By Joi-Marie McKenzie
Most mornings Scott Andresen, 35, wakes up at 5 a.m. The pain from his back acts as his personal alarm clock. He takes over 20 prescriptions daily including double doses of Percoset, vitamins and pills for the nerve damage in his right ankle. His bruised tailbone makes it difficult for him to sit upright, so he spends most of his day lying on the couch.
“It’s still very hard to be out in public,” Andresen said.
Four months ago Andresen was riding his bicycle down Clinton Avenue between Myrtle and Park on a hot day in July. He was headed to Fort Defiance, a bar in Red Hook, where he worked. As an artist, Andresen had to bartend in order to make ends meet.
He heard a car honk behind him. With no bicycle lane on Clinton Avenue, Andresen doesn’t usually give up the road for vehicles.
“I don’t give up the road when I’m on my bike unless I feel that I’m in a little bit of danger,” Andresen said. He knew the car wanted to pass and maneuvered his bicycle to the far right, hugging close to parked cars. He glanced behind him to see if the honker would pass when the driver’s door of a parked car swung open, hitting Andresen and sending him flying into the car behind him.
“It was one of those split second things where I was on top of it before I saw it,” Andresen recalls.
His body hit the pavement. With the temperature at 95 degrees, Andresen was tingling not only from an unusual numbness in his back but also from the pavement that was burning his skin. A passerby who saw the accident stopped to pour cold water on his forehead and shoulders to keep him cool until paramedics arrived.
“Luckily I was wearing a helmet,” Andresen said. “In many respects, it probably saved my life.”
Andresen is one of the many cyclists who, if past statistics are any measure, will be struck this year. According to preliminary data from the Department of Motor Vehicles Accident Information System, 5,176 cyclists were injured in 2009. Cyclist and pedestrian safety is not improving, according to the Mayor’s Management Report in 2009. In fact, cyclist and pedestrian traffic fatalities comprise two-thirds of the city’s road fatalities incidents, an increase of 13 percent since 2005.
Still, improving cyclist and pedestrian safety is a top priority for the Department of Transportation. In October, a new two-lane new bike path running along Prospect Park was created thanks to an initiative led by Mayor Bloomberg. The creation of the bike path that will increase cyclist safety was protested by motorists and pedestrians alike saying that the lanes could hurt local businesses and impede traffic.
Andresen underwent a nine-hour surgery at Long Island College Hospital to repair major structural damage to his spine. Doctors ultimately fused ten inches of his spine together, fixing three fractured vertebrae including one that was completely shattered. The shards of the bone lodged themselves into the spinal cord. Andresen still doesn’t know how this will affect nerve sensations in his limbs, his ability to walk and sexual functions.
Andresen spends his days watching sports, writing on a blog he created to keep his friends and family up to date on his recuperation, and planning a benefit that will help defray some of the medical costs. Still, he did manage to take his live-in girlfriend Naomi Doerner out on a date for the first time in months.
“I want to get back to doing,” Andresen said, lying on the couch. He wiggled his toes but his ankle remained limp.
Andresen may not ever fully recuperate but he’s giving himself three months to push his body so that he feels normal again. Doctors won’t give him a timeline but he’s ready.
If he could do it all over again, there’s not much Andresen would change. Perhaps he would simply take another route to work. Still, what frustrates him the most is his future.
“I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to work. I don’t know if I’ll ever feel anything in my foot again,” he said. “There’s so many more questions than answers that it’s hard to plan for any type of future.”