Why I’m Pegleg

“The time has come, To talk of many things: Of rods–and pins–and surgeries–of how Pegleg came to be…”

Excerpted from the Peglog:

The warm, misty weather was odd for a Sunday night in early winter. It was the 7th of January, seven days after my birthday and seven months since Mom died.

On New Year’s Day I thought my 2007 could only get better as I mopped up the vomit of some lightweight just after midnight outside the bathrooms at The Gate. I was barbacking on my birthday, December 31. Only moments after New Year’s struck I uttered those fateful words: At least my year can’t get any worse.

I started working at The Gate in my utmost time of need. Contrary to what most people think, a bar can the best place for you when you’re at your lowest point. I lost my job when my Mom was sick and couldn’t look for new work during that time. It was a gift in some respects, since I was able to spend more time in Maine with my parents and not have to worry about such trivial obligations as a job. But it did leave me in a lurch when I finally returned home in June.

When I got back to Brooklyn, the 2006 World Cup was in full swing. Most days I would go to The Gate to watch the matches then go for long runs in the late day heat. I couldn’t think to do much else. Sorting out employment was a hovering gnat that wouldn’t fly away when Dawn, The Gate’s manager, mentioned The Gate needed a barback. And washing glasses sounded about perfect.

So I spent my summer and fall helping keep The Gate shipshape, helping it fulfill its mission as a proper public house—a community center and a place to drink. As the warm weather slowly left the Northeast and the summer crowds stopped their weeknight carousing, the bar slowed down. Winter meant, possibly, an end to my paid time at the bar. I had made it through that crazy, vomitous New Year’s but wasn’t sure how much longer my shifts would last.

Exactly a week after New Year’s, The Gate had its staff holiday party on that Sunday, January 7, 2007. I was angling for bartending shifts at the various sister bars that were all celebrating that night, keeping my professional composure during the open bar. I’d have enough opportunity to drink back at The Gate once the official party broke up, figuring it would end up being a long night back in Brooklyn.

A group of us piled into a friend’s truck and drove back to The Gate in the rain to start our evening. Just as soon as we got back, Dawn healthily decided she’d take the bus home. The weather being what it was, I volunteered to run out and check the bus schedule for her just as my first beer arrived.

We both stepped outside as Jesse stood in the doorway out of the rain and I took off across the street to check the times. Apparently, according to Dawn, I shrugged to her since there was no schedule on the bus stop and she turned from me to see if there might be a bus coming up the street. I never made it back across the street.

Dawn and Jesse heard a sound of what they thought was a car hitting a pothole. But Dawn said to Jesse, “Where’s Pete?” He thought I’d run off into the park across the way, but Dawn thought differently. Fearing the worst, she stepped out onto 5th Avenue and first looked up the street and didn’t see me. Then she turned and looked down the street to where I was, facedown and not moving, bleeding from my head.

I didn’t see any of this or know that it even happened, but apparently it was very dramatic. I have no recollection of re-crossing the street. Raining as it was, my hood was up so I didn’t have any peripheral vision. I never saw a car at all. I trust there was one even though it didn’t stay. My hip seemed to have taken its review mirror off.

Juno was called immediately, woken up from her sleep to hear sirens through the phone and out the window. “Juno, come down here. Peter’s been hit by a car.”

The scene was lit by streetlight through the mist, strangely deserted aside from the crowd in the middle of the street. The rain made it look worse, diluting the bright red blood coming from me.

As Juno arrived on the scene, the EMTs flipped me over. That’s when I start to recollect what happened, firsthand experiencing life again. I knew something wasn’t like it was before.

When you undergo such intense trauma, it’s strange how your mind and your body separate—almost like when you’re running. I remember describing how much my shoulder hurt, how much my leg hurt but, in memory, the pain isn’t there. When it’s too much to handle, your consciousness and your physicality coexist somewhat independently.

One moment I was running across the street trying to get back inside the nice, warm bar. Then I wasn’t. Out of nowhere, it was over. Fortunately, it restarted. It didn’t have to. But I got lucky and it did.

Before this, the closest I had come to death was holding my Mom’s hand as she took her last breath. Like a Wohlsen, I couldn’t learn from her example, but instead had to experience it myself to learn a lesson about death. Unlike my Mom, I was given another chance.

The ambulance took me to Lutheran Medical Center in Bush Terminal, Sunset Park, the nearest Trauma 1 Center to The Gate. There began my extended stay in the emergency room. I was hooked up to a morphine drip, regularly given the most horrendously painful potassium shots, and waited.

Pegleg: One Month Old

Pegleg: One Month Old

They took a CT Scan of my brain and I waited. They stitched up my head and I waited. They took X-rays and I waited. My Dad made it all the way from California and I was still in the emergency room. Doctors and residents came and went. And I don’t know why, but to anyone who would listen I’d say, “My Mom just died.” and “I’m a runner.”

Finally I was cleared by the neurology department and I became an orthopedic patient. With my broken tibia and fibula, humorous, and pelvis, I needed surgery. As I went into surgery I asked the physician’s assistant, “Will I run again?” She told me that in one year I would be 99.7% better and, yes, I should be able to run again. A rod was put in my leg, my shoulder was set, and Pegleg was born.

After 40 hours in the ER and surgery, I was finally admitted to the hospital to begin my healing. For 3 weeks I want to physical therapy twice a day learning to hobble on one foot with one crutch, an adult Tiny Tim, unable to support my weight on my right side at all.

During my time in the hospital, I marked the one-year anniversary of my Mom’s discovering that her cancer had metastasized. I still remember the call from the hospital that January day as my Dad told me the results of her full body scan. “The cancer had spread,” his voice trailing off, “everywhere.” That was the worst phone call I ever received.

My Mom left the hospital that day knowing she was not better than when she went in. One year later, my Mom was in the hospital with me. She was there reminding me that I was different. I was lucky. I did not die. Each day I was healing. Unlike her, I was going to leave the hospital better than when I came in.

She was there to teach me:

You were given another chance to live. You didn’t need to wake up from that crash. You didn’t need to be able to walk again. You don’t need to be able to run. But you will. And it’s up to you to make the most of it.

If my Mom hadn’t died, I might never have worked at The Gate. If I had never worked at The Gate, that car might not have hit me. And if that car hadn’t hit me, I would not be the person I am today. Some of the ugliest packages contain the greatest gifts.

Thanks to my Mom and thanks to my accident, I run with a rod in my leg forever reminding me how lucky I am to be here to run at all.

Please sponsor me as I continue to run in memory of my Mom and to support Gilda’s Club who supported me. Help me help Gilda’s Club to help us to LIVE in a World with Cancer.

…One year later…


On the one year anniversary of the accident, I reenacted the events as they should have occurred. Coincidentally, the rain was almost exactly the same. By now there was actually a schedule on the pole which, had it been there one year earlier, I probably would not have been hit by that disappearing car.

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Comments
3 Responses to “Why I’m Pegleg”
  1. Gillian says:

    Even knowing your story, reading this moved me to tears. It’s a beautiful reminder to be grateful for what we have in life rather than focusing on what we don’t have. Many people in your shoes would consider themselves terribly unlucky, but not you. You are truly an inspiration Petey, showing all of us how to live a life of gratitude, strength, courage, and purpose. Thank you.

  2. Justine says:

    Just catching up with your blog now that it’s almost time. Like Gillian said, I knew all this, but reading it again in your own words is just incredibly moving. Good luck Sunday, I know you are going to kick that marathon’s ass.

  3. Stephanie says:

    Just looking at the picture and reading your story again, you did kick that marathon’s ass, regardless of a time – and that time is amazing by the way, no matter what!
    Love and memories,
    Stephanie

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