Friday, February 24, 2017
What a beautiful day it was going to be! The weather forecasts for the New York City area promised a late spring day in February: Seventy-two degrees, clear blue skies and nearly no wind. To a cyclist that is as perfect as it gets.
I decided on Thursday that Friday would be a vacation day. I would do a little work on the house in the morning and go on a 25-30 mile bike ride at midday. The temperature would be perfect, the roads less heavily traveled.
I was excited. I would take my brand new bike on its maiden voyage. A Cannondale Synapse Black Inc. Like a Porsche for the cycling world. The local bike shop had built it up over the winter and it stayed in my living room until the weather and road conditions were favorable. Friday was the day.
At 11:30 AM I changed into my cycling gear, put the GPS and video camera on the handlebars, filled my water bottles, pumped up the tires, kissed The missus and my older boy and at 11:50 I turned on the GPS and rode out down the street.
Less than 5 minutes later my first ride of the year was over.
1.34 miles from my front door I was lying semi-conscious on the roadway. I could hear people running towards me and I heard them yelling to me not to move. I was face down but my face was not touching the road surface. I remember taking inventory. I could feel my toes. They wiggled when I told them too. I knew I was in pain. A great deal of pain. People were now at my side and I felt hands on me. Very gentle hands. I remember someone asking me if I could hear him. I remember mumbling yes. He asked if I could feel everything and again I said yes. I heard sirens and very soon I recognized that EMTs were at my side. I could hear people talking about me. Someone said I was hit by an SUV, another said I went flying. My brain was starting to assemble disconnected fragments.
As my wits came back to me I started to remember what happened. I remembered the red Chevy SUV passing me on my left, slowing and then turning right directly in front of me. I remembered the realization that I was about to crash. The next thing I remember is people running towards me and telling me not to move.
A police officer on routine patrol was already near the collision scene when it occurred. He later told me he saw my bike flipping in the air though he did not see the actual impact. As soon as he saw the bike flipping he turned on his lights and accelerated to the scene. It was his gentle touch I felt on my back and his was the voice I heard asking if I could hear him and feel his touch.
Soon I was on a gurney and in an ambulance. My bike was in the back of the police car. I was on my way to the hospital. My sense of humor was still there. Video after the crash picks up my laughter and me cracking jokes with the EMTs and the police. From the ambulance I called Missus and told her as gently as I could what happened and asked her to please come to the hospital.
Once at the hospital my wounds were cleaned and examined and bandaged.
I was a bloody mess. Both hands were bleeding; my left leg was raw from my lower shin/calf to my knee. My right leg was also bleeding, as were both elbows. I suffered a head concussion and a strained neck. It hurt to swallow. My left shoulder ached. My right shoulder was agony.
I was given a cat scan of my shoulders, neck and head and x-rays from my ankles to my shoulders. The left shoulder was only bruised. The right shoulder was separated.
By the grace of genetics, luck, and a great deal of milk as a kid, I had no broken bones.
By 4:30 PM I was back at home, trying to rest, my right arm in a sling, my head feeling like thousands of tiny bubbles were floating around inside.
I ride with a Garmin Edge 810 Cycling GPS unit on my bike. It records all sorts of information about the ride. It records every inch of the ride, speed, altitude, distance and so forth. I have a surprising amount of data from this four minute and thirty-four second ride. I know I traveled 1.34 miles and my moving time was 4 minutes and 34 seconds and my average speed since leaving my home was 18.2 miles per hour.
I know I went from 22.9 miles per hour to zero in less than 3 seconds. It is that last bit that tells me how violent the stop was.
How do I feel today?
Compared to Friday after the collision I feel much better. Compared to Friday before the collision I feel like hell. The good new is the right shoulder is feeling a little better with not nearly as much pain. It is still very messed up, it feels weak and disconnected and I can feel all sorts of pops and snaps when I move it. I can lift my right arm higher than shoulder height now. Saturday I could barely lift it at all. The bruises and the road rash are painful and raw and stinging.
My head still feels “not right” and it will take days, maybe even weeks for that to resolve. Concentrating on a task is difficult. It is taking me forever to write this post! This is my fourth or fifth concussion over the course of my near 56 years. I know the drill at this point. I really shouldn’t even be working at a computer screen…
I am not working. I cannot drive. I hope to return to work by Wednesday if I am feeling head clear and able to function.
I have to get the police report and file claims with insurance. To make sure I am not missing anything, I am contacting a lawyer we have worked with. I want to make certain I cross all T’s and dot all I’s.
The bike is wrecked. First ride on the bike. It lived all of 1.34 miles. I will work with insurance to replace the bike. Mostly I am focused on getting healthy. This was quite a shock to the system, proof that it is the sudden stop that gets ya.
As a cyclist and as someone who works at a local bike shop on weekends I get to hear a great number of comments about helmets.
- “I never wore one as a kid, I’m fine”
- “Helmets are just marketing to get you to spend money”
- “I hear they are more dangerous than not wearing one”
- “My friend wore one and he got hurt because of the helmet”
My helmet died a hero.
The front of the helmet clearly shows the imprint of the road surface when my head hit. The inside of the helmet is cracked from absorbing the impact. The top of my head showed the imprint of the ribs inside the helmet where they pressed into my head on impact. I have no doubt that without a helmet my injuries would have been severe, even life threatening. It would have been my face that impacted the road, not the helmet. It would have been my skull that cracked, not the helmet.
Remember in the first part of this post I mentioned I was face down but my face wasn’t touching the road? My helmet was toughing the road. It was my helmet keeping my face off the road surface.
The helmet didn’t prevent the concussion. It did prevent much worse.
I implore you: wear a helmet if you ride.
I have received well over two hundred good wishes from friends, family and people in the cycling community. So many people imploring me to take the time I need to heal properly, not push it and to count my blessing. Many people reminded me how much worse it could have been and to look at my family and realize that I am at least still here for them. I could not agree more.
As a cyclist I know how risky this sport can be. I know that when a 20-pound bike and 200-pound rider meet a 5000-pound SUV the results are always worse for the rider than the driver. I know that, considering the violence of the collision, I came away in pretty good shape. I’m walking, talking and laughing and crying. I am hugging my children and kissing my wife. I am texting and talking to friends.
At 2:00 AM on Saturday, I awoke with a start. Sleep was fitful at best but I must have finally dozed. My eyes popped open and I realized I was shaking. I had the clear realization that I was lucky to be alive. It was suddenly clear to me in the dark bedroom at 2:00 in the morning that I could have been killed. I knew it intellectually. I knew it when it happened. At 2:00 in the morning on Saturday, 14 hours or so after the collision, I understood it at an emotional level. The adrenaline had worn off. Now I was just lying in bed with my aches and pains and the certain knowledge that I could have died. Not the intellectual knowledge that tells you “it could have been worse”. This was the emotional knowledge, the sudden gripping, gut wrenching, wide eyed, suddenly ill to my stomach knowledge that hits when you don’t expect it.
In a few weeks I expect I will be healed enough to get on a bike.
I will wheel my All-City Mr. Pink (my other road bike) out of the living room and on to the street out front of my house. I will throw a leg over the bike and I will snap into the pedals and I will start down the road. I have no idea how I will feel. I don’t know if I will feel the exhilaration I have always felt getting on a bike or if I will feel a new found trepidation.
I know I will ride. I have to ride. It’s in my DNA. It is who I am. I can’t let this change that.