Oh my noggin


As most of my friends have heard, Friday,  June 19th 2009 I went to Sturgis on the River to photograph the Roller Derby.  I didn’t get a chance to.  For anyone interested, here’s the story as best I remember. I’ll try to be as accurate as possible.

I asked a few people where the Roller Derby was, getting very vague answers.  One person mentioned that it might be under a large tent.  I’ve told a few people I ducked under the tent to clear my eyes, which is partially true – I couldn’t see out of my left eye from the amount of water falling on me.  I cleared my eyes, looked around and discovered the Derby wasn’t here.  The storm started picking up, the tent flexed and rain blew inside and shown in the lights at the top of the tent.  Seconds later the tent, which housed a bar, stage and I’d guess fifty or more people, was pulled from the ground and flung through the air.  For a moment I saw the giant ten flying at me like a giant wave.  I turned to run, but didn’t get more than one or two steps before the shrapnel caught up with me.  A pole hit my head, I tried to run, but my camera bag was pinned under a few poles.  I freed the bag, and ran behind a refrigerated semi truck.  Realizing that trucks don’t have a great record of staying upright themselves, I ran to the next structure – a permanent snack shop with thin walls and mesh screens.

Once inside, people started looking at me funny.  Not like anything I knew, either – I get funny looks a lot, but not these.  I think I heard some people say “Oh God” and “Are you alright?”  Confused, I looked around and found my shirt was soaked in blood.  I started panicking, but luckily some bystanders started giving me instructions that I followed without question.  A man told me to sit down – I immediately sat on the floor.  He pointed to a chair, I stood up and moved.  Someone handed him a stack of brown paper towels which he pressed against my head where I’d been hit by the pole.  The man behind the snack counter offered a blue rag, which the man behind me declined.  I took it though, and used it to wipe my face and try to feel like I was actively helping.  The snack counter man gave me a Mt. Dew and said the sugar would help.  I took it and immediately drank most of it.

Over the next few minutes, people checked everything they could think of – could I focus my eyes, could I remember my name, were my eyes dialated.  At one point they checked on the cut.  Someone exclaimed that he could see my skull, and was promptly ushered away by someone who found the comment less than tactful.  And, of course, someone dialed 911 and got trained medics on their way.  Two police officers on a golf cart appeared at one point (and disappeared, I think). I could see the reflection of red and blue lights in a garbage can or something, but they weren’t for me.

During this I heard that people were still trapped under the tent.  Accounts later say they were quickly freed by bystanders.

When the ambulance arrived the EMT’s, two men and a woman, came to my aid.  They gave me all the tests I’d been given earlier, which I passed with flying colors. They switched to sterile cloths against the cut, brought out an oxygen tank, which they decided I didn’t need a few seconds after attaching (was it mint scented?)  I was asked if I wanted to go to the hospital.  Given that I wasn’t quite sure the seriousness yet, the answer was a definite yes (and given the seriousness later, it was the right choice.)  They took the pressure off, and guided me to the ambulance.  I stopped to shake the hand of the man who had held the paper towels against my head the whole time, and continued on my own power into the ambulance.

About this time I got as scared as I ever did.  I think I realized that I was going to be OK with the professionals, that I was as safe as I could be in the situation.  But there were others injured.  What if a tent pole had hit someone else?  Or one of the main masts, or the electricity under the tent?  With that force, someone could have been killed.  I was afraid that I had been lucky.  I never found out how many, but there were others injured.  One man was knocked out for about twenty minutes, while a woman twisted her ankle.

The ambulance was instructed to take me to the nearest hospital, but was re-routed to Genesis East.  My guess is power problems or too many patients, but I never heard.  They waited a minute to see if there were any others in need, then took off as fast as traffic and the weather would allow.  We talked a bit, they noted that my heart rate had gone down from 115bpm.  They made sure I kept my camera bag with me, and I was wheeled into the emergency room.

I was bounced between two rooms for a while (room 5 didn’t have a surgical light, but someone else needed room 11) until a doctor announced that he’s staple me up without a light.  I was wheeled in, given a few more questions and some numbing ooze called “led.”  Then I waited for the doctor.  A nurse came in and spread out the tools, including a fairly tame looking plastic staple gun.  The doctor arrived and started to chat to distract me from the giant needle to numb the area and other equally disturbing aspects.  Turns out he’s a photographer, too, and he uses the same kind of camera I do, and had the same difficulty choosing a lens that I did!  Small world.  He cleaned the area, stapled me shut with 11 staples, and told me that I could wash my hair as usual.

A few nurse visits later and some somewhat disturbing paperwork questions (What religion are you, and do you wish for a spiritual adviser to be called if you need an overnight visit?) and I was done.  I was still carrying the blood-soaked blue rag I’d gotten from the snack shop.  I thought about keeping it for a second, then threw it away.  And, in a stroke of good luck, I’d brought an extra shirt in my camera bag, so I changed out of the blue (and now red) Times T-shirt into a black Roller Derby shirt.  I called my brother for a ride (I hear it startled his co-workers) and then called my mom, trying to be as upbeat and light-hearted as possible.

Afterward, I heard the wind speeds were up to 70mph.  I was mentioned in the TV news and the Dispatch, and interviewed by the Times (I couldn’t resist walking right up to the newsroom and springing it on ’em.  Call me sadistic, but it was fun!).  One person claimed the cut was five inches long.  My guess was three.  My dad says closer to four.  Either way, not something I want to do again.

The end.  Yes, there’s too much detail, but I’m writing the truth as much for myself as you, so the details don’t fade in my memory.  I already know the image of the tent flying at me has faded a bit.  Shame, too, because it was simultaneously one of the scariest and most awe-inspiring things I’ve seen.

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