as friendship but it's hard for two people who were living together as something more to work it out as just friends and companions, and it wasn't a good situation. It ended in disaster and increased Leif's depression.
When we look back on Leif's life, it's clear that this motorcycle accident was the beginning of a long nine-month slide that ended on April 9, 2008 when he took his life. He had survived so much heartache and bad luck, but the amount of problems and pain he faced between May 2006 an April 2008 was an enormous load. It got significantly worse with this accident. I think it took away some if not most of the joy he got from riding. He wouldn't admit that to me but I can't see how he could have felt the same way about it after going through all the pain. I pleaded with him in his apartment after the surgery to stop riding, and we had "discussions" about it in text messaging, which I may most here. If the accident had been the end of his problems and disappointments, he might have survived, but they just kept coming.
The photo of Leif was taken in the hospital, Tampa General, after his surgery on July 27, 2007, and the x-ray of his collarbone was taken in the surgeon's office on August 7, 2007. Leif used it as the background of his MySpace page and it is still there. It obviously became a significant part of his identity. Leif took photos of himself in the hospital with his cell phone camera, too. He was not a happy man. He was miserable.