Last weekend, as he made the long drive from New York City to Columbus to start a new life, Malcom Goodchild knew his world was about to change.
He just had no idea how quickly that would happen.
A native of the Caribbean and a trauma surgeon by trade, Goodchild was recently hired by Columbus Regional Health and was finishing the move from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he and his family lived.
Last Sunday, just 20 miles from his new home, everything turned upside down.
Goodchild and his sister, Simonne Lawrence, had driven straight through and were on I-185 in Harris County, with Lawrence driving the final leg of the 15-hour trip. They were in his Infiniti sports utility vehicle, towing his “baby,” a 2014 Suzuki Boulevard motorcycle.
“For the first time, I decided we were on the end and I was going to take a nap,” Goodchild said. “I was asleep and I woke up when the vehicle started to swerve and the last thing I saw was us going toward the guardrail. I don’t remember quite what happened after that.”
It was ugly.
As Lawrence lost control, the SUV and trailer went into a spin, then a roll, flipping three times. All of the vehicle’s airbags deployed.
When the car stopped, Goodchild remembers unbuckling his seat belt, but not much more after that.
“I don’t remember getting out of the vehicle, but I remember being in the grass in a lot of pain,” Goodchild said.
Lawrence escaped serious injury and was moving around trying to help her brother. Almost immediately, other motorists stopped and came to their assistance. She remembers someone to the side praying for them, while others rushed to the vehicle.
All Goodchild remembers was the intense pain.
“I remember being on the ground and in so much pain I was screaming,” he said.
The first responders arrived in short order and Goodchild was put in the ambulance. He remembers asking one of the paramedics which hospital they were transporting him to.
“They said Columbus Regional, and I said, ‘Oh, my, that is the hospital I am going to be working at,’” Goodchild said. “And that’s when they realized they had a doctor on their hands.”
By the time he reached the hospital, the pain had intensified, Goodchild said.
A nurse asked him a question he has asked patients many times: How bad was the pain on a scale of 1-10?
“I said to the nurse, ‘Is there a 15 on that scale?’” Goodchild remembered.
The reason for the pain became obvious as Goodchild’s injuries were diagnosed. They included fractured ribs and fractures of the spine. Though now in an unfamiliar role, Goodchild, 42, reverted to his medical training and had a pretty good idea of the damage to his body.
“I went through the entire trauma algorithm in my head,” he said. “Pain in spine, trouble breathing: probably a couple of broken ribs. Pain in neck: probably a broken vertebrae.”
He also began to notice the people taking care of him, the very people he was moving to Columbus to work alongside.
“You have a newfound respect for the persons charged with taking care of you and getting you better,” Goodchild said. “Everything goes so quickly — timing is everything in terms of what gets done, how it gets done. ... On the other side, I thinking to myself, ‘Did they check this, did they check that?’”
Goodchild spent a couple of nights in the hospital. His recovery could take a couple of months, delaying his Sept. 1 start date for the new job. In the meantime, he must wear cumbersome neck and back braces.
“If they heal OK with no issues, then they come off in six to eight weeks,” Goodchild said. “If it doesn’t heal, then I will need surgery to have them fused.”
Asked if he was in a waiting game, Goodchild just laughed.
“Yes, waiting for them to heal,” he said.
The SUV and the motorcycle were destroyed, but the passengers escaped. Goodchild’s wife of 21 years, Charmaine, was back in New York when the crash happened. When she saw the first photo of the smashed car, her reaction was immediate.
“God was good to us,” she said. “If not for God, I would not have a husband today. If you look at it, he should not have survived. He’s walking, he’s talking, and he will be OK. I am thankful.”
Lawrence, too, said the outcome of the accident rested in the hands of a higher power.
“It was an accident and it happened, but had God not been at the helm we would not have made it,” she said. “We can show you pictures of the wreckage, but when you see the wreckage in person, it is God. And for us to walk away with the injuries we walked away with, it is amazing. God is great. It’s really, really amazing that we walked out of that vehicle.”
Another thing has happened in the wake of what could have been a tragedy. The Goodchilds have found unexpected support in their new home.
“We’re not people accustomed to getting and receiving help,” said Charmaine, like her husband a native of the Caribbean islands. “We’re very independent. It is a little bit overwhelming, but we are so thankful for all of it.”
The move was timed to get two of their children enrolled in Brookstone School — their oldest child is 18 and staying in New York. Charmaine Goodchild offers praise for Avery Wolff, the school’s admissions director, as well as Columbus Regional physician recruiter Kim Jinks and real estate agent Melissa Thomas, for coming to the family’s aid.
“They have been there, they have said, ‘I will go get something for you; I will go shop for you,” Charmaine said.
Malcom Goodchild said the family has been overwhelmed by the level of support and outreach from the community.
“It is something we haven’t experienced before,” he said.
The experience will have an impact on him as a physician, Goodchild said.
“You are taught empathy, to put yourself in the patient’s position, but not unless you are there, that connection, that understanding is not as concrete as it is when you are actually lying on the other side of that bed rail,” he said.
Charmaine Goodchild, a surgical physician’s assistant, is convinced this will make her husband a better doctor.
“He is sweet, kind, passionate and caring,” she said. “His patients always love him. He will be better, but I don’t know how and in what way. It is always better to be able to say to the patient, ‘I understand, I have been there and I feel your pain.’”