Survival stories: I was impaled by a tree while mountain biking

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On June 6, 2009, Peter Agricola went for an ATV ride in the F. Gilbert Hills State Forest in Foxboro, Massachusetts. As he attempted to roll through a rocky channel on a downhill section, Agricola, who was 43 at the time, went flying over his handlebars and landed chest first on a pine log. beaten down. He quickly sat up, leaning against the log, when he saw an explosion of red bloom on his white shirt – he had impaled himself on a five inch branch and was bleeding rapidly.

Here is his full story, told at Outside.

It was a Sunday morning, a big lacrosse day for our family – I coached lacrosse and my kids all play – so I left early on my mountain bike so my wife could take a ride on the road after my return. I was riding about four times a week so I was in great shape and the race was going well.

This was a trail I probably hiked about 500 times. It’s quite short but really technical, and there is a descent where you don’t brake, really rocky, with rocks that you have to jump, and a drainage where a lot of water flows. The water is normally about 18 inches deep and you can hit it on a roll rather than jump it.

But there had been a lot of rain that week and the drainage turned out to be much deeper than expected. I went through it, my front wheel hit something and stopped, and the bike tipped me forward. I was trying to save him, because I was really afraid of falling on the rocks. But I was too forward on the bike.

I flew like Superman off the bike and landed on a big old downed pine log to my left that had a short branch about five inches long sticking out of it. It hurt me a lot and took my breath away.

I got up and sat down against the log. My legs were stretched out in front of me. I was trying to catch my breath and I thought, Oh shit, what am I going to do here? I thought I had broken my shoulder, because that was where the pain was. I didn’t know I had been impaled. I wore a white top with blue sleeves. I looked at my chest and there was a giant red spot forming there, the size of my hand. And I knew I was in trouble, I knew then that I needed help. But I was all alone. There was no one else on the trail that morning.

I was having trouble breathing, but I had a lot of adrenaline and I knew where I was, so I started going out. I left my bike on the side of the trail, which was a big deal – it was a $3000 bike – but I had no choice. I was able to get my phone back.

Instead of calling 911, I called my wife, who is stupid, but that’s what I did. She dialed 911, told them where I was, and they dispatched rescue teams.

My goal was to walk to my car. Once off the trail it was about a mile and a half uphill walk on a dirt road to get to where it was parked. At first I thought I could walk to the car and then walk to the state police barracks, which was only about 400 yards from the parking lot. But now there was an ambulance heading to the parking lot to meet me.

Once on the dirt road, I ran into a guy walking his dog. When I told him I was heading for the parking lot, he said, “No, I’m not,” and started down the hill. He finally called 911 and told them to meet us at another location. And thank God he did, because I was bleeding a lot. And I was starting to panic. I wanted to lie down. I was tired and my breathing was still strained. He just told me about it. The road was rocky and I was wearing bike shoes so it wasn’t easy to walk, but we got through it together.

He said, “Hey, we’re almost there. It’s only a few minutes. It wasn’t a few minutes, but her cajoling helped a lot. He held me up, encouraged me and asked me where I lived. I don’t know if he saved my life, but his encouragement certainly helped me.

The police arrived about ten minutes later. They had parked the ambulance in a small lot and sent a truck down the dirt road to find me.

When I tried to get in the truck, I still had my helmet on. I banged my helmet against the door frame and fell backward on the rocks, on my back. It hurt a lot, but I laughed. They decided to accompany me to the ambulance.

At that time, I was really messed up. My breathing was really labored and my shirt was completely red. I was freaked out because I was so bloody. I was still thinking, they’re going to take me to the hospital, they’re going to patch me up, I’m going to go home, and I’ll go mountain biking again on Tuesday. I had a lot of injuries, and I assumed it wasn’t serious. I had no idea how deep the branch had penetrated me or what damage it had caused.

They took me to the hospital in Rhode Island, because there’s a level one trauma center there. When I arrived, it was pretty much everyone on deck. No one took my insurance card. It was a strange scene – they wouldn’t give me painkillers because my blood pressure was fluctuating and they were worried the painkillers would cause cardiac arrest. It was really difficult.

A CT scan showed I had a huge amount of blood pooling in my lungs and chest, so they put a chest tube in – they basically took a razor and punched a hole between my ribs and pushed a tube down into my chest. Before inserting the chest tube, they tied my hands and legs. A nurse whispered in my ear, “This will be the worst thing you’ve ever done in your life. She was wonderful and she also said, “I gave birth to twins and also had a chest tube. It’s the worst pain you’ll ever have. And it was.

They were able to start draining the blood from my chest, and at that point they gave me a small amount of morphine for the pain, which helped. I remember being awake and joking, “Let me do this on a Sunday morning.” I always thought they would drain the blood from my chest and I would go home afterwards.

I woke up the next morning surrounded by several doctors, including a trauma surgeon, who said they needed to operate right away. I had two serious illnesses: hemothorax, meaning blood in my chest, and also pneumothorax, which meant there was air out of my lungs in my chest. They didn’t like the hemo-pneumo combination.

I had surgery that day and they inserted a second chest tube in my back. I was in the hospital for another five or six days.

I had a long list of injuries, some of which were still serious when I left the hospital. I had five displaced broken ribs – that’s when your ribs break inward, and that’s what punctured my lung. I also broke three lower ribs. I dislocated the entire left side of my chest, tearing the cartilage.

The branch on the pine log went deep enough into my chest to puncture my pericardium – it’s the membrane that surrounds my heart. The doctors told me that if the stick had penetrated another centimeter, it would have pierced my heart and I would have died on the track.

The stick entered my chest an inch above my nipple, and the wound was about three inches deep. For a wound of this nature, you heal from within. They dressed him every day by stuffing him with gauze. When I came home, I had to have a visiting nurse come in every day to dress her. She was unavailable one day and my sister-in-law, a trauma nurse, volunteered to do so. She glanced at the wound and said, “No, I can’t do it.” Fortunately, we have a neighbor who is an emergency doctor who came to help us. It was disgusting.

They dressed my wound for 52 consecutive days. Initially the doctors thought it would take 90-95 days to heal, but apparently I’m a good healer.

Today, I have a very beautiful battle scar. I lost a three inch by three inch section of my pectoral muscle. This part of my chest is not very attractive. But it’s better than dying.

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