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Getting Thrown for a Loop -- Twice

A construction worker in Griffith Park heard a crash and saw a downed cyclist pick himself up, walk over to a fence near the compost heap, and collapse. A 911 call brought out the B Platoon from Fire Station 76, or so I’m told.

I remember none of this, nor do I recall the cause of the spill. But Lance Armstrong has nothing to worry about.

“You kept asking us who we were,” said L.A. Fire Department Capt. Edward Banda Jr., who, along with Doug Dilks, Mike Marquez and Fred Martinez, scraped me off the pavement.

I don’t remember them, or the ride to the emergency room at County-USC Medical Center. I remember waking up the next day in a neck brace, with an asphalt burn on my face and my left eye swollen shut with stitches in the brow.

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Could have been worse. I could have been taken to King/Drew, where they might have treated my concussion with chemotherapy, or maybe Tums.

County-USC was the closest trauma center, and I realized that if you end up in ER there with nothing more than a knock on the head and a few stitches, you’re a lucky Angeleno. All around me were patients with gunshot and knife wounds, strokes, multiple fractures, nasty infections, and asthmatic rasps that sounded like calls from the grave.

It was embarrassing to say I fell off a bike. I wanted to invent stories about the governor or a certain cardinal trying to stuff me into the wood chipper at the compost station.

I met one guy who tumbled out of a fifth-floor window and shattered his legs, and one who dived out the second-floor window of a skid row hotel to avoid a robbery, by his account. He was encased in plaster, and screamed like a banshee when doctors inserted a catheter.

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Upon hearing his cries, I began asking when I could go home. But then came the first of two setbacks.

“You had a seizure,” I remember a doctor saying.

I didn’t recall a thing. But later that day I sat up to eat, got dizzy and fell backward.

“You had another seizure,” I was later told.

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It might have been the food, I argued. One bite of mystery meat and I keeled over.

I think the news about the second seizure came from a Dr. Hahn. The name sounded vaguely familiar, but in my addled state I couldn’t figure out why.

Then it came to me. The mayor of L.A. has the same name. For the longest time, I couldn’t remember a thing Slim Jim had done in office.

Then I realized it wasn’t the amnesia.

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My next visitor was a neurologist to inform me, matter-of-factly, that I’d have to be on anti-seizure medication for up to a year. And then he added, parenthetically, that I’d have to be on the wagon the whole time.

I almost passed out again.

Could the news get any worse?

Naturally.

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The same doctor came back to say there was one more “inconvenience” he neglected to mention. Doctors are required to report seizures to the state Department of Motor Vehicles, and my driver’s license would be suspended for up to a year.

That’s an “inconvenience?” I live in Los Angeles. Two days in a row without sunshine is an inconvenience. Stale tortilla chips are an inconvenience.

Living in L.A. without a driver’s license is like living on the moon without a sand wedge. Couldn’t they do something less severe, like chop off one of my hands? I thought about calling UCLA to see if I could buy a spare head.

Obviously, it makes sense to keep seizure-prone people off the road. But did I really have seizures, or did I merely faint, and the hospital was covering itself to avoid liability?

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As my first witness, I called the guy who dived out of a skid row hotel.

I just fainted, I said. Right?

“Nah, man. You went like this,” he said, stiffening both arms and trembling.

They took me for a CAT scan, and I almost passed out again when a lab technician yanked me off my gurney. My wrenched back ached so badly, I couldn’t speak. Do some employees figure they can get away with treating county patients that way?

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The ER and trauma doctors and nurses were terrific, but it gets spooky beyond those corridors. The lights and staffing are low, the furnishings grim. I was kept a third night because of the seizures, and they put me in a bed with no buzzer to call for help. I thought I was in Moscow, circa 1950.

Doctors told me to expect up to six weeks of confusion and disorientation. I’m not asking for sympathy, I just want you to understand what’s going on if I happen to start writing about what a great job Gov. Schwarzenegger is doing.

With my brain scrambled and my back aching, nothing has really changed, except that now I live in a city of 8 billion cars and can’t drive a single one of them.

But there’s a twist in the latest diagnosis.

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Dr. William Sutherling, a Pasadena neurologist, doesn’t think I had classic seizures. He believes I fainted as a result of having my head rattled, and the seizure-like symptoms were part of the deal.

It’s conceivable I’ll be back on the road in a couple of months, but my fate is in the hands of the DMV.

Great. Illegal immigrants may have driver’s licenses before I get mine back.

If it’s not too much trouble, wave to me from the comfort of your air-conditioned car.

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I’ll be the last Lopez on the bus.

Yes, Steve Lopez was wearing a helmet. He writes Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and can be reached at steve.lopez@ latimes.com.


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