By Deirdre Parker Smith
The bent wheel and cracked helmet really bring the impact home.
Giuseppe Lopriore shows them off and says "I was really blessed."
He pulls the bike helmet apart -- it's cracked completely through on one side -- to show how he bounced off the truck that hit him as he prepared to get on his bike on Oct. 19 in Davidson County.
The Highway Patrol told him he was thrown 19 feet, and the truck driver was probably going 40-45 mph.
The $3,000 racing bike's back wheel is bent almost in half. Giuseppe was astride the bike, getting ready to put his foot on the pedal, when he was hit.
Now, just six weeks after the accident that put him in intensive care at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, he is reopening his Spencer restaurant, Pinocchio's, on Dec. 1.
"I got to start slow," he says, showing some swelling on his left arm, which was broken in the accident but is now out of the cast.
"The ribs are fine," he says, although most were broken. "The back is fine." He has a chipped vertebrae. "I just can't lift much with this arm."
So he's going to be open for dinner only, Tuesday through Saturday, at first. He is anxious to get back to work, to see his regular customers, to have an income again.
As chef and owner, Giuseppe has been without any income in the weeks since the accident. The man who hit him had insurance which will cover medical bills, and, he hopes, loss of income.
"After this," he says, fingering the broken helmet, "I make a will, leaving everything to my daughter. I get insurance. I get life insurance. Before, I never thought I needed that. Now ... ," he makes a gesture with his hands that says, "who knows?"
Just last week, he started working out at the YMCA, walking the track, using a stationary bicycle (only 30 minutes, he says) and taking yoga. This from a man who rode thousands of miles on his bike last year, including the grueling Bridge to Bridge race up Grandfather Mountain.
That's what he and biking partner Claudio DaRe were training for when Giuseppe was hit.
When he was hit, on the ground, he remembered being hungry. In pain, but hungry. Then he tried to move. "I wasn't hungry any more. Only pain."
He couldn't breathe at first. He thought he heard other cars pass by and not stop. Claudio immediately came back, and when the truck's driver finally turned around, Giuseppe said Claudio was angry and yelling at the driver.
"I wasn't in the middle of the road, I was on the side," Giuseppe said. "It was a straight road, downhill. I don't know why he didn't see me."
At first, he worried he'd have permanent damage to his back -- that his spinal cord might be injured. Then, when he got home and saw Dr. Chris Nagy, an orthopedic specialist who's also his landlord, he felt better.
"Dr. Nagy shows me the X-rays, and I see what everything looks like, and I say, OK. I'm going to be fine. I may be in pain six months, a year, but OK."
Now his biggest concern is that his customers have forgotten about him or think he's gone out of business.
"I hope, I hope," he says, folding his hands in prayer, that people come back.
He remembers everything, although a medical report says he had some gaps in recalling what happened.
The same report shows he had X-rays of almost every bone in his body, CT scans of his head, his abdomen, bloodwork, tests on his lacerated spleen and liver. At Baptist, a teaching hospital, droves of residents came by to ask questions.
"My heart rate was 53 to 70," he brags. "My blood pressure, the bottom number went from 52-53 up to 65-70." The residents were all surprised and asked him if that was normal. It's one reason he recovered so quickly, they said.
The accident was on a Tuesday morning. He spent 50 hours in ICU, then went to a regular room and was home by Saturday.
He said he was ready to go home before he got to the regular room, but doctors wanted to monitor the condition of his spleen. Friday, he did laps around the hospital halls.
His first bill, just for the hospital stay, no doctors, is $20,000. X-rays alone cost $7,000.
Once home, his girlfriend, Tracy Aitken, wanted him to rest. He wanted to walk. Ten days later, he walked from his home on Scales Street to the restaurant, stopping just once.
Next week, he hopes to get on his bike -- a different bike, now plastered with reflective tape, wearing his new, white bike helmet, plastered with reflective tape. On the back of the bike is a bright, red light, visible day or night. "It looks ugly, but I know my pain. I don't care," he laughs, pointing at the tape.
Tell everyone, he says, wagging his finger and shaking his helmet. "Even if it's a quarter mile, wear your helmet. Always wear your helmet. Every time you get on the bike." He bangs on it. "My neck is the only place that wasn't hurt."
He had to throw away all the food that was in the restaurant at the time of the accident, except for what was in the freezer. He's scheduled for a major delivery Monday to start preparation for the Wednesday reopening.
He received lots of get well cards, e-mails and wishes while he was recovering and says he's going to keep them all. He has just one problem -- he's bad with names. If you really want him to know who you are, tell him what you usually order. That's how he remembers.
Aitken is going to help him with an e-mail newsletter to keep regulars informed about weekly specials or events like a wine tasting. He's planning one of those for Dec. 14, calling the people who have been to previous tastings.
Pinocchio's is taking reservations for parties of four or more on Dec. 1 to avoid a lot of waiting.
For those interested in receiving the newsletter, e-mail email@example.com. or firstname.lastname@example.org. Pinocchio's is at 518 S. Salisbury Ave, Spencer. The phone number is 704-636-8891.
Contact Deirdre Parker Smith at 704-797-4252 or email@example.com.