A very close call
Pushing the envelope ends in
a life-threatening motorcycle accident

1990–91

It is the closest I have ever come to death. Let’s hope it stays that way, for a while at least.
The human brain is a marvelous instrument of survival in many ways. One in which its adaptability benefited me was to erase all memory of my head-on motorcycle collision completely. I have pieced together the events from what was told to me after I regained consciousness, some five days later.
I had been commuting daily on the Shadow from Silver Lake to Woodland hills for a bit over a year. Now, I know, I was pushing the envelope.
With the huge volume of traffic outbound, I routinely ‘white lined.’ It took maximum focus, deep and total attention, to survive. The trip home was equally dangerous, for a different reason: fatigue. My job was stressful, peaking right around midnight with deadline requiring my maximum output at the end of the work day. Though the ride home was relatively free of traffic, I was routinely tired. On Friday nights, the car drivers were routinely drunk.
Combine all of these and the odds were enormous; allowing this to become my daily routine stupidly stacked them against me. This impaired judgment led me to stop at one of my favorite West Hollywood hangouts Spike for a drink on the way home one Friday night, a day before my 38th birthday. The route home from there took me directly across a Hollywood jam-packed with inebriated drivers and, maybe worse, tourists who didn’t know how to drive in America and didn’t know how to find their destination even if they could.

At the intersection of Fountain Avenue and Kenmore, my memory ends. From what I was told later (apparently there was a witness), a Russian-speaking woman driver heading west crossed the centerline and hit me squarely with the front of her car. If both of us were within the limit, our impact speed was about 60 mph. Helmetless, apparently I flew over the top of the car, landing on a curbside on the other side. She hit me on my left leg, which was almost destroyed. I still hate the helmet law; it would not have helped much in my situation.
It was about five days later when I regained consciousness in a fifth-floor shared room in Providence St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank.
Cameron, who had become a close friend, was the first I remember telling me how for a few days they had worried I never would regain consciousness. I had a serious concussion – the scar still visible though greatly diminished on my bald paté – among my other injuries, but I considered it a mercy I had been out of it so long. Every bone in my left leg was broken. My shoulders were bruised and my neck swollen. The itemized hospital bill, for $110,000, ran over one hundred pages. I had lots of time to go through it to learn about my injuries.

The next five weeks were varying degrees of hell. For 15 days I was immobilized, with a catheter, in traction to stretch my plaster-covered leg. First they had me on a Demerol drip, but according to my hospital roomy the hallucinations at one point had me trying to free myself from the traction apparatus so I could “get to the newsroom … we are on deadline!” Huh. Luckily a lesbian friend from the office had been one of my earliest visitors (I still have the framed tapestry get-well gift she made for me), so they knew why I absolutely could not make deadline!
Then I was connected to a self-administered morphine pump. Oh, it was sweet; I was blissfully unaware that once I reached the maximum dosage, further squeezing the pump was pointless. The placebo effect worked wonders.
Fifteen days seemed like forever. Then the surgeries began, far too many of them, in and out of consciousness, for me to count. I had what at the time was cutting edge treatment. Titanium bars, each about a foot long and a half-inch wide, were inserted in my thigh and lower leg. Twenty-three screws attached them to my tibia and fibula (lower leg) and femur (upper). I never cared to find out which had 12 and which had 11. To this day, I routinely bring airport security lines to a grinding halt when the alarms peal out as I pass through a checkpoint, every single one of them, always.
As the agonizing weeks drifted by, I craved nothing more than a cigarette. Was it a death wish? Through the drug-induced haze, I remember my future roommate Patrick Flaherty among others coming to my ward, lifting me into a wheelchair, taking the elevator down five floors and wheeling me out to the patio where I devoured three or four cancer sticks without taking a breath. The nursing staff gave me a barrel of shit for wasting their time.

About halfway through my recovery, I was out of traction when things took a turn for the worse. Since the accident, there had been a dark patch, thought to be a bruise, about the size of a pack of cigarettes in the skin covering my left calf muscle.
It grew ominously darker, and began to smell rank. It was diagnosed as gangrene and had to be removed hastily or I was threatened with losing the leg entirely. However, the orthopedic surgeon knew that it likely would require removing at least a portion of the muscle – he did not know how deep the infection had spread. If I lost the muscle entirely, I would most certainly have a limp at best, and also would have a hole of unknown size (then) in my leg.
My treatment team came up with a creative solution that I was told was almost unique and cutting edge at the time. While I was on the operating table, they indeed removed, along with the gangrene, a slice of muscle about as deep as a pack of cigarettes.
I awoke in my room staring at the bone peeking through the hole. In a couple more surgeries, they then gently carved out and flipped over one of the muscles from lower down the left leg to fill the cavity. A skin graft was then taken from my hip, and covered the entire site. It was surgical artistry, although never pretty. But, it worked.
The only limitation is that, due to the new position of the muscle, the smallest two toes of my left foot never fully uncurl, but walking on their tips all these years has never caused a limp or any pain. I cannot run more than about 50 feet before the remnants of the calf muscle become exhausted and I must stop, but I am eternally grateful I can even walk unaided. It was not so, at first.

Mal practice?
John H. drove me, weak and semi-cripple, home from the hospital in my own brown Honda Civic; after he had notified my family of my condition, for which I was grateful, he felt entitled to ‘borrow’ my car the entire five weeks I was confined. I was more than a bit perturbed; the interior was full of junk, and he’d made a total mess of it. Even incapacitated, I started driving almost immediately just to regain possession of my car.
It was just before Memorial Day, but I was too weak – in a plaster cast and required to keep all pressure off my left foot – to attend the Oedipus run OGG. The orthopedic surgeon sternly warned me that if I put pressure on the leg prematurely, I would likely break it again … in which event, it would have to be amputated. That was a warning I could not ignore; I fastidiously used my crutches to get around, and even with as much padding as would fit under my shoulder, they constantly hurt when in use. It was not easy driving at first, but thank goodness my car had no clutch. Worse was trying to do grocery shopping; I could not push the shopping cart around the store on crutches, so was able to buy only a small amount each time I went to the store … about as much as could fit in one plastic bag, which I carried to my handicapped parking place in my mouth.
I started painful physical therapy to rebuild the soft tissues in my leg that were atrophying from lack of use, but there was a constant pain in my neck that therapy didn’t help at all. After a while, I grew sufficiently frustrated to try a chiropractic adjustment, despite considerable skepticism. In two treatments, the pain was gone; so was my disbelief.

Having spent five weeks cooped up in a dreary hospital room, and another couple confined to my 600 square-foot house, I was beginning to go stir-crazy when the Warrior’s M/C ‘Happy hunting’ run arrived on the calendar. Despite my infirmity, I was determined to go. John packed all my stuff – including the wheelchair I was using – into my car, and the two of us drove up to Big Bear mountain. I was greeted warmly, the ‘wounded warrior’ of the group.
I was still too weak for crutches so got around as best I could in my wheelchair all weekend, and this time slept in a cabin. Another run-goer, who rode his classic red Harley up the hill, impressed me enormously over the weekend with his uncommon courtesies and help getting me around the rough terrain. Dan Brodzik would go out of his way to wheel me around and we spent hours visiting and getting to know each other.
He was recently arrived from Kitt Peak National Observatory, about 50 miles southwest of Tucson, Ariz., where he had spent 11 years as a telescope operator. He was living on the Westside near the airport with a self-destructive boyfriend. In addition to his ample 6’ 2” frame, Dan’s shoulder-length, dark hair allowed him to stand out in any crowd. I always thought long hair on a man was attractive.
He was enormously intelligent, and thoroughly well informed about current events – a rarity, especially in the gay community. He seemed to be a news junkie; we soon found out we shared similar political and world views, mostly, so our mental connection was immediate. And enduring.
A week or so later, Bjorn drove up from San Diego so we could attend the annual Gay Pride Parade in WeHo. He too, was sweet and attentive, pushing me in my wheelchair all over West Hollywood so I could at least see the parade. We might even have attended the festival afterwards.

As soon as I was strong enough to get around on crutches, I resumed work at the Los Angeles Daily News with my progress checked periodically by the orthopedic surgeon. Each time he would look at the X-rays of my leg (they were horrific to me, the massive rods and screws clearly visible) and apologetically report the Tibia was not knitting together where it had been broken. I could not put any pressure on it until it did heal, he warned.
The rest of the year dragged on with my activities severely constrained by limited mobility and the bone refusing to mend. I was getting increasingly frustrated. I consulted an orthopod at a sports medicine practice, the first time I heard a plausible reason for the lack of healing: The bone would not knit together without the help of some pressure on it.
Was I getting precisely the wrong treatment? It was my first inkling that this could be true.
Serendipitously, it was late in the year with open enrollment in our medical insurance plans at work. Although my previous insurer had footed the $110,000 bill for my treatment without contest, I decided to switch to Kaiser. At my first appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, he shrieked that my Tibia was not healed six months after the accident, and threw my crutches on the floor. “Get up! Walk!” he ordered.
I did. Out of the hospital. Without crutches, with only a walking stick for support.
It hurt like the dickens at first. Despite continuing physical therapy, my leg muscles were wasted away from lack of exercise. It was a bit like the stiffness one feels after the first workout in six months, the muscles aching; but the pain in my leg was much more intense. Gently, relying heavily on a simple wooden walking stick at first, I began the arduous road to full recovery. At my next X-ray, signs of the bone knitting together were already evident, the muscles rapidly regaining their strength.
To the OGG run the summer of 1991, with Cameron as a passenger, I drove a school bus sized motor home and dented the roof on a tree while parking it for the weekend.
I still did not have a motorcycle, so hitched a ride on the back of Patrick Flaherty’s Honda 1200 to the Warrior’s run at Camp Wasewagen. To this day I don’t know if it was deliberate, but we stalled out half way across the first stream, and I was dumped unceremoniously into the water as the bike fell into the drink. For more details of the stream crossing, see
Motorcycle Madness.

That summer, I missed not having a motorcycle. On warm sunny days especially, it had been my favorite activity for years. I’d already spent dozens of weekends – sometimes longer – enjoying the open road with friends. The helmet bill was just moving through the state Legislature, to become law on the first day of 1992, and I desperately want to get in a bit more riding without one.
Then I discovered a member of the Satyrs’ M/C, Don Meade, had a bike for sale. It was love at first sight. A fire-engine red, low mileage, unblemished 1988 Honda Magna 750cc. My first thought was: “How sexy!”

Franky on bike
Franky sits on my Magna. She loved to ride
in a milk crate on the back.


I considered perhaps for a few days the wisdom of again getting exposed on two wheels, and remember the orthopod’s admonition that there would be no second chance with my weakened leg. Would I have the strength to lift it if I ever dropped the bike? I tried this, and I did.
I had, though, learned a most important lesson: I would not push the envelope again. I’d not stack the odds of an accident against me as I so clearly could see I did before. I promised myself never to use the bike for commuting (it was still then a 50-mile round-trip) and would in fact strictly limit in-town riding. It was to be a purely recreational vehicle, pointed mostly out of town. Keeping this vow would lower the odds of a second mishap. I paid $3,000, and drove the beauty home to West Hollywood.
Just in time for the next life-changing adventure, this one on two wheels.