The forced timeouts on my RV-8 project are getting quite frustrating. First, I lost four months due to the big engine/prop overspeed. Then, I was on the road a lot. And now, there will be another big pause of four months or so as I recover from injuries sustained in a nasty car accident. Frak.

Just after 4 AM on Sunday, 15 Mar, I was driving Terry to the airport to catch a flight so she could go on a Caribbean cruise with friends. I was planning on spending several days of the week she would be gone at the airport, and hoped to bite off a big chunk of the flight test program. It was not to be.

We were driving north on Albion Road, in an area with a speed limit of 80 km/h (50 mph). Suddenly Terry yelled that she thought the on-coming car was in our lane. I focussed on that vehicle, now about 200 ft away (less than 2 seconds), and it was in our lane and seemed to be continuing to move to our right (his left). Continuing straight ahead wasn’t a good idea, and it looked like a swerve into the ditch to the right would be a turn towards the other car’s path, so I made a instant decision to swerve to the left.

It looked like we might get by him for a moment, but just before we crossed he swerved sharply back towards us and we hit. I don’t recall braking, but the severe injuries to my lower right leg suggest I was probably standing hard on the brakes when we collided. Our car came to rest upright, on the left shoulder, facing 180 deg from our original direction. Terry and I were conscious, but I could feel that something was wrong with my right ankle. Terry was complaining about a sore back. A small fire started immediately in the engine compartment, so we knew we had to try to get out of the car. Fortunately, we were both able to open the doors, exit the car, and crawl along the shoulder behind the car. My cell phone was inexplicably inop (the little green “Go” button was dead), but Terry did a bang-up job calling 911 on her cell. An off-duty paramedic stopped and helped Terry and I get a bit further from the car, which was really burning by now, then he went to help the guy from the other car who had much more severe injuries than we did (he was apparently not wearing his seat belt).

A fire truck, paramedics, police car and ambulances showed up fairly quickly, and Terry and I were rushed off to hospital. Initially we were side-by-side in the emergency department, but we eventually got split up after they realized she should be transferred to another hospital that had a special unit to handle back injuries.

Terry has a compressed vertebrae, and may yet require back surgery. She is wearing a back brace whenever she isn’t flat on her back, and wouldn’t look out of place as a modern super hero. She was released from hospital on the 18th, into the car of my sister, an MD who had flown out from Nova Scotia for a week to help out. She will hand over to one of Terry’s sisters, a surgical tech, who arrives today for three weeks. Thanks Nat and Sue! Some very comprehensive attendant care assistance paid for by the other driver’s car insurance will be in place before Sue leaves.

I got home yesterday evening, after 8.5 days in hospital. I was extremely impressed by all the staff at the Ottawa General Hospital. Everyone from the cleaning lady who stopped her Mach 9 room cleaning one day to help me reach my breakfast, to the two orthopaedic surgery residents who short-circuited normal protocol by grabbing my hospital bed late on day one, and pushed this big Behemoth of a bed down some back hallways into a back door of a CAT scan room, so they could jump the CAT scan queue in an attempt to get the info they needed to get me into surgery that evening. Their valiant attempt failed, as each new piece of evidence raised more questions that required more tests or imagery. I finally hit the operating room in the afternoon of day three (Wednesday the 17th). The surgeons, nurses, orderlies, porters, etc were all outstanding. Thanks to you all for your help and compassion.

I’ve got a broken left wrist, broken left collarbone, and a very badly broken right tibia and fibula (the two bones in the lower leg). The bones in the lower right leg were broken in eight large pieces and a multitude of smaller pieces, and now have two plates and 17 or 18 screws holding them all together. Word to the wise - don’t get in line behind me at the airport metal detector :)

The doc says no weight on the right leg for three months then it’ll be an unknown number of weeks of physio before I’ll be flying again. My plans to fly the RV-8 to OSH this year are shot. When I think I’m ready to fly again, I’ll do a session in Transport Canada’s C550 simulator to see if I have the strength, range of motion, and fine control needed for all normal, abnormal and emergency procedures. If that feels good, once I get my medical paperwork back, I’ll do some flights on tricycle-geared aircraft before I try a taxi test in the RV-8. If low and medium speed taxi feel OK, I’ll start flying again.

You wouldn’t have to change much to have had either Terry and/or I be unable to get out of the car, and we would have been in a raging inferno. A friend went to see the car to attempt to salvage a few things, and he found nothing left but metal and ashes in the passenger compartment. We are very lucky to be alive, and that our injuries will all heal.

The original Ottawa Citizen story seems to say that someone else pulled Terry and I from the car. Note quite true - we got out under our own power. The later story at least gets that part correct.