Ada Abroad: Living and Working in Germany

An online journal recording two years spent as a Fulbright/Pedagogical Exchange Service Teaching Assistant at secondary schools in Germany. (2003-2004 I was in a village near Bautzen; 2004-2005 I will be in Nordrhein-Westfalen.)

Location: Münster, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

I'm an American living in Germany, working as a foreign language assistant at a secondary school. Future plans: getting my Ph.D. (probably in Germanic Linguistics), becoming a professor, living an ethical and meaningful life.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Hals- und Beinbruch

Apologies for the long time lapse between posts. I have an excellent excuse.

On Tuesday, October 5th, at about 4:30 pm, I had a bad bicycle accident. I haven’t posted since because I was in the hospital for 11 days and after my release I had no way of getting to the school to use the internet. (The past two weeks were our fall vacation.)

It was my habit to going hiking or bike-riding just about every afternoon. October 5th was beautiful—fairly warm with a cloudless blue sky. I ate lunch (spaghetti with tomato sauce) and then decided to go for a long bike ride. I wanted to check out the villages west of my own. So I rode to Crosta, to Lomske, to Luppa, to Luppedubrau, then back to Lomske.

This is where things got interesting.

I didn’t want to take the same route home, so I turned north onto a rural highway, heading toward a village called Milkel. German rural highways aren’t the Autobahn—there is a speed limit—but Germans drive faster and more aggressively than most Americans. Country roads over here are basically one-lane affairs. If somebody comes from the other direction, you pull off to the side and slow down so they can pass. If somebody wants to pass you from behind, you do the same thing.

The road between Lomske and Milkel is notorious for speeding. Unfortunately I didn’t know this at the time.

I was only a couple hundred meters out of Lomske when I decided to pull closer to the shoulder to make room for cars. I no longer remember whether there was an immediate need or if it was just a preventative measure. I do know that I veered too far to the right and ended up on gravel. I lost control of my bike and went flying.

(Note: Everyone asks me whether I was struck by a car. The most honest answer I can give you is I don’t know. I have no memory of a car, but the doctors say that my injury looks much more like something that would result from a collision than from a simple bike accident.)

I did a somersault in the air. My head hit the ground first. Thanks to my helmet, I hardly felt a thing—it was like landing on a pile of mattresses. Then I bounced, rolled, and came down hard on my left leg.

For a few seconds I thought I’d just get up, get back on the bike, and keep riding. After all, I’d taken spills from my bike before.

Then I realized that I felt very weak and rather queasy. My leg hurt like hell. I decided to wait for help. I lay there on the shoulder of the road, waving my arms in an attempt to halt passing cars, but they just drove on by me. Finally, two or three minutes after my accident (which already seemed like an eternity) somebody pulled over and stopped. Two men emerged from the vehicle and asked me what was wrong.

(Dialogue in this entry will be translated into English for the ease of my monolingual readers.)

“I had an accident on my bike,” I explained. “And I think something’s wrong with my leg.” I offered them my hand and introduced myself. “I’m Ada.”

They helped me to my feet. I tried to put weight on my left leg. I screamed. Since I couldn’t walk, the younger man picked me up and carried me to the car, setting me in the front seat. After establishing who I was (Ada M., teaching assistant), where I came from (the United States), and that nobody was home to look after me, the men put my bike in the ditch for safekeeping and drove me to the nearest doctor’s office.

We’d been on the road for less than a minute when everything went dark all around me. I willed myself not to lose consciousness. I feared that I was bleeding internally and that if I passed out I wouldn’t wake up again. “I can’t see anything! Everything’s black!” I exclaimed. I lifted my leg and rested it on the dashboard. This helped. I could see a little, but without details. Driving through the forest I saw only the outlines of the trees, all green and black—a cross between a photographic negative and a silhouette. The darkness didn’t resolve itself until we reached the doctor’s office’s parking lot.

The younger man carried me inside. A nurse took off my shoe and sock. My ankle was bent at about a 70 degree angle and already grotesquely swollen. “Is it broken?” I asked. “Almost certainly,” the doctor said. They pressed on my other leg, stomach, ribs, back, head. “Does that hurt?” Thankfully nothing else did.

I didn’t have my insurance card on me—or any other form of identification—and I didn’t know my home phone number, my insurance policy number, or anything important. Without the card, I couldn’t receive any treatment.

I started to cry. The nurse stroked my cheek and tried to distract me.
The doctor called the hospital in Bautzen. They agreed to send an ambulance. Somebody would have to bring the insurance card later. After what seemed like forever, the ambulance showed up. It looked just like the one in Run Lola Run. On the way to the hospital they joked that it was nice to pick up a cute young girl for a change. “Normally we get heart attack and stroke victims. They’re always ancient.”

After reaching the hospital I made small talk with the ER nurse (actually the mother of two of my students) in order to keep myself from crying again. Whenever she had to leave me alone for a few seconds I recited poetry to myself. “I saw the best minds of my generation/ destroyed by madness/ starving hysterical naked/ roaming the Negro streets at dawn…” As I explained it to the X-ray nurse, “Excuse me for babbling. If I shut up I’ll start sobbing.”

She had to twist my ankle to fit it onto the screen. I screamed for my mother like a little girl. They couldn’t give me any painkillers, although I literally shook from pain. It was hard to hold still long enough to get a decent picture.

Explaining myself to the receiving nurses made me feel like someone from another planet. I knew my address, but not my phone number.

“Family doctor?”

“I don’t have one. I’ve only been in Germany since September 1st and I never needed a doctor until now.”

“How tall are you?”

“I have no idea. We don’t use the metric system.”

“And how much do you weigh?”

Thanks to my host family’s bathroom scale, I could answer this one. “51 kilograms.”

“Closest relative?”

“My parents.”

“And where are they?”

“In Michigan.”

“Closest relative in Germany?”

“I don’t have any family here.”

“How about a boyfriend?”

I rolled my eyes. “No.”

A doctor came in and explained that I had broken my ankle—both bones—and required immediate surgery. If we waited, the ankle would swell so badly that operating would be impossible for seven days. The proposed operation, which would stabilize my ankle with 13 screws, required full anesthesia.

We tried unsuccessfully to reach my parents at work. First they got my mom’s voice mail, then my dad’s boss hung up on us because the operator at the hospital spoke no English. Finally I did get ahold of my dad and explained the situation. But there was another problem—no one at my host family’s house was answering the telephone. Finally I suggested that they try my boss instead. Success!

They wheeled me into the operating room at 9:30pm. It looked exactly like operating rooms always do in movies. This was not at all reassuring. The nurses strapped my arms down and covered me with a thin blanket. Then they started the anesthesia. “You’ll be out in less than a minute,” the anesthesiologist reassured me.

I felt a little sick. Things went black again, just like earlier in the car.

When I woke up I puked in my hair. “Wir sehen die Spaghetti wieder!” (“Here comes the spaghetti again!”) said one of the nurses. (I left this bit in German because I think it sounds funnier in the original language.)

Somebody gave me a shot in my good leg to dull the pain. (Morphine?) Then I went to sleep, all alone in a foreign hospital.


Blogger christina said...

wow...what a story! it stressed me out just reading it. i'm really glad that you're ok. and thanks to your mom for letting me know what happened, when it happened!

2:06 AM  
Blogger Ada said...

I´m glad my mom found the link to your blog and was able to let you know. But don´t worry--I´m doing much better now!

11:13 AM  

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