If you go
What: The Solo Speak Sessions
When: 7:30 p.m. May 16 and 17
Where: Greenwood Playhouse, 148 N.W. Greenwood Ave., Bend
Cost: $15 in advance, $18 at the door
Contact: www.solospeak.com or 503-860-5733
Life can change dramatically in a matter of seconds.
For Bend actor and storyteller Andrew “Andy” Hickman, that point was driven home on July 5 of last year. Hickman had just completed a shift tending the bar at Noi Thai Cuisine and was riding his bicycle toward his east Bend home when he took a vicious spill.
An avid mountain bike rider, Hickman had often hit jumps on the trail that made up a portion of his 2½-mile bike commute. He was negotiating a much smaller leap as he rode along Franklin Avenue that July evening after pouring wine during First Friday Gallery Walk.
He’d just emerged from the pedestrian walkway east of the U.S. Highway 97 underpass and was attempting a short hop off the driveway of Sherwin Williams Paints into the bike lane. It was the kind of move he’d been doing “since I was 11 years old … 10,000 times, 20,000 times. It’s Simple Simon. It’s not even a jump.”
Hickman recalled the accident again last week, sitting in the living room of his Suntree Village home. It’s the former home of his mother, Cascades Theatrical Co. co-founder Carol Bryant. Hickman moved in shortly after his mother’s 2011 death, returning to Bend from Portland, where he’d been living and acting since 1994.
“I can remember putting a little extra English on my bike as I hopped off the curb,” he said. Something clearly went wrong as he sailed off the curb, but he can’t remember the fall itself. “There’s about two or three seconds where there’s just nothing,” he said.
Otherwise, his memory of the odyssey he endured over the next several hours is remarkably clear, and his ability to tell stories also remains intact. On May 16 and 17, Hickman will participate in the next installment of the Solo Speak Sessions, a storytelling event at Greenwood Playhouse in Bend (see “If you go”).
Hickman has appeared in a number of productions since his return to Bend, including “The Tempest” and “Twelfth Night.” Hickman sang at his own medical benefit in September, but the Solo Speak event marks his formal return to the stage.
For the show, Hickman and five other storytellers will tell personal stories exploring the theme of “Jump.” Given the theme, and the journey he’s been on since his accident, rest assured he’ll talk about his accident and recovery.
He grabbed the helmet he’d been wearing and showed the scuff mark on the outside. He then flipped it to show the large crack hidden inside.
“There it is, inside. I would have left a good part of my brain on the sidewalk,” he said.
‘Put some Neosporin on it’
After he fell, he said, “The next thing I know I’m off my bike, I’m crawling on the ground, people are coming towards me, I’m trying to keep my head off the pavement, put my hand out, and say, ‘No, no, I’m fine,’ and I can only make noise like a sheep.”
He fought off losing consciousness. When a bystander asked him if she should call 911, “I thought, ‘I don’t have insurance,’ so I shook my head ‘no,’” he said. “It’s like, ‘I can’t afford that. I know it’s bad, but an ambulance, really?’”
When a police officer arrived on scene, Hickman again refused an ambulance. “He asked what I was going to do, and I said, ‘I’m just trying to get home. I’ll be fine. I just got my bell rung!’ He got quiet and (I) was like, ‘Wow. I just yelled at a cop.’”
Unaware of the extent of his internal injuries, a grim determination to get home had emerged in him, Hickman said. He answered the officer’s questions about his name and address “as clear as possible, in my best actor’s voice,” he said.
The officer told Hickman he could leave, but, Hickman said, he pushed his luck and asked the officer if there might be a way to put his bike in the back of the patrol car and get a ride home.
“I felt the look,” he said. “Off he went, and so I walked the bike home. I remember feeling super vulnerable and not wanting anyone to see me or to run into anyone I know.”
On his walk, he passed Ponderosa Park. “It’s twilight, it’s getting dark. There’s this lone kid out at the skatepark. About every 100 yards or so I would stop and rest my head on my bike seat. I remember doing that.”
The boy called out to him, “Did you get in an accident?” Hickman said, imitating the twang in the boy’s voice.
“I said, ‘Yeah, a bike wreck,’ and he’s like, ‘Put some Neosporin on it!’”
When Hickman answered that the injuries might be internal, the boy told him, “Uh oh. Better do something quick!”
‘I need a ride to the hospital’
Instead, Hickman went home and lay on his bed. “Into unconsciousness I went. I wouldn’t call that going to sleep,” he said.
Around 4 a.m., his cat, Walter, weighing in at about 25 pounds, leapt on him and “landed square on my liver, right where the injury was,” he said. “That woke me up.”
When he got up to use the bathroom, Hickman discovered blood instead of urine.
“It gets a little graphic,” he said.
Most of the friends he might call for a ride were away for the holiday weekend, and the sun still had yet to rise for the day, so he lay down in pain for yet another hour.
Finally, it occurred to him that he needed to go to the hospital. Rather than dial 911 or even call a cab, he went on Facebook and asked if any of his friends would drive him to St. Charles Bend.
“I did it in my whole sort of cowboy avatar thing. ‘Well howdy, saddle pals, took a little spill off the widow maker last night. I need a ride to the hospital. Is anybody online?’” he said.
Two friends started in to Bend, one from Crooked River Ranch and another from Tumalo. Hickman packed for the hospital, knowing what to take because of his mother’s stays.
While sitting in the waiting area of the emergency room, another old friend walked in having troubles with his appendix.
“We’re all sitting there talking about high school,” Hickman said. “We sat there and watched gladiator movies” while waiting to be seen by doctors.
The formal diagnosis was massive internal injury due to blunt force trauma. Hickman would spend a week at the hospital, learning that he’d lost three pints of blood to internal bleeding and had sustained injuries to his bladder, spleen and liver. His right kidney was virtually destroyed.
“Only my kidney is permanently damaged,” he said. “I mashed it, was the exact word they used.”
“When the urologist uses the words ‘kidney, shrivel and walnut’ in the same sentence — yeah,” Hickman said.
Help from friends
Once home, “I got a lot, a lot of help from a lot of people,” said Hickman. He still has close friends from his adolescence in Bend and years at Mountain View High School. Many of them helped him around the house and with grocery shopping during his recovery.
One of those friends was Carole Hansen, who had been his mother’s close friend.
“Carol asked me when she was dying in the hospital to look after Andy,” Hansen told The Bulletin. “I said I would, so yeah, I did. I told her I would.”
Another friend who helped him is former classmate Diane Turnbull, who helped set up the September benefit to ease his medical expenses, about $55,000 in total.
The benefit took in enough for Hickman to live for a couple of months, but not to pay off his bills. St. Charles Foundation wrote off about $35,000 from his hospitalization bill.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said.
Hickman still owes about $15,000. “I’m pretty sure the doctors have pretty much sold those off, because I get a lot of 800 numbers (calling) on my cellphone,’” he said.
Though he would like to pay off the remaining debt, he is considering medical bankruptcy.
“I work 18 hours a week at minimum wage plus tips,” he said.
Hickman stresses the importance of a healthy diet and exercise. He’s an avid gardener, showing off the pimento, corn and other plants growing in pots around his living room. He believes it was his exercise program that saved his life.
“Exercise is a panacea,” he said with a laugh. “Definitely.”
After the accident, Hickman began taking short walks as soon as he could, and crawled around outside tending his garden.
By mid-November, he was able to return to bartending at Noi Thai, and through the winter his exercise routine expanded to include yoga and core exercises, “all that kind of stuff that I was doing before,” he said.
“At the end of it all, (doctors were) like, ‘You’re not diabetic, you’re no longer anemic, and, oh, your cholesterol is exceptionally good for a 52-year-old.’ It’s all that walking and exercising. And, you know, poverty, it helps too,” he said, using a stage whisper when he says the word “poverty.”
“For the most part, I’m fine (now),” he said. However, he sometimes feels a little pain when exercising.
“I call it a little kick from the baby every now and then. I get a little, ‘Ow! That hurts.’”
For now, Hickman walks to work. His bicycle still needs a tuneup, and he needs a new helmet.
— Reporter: 541-383-0349, email@example.com