Baroness’ John Baizley: If My Arm Injury Was Any Worse, We Would Have Discussed Amputation
Here in Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Baroness frontman John Baizley, the musician discusses the gravity of his physical injuries, as well as his daily rehabilitation routine. Baizley shares the incredible difficulties he now faces when attempting to perform simple tasks such as folding laundry or opening a bottle of water.
The Baroness frontman also gives additional details about the terrifying moments knowing that the bus was about to plummet down a 30 foot drop, the moment of impact, the unthinkable amount of pain he endured and the current condition of the other passengers on the bus.
When it comes to your physical rehab, can you tell us about your normal daily routine?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve got a severely broken left leg and a crushed beyond belief right arm, but they’ve both been mended in such a way that at first I was in a cast, then I was in a brace, and now neither my arm or my leg has anything holding it in place externally. I’ve got some metal on the inside, but on the outside, because I injured two joints, in order to become functional again I have to move them. So in other words, like I was saying, if it hadn’t been an elbow and a knee, I’d be in a cast right now and I would able to do much less, but these were very serious traumatic injuries to my joints and if I don’t move them they will lock up forever. So against what seems to be logical to me, it would seem that you’d let the bones heal completely and then start working on things. I’ve broken plenty of bones before and that’s always been the case in the past, but with these two injuries, I have to move them. I can’t walk. By the end of it, it’ll be three or four months that I’ll have had to spend in a wheelchair, but I spend the whole day sitting there bending my leg over and over and over again and twirling my foot around like an idiot just to keep the blood flowing and to keep everything on the mend and with my arm, at this point, it’s all about stretching and starting to do small functions.
Like as I said before, folding the laundry feels like running a marathon. I feel like I’ve been to the gym if I open a bottle of water or something like that. It’s humbling to see, relatively speaking, how strong I was and how we all were before the accident. The human body does all of these things and of course we take that for granted until it’s taken away from us and I spend each day seeing how much further I’ve come from the day before. So last week, I was unable to touch my face, and this week the big improvement that I made is that I am able to bend my arm enough that I can touch my face, and it does sound silly because what are you going to do when you touch your face? Last week, I learned how to put the phone down and scratch my nose with the good hand; it’s all degrees.
The good thing for me is that I have a very supportive family and my 3-year-old daughter doesn’t understand how serious this injury is, so she still wants to play with me and what I do is that I do the best I can to be a normal guy and that helps me because I don’t sit there and wallow and get stuck in that rut of inactivity. I don’t have time to wait, I just don’t have time for anything anymore. I am ready to get through this and get moving again, and that was one of the big things that changed with that accident. I’ve come to a realization that we do have a relatively limited amount of time to do the things we want to do, and it can very easily be taken away randomly without any logic or sensibility to it.
I consider myself incredibly lucky to have survived through the accident and to come through with injuries that can be fixed within reason. Yeah, my arm isn’t going to work the same again and neither is my leg, but I didn’t take a head injury, I still have a pulse, I still have all of my limbs attached and that didn’t necessarily need to be the case. I was told that if the injury to my arm had been any worse we would have been discussing amputation, so that’s a reality check in some ways. Be thankful for what you have because it’s much easier than you assume to lose this type of stuff. I’m not a spring chicken anymore and I’m not one of those people that thinks or has thought that I’m invincible, but now I’m sure of it. Now I’m sure of what we’re made of and it really is a thin network of meat and bones. You’ve got to respect that.
It’s phenomenal that nobody passed away. I remember in your story, you were saying that moments before the crash, you were yelling at everyone and trying to wake them up to prepare for the impact. What struck me as interesting is that while you were trying to get everyone ready, you stayed at the front of the bus. Did that seem like the safest place to remain at the time when you were going over that hill?
No, and maybe I can clarify; it felt like ages. There wasn’t enough time to do anything definitively and it was just enough time for instincts, to act on instinct. If I had known that there was going to be an accident, if I was prepared to know we would have had a finite amount of time to deal with it, maybe something could have been done differently. But the fact is simple fact is, and I could put it very bluntly; we were screaming out of control down a very steep hill, in the rain, in a bus. There’s no seat belts on our bus. I don’t know if you ever seen European tour buses, but there are a lot of bands that in order not to loose money on tour, will rent older model buses. The bus was an older model but it was a German model, German driver, he owned and operated his own vehicle. There are very stringent vehicle laws in Germany so it really was up to code, it wasn’t like we were on the Beverly Hillbillies truck and we could just jump out of the back of it.
I mean, how are you going to get out of a vehicle that’s flying down the hill? It would take a lot of rationale and I wouldn’t have done it anyway because my friends, my best friends in the world, are all on that bus and instincts told me that I needed to wake them and everybody who was awake needed to know what was going on in order to brace for impact, because the other thing about those type of tour buses, if there is something is considerably wrong happening up in the front, it doesn’t mean you know it in the back. Sound doesn’t travel well through those buses so screaming at the top of my lungs, I’m barely getting everybody’s attention. I think everybody woke up in time to have some brief moment of understanding of what was going to happen, and I’m not even sure about that. There may have been one or two people who just woke up in the hospital, but the simple fact of the matter was we were moving incredibly fast and we were going down a hill and the driver and I we were looking for something to do, we were looking for a way to stop it.
We were looking for a road where we could have turned on, or a ramp we could have gone up or something that could have cushioned the blow a little bit easier and we never found it. There was one road we could have turned on, but it was almost like we would have to turn backwards, it was a very hard left and it was clear that the bus would have flipped. You flip in a bus, that’s it, good night. The only other option is that the bus runs into another vehicle. The only vehicle we saw was occupied, moving towards us and it had another family in it — that’s not an option, you don’t kill somebody to save yourself. So, by that time the crash was entirely inevitable and we had run out of choices. We saw the guardrail at the bottom and there was really nothing we could have done. We were moving so fast that nobody could have done anything. We tried everything, we tried using the momentum of the bus and turning to slow it down; that worked to a certain degree. We ran to the emergency brake, and the transmission was basically gone because we were going so fast you couldn’t downshift, and of course, there were no brakes, so we were mechanically … f—ed. [Laughs] Yeah, that’s the right time to use that world.
Then we hit the guardrail and then there was a couple of seconds I spent in the air preparing myself for what seemed like an inevitable fate. Honestly, I’ve been living on the road for over ten years. I’ve come to terms with that on several occasions and none of them were even close or as serious as this. I was ready for it and I made my peace, I accepted it and I was ready for the end. That was the only option that was given to me. You know, at the point when our bus was fully airborne, there was nothing you could do but try to make peace with it, and I did. How surprised was I when I’m still alive? How f—ing overenthusiastically happy was I when that happened? Like I said, whatever physical pain there was, whatever mental trauma I’ve yet to suffer through, whatever nicks and bumps and scrapes and bruises we’ve taken from this, I’ll tell you what, it’s better than the other alternative we could have taken from that wreck.
I guess that’s just that. You deal with the hand that is dealt. That’s what I gotta do. It’s better to do it and find something constructive and something positive. That’s what I think everybody’s doing and we’re really quite happy because I wasn’t exactly in a pleasant mood for a few days following that and I was trying to make sense of it, and thanks very much to the rest of the guys in the band and crew, thank you very much to our fans who offered support and our friends and family who were there or were keeping in contact with us and absolute f—ing praise and worship goes to the emergency team who responded, and you know the surgeons, and the whole medical team that dealt with us because they kept us alive, kept us in one piece and kept everybody positive. It felt like there was this huge extensive family who just tried to keep me and everybody okay physically, mentally, and in every way. I’m so grateful for that because a month after our wreck there was another bus that crashed 60 miles away from us that was carrying people from another music festival and that crash killed three people. That just got me thinking about how fortunate we are that we have fans that care about us, we have families and friends and everything and all of these people that care enough to be part of the story and to offer help with this. I’m just thinking of some of the people in the other crash, they might not have had that, they might have not had anybody interested in hearing what happened and they lost more. So, in perspective, it could have been worse. It could’ve been a lot better. [Laughs] It could have been a lot better, but it could have been worse.
Can you give us an update on your fellow bandmates, friends and how the bus driver is doing?
Yeah, I mean, everybody is going to be fine at the end of it. We all suffered different types of injuries and it’s pretty surprising the variety of injuries that were sustained. Just out of respect for the rest of the guys, they’ve all got their individual stories, so I’m not really naming any names, but there was some pieces of back, one guy was in a brace, somebody from our crew was bruised to the point where they had to be under constant medical supervision for fear of clots, and one of our crew looked like he’d been in the biggest street fight of all time. The driver sustained a number of broken bones, some people had minor scratches and scrapes and others as hefty as broken bones and backs. But the simple fact is, we will all be fine, absolutely fine in the end. It’s important, especially for me to hold onto that. We will be fine in the end. If we’re not fine already, we’ll be fine in the end.
In the crash story you mentioned that you did suffer some burns along with your broken arm and broken leg. How long exactly were you laying in the bus before you were rescued?
It was really quite alarming how fast that there was a crew on the scene. What happened to me specifically was I flew forward about ten or twelve feet and I went halfway through the windshield. The windshield flew out in one piece and it went flying and I hit it and bounced back in. I landed on the window frame where the glass had been. There was shards all around me and the burn marks were abrasion burns. It was a burn that went all the way around my arm and pretty deep into from who knows what. There was a ton of them, just big huge patches of skin rubbed off or burned off. I didn’t pass out, so I can’t say, “When I came too…” but once the bus settled, I was sitting and I was able to survey the area and able to take stock.
If I was on the ground I wouldn’t have been able to do a number of things that I did, but I was sitting. That’s when, instinctually, and I believe we were all conscious while doing this, but we were looking around to make sure everybody was alive. I had this sense inside that nobody had died, and fortunately I was right there. I actually was relatively calm given the circumstance and I was just calling everybody’s names out and I think we were all trying to see where everybody was, and after about a minute, it couldn’t have been more than a minute-and-a-half, there were three people at the front of the bus. I had just pulled my arm almost 360 degrees in a circle, so I knew what was wrong with me. I was just sitting in the window of the bus like, “Get me out! Get everybody else out!” There was a window, I guess in the back of the bus that was broken as well. So everybody was either coming out the front or out the back and I believe they had to cut the driver out.