My StudyBass

by Andrew Pouska

I will begin this by not worrying you through the whole read. I was in a serious car accident, but I am alive with no life-threatening injuries, and I can still play bass.

It’s been a depressing four months since the accident, and it’s been hard to write this post. It still is.

Some of you might not like reading about a car accident. If so, skip ahead. Otherwise, click below to read about the accident.

What Happened

Click here to read about the accident

Four months ago (in fact, the day after StudyBass’ 20th anniversary), my wife and I made a day-trip by car from Houston to Austin.

After our day in Austin we were driving back home to Houston late at night. There are two common routes between Austin and Houston: Highway 290 or Highway 71 to I-10. Google Maps suggested 71 to I-10. It’s the way we went to Austin that morning, and it was an easy, pleasant drive. Returning that night on 71, however, was the way of misfortune.

Driving down 71 was uneventful for the first 73 miles. The last few miles of Highway 71 are pitch black at night. There’s not a lot of traffic. It is two lanes wide each direction. The speed limit is 70mph (112 km/h). About a mile before reaching Interstate 10 is when it happened.

Walking, single-file, across the highway were four black cows. They were completely black–not a patch of white anywhere on them. They were like black ghosts in the darkness.

Suddenly I see cow legs in the headlights. It was a wall of 1500-pound cows. There was nowhere to go. I slammed on the brakes as hard as I could. I hit one cow broadside. The cow came up the hood of the car crumpling the hood like an accordion. It rolled up onto the windshield and rolled off the driver’s side. Somehow it survived the impact and tried to stumble off, but another car hit it and–thankfully–put it out of its misery. It was all very quick for the poor cow.

Our car is now immobile in the right lane of the dark highway. One of many strokes of luck in this situation was the car’s electrical system kept working and the lights were on enough for other cars to see us. Had the lights been out, we could have been hit from behind by someone else on the pitch-black highway.

We aren’t bleeding. The air bags did not deploy (I think because we sort of scooped up the cow rather than getting stopped by it). We are able to get out of the car and to a safe spot. The other car which hit the cow stopped further up the road. They checked their car and then took off. They didn’t check on us. Probably they had been drinking and didn’t want to stay for the police.

My wife is calling 911 while I’m using my phone flashlight to warn approaching traffic. Our next stroke of luck is a police officer going home from work sees us from the other side of the highway. He turns around to see what happened and within minutes several other police cars arrive lessening the chance of a second accident.

My left hand is swelling and hurting. My hand must have hit the steering wheel or dashboard pretty hard. I didn’t know it yet, but I broke a bone at the base of my index finger.

My wife has some bruises. I’m thankful she’s not in worse shape. I have some other bruises. We’re both stunned, but we’re alive walking away from hitting a cow at 70mph. It’s quite amazing.

While this was a terrible situation, I can’t tell you how many worse ways I can imagine it turning out. Had there only been one cow, I would have swerved and possibly flipped the car. There could have been a car pile-up. Who knows?

Here's the car that night:

Here's the car in the daylight:

For those of you who skipped ahead, the summary is I broke my left hand in a crazy car accident.

Hand Injury and Recovery Document

The main reason I am writing this post is for any musician going through a similar hand injury. As a musician your hands are your life and any injury can be quite disruptive. You might not know what lies ahead. So, here is a document of what I’ve gone through so far.

Houston Med Center

I am lucky to live in Houston which is home to one of the world’s biggest, most renowned medical centers. Houston’s Med Center is bigger than downtown Dallas. The Houston Medical Center is 4.93 sq mi (12.8 km2); downtown Dallas 1.4 sq mi (3.63 km2).

Now, this is my hand. Indeed, if you use StudyBass, it is our hand. I want to see the best hand doctor in town if I can. A doctor student of mine kindly checked me out and got me a referral to see Dr. Evan Collins. He treats many Houston Symphony musicians and local pro athletes. In Houston, he’s the guy.

Wherever you are, spend the time to find the best person for the job whether it’s guitar repair or bone repair.

The X-Ray

At my appointment I start with an X-ray. The X-ray shows an avulsion fracture at the bottom knuckle of my index finger. An avulsion fracture is where the ligament pulls on the bone causing it to break. 

Dr. Collins gives me the great news that no surgery is necessary. The bones are close enough together, and he expects it to heal well. He says it will take 6 months to fully heal. I am to keep it “buddy-taped” (bandaged to the next finger) for a month and do a follow-up visit.

Dealing with It

Meanwhile, my whole hand hurts and I can’t use it at all. I won’t be playing anything for a few weeks. Pressing anything with any left hand finger hurts.

I’m always careful with my hands, but at this stage I am being extra careful during the healing process. The simplest things are suddenly painful, frustrating or impossible–tying your shoes, opening a jar, etc.

Although I consider myself right-handed, I’ve learned I am much more ambidextrous than I realize.

If you are going through this sort of injury, be careful not to over-do things with your good hand and injure it too. The hand needs to rest. This is a real test of one’s patience.

Bone Healing

The body’s ability to repair broken bones is amazing and fascinating. First, your body forms a blood clot around the fracture cleaning the site for repair (Hematoma Formation Phase). Then, a soft callus builds around the fracture site holding the bones together (Bony Callus Formation Phase) while the necessary minerals are brought in to generate new bone. Then, the body continues to heal the broken bone for as long as 9 years (Bone Remodeling Phase). Incredible!

Something essential for proper healing is to eat a good diet rich in amino acids, vitamins and minerals. And, eat plenty to fuel your body’s repair process.

If you’re going through this, ask your doctor if it makes sense to supplement l-proline, l-lysine and boron to aid in healing. If you are vegetarian, you might not be getting enough of what the body needs to heal bones well.

It was observed that the group of patients treated with supplements of essential micronutrients containing vitamin C, lysine, proline, and vitamin B6 showed acceleration of fracture healing time, at 14 weeks, compared with the placebo (sugar pill) controlled arm, whose fractures healed in 17 weeks.

Other Issues

Was my broken hand my only issue from the accident? Sadly, no. Both of us got banged up pretty well. My foot continues to hurt from hitting the brake so hard. My shoulder and other body parts click and pop in ways they didn’t before.

The most frightening issue I had was a few times my whole left arm went numb for several hours. Nerve damage can happen after such a blow to your body, and it may or may not repair itself. It hasn’t happened for some time now, so I hope to be clear of any sort of long-lasting nerve problems. Time will tell.

If this happens to you, don’t immediately panic. There’s a good chance it will go away. Talk to your doctor.

The Hand Follow-Up Visit

After 4 weeks I went back to Dr. Collins to get another X-ray and have him check my bone healing progress. When I first saw the new X-ray I was disappointed. It didn’t look much different! I was still in pain and knew I couldn’t play.

Dr. Collins comes in, looks at it and surprisingly says it looks great. He pointed to some faint white spots connecting the bones saying that’s what we want to see. He said I can start using my hand. No more buddy tape. He explained that I can’t damage the healing process because the pain will stop me before I would be able to. Your body knows its limits.

Dr. Collins also warns me there’s a chance I could develop “trigger finger” after this sort of injury. This is where your finger can get stuck in a flexed position. Let’s hope this never happens.

Now, my physical therapy? Play the bass! That’s a good prescription.

So, at 1 month, I’m not totally healed. It is healing though. He reminds me I’m 1 month into the 6 month healing process.

Another Outlet

Over the past few years I’ve been learning to play the drums. If you don’t play the drums, you might not realize how important fingers are for drumming. They are. This injury also got in the way of playing drums. There are, however, 3 other limbs one can work on. So, during my forced bass-playing hiatus, I could at least get some music out of me on the drums.

Month 2

Although I am allowed to play, I really cannot. It is just too painful.

Month 3

This time is very frustrating. Many days you feel like it has gotten better, but the next day it feels bad again. It’s just like practicing you have to be patient with the process.

I am finally able to play some. I have to be very careful.

It’s interesting how this bone break made me sensitive to finer degrees of pressure and expending energy. Once I got beyond being able to simply press a string again, the most painful motion was always quickly shifting down the fretboard. 

The hardest part now is stopping yourself before decades of instincts take over. After so much time you imagine something in your head and you instantly play it. With the injury, the pain interrupts your flow and instincts. You start to cautiously think ahead.

Four Months Later

Finally, four months later at the end of 2023, I can play the bass again. It’s still not 100%. I can feel it. But, I am feeling it less and less.

Music Is Not Your Hands

Over the years I’ve had students in similar situations.Yes, you’ll have to cancel your bass gigs, but you don’t have to stop learning. If you are dealing with an injury and can’t play, this is a time to remember that music is not just technique. Your musicianship is deep within. Music is not simply your hands. You can keep studying even if you can’t use your hands…

  • Train your ears

  • Sing

  • Read rhythms

  • Read up on music theory or history

  • Listen to music critically

  • Analyze songs

  • Transcribe songs without using your instrument

  • Write songs

  • Explore another instrument

There is so much you can do. Don’t feel like you have to put everything on hold.

I know the situation is depressing and frustrating. This whole thing has been quite the downer for me. I am healing mentally and physically, and you will too.

I will continue to update this post to document the healing process.

Work on StudyBass

I’m always doing something here. In this 4 month time, I have been cleaning up a lot of code on the website. The injury did make typing slow and painful. But, I’ve been able to fix some long-standing issues which is a relief. I’ve also developed some new features which will be rolling out soon. I’m excited to get back to some projects I’m working on which require playing.