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How I Survived … My Head-On With a Bus
Fullerton resident Leon Gray, 67, on his recovery from a catastrophic bike accident and two-month coma
I remember nothing about the accident two years ago. It led to my first and only helicopter ride, cost the insurance company about $20,000, and I don’t remember anything. I was biking by myself and the bus hit me. My head broke the windshield; that’s why I was in a coma. The doctors didn’t know what was going to happen, if I’d ever wake up.
I don’t remember waking up either, but my wife, Nancy, told me that my first words to her were “I love you.” I’m so happy I didn’t say something that’d get me in the doghouse forever.
I do remember feeling cold and hurting like a son of a gun. I had a compound fracture on my right leg, fractured elbow, fractured shoulder, and a shattered pelvis. Now I’ve got two metal plates in my hip. When my wife told me I’d had a 5½-hour operation on my pelvis, I pulled up my gown and said, “What operation? I don’t see any bandages.” She said, “Leon, you were in a coma for two months. You healed.”
About a week after I woke up they got me into rehab. I used a little walker and I couldn’t even take a 2-inch step. I’d been a big-time runner: I ran up Mount Baldy several times, did several 50K races, and lots of trail races. So not being able to do anything was frustrating and frightening. They scheduled me for physical therapy three times a week, but I wanted to go every day. When I got home I would walk around the block with the walker. That’s a quarter mile, and it would take me 16 minutes. Now I can sometimes do it in four minutes.
About six months after I got home I started, well, not a blog per se, but more of a personal journal. My intention was to write about my recovery, setbacks, and goals. I didn’t want to whine about this and whine about that. I griped a little, but I tried to keep everything positive.
I have supportive friends, and that makes a big difference. I was president of A Snail’s Pace Running Club for two years. Then I was elected president of the SoCal Trail Headz Running Club. One night about 20 sweaty runners came to see me when I was in the ICU, right after they’d finished a run. I was still in the coma but the nurses told me they’d never seen so many visitors for one patient.
I’ve always set goals. A few months ago my goal was to walk a mile in under 25 minutes. Now I’m doing 22-minute miles in the Chino Hills. My balance is nowhere near as good as it should be, but at least I’m not doing face plants anymore.
My recovery has been slower than I thought, but it feels good to look back and realize that two years ago I was struggling to walk around the block in 16 minutes.
The big lesson from all of this is: You might end up sick or in a hospital at some point, so it’s a good idea to stay in shape and do a lot of running and walking. I wear a T-shirt that has a picture of a bus with a cracked windshield. It says, “I really was hit by a bus! What’s your excuse?”
To learn more about Gray’s journey, visit his journal at hitbybus.wordpress.com
Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue.