“It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead.” -Miracle Max in The Princess Bride
Around 5:45 PM on Sunday, June 26th, I found myself fighting to remain conscious while laying against hot asphalt on a Florida road. It was quite literally like watching the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon. Everything was going black towards a tiny circle directly in my sightline. My subconscious, being the arrogant subconscious that it is, wasn’t going to have any of that.
“Nope,” I heard my own voice say. “Don’t pass out.” My subconscious’s voice was strangely calm. “Stop it. Seriously, stop.”
And just like that, the darkness stopped and begin to rewind. With my view of the everything now in focus again, I took a visual assessment of the world around me. The first thing I saw was my left hand directly in front of me. My Apple Watch was still on my wrist, but it was completely destroyed with bits of it hanging out the front of it.
At that point I decided to try to move, but I was suddenly stunned when my hand did not comply. I tried again. Nothing. As a matter of fact I couldn’t feel anything from my entire body and I apparently couldn’t move.
Then, I thought back to the movie Kill Bill: Vol. 1.
“Move one finger,” I said to myself. I’m not sure if I said this out loud or just in my head. Either way, I focused on my forefinger. “Move,” I said while focusing directly on the digit.
Next, I focused on the second finger. Then the next. Finally, I saw all of my fingers moving on command in a synchronized open and close formation.
Motor functions now intact, I shifted my focus to the right and looked over at my other hand. I noticed that the bone on that wrist was protruding, but it didn’t pierce the flesh. Something had snapped or was broken there, so I made a note to be careful. I looked straight ahead, and about six or eight feet away for me I saw the wreckage of my Kymco Scooter scattered on the pavement.
I pushed myself up using my left hand and saw blood, apparently mine, in a pool on the paved black tar below me. It was dripping off of my chin, so I initially thought I had sustained some sort of cut there. I later learned that I was wrong and that I had sustained a laceration to the back if my head and the bleeding was coming from there. I have three staples there now holding the flesh around my skull in place. No, I was not wearing a helmet.
As I began to roll myself over, I saw a man on a phone with 911. “Dude,” he said. “Don’t get up. Just stay down.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied while trying to stay calm and speak clearly. “I’m just trying to assess the damage.”
I rolled over on my back and began feeling my body with my mind. My legs were moving. My toes were moving. No pain in my chest. Something was definitely wrong with my right arm. I could hear everyone talking around me and the sirens were pretty close. They must have, luckily, already been nearby.
My world was suddenly surrounded with police and paramedics. I could hear multiple conversations at once and a bombardment of questions…
- Can you hear me clearly? Yes, sir.
- Do you know your name? Tom Croom
- Did you ever lose consciousness? No.
- Do you have any allergies? Milk, cats, and I think I’m allergic to almonds now.
- What’s your date of birth? I answered.
- What year is it? 2020
- Do you know what day of the week it is? I stated that this was an unfair question in the midst of a pandemic which resulted in a number of laughs from the paramedics. Then I let them know it was Sunday.
- Do you know who the current president of the United States is? I sighed and asked if I really had to answer that. Some more chuckles, and then I begrudgingly answered.
At this point they had cut off my shirt and shorts and I was seeing more and more blood. There was also a discussion regarding a laceration to my abdomen while I laid in the hot sun in my boxers. (NOTE: In retrospect, the parentally given “clean underwear” advice had paid off. ) I asked for my cell phone so I could call my wife. As I explained to the officer, I wanted her to hear my clear and calm voice before he (the officer) had to notify her. He seemed to be trying to make it happen, but the paramedics were blocking this while doing their job (the obvious priority) of trying to get me stabilized.
Finally, the officer asked if I knew my wife’s cell phone number. Having grown up pre-mass cell phone use, I still keep a bunch of phone numbers memorized. I conveyed this information to him and he said he’d take care of it for me.
I was now being loaded into the ambulance. I had two IVs in my left arm and my right arm was in excruciating pain. I was beginning to feel aching, throbbing, and burning all over my body. The adrenaline was wearing off. They had placed my shoes between my ankles and, according to the officer?/paramedic? that put them there, my cell phone and wallet were with them. (NOTE: Apparently my shoes had been thrown off on impact and I’ve learned from subsequent conversations that this is a common thing.) As I lay there in the ambulance, I saw someone take a pair of scissors and cut my boxers off.
I was completely naked. Now, if you are male and you’ve ever ridden a two wheeled motor vehicle for any length of time, you know that things down there get… compressed. In the here and now: add to that fact that I was in a frigidly cold ambulance. I knew how everything looked.
“Whelp,” I said out loud. “Behold the tiny penis.”
There were attempts to suppress giggles by the medical professionals with me in the ambulance. I had to laugh, though. I was in pain and laughter kept me from feeling it full on. We kept chatting all the way to the hospital. I had “You’ll Be Back” from Hamilton stuck in my head and kept singing it to myself. One of the paramedics knew the song and sang along with me.
I was beginning to feel the drugs they were giving me.
AND THEN I was being unloaded from the ambulance.
AND THEN I was looking at hallway ceilings while being rolled in. All I could think of was that it reminded me of Grey’s Anatomy.
AND THEN I was surrounded by doctors stitching up my abdomen. Four staples and a suture. While they were doing this, I asked if it was too late to get liposuction since I was already cut open. More chuckles. WARNING: graphic photo – click here. Then I laid there while they did a series of x-rays.
AND THEN I was laying in a machine getting a CT scan. I heard an automated voice saying “take a deep breath” followed shortly after by “let it out.” I remember someone telling me that I would have a strange taste in my mouth from iodine they were pumping into me as a dye or something.
AND THEN I remember a conversation with a paramedic/doctor that I was (strangely) the calmest and best humored trauma victim they had seen in a long, long time. I explained that I knew that they were the experts doing their jobs and I was just along for the ride and my “job” was to make things as easy for them as possible to do theirs. I also said thank you and “I appreciate you” a lot.
AND THEN I was out of the ER in a holding area waiting to be moved to a room. Somewhere along the way my arm had been wrapped up in a very heavy splint.
AND THEN I was on the phone with Shannon. I had convinced an orderly to roll over the nearby phone and to dial her for me. She picked up and I immediately said, “It’s me. I’m okay. Everything’s going to be okay.” I told her to pull over since I could tell she was driving. I told her I loved her. I told her that I was still alive and I’d call her once I got moved to my room and got my cell phone back.
AND THEN I was in my hospital room. Somehow I managed to get a private one to myself.
I spent the evening on painkillers making FaceTime calls to let people know the situation and that I was okay. I also got emails and messages sent pushing out meetings and other movable work related elements.
Yes, I am apparently that guy that refuses to stop working… even from a hospital bed.
I slept off and on. There were discussions regarding a potential surgery to repair tendons the next morning going back and forth all night. I ate hospital Jello because I was in a hospital and felt this was a requirement somehow.
I let my subconscious do the heavy lifting regarding the most glaringly obvious fact here: I could have died.
But why focus on that?
The next morning I had back to back consults with an orthopedist (“we’ve decided not to operate this morning; come back in two weeks and we might change our mind”) and physical therapists (“you can get up out of bed on your own and walk so we’re going to let trauma know you can go home if you have someone there to help.”)
Trauma asked me a battery of questions while examining the cuts/bruises/abrasions/lacerations on my body. I was still oozing and bleeding, but they said it would slow down when I started healing in the next few days. When I confirmed that my wife could take a couple of days off to help me out, they said they’d release me to come home.
So they wrote out a script for oxycodone and acetaminophen and Shannon came and got me.
I spent last week fighting through exhaustion and pain trying to get things done. We had worked out a plan to postpone WasabiCon into 2021, but I had to get the paperwork finished and signed. By some miracle, and Shannon’s patience transcribing me, it got done. Talent For Cons was scheduled to roll out more virtual autographs, but I needed to make sure elements were checked and double checked. It got done. We had committed to produce over 9 hours of content for Gen Con Online. While all of it didn’t go as smoothly as I’d hoped, it still got done. (I still have the blood stains on my shirt from my laceration leaking during an extended broadcast on camera to prove it.)
The universe gives us benchmarks from which life gets defined differently going forward: moving out as a young adult; finishing school; meeting people important to you for the first time; getting married; seeing the world outside your own country; etc.
Some of these benchmarks, however, are destined to be negative and painful: financial failures; parents’ divorce; failed personal relationships; the loss of loved ones… and, now, for me personally, almost dying.
I’m not dead. I’m not perfect. I am, however, human and so I can only do what (I feel) any carbon-based biped in my position can do: be thankful I’m still here and keep moving forward one step at a time.
THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to reach out and check on me this past week. Your messages, your texts, your emails, and your calls have meant more to me than you can ever know. Now I’ve got more work to do…
(Typed annoyingly slow with one good hand.)