The Hardest Part of Cycling is the Pavement

My good friend, fellow producer and DJ and Yogacharya, Nik Sliwerski aka Muthafunka fell off his bicycle recently and hit his head really, really hard on the ground. He is in hospital with concussion and a fractured skull (which thankfully sounds worse than it is) and has no recollection of the accident at all.

In January 2007 I experienced a similar, albeit milder, concussion with short term memory loss, and I thought I would share my story with you to get a sense of what Nik, or a loved one you know, might be experiencing after such a heady blow.

Suddenly I am walking next to my bicycle, push-pulling it by the stem and trying to figure out where I am.

I’m very confused and don’t know why. Dread seeps into my stomach like blood into gauze. I can’t remember where I was going and it feels like I am walking the wrong way even though I don’t know which way is right. Even more perplexing is that I am walking at all. I stop to gather my thoughts which feel like heavy grapefruits about to burst through the bottom of a wet paper bag.

It’s dark and it’s late so I must have been on my way home but I simply cannot recall. All I can grok is that I am standing on a dark unfamiliar street trying not to let my thoughts spill out and roll every which way but sane – the bag is bulging something fierce.

I am in trouble; I think I’ve had an accident.

I run my fingers over my noggin to check for any damage and when I pull them down from the crown of my head they are covered in blood.

I cannot remember what happened at all but something is definitely wrong, especially now that blood has joined the fray. It’s the culprit making the paper bag all soggy no doubt. I am too stunned to panic and a cold Holmesian logic sets in, snorts a humongous line of endomorphins and adrenalin and starts running through an emergency, “how-badly-is-my-brain-damaged?”, on-the-fly checklist.

Name? Check. Berry, Shane.
Age? Old enough to be out this late. Check.
Address? Blank blank
Current location? Blankity blank blank.
Destination? See answers three and Four.
Current Situation? Ummm – FUBAR?

I am losing my grip.

I must have come from somewhere I reckon, like a dinner engagement or a party so I scroll to the outgoing calls directory on my mobile phone to see who last I called.

Aleksandra, I’m not exactly sure who she is.

I press the call button and she answers, cheery but far away.

I tell her I am lost, that I think I have had an accident and that I am disoriented and that there is blood and that I had and accident and don’t know where I am because I am not sure what is going on because I think I fell but I am not sure. I may have repeated myself a few times. I ask her if we met recently and she falls silent on the line, apparently we had just spent the whole day together and had parted ways not more than 20 minutes before.

Blankity blank.

Despite my simmering panic speaking with Aleksandra gives me a better handle on the soggy bag. Slowly my sense of direction returns like a teenager sneaking back in after sneaking out. Thus I am able to start piecing together where I am — in Shibuya, at the back end of Yoyogi park, not too far from a big intersection and — if I am where I think I am — a manned Kouban. I tell Aleksandra this, I think, and don’t even recall putting the phone away. I begin to suspect I was hit by a car because it is starting to feel like it and, though it isn’t gushing rivers, my head won’t stop bleeding.

In the Kouban I cannot tell the policemen on duty what happened at all. I just say I fell off my bike and leave it at that. We filter through some rudimentary formalities, I have little to report accident wise so I give them my name and they take down details from my Alien Registration Card while I wait for the ambulance to arrive. I am taken to a hospital nearby which is obviously unprepared for my arrival. A nurse has to manually pry open the automatic doors to admit me and I catch a wisp of her conversation with the paramedic that they had no idea we were coming. There is; however, no wait. I am shown into surgery and the Doctor on call makes a perfunctory inspection of my wound, cleans it up a bit and then staples my head back together, six stitches in all. Then off down eerily dark corridors through the guts of a sleeping, energy conserving hospital for a CAT scan and back again to the surgery to look at the results. My head is okay, according to the doctor and he shows me the scan of my brain. No fractures or internal bleeding but to my alarm I do see some white spots scattered throughout the different layers and I monkey grunt at them because my Japanese is not good enough to analyze a CAT scan image. Doc reassures me it is normal calcification and that he has similar spots in his brain too.

We all do.

With that out the way it’s okay bye-bye now and I am pushed out on to the street with a bandage on my head, a sheet of paper stuffed in my bag reminding me to return next week to the day to have the stitches taken out and an all too familiar feeling of disorientation. I have to go back into the hospital for directions because, running theme of the night, I have no idea where I am. I am given a brochure with a map on the reverse side and ushered back out into reality and a lucid winter night. I plot my way to the nearest main street and catch a Taxi home, my bicycle held at the police box for me to pick up the next day.

About four hours later I remember what happened.

I had a flash of it on my way to the hospital; a single frame of a ghostly cyclist, grey jacket billowing in the wind, appearing out of nowhere and clipping my shoulder as I flew past. He was going down the wrong side of the street without any lights or visible reflectors and I distinctly remember him yelling “Gomen Nasai” as I crashed head first into the hardest part of cycling, the pavement, and he evaporated into the night as quickly as he materialized. I remember dragging myself to the side of the road and stuffing my hat into my record bag and literally staggering around trying to figure out what happened.

This is when I “come to” and the story loops here.

I have never lost my memory so acutely before and it’s an exquisitely profound experience. For a few minutes I transcended all comprehension and cognition I was afloat in the void and chaos and it was terrifying. No reference points no scale, no context. For a few minutes I was not me and here was not there.

There was no immediate pain either, a sensory overload so profound I guess my brain just started slamming all hatches shut on what appeared to be a sinking ship and in consequence some messages, along with the ones carrying “Ouch” and “WTF just happened?”, were left to drown in the holds.