Forty Years of “Gravy”

On July 14, 1979, I turned my 1975 Monte Carlo into an El Camino, instantly.  I also managed to push the ball of my femur through the back of its socket. Basically, I broke my hip, the largest joint in the human body. Some describe the pain of a broken hip as comparable to that of birthing a child. Having had no way of verifying that, I just took their word for it. By the way, it was painful enough to make those analogies seem valid.

My college roommates and I were supposed to have a party that Friday night at our house just off campus, like we had on many a night over the last few months. That afternoon, however, the plans changed and the party was to be at a girl’s house out in the Wes-Del area of the county, northwest of town. I’d never heard of the girl before, but it didn’t matter. Even if it was Friday the 13th, I wasn’t superstitious. Plus, one of my roommates had a black cat named “Magic”, which made us all immune to bad luck!

I’d been working a tough job doing commercial roofing that summer and was pretty well worn-out.  I was also trying to get ahead in college by taking a couple of summer classes, so I was ready to let loose for the weekend.

My girlfriend of the last 12 months and I had broken up a few days earlier and I had just gone out with a girl from Yorktown to see the film Alien on Thursday night. The graphics of the movie, which were “state of the art” at the time, had quite an unsettling impact on both of us.

Late Friday afternoon, prior to our leaving for the girl’s house just outside of town, one of my roommates offered me a couple of quaaludes, which I pocketed for later. The girl’s house where we headed was actually her parent’s home, as they were apparently away for a few days. It turned out that she lived in a trailer park not far from there.

When we got to the party, there were a couple dozen people already there. Most of them, I didn’t know, but there were a few that I did. There was a keg flowing in the driveway, so my compadres and I began to partake. I also took the 2 “quads”, though spacing them out over a period of a couple of hours.

The girl having the fiesta was very friendly and nice looking. We hit it off well and she asked if I’d be interested in going to see the band Triumph, who was coming to Indy the next weekend. I was kind of looking forward to that concert when my ex-girlfriend showed up with her friends and began getting into the keg out in the driveway.

Before long, my ex confronted me as I walked out of the garage after talking with the girl having the party, doused me with the beer in her glass mug, then threw the mug which shattered in the driveway. It made quite a scene and I was totally embarrassed as her friends carried her off and made their getaway. The host thought the ordeal was humorous and we proceeded to clean up the aftermath.

As darkness fell, we were still out in the driveway discussing the antics of my ex, when a pickup truck came barreling south down the county road in front of the house. Just when it was across the street, it ran off the other side (the west side) and rolled several times. Me and a couple of others quickly ran over to find the driver partially hanging out of the back window of his upside-down pickup truck, unconscious. I told the others not to touch him until an ambulance arrived because he may have internal injuries.

After a few more hours of drinking beer and rehashing the incidents of the evening, I ended up in the bedroom where I fell asleep on the bed. About 2:30 AM, another roommate woke me up and said that he needed to get back to the house because his girlfriend was alone there and wanted him home. He offered to drive, but I told him that he was in no shape to drive and that if anyone was going to wreck my car, it would be me.  I was kidding, of course, but since I’d had a little rest over that last couple of hours, I felt capable of handling the drive back.

We were traveling at a fairly high rate of speed as I was feeling angry about my ex-girlfriend.  Coming down Bethel Pike into town, I remember seeing the lit part of the road about a mile ahead. However, the streetlights I saw were actually on the opposite side of the new State Road 332 and construction was going on on our side as they were putting in a Target store. Bethel had been re-routed to a crossing about a quarter of a mile further down.

All of a sudden, a yellow sign indicating a left curve came into view as we came over a hill, and I began to pump my brakes. We came to a sharp curve and while trying to slow the vehicle, the front wheels hit a drainage ditch running across the road, which had been washed out by rain a couple of nights before.  The front wheels went airborne and losing control of the vehicle, took out a piece of guardrail, the sign with the arrow on it, then a telephone pole.

The next thing I knew, I was lying in a field with reeds sticking out of my ears, feeling like I’d been through a hay bailer, very groggy, and unable to move. It was as if my hip was pinned to the ground. Everything seemed to be in slow motion.  I was in shock, I guess, but was aware of what was happening. I didn’t feel fear even though I knew that I could very well bite the dust right there or very soon as a result of what had just happened. I recall the EMS technician being there quickly, and saying to me as they loaded me into the ambulance, “You’re going to be alright.” I responded by saying; “I bet you say that to the DOAs too!”

I ended up in the emergency room, fading in and out, but remember them stitching up my lacerations and popping my left leg in and out of its socket. The stitching tool didn’t hurt too bad and I clearly recollect the feel of warm blood flowing from the stitching device down my back in the cool room. The pain in my hip was intense, and then Dad showed up and was right by my side. I was having severe muscle spasms so he ordered a shot of valium which took immediate effect.

I remember a cop being there, asking me if I had been drinking prior to the accident. I had the presence of mind to tell him that there were quaaludes going around the party I was attending and that I believed somebody may have slipped one into my soft-drink. I never heard any more from him after Dad got there.

I came to in the recovery room with a cold, damp cloth in my mouth, tubes coming out of my nose, and a nurse wiping my butt. It was surreal to say the least, and not just a little bit belittling.

The next morning, my crash as well as the one where I was first to arrive at, were in the same article on the front page. Fortunately, my roommate and another acquaintance riding in the car were treated and released from the hospital for minor injuries. I definitely got the worst of it.

They had me on morphine for a couple of days after the surgery before replacing it with Demerol for a few more days. When they took away the Demerol, I felt some withdrawal symptoms for a couple of days, with profuse sweating and itchiness in the legs, usually in the middle of the night.

I ended up in traction for six weeks at Ball Memorial during a couple of heat spells and storms where the power had gone out a couple of times and the air-conditioning was not performing very well. I kept a fan next to the bed and slept in the raw for the first several days. By the way, being in traction makes it very difficult to put on clothing anyway, but it also hampers your ability to use the bathroom which really cramped my style. The urinal and the bedpan got to be very close personal items, indeed.

So much happened during my six-week stay at the BMH Grand, most of it comical, that I’ll have to save it for another post later. Stay tuned for that!

My hospital wristband had the date “7/14/79” on it, which I thought was ironic as the numbers on a quaalude are “714.” There was certainly a clear lesson in that!

Since I very easily could have “bitten it” right there in that field that is now the parking lot of a Fairfield Inn, every day since is really a blessing. I’ve experienced the gamut of emotions, from the exhilaration of success to the exasperation of loss.  I went on to finish college, visited Paris, moved to Dallas, had a nice career that carried me into the next millennium, and became a father.

But on the other hand, I’ve lost so much as well. My beloved sister, my only sibling, to a horrendous tragedy, lost everyone near and dear to me, with the exception of Dad, who is now 81 years of age. Divorced twice, then raped of my retirement funds by the malicious evil machinations of American capitalism, and so on, and so on….

Looking back on the 40th anniversary of that night, though, it is clear that my life had not even truly begun yet, and that every day since has been “gravy.”

So, I can’t really complain too much. It’s all good!

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