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Smashed watch that saved Dan’s life – the first time!

I am a punctual person. I insist on being on time. It is part of my makeup and it bothers me if I am late or others I deal with (including family members) are not as punctual.

I have always had nice time pieces, dating back to my youth, when my grandfather (who owned a jewelry store in Toledo), gave me my first, with my name engraved on the back. After that one, it was usually a Timex, though I bought myself a Cartier Tank Watch as I became a successful tech sales representative.

Once I had my first baby, I stopped wearing the Tank Watch in favor of a plastic Swatch, which was water proof (my hands were always in water with the baby) and he liked to teeth on it. Voila; instant chew toy! But about 24 years ago, with children more or less grown and a house on Martha’s Vineyard, so lots of time at the beach, I wanted a nice, waterproof watch. I looked for something else, but my husband insisted on a specific type of Cartier (the last on the right below), which I wear every day. He had just bought himself a more expensive one.

During these two years of the pandemic, I kept my sense of days of the week by knowing what exercise class I would take on any given day. I had to sign up for each one. Even during the worst of the lockdown, I took classes via Zoom with two great teachers who taught through their gym about an hour’s distance from me (one had taught at my local gym and quickly established herself online). So I kept a sense of schedule.

That is until I injured my ankle on June 26, 2021. Then most forms of exercise ceased for me. Now I do lose track of days. It is frustrating and I feel unmoored.

But that was nothing compared to what happened on July 1, when my husband suffered much more severe injuries than mine. He collapsed twice on his way to the bathroom one morning on the second floor of our Martha’s Vineyard home. In a different story, I have already detailed the severity of his injuries (he has recovered nicely). But that morning, I sat in our kitchen, reading and typing at the computer, oblivious to what transpired a floor above me. I heard a thud, but thought he dropped something. About 20 minutes later, I got a text on my phone saying, “Betty, please come upstairs. I need your help”. I knew the text came from his Apple Watch because Dan knows my name isn’t “Betty”.

I came up and found what looked like a crime scene in the bathroom. I called 911, he was taken to the local hospital, examined, stitched up, then MedFlighted to Mass General. The quick reaction might have saved his life; at the very least, he wasn’t paralyzed. Among his many injuries, he had broken his C-1 vertebra, which supports his head.

This was the second time his Apple Watch saved him. The first time was on August 7, 2019. He had just finished a long bike ride with a friend and was returning to our home. He wanted to avoid traffic, so came through a residential, winding subdivision, full of speed bumps. He isn’t sure, but he thinks he reached down to grab his water bottle at precisely the moment when his front wheel hit one of those bumps and he went flying.

He doesn’t know how long he lay in the road unconscious. The Apple Watch can sense a fall, will send an alert, asking if you’ve fallen and need help. If you don’t answer within a few seconds, it will call 911. The ambulance knows where you are because there is a GPS tracker on the Apple Watch. Dan started to regain consciousness as he was loaded onto the ambulance. He had lots of road rash, bumps, bruises, a broken rib, and a small cerebral hemorrhage. This was his first helicopter trip to Mass General, to check on the brain bleed. If is got worse and he needed surgery, the small Martha’s Vineyard hospital could not handle it. He did not get worse and he was released the next day. The Featured photo shows his smashed Apple Watch from that accident. He is now forbidden to ride his bike outside (it was his third accident in two years).

The watch saved his life – twice!

He thought about this during his three months of healing last summer. He sent an email to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple (who makes his email address public). Dan thought this was news worthy. He got a polite response, but heard from an Apple marketing guy the next day. They chatted at length. Would Dan be willing to do media about his experience? Yes, he would. A short while later, he heard from Hiawatha Bray, the technology writer for the Boston Globe, who interviewed Dan at length, checked the veracity of the story with his doctor, and a lengthy story appeared in the Globe last August. I fear it is behind a paywall, but here is a sample of it.

Boston Globe article about Dan’s Apple Watch use.

More than a timepiece, the Apple Watch truly was a life saver! We have several friends who have purchased one based on Dan’s experience.




Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    Wow, I had no idea the Apple Watch would do that!! Good thing he had it, more than once. And good to know he has recovered, more than once. My mother was always super-punctual—never early or late, and it rubbed off. But that turns out to be a very culturally-determined thing, so I have learned to try to pay attention to others’ expectations better.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, it is good that he had that Apple Watch – more than once, Khati. I just heard from another friend who said he bought one after Dan’s most recent accident. We should get royalties.

      I think punctuality shows respect and is very important for all occasions (except, perhaps, cocktail parties).

  2. The last time I bought a new bike helmet, they offered me one that will call your designated contact person if you crash and don’t move for 60 seconds. It must be the same technology, but somehow even more sophisticated, since obviously, the helmet does not normally function as a phone. I didn’t choose that one, but I think next time i will–or get an Apple Watch.
    The drama and terror of the latter part of this story kind of made me forget the pleasant and more mundane choices about watches that you featured in the beginning of the narrative. Yet it was all very interesting and set up the reader for the powerful final paragraphs.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Interesting feature for a helmet, Dale! Obviously Dan is not the only person to be knocked unconscious in a fall off a bike. But we are big believers in that Apple Watch (I don’t wear one because I have tiny wrists and they are all too big for me). Thanks for following along.

  3. Wow Betsy, we knew of Dan’s accidents of course, but not the role his Apple watch played! Thank goodness

    I’ve been thinking of getting one, I knew it did more than tell time but didn’t know it could be a lifesaver!

  4. Dave Ventre says:

    Interesting tale. Not all modern technology is “Black Mirror.” I have no Apple products, but the Strava activity tracking app on my phone allows Gina to track my bike rides in real-time on a map, which makes her feel better. She can call me if I am stopped for a long time when I am by myself to see if I am OK.

  5. Suzy says:

    Wow, that featured image of the smashed Apple watch is SO dramatic! I already knew the stories about both of his accidents, but being saved by his watch twice is incredible. Thanks for including the first page of the Globe story too.

    I love the picture of all your watches, especially the one with your name engraved on the back! Glad you still have it (of course you do!). You and I have the same attitude toward punctuality and wearing watches. Just another of the many things we have discovered through Retrospect stories that we have in common.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I wish I could have shared the whole Globe story, Suzy, but just couldn’t figure out a way. Of course I still have the original watch my grandfather gave me (and some watches that were my mother’s – none work any longer, but that’s not the point, right?)

      Yes, we have many things in common – being punctual is just one.

  6. Marian says:

    While I knew about Dan’s two accidents, the role of the Apple watch was new to me, and I can understand why he (and everyone in his circle) would want one. Glad he’s no longer permitted to ride a bicycle outside, though. At least technology has some benefits to offset the drawbacks. I hope you can eventually resume your exercise, Betsy.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I tried to get him off the rode, Mare, but he wouldn’t listen to me. I am relieved that the doctor forbade him (after THREE bad accidents).

      I am exercising again, just not as vigorously as I’d like. Thanks for the good wishes.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    I have heard this about the Apple Watch and have been thinking about getting one soon. When it first came out, I thought it would be another thing to annoy me with texts I don’t want to read right away. But now, I think it is a far better protection than the thing my mother wore around her neck to summon 911 in an emergency.

  8. Jim Willis says:

    Wow, Betsy, what a story! As a couple others have said, I had no idea an Apple watch could do that. And, before I read the part about Apple’s response, I was going to suggest strongly that you notify that company of what this watch did for Dan and you. As one who has refused to join the Apple bandwagon and who instead stays loyal to his Android and $8.95 wristwatch from Walmart, I may have to reconsider my decision on which watch — and phone — to get next!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Given the price point difference, I understand your reluctance to buy Apple, Jim. Until my older child went to work for Google DeepMind 7 years ago, we have been an Apple family, through and through (though, as I stated my story, I don’t wear an Apple watch because my wrist is too small). But we’ve made a lot of converts with these stories.

      One of the Super Bowl ads showed someone going down in a bike crash (but on a trail in a lush forest) and the watch calling 911 for help. Dan and I looked at each other in amazement, “That’s YOUR story”. Dan contacted the marketing person and was assured it was someone else’s story they recreated. Guess it happens frequently.

  9. Betsy, that is an impressive little watch, that Apple thing. What a series of mishaps and how fortuitous that the little watch arrived in your lives just in time. I’m also struck by how timepieces came into your life through birth and family. I inherited my father’s watch habits — wear the face on the inside of the wrist, military style. Remember this one?

    Now the time has come (Time)
    There are things to realize (Time)
    Time has come today (Time)
    Time has come today (Time)

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      It was sort of amazing that Dan was saved by two different features of that Apple watch. People ask if the “need help” feature went off when he had the terrible accident in our bathroom last summer (it was a good 20 minutes before he figured out to text me, after he was bleeding out upstairs with the broken neck). It had, but he dismissed it. So these messages aren’t fool proof, if the wearer is a fool. But yes, fortuitous on both counts.

      My original watch no longer works, neither does the Bulova that I inherited from my mother (on a black strap with little diamonds around the face – I wore it when I played Sarah Brown, I was sure she would have worn a watch like that, it still ran in 1972). But I am content that I still own them and can look at them and if I wanted to invest the money, I guess I could get them running.

      It is special that you wear your father’s, military style (I do have an image of turning the wrist around to view it “military style”. That is meaningful connection.

      I can hear the thumping of the beat right now to “Time has come today (Time)”. We are back to tempo.

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