Saturday, May 23, 2009

14 April 1986

I don't think I've spoken of this one in quite some time. It's the tale of my "death." And who better than to "call the time of death" than...lawyers!

The story begins at the Loews movie theater in Levittown, NY, two miles from where I lived with my parents. Although I was 18, I didn't have my driver's license yet. There had been...technical difficulties during the driving test, namely that my self-absorbed mother had failed to renew the registration on her car. While I'd passed the written exam, they would not let me take the driving test with an "illegal" car. So I was stuck riding my bicycle to and from work.

No big deal, really. Back then, I was as fit as can be, and two miles to work, and two miles back was nothing. At a leisurely pace, I could make it in a half hour. If I hauled ass, I could do it in 15 minutes. Hauling ass usually involved me listening to a Walkman and a tape loaded with tunes designed to inspire speed. (If you remember owning a Walkman that played cassettes, you're are like me: OLD! =P ) But I also kept a few tapes that would allow me to set a slower pace, and it was one of those that I was listening to when I got out of work on 14 April, 1986.

Because I was 18, I was finally allowed to close. This meant that I was cycling home around or after midnight. As the last of the staff left the theater, I set my headphones in place and started the trek home along Wantagh Ave. And it wasn't until I reached Old Jerusalem Rd. that I had a problem.

The streets were fairly quiet. Wantagh Ave. being a main roadway, there were a few cars rolling one way or the other. But this doesn't mean I was in La-La Land. Yes, I was a bit tired from work, but the cool air and the ride home was enough to wake me up, and I was very aware of my surroundings. My trip involved few traffic lights, and I was ever-watchful as I approached each one. Good thing, too, because at the light where Old Jerusalem Rd. and Wantagh Ave. met, a woman named Mary was not nearly as attentive as I was.

In the most technical sense, this intersection is four-way. But OJR actually changes its name past Wantagh Ave., as it becomes a very short dead end street. For this reason, the intersection is often thought of as merely a T.

Mary was coming from the opposite direction. She was in the left turn lane. I was in the bike lane. We both had green lights, and pedestrians have the right of way. Street lights...reflectors on my bike...the fact that I was larger than a squirrel...I don't get it. For whatever reason, she didn't see me, and so she started making her left turn, just as I was a mere foot or so from entering the intersection. I was cruising on instinct in that moment, and was smart enough to turn right, moving with her car. Had I been in "haul ass" mode, I would've been one with her front bumper. But instead of flattening me, as would surely have happened had I not turned, I slammed into the side of her car and rolled across her hood.

She stopped, I got off the hood, and while I dragged my bike to the curb, she pulled over. She was very apologetic, and asked if I was okay. Well, a close call with the Grim Reaper gets the adrenaline pumping, and I thought I was fine. If anything, I was more concerned about my poor bicycle, which was bent slightly out of shape. While I was using my "superhuman strength" to bend it back to what it should be, Mary was scribbling down her insurance information. She then made an offer to drive me home, and I repeated that I thought I was fine.

We went our separate ways.

I honestly thought I was okay...But then Dad found me in the kitchen around 1 AM, my bare left leg elevated on another kitchen chair.

Dad: Hi, Rob. How was work?
Me: Okay.
Dad: Anything exciting happen?
Me: Well, I got hit by a car on the way home.
Dad: ...
*I pointed to my leg, which...Well, the only way I've ever described it is that it looked as though someone had opened the outside of my calf, inserted a golf ball, and then seamlessly closed my skin.*
Dad: Are you joking?
Me: Nope. I really did get hit by a car.

Dad wigged out. I insisted that it was probably nothing, and that I'd rather we wait until morning before rushing off to any doctors. I mean, I'd fallen off my bike, and collided with so many things in my life when using said bike, that I thought this really was nothing new. It would go away.

The next morning, however, I couldn't walk. Calls were made, and I was taken to an orthopedic specialist later that same day. X-rays were taken. It was rather amusing when the doc put the x-rays on the light board and pointed. "See this little line?" he asked, with both my father and I squinting and seeing nothing. "You have a hairline fracture of your fibula. No cast, just crutches. Come back in three weeks and we'll look at it again."

Which we did. Lo and behold, there was a cloud of calcium over the spot he'd pointed to, indicating that there was a tiny break, and that it was healing just fine.

The End...

NOT!

Months later, I was having an issue with my left knee. It hurt. The specialist took x-rays and saw nothing, so he ordered this new kind of picture they could take called an MRI. It was big, scary, and noisy, but to find out what was wrong with my knee, I would endure. Since MRIs were relatively new, the radiologist that read it said, "Hmmm...I dunno if there's anything wrong. Let's open him up and take a look!"

And so I had my very first arthroscopy, which showed nothing at the time.

Little side story: I'm no athlete. They seem to have these things and start playing their sports the next week. I was only semi-athletic, and was sent to physical rehab three times a week after the surgery. They had this high tech device that I would sit in, and they would strap my leg to a mechanical...thing. Then they would set the device to apply so much resistance, and I was to move my leg up and down, bending it at the knee. I was instructed to exert all the strength I could muster, and my physical therapist wandered off after hitting start.

One...Two...Thr -

The machine locked up, and I almost flipped myself out of the seat. The therapist came rushing back to me when everyone around me gasped aloud. He desperately tried to reset the machine, but I'd broken it. As he put it, my leg was too strong for the device, and I killed it. (Eat your heart out, Steve Austin.)

When I was 20, I would need a second arthroscopy to fix what was wrong with my knee. I went to a specialist of specialists, and I required something called a "lateral release." Why? Because the lateral retinaculum of my left knee was so tight that when I bent my knee, it would pull my knee cap out of the groove it should sit in, and leave it resting on the end of my femur. Talk about pain! At one point, I was with friends when it happened, and they helped get me to an emergency room. By the time I got there, my knee cap had returned to where it should be, so they saw nothing. The specialist, however, took an x-ray at an angle he called "sunset," and it showed my patella angling toward the outside of my leg. What's more, he also found a piece of "free floating matter" in my knee, which I joked later was probably from the first surgery; someone must have dropped their wallet in my knee.

Back to the tale of my "death"...I was a good Jewish boy. For those that don't know, we are genetically attached to lawyers. A Jew without a lawyer is like a human without blood. As part of the legal process and my medical treatment for the first surgery, I was using "no fault" insurance. I didn't ask to get hit by a car, and because it was someone else's doing that I was hurt, the fault lied with the driver's insurance. So when I had that MRI, I gave all of the no fault insurance info and left it at that.

Months later, I received a bill for $900 for the MRI. I called the facility to find out why, and they said they hadn't been paid. I gave them the insurance info a second time and thought nothing of it.

Months later, I received a bill for $900 for the MRI. I called the facility to find out why, and they said they hadn't been paid. I gave them the insurance info a THIRD time and thought nothing of it.

Months after that, I received a letter from a lawyer. I didn't know this one. Their rather stern letter wanted to know why I was refusing to pay the $900 for the MRI. "Refusing?" I'd given the no fault information THREE TIMES! I hadn't "refused." Some inept dolt didn't know how to get the money from the insurance company!

I needed to know what was going on before I did any official flipping out, so I called the lawyer's office. Now, when I scribble out the conversation, I want you to keep in mind that the man I spoke with had been through four years of college, four years of law school, and had passed the Bar exam. I was 19 by the time this exchange occurred, and all his higher education was no match for me, a teenager inexperienced in legal matters.

Lawyer: Hello?
Me: Hi. I'm calling about a letter I received from your office. Something about a bill for an MRI.
Lawyer: Case I have the case number?
Me: *I give the number.*
Lawyer: Okay, we're talking about one Robert Meadows...*He goes on, rattling off information that he should be asking me, not telling me; the kind of data that would have made identity theft easy, had it been a big crime back then. And he finished with...* D.O.A., April 14, 1986.
Me: *baffled* D.O.A.?
Lawyer: Yes, he was dead on arrival.
Me: That's interesting...because you're talking to him!
Lawyer: Oh. Uhhh...I guess you're not dead.
Me: YA THINK?!?
Lawyer: So, uhhh...I...
Me: Stop! Never mind. I'll take your letter to my lawyer.

And I hung up, wondering why on Earth anyone would do an MRI on a corpse anyway. An ancient body found at an archaeological dig, that I can understand. But one would expect a fresh corpse to be subjected to the ministrations of a coroner, who would simply open the body up and look. And how did he expect to collect from a dead person? Was he going to dig me up and rifle through my pockets for loose change?

My lawyer was ultimately amused when I asked, "Since I'm dead, do you think I can collect my life insurance policy?" And since then, I occasionally joke that any woman that's dated me has been a necrophiliac.

So there you have it. I'm dead since 1986, as proclaimed by a lawyer who didn't know that D.O.A. actually meant Date Of Accident.

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