The long road back from a bicycling accident
It was a good day — Mike Dailey had cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed the living room floor by himself.
The victory was not a housekeeping one; one year ago, Mike Dailey could not speak or walk, let alone do household chores.
For Mike and Kim Dailey, life has become largely about these small, daily victories. Each small accomplishment represents a step toward normalcy and away from Mike Dailey’s catastrophic 2016 biking accident.
When he was brought into the hospital, doctors gave Dailey a “100 percent chance of dying,” he said.
“I still pinch myself,” Kim Dailey said to her husband in their living room in Columbia, Illinois on a sunny October day. “I thought I’d lost you. I’ll just sit here and look at him and smile because we’re here, we’re talking.”
Behind her on the wood floor stood the bike, the same black bicycle that Mike Dailey was riding that Oct. 29 morning, the red helmet that undoubtedly saved his life hanging from the handlebars. Now, he inspects the small scrape on the left side of the helmet — the spot where his head hit the pavement and fractured his skull.
I still pinch myself. I thought I’d lost you. I’ll just sit here and look at him and smile because we’re here, we’re talking.
Kim Dailey, speaking to her husband, Mike
“Even with the impact with that helmet absorbed, your skull was so fractured it didn’t look like a normal shape,” she says to him. “Without that, you wouldn’t be here.”
He puts the helmet on his head and reaches up to touch a broken piece of the plastic.
“Oh, I just don’t know how to feel about that,” Kim Dailey says in response to the gesture, laughing.
“Just save him.”
On Oct. 29, 2016, Mike Dailey was riding with a few of his friends through the Waterloo countryside when he glanced behind to check on a car in the road.
In that moment, his front tire hit a hole, sending him flying off his bicycle and into the pavement.
He fractured his skull, broke his ribs and damaged his lungs in the crash that hospitalized him at Barnes Jewish Hospital for five months.
Mike Dailey was unconscious through most of his hospitalization and does not remember anything about the accident. Even now, he seems to still be learning about the crash and its aftermath.
“Your skull was so fractured, everything was misshapen. It was the most awful thing I’ve ever seen. I knew it was you, but I wouldn’t have known it was you otherwise,” his wife tells him. “I remember talking in your ear and telling you I was here but I was thinking, he’s probably already gone.”
For a long time, nothing improved. Sometimes, things seemed to get worse.
It’s the strangest thing because I’ve treated a lot of patients, but I’ve never actually been one. I teach people how to walk and then I had to teach myself how to walk.
On one night in particular, Mike Dailey stopped being able to breathe.
Doctors rushed to Dailey’s bedside at 2 a.m. His lungs were unable to function due to severe contusions and lacerations, but doctors could not use normal methods to help him breathe due to further medical complications.
Doctors told Kim Dailey they could either stop treatment or they could try something different that could leave him in a vegetative state.
She gave the go-ahead for the treatment.
“All I could think was save my husband. I’m not ready to say goodbye. Just save him,” she said.
After the procedure, however, they did not know whether or not Mike Dailey would ever regain consciousness.
“I had some really tough conversations with God. I remember crying on the way to work asking, just take him or give him back,” Kim Dailey said.
The marathon of recovery
When he regained consciousness months after the accident, Dailey could not even remember his wife’s name.
Over the past year, however, the memories have slowly returned.
Last month, Mike Dailey suddenly remembered how to play electric guitar.
Although he remembered a few months ago that he used to play in his church’s band, he would pick up the instrument and nothing would come to him. Now, however, he’s playing during church service once again.
He also has returned to work two or three days a week at his business Orthotic and Prosthetic Design, where he custom creates and fits braces for patients.
“It’s the strangest thing because I’ve treated a lot of patients, but I’ve never actually been one,” he said. “I teach people how to walk and then I had to teach myself how to walk.”
For Mike Dailey, recovery was a slow process of learning how to walk and speak again.
I go through mixed emotions still because I’m so hopeful and happy and grateful, but sometimes I get discouraged or sad because our lives and relationship are very different now than they were a year ago. But then you feel guilty because he survived. Nothing really prepares you for anything like this.
Kim Dailey’s own healing after the accident, however, was more emotion-based.
“When you’re the spouse and your partner is going through that, you don’t have that person to talk to. I’d go to the hospital and be faced with this information and decisions. And to come home and crawl into an empty bed and not have somebody to talk to about what I was going through was terrible.”
She was also caring for the Dailey’s 14-year-old daughter, the last of their five children still living at home.
Even now, the emotional toll from the accident and recovery still weigh on her.
“I go through mixed emotions still because I’m so hopeful and happy and grateful, but sometimes I get discouraged or sad because our lives and relationship are very different now than they were a year ago,” she said. “But then you feel guilty because he survived.
“Nothing really prepares you for anything like this.”
Kim Dailey said she went from being her husband’s partner to being his round-the-clock caretaker. For months, she had to help him with everything from walking to using the bathroom while also going to work as a special education facilitator in St. Louis County.
“We’re moving more toward that husband and wife relationship again,” she said. “It takes intention. We try to be very intentional about recreating that husband and wife relationship that we lost temporarily.”
They have also found joy in sharing their family’s story, hoping it can provide inspiration to others in seemingly desperate situations.
“When you go through stuff like this, if I can find any purpose at all, it’s to provide hope for someone else,” Kim Dailey said. “I have to have faith that there’s something more going on in all our all lives.”
When you go through stuff like this, if I can find any purpose at all, it’s to provide hope for someone else. I have to have faith that there’s something more going on in all our all lives.
With each day, the Daileys are slowly taking their negative experiences and making them into something positive.
For example, Kim Dailey uses a Southwest Airline card to make medical payments, earning flight mileage. With each dollar spent on medical bills, the Daileys are a few miles closer to a vacation.
“By the time he’s ready to travel, we’re gonna go somewhere,” she said. “It’s not gonna be long before we cash in on those miles.”
“Do I get to pick where we go?” Mike Dailey asked, laughing.
Kim Dailey laughed, too.
“See, he’s messing with me,” she said. “That’s my honey. He’s coming back.”