“Houston, we have a problem”

The Day Moonman Went Flying

“Who are you?” the Moonman asks, looking at me with one eye wide open, his pupil the size of a pinhead. “Are you my friend?”

“Yes, I am your friend. I’m Erica.”

“I have a girlfriend called Erica. She’s a very sweet woman…”

Holy Mackerel, the man is as high as a kite. I seem to have gone from waiting for him to come home from the Barents Sea, straight to waiting for him to come down from a bad trip. How on earth did we get here?

Motorbike accident. That’s how. Even the safest driver on the road, even the Moonman in his brightest reflecting jacket, can be riding along happily one moment and the next moment go flying over the handlebars to land face down on the tar. (The Moonman has a pretty good track record on the road, even though he drove his very first vehicle right into the Bille River in Hamburg. He was 18 months old at the time, only just got his licence. He had parked on a slope and started bouncing up and down in his pram while his big sister was chatting to a friend. No doubt learning from this almost-fatal error in judgement, he went on to become the safest driver I have ever come across.)

He had phoned to say he’s coming over for tea. I put the kettle on – it only takes him a few minutes to get here. He’s so happy to be home after six weeks at sea, and especially happy to be riding his bike again. But instead of hearing the familiar purr of his big bike, a stranger arrives at my gate and shouts, “Sven’s been in an accident! Just around the corner!”

I drop everything, grab a sweater and shoes and run. I find him lying in the road, surrounded by people and cars. We spend next hour trying to keep him still (impossible), telling him that he ambulance is on its way (where the hell are they??), and reassuring him that his bike can be fixed. And in between, I’m fishing his driver’s licence from his wallet, calling people, talking to police and worrying. Lots of worrying and a fair amount of praying. This all happens right in front of another friend’s home, so there is plenty of support. Her children are standing anxiously at the window. They are desperate to come out, but she tells them to stay inside and pray.

“But Mum, will it still work if we pray from behind the window?” one of them asks.

I can’t help but smile. Kids think of everything.

Finally the ambulance arrives. It’s not just a matter of “one-two-three-hup! and in you go.” If only. First, they want to take off his bulky jacket, which is in the way. Then the fleecy top. Next he needs to be moved onto a stretcher and strapped in, except he won’t lie on his back, it hurts too much. He ends up on his side, but now the straps are too short to go over him. Moving an injured Moonman is a bit like wrangling a horse to the ground, but lying on his back is the only way they can strap him in safely, and heaven knows, we can’t have the man falling off his stretcher while being loaded into the ambulance. So they log roll him over again. He pulls his knees up, the only bearable position.

Moonman grips my hand in pain. Some years ago, his physiotherapist said something about his muscles being very strong, so I often tease him by saying, “You’re so strong!” in an American  blonde bimbo voice. But boy, she was right, the man is strong. He crushes my fingers and the chunky titanium ring (with diamond) he gave me bites into skin and bone. I give a loud yelp, causing the paramedics to all look up at me.

“It’s nothing, don’t worry, he’s just breaking my fingers. Nothing wrong with his arms and hands!”

“I think the baby is coming!” the Moonman groans.

“I can see the head – just one more big push!” I say, unable to resist.

“I’m going to be a father!”

By now, the paramedics and stunned bystanders are all in stitches.

“Nothing wrong with his sense of humour, either,” I tell them.

After some more tugging and yanking, the Moonman is safely tied down, and gets lifted into the ambulance. I run home to get my car and, liewe genade, to change into something decent – I’m wearing a particularly unattractive ensemble of tracksuit pants, crocs & socks and my oldest sweater. And I know from experience: what you wear when you walk into ER, you wear until tomorrow. Vanity prevails. It only takes a minute or two.

I try to not drive like a maniac to the hospital, thankfully just five minutes away from my house. The Moonman and I have been here before, when my dogs got into a fight and I got bitten, but that’s a story for another day. I had hoped not to come back here again in this decade.

Moonman is wheeled away and I am told to wait and be patient. (Funny how patient and patient are spelled the same way). So I wait patiently for the patient. Finally I am called in, I am allowed to see him. A rather handsome man who looks like he’s from DRC is the doctor on call.

“Madame,” he says in a lilting French accent. “This news is not good. See on the x-ray here? This vertebra is fractured.”

Having your spine snapped is probably one of our biggest fears, and here it is now. Surely not! Not that! But it is true. The diagnosis is confirmed by a neurosurgeon and an MRI scan.

“So what happens next?” is what we all want to know.

The doctor explains the options:

Option 1: Moonman goes home and stays in bed for four to eight weeks, OR

Option 2: Moonman gets an operation and goes home and stays in bed for one to two weeks.

It’s a no-brainer. Moonman, as you may have gathered, does not sit (or lie) still for very long. He likes to keep moving, he needs to DO THINGS. He is never, ever bored and always finds something constructive to do. So Option 2 it is.

The medical aid sends a quote for the procedure, and I read it out to him:

–        Cement + mixer

–        Hexagonal internal set screw

–        Rod (straight) 5.5mm x 160mm

“No problem, I can get all those at Builders Warehouse,” I quip.

Sadly not. Moonman, always one to over-engineer whatever he builds, now needs Teutonic precision himself. It takes three hours to put Humpty Dumpty together again, in a procedure known as kyphoplasty (google it). A balloon is inserted into the fracture, gets expanded and a special cement is injected into the space. Next, a guiding wire, a couple of screws, nuts, bolts and rods are put in, sew him up and Moonman is ready to roll.

When he comes out of theatre, he is in Great Pain. The Greatest Pain He Has Ever Experienced. He begs for more drugs. And more. The nurses shake their heads and say he’s already had everything they can give him. He is clinging to the rail of the bed and crushing my fingers again. The anaesthetist is called in. This nice man takes time to explain the different types of drugs to me, their history, their pro’s and cons, and gives the go-ahead for a cocktail that brings to mind Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson and others… I am scared shitless and not ashamed to admit it.

And so my poor Moonman goes flying.

“My girlfriend is called Erica,” he informs me again. “I just call her my wife, it’s easier. I don’t know where she is, she’s usually here, making sure my stuff is all sorted and in the right places. I don’t know if she knows what happened to me. If you see her will you tell her? She’s medium height, pixie ears. She drives a white car…”


“Is there a puffadder under the blankets? Something’s huffing and puffing around my legs…. I have three dogs: Lucky, Sheeba and Toyboy,” he announces (close but no cigar: it’s Shia and Toby. I suppress a nervous giggle.)

“Are you my friend? Where am I? I can’t hear myself think. I don’t know where my mind is. It’s hiding. What’s happening? Who am I?”

What do you say to someone who’s tripping? I have no idea at all. I’ve been through some strange things in my life, but I’ve never done drugs, never even smoked a cigarette, for crying in a bucket, and I have no clue what kind of reassurances are appropriate in such a situation. Do you just play along? (“Of course I’ll give Erica the message, she’s just gone outside for a moment.”) Or do you try to get through with the facts? (“Listen to me: I. Am. Erica. It’s ME! Skootle. Look at me!”) The factual approach fails, so I promise to find his pixie-eared wife and deliver the message. At around eleven o’clock, the nurses gently chuck me out – they think I’m keeping the patient awake. Yeah right. I go and sit in my car and blubber a little to myself.

Thankfully, the next day, the Moonman recognises me again, but our conversations are still… uhmm… interesting and rather one-sided.

He sings, quite loudly, “Happy birthday Lasagne!”

“Ohhh kaayyy…,” is the most suitable reply I can think of.

“I think they’re still the best all round,” he advises me sagely.

“I agree.”

Jy moet versigtig wees, anders byt hy jou vingers af,”* he goes on.

“Mm-hmm,” I reply.

“Skootle, this debate is getting too difficult for me.”

Ja nee, me too,” I say.

The nurse comes in to check on him, providing a bit of distraction. He even seems coherent for a few minutes.

“This mattress is very soft, I just can’t get comfortable. Why do they have such pap mattresses?” he asks her.

Meneer, these mattresses are made for fyne mense… Fyne, kleine mense,” comes the gentle reply.

You can say a lot of things about the Moonman, but fyn and klein just do not apply to him.

“There’s an octopus with its tentacles broken off,” he tells me.



“The octopus…?”

“What octopus?”

“Never mind.”

“They’re using chickens nowadays. Little chickens. They peck at the wound to help it heal. Hier bring hulle nou die hoenders.”**


“You’re so pretty – I guess that’s the drugs talking…”

“Thanks, love. You’re pretty too.”

“There was a shipwreck this morning. Many people drowned…”

“That’s sad…”

“And earlier there was a lion in the ward. And a snake. But I was too tired to deal with it,” he mumbles.

“Understandably. But don’t worry, it’s all sorted out now,” I reassure him, stroking his hair. What else can one say? It is all sorted out, but it also isn’t all sorted out. This is just the beginning. Even while he sleeps, he is worrying about everything.

He stirs again and looks at me with those green eyes.

“Skootle, can you get me out of here for ten minutes? I just want to go check out my bike.”

“Uhhmm, I don’t think that’s a good idea, precious.”

“Why not? It’s not far, it’ll only take a few minutes!”

“We’ll ask the doctor when he does his rounds later.” (Yeah right) “Do you want some tea now?”

“Oh. Yes, please… You’ll make someone a good wife someday, Skoodley.”


 The patient has just pulled the door right off the cupboard next to his bed, trying to pull his weight over. A few minutes later, he says, “I think someone has broken into my room. Look, the window is open and the cupboard door is broken off!”

We need to talk to the doctor about the meds, that much is clear.

Moonman begs to be discharged. The surgeon gives the green light and I start loading up the car and preparing mentally for my role as home nurse and chauffeur. Drive extra slowly, no sudden movements, creep over speed bumps – I think I can do that…

Moonman walks to the hospital front door leaning on me on the one side and a tiny little nurse on the other. It’s slow going, it’s sore, but we get there eventually. Getting into my modest mum’s taxi is not easy for my Moonman even under normal circumstances – he’s a tall guy. Now he seems even taller because his spinal scaffolding can’t bend. But Moonman has smelled freedom and he’s not going to be deterred.

“To BMW, please,” he says, pointing, as we pull out of the hospital parking.

“What?! You mean right now?”

“Yes, I want to check out my bike.”

“You’ve just been discharged after a back op!”

“Just quickly, Skootle. It won’t take long.”

“But you’re in your underpants!”

“I don’t mind.”

“You’re sure about this?”


So off we go.  Moonman checks out his bike where it is standing in the workshop. He’s amazed, as everyone else, that it didn’t suffer that much damage. Broken radiator, gear lever, a few scratches… Then he needs the toilet. There’s only one, and only one way to reach it: right through the coffee shop, which is teeming with bikers. Before I have a chance to object, Moonman has hobbled halfway there. I run to the car – his jeans are in there somewhere. I chase him to the bathroom and help him put his pants on. He’s still barefoot, his t-shirt is porridge smeared, his hair is wild, he needs a shave and he’s still wearing his hospital tag around his wrist, but at least he’s basically decent for the trip back out.

“We may as well have some coffee,” he tells me now.

“OK, if you feel up to it…”

“And while we’re at it, we may as well have some toasted cheese…”

“Up to you…”

“I might not be the best person to visit the showroom at such a busy time, having just had my back broken in a motorbike accident… I hope their sales don’t take a knock because of me!”

The visit provides the Moonman with a welcome morale boost and he leaves feeling happier than he has been in a week. We head to my house, his temporary step-down unit until he is strong enough to manage by himself.

After a few days of intensive home nursing, Moonman finally goes home. It’s 13 days since the accident. Pretty remarkable to be walking and driving ten days after receiving his bionic back.

Moonman settles down on his sofa, surrounded by his dogs.

“Two Stillpanes and a double rum and coke seems to work well. I’m feeling quite jovial,” he sighs, smiling contentedly.

(to be continued, no doubt…)


* “You must be careful or it’ll bite your fingers off.”

** “They’re bringing the chickens now.”

Erica Neser © 2011


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yoga with Nicci
    Nov 24, 2011 @ 08:58:47

    That must have been a super-scary experience for you. I am inspired, not only by your superb writing skills but also your ability to remain calm and even humorous under very trying circumstances. I’m glad that the Moonman survived his ordeal (and what sounds like a particularly tough labour) x


  2. ericanexpress
    Nov 26, 2011 @ 22:52:30

    Hey Nicci – strangely, not as scary as one would think…but yes, it was a loooooong and difficult labour! 🙂


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