Monthly Archives: May 2013

Steel is real

Before carbon fiber became popular, “Ti” (titanium) was the material that cyclists drooled over. If you wanted to make your bike crazy-light, you looked to replace as much as possible with Ti.

And if you happened to know someone who had some kind of surgical repair for a broken bone, or hip replacement, you jokingly asked with wonder, “oooh, is it Ti?”

I said that to my doctor today, at my first visit post-femur-surgery. He didn’t get it.

“Stainless steel”, he said.

Hmmm. Well, I have to admit that my old hand-made Waterford frame (Reynolds tubing) is perhaps my favorite bike. I still have it, hanging in the basement.

A steel frame is in general stiffer than a Ti frame. Which is probably a benefit in my case too: I got to look at the X-rays of my leg with my new stainless steel plate and screws.

The plate runs along the outside of my leg, from up near the hip to about 6″ above the knee. That’s much more than I had envisioned. There are long screws at the top going into the hip and smaller screws towards the bottom, where the bone was intact.

I say “intact” because the upper part of the femur was, essentially, “crushed” (to use the doctor’s term) into small pieces. He also said, “yeah you really did a number on that”.

Knowing this now, I have an even greater appreciation for the source of the pain that Sunday in Hell — something I wouldn’t wish on anyone, ever.

The good news is that evidence of healing can already be seen on the x-rays. And that my staples (all 50 or so of them) were removed so I can take a shower soon.

The overall timeline is still likely the same — 9 more weeks of no weight bearing on the injured leg, which still seems like forever. But I guess that’s 3 weeks less than the original forever.

steel is real

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Today is that day

I knew it was going to happen at some point. Beautiful weather on a weekend day, and I would be sitting and looking out the window, thinking about the race that I was not racing.

Today is that day.

It will be the first Memorial Day weekend since 1995 or so that I will not be doing a race. When I stop and consider this, I’m again struck with how racing can take over your life. For many years now, the decision wasn’t about “what should we do for Memorial Day weekend?” but rather “what race am I doing?” It wasn’t always an entire weekend of racing, but there was always at least one race.

Right now I’m looking at the clock and thinking it’s 90 minutes into the Tour de Frankenmuth, where my teammates are racing. I’m remembering the course and where they should be at this point, and imagining how they might be racing it.

I’m coming to realize that what I like as much as the racing itself is the post-race feeling I get from “having raced”. The tiredness that comes from having ridden hard and then the enjoyment of eating as much as I want afterward. I think Gwenn might say those are the endorphins talking.

This year I would have been doing the Killington Stage Race — a race I won last year and that I was looking forward to doing again. There is perhaps a small consolation prize: out of curiosity I checked the Killington weather forecast. Maybe the only thing good you can say about this is that it will make for an “epic race”:

KSR

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What I want most right now


While the Big Picture is what’s most important, but I’m finding it’s the smaller, immediate things that are most annoying and frustrating:

  • At the top of the list is getting more than an hour or two of restful sleep. At this point it is just impossible to get into a comfortable position to make that possible.
  • I want my hair cut — short, and soon. I can’t go to my usual place because he’s got stairs I’d have to navigate. Not ready for that yet. BTW, the guy who has been cutting my hair for 25 years grew up with TdF winner Charly Gaul, so he understands my pain.
  • I want to bend my right knee more than a few degrees. I am getting tired of the leg sticking straight out all the time. It’s really annoying
  • A shower with a real hair wash (see also getting my hair cut). Hopefully they take out my staples next Tuesday and this can happen (although it will be while sitting in a shower chair).
  • Being able to get up and get coffee, food, etc. without it being a major ordeal and without relying on someone to do it for me.

But when I look over this list of daily frustrations, I recognize that I have a new-found appreciation and empathy for people who have to deal with these things all the time, and for the rest of their lives. I think about the people who lost limbs or parts of them at the Boston Marathon, and military personnel everywhere coming back from duty with permanent injuries. It can always be worse.

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From 60 to 0

My most difficult physical act right now is the initial morning trip from the bed to the bathroom to the living room. I think it’s the combination of still being tired from a restless sleep, plus having been on my back for 6 or 7 hours, plus the normal morning low blood sugar. By the time I get to the chair in the living room, I need to sit down and rest.

Aside from the few physical therapy exercises I’m able to do at the moment, the majority of my physical activity consists of getting up and moving around the house with a walker (soon to be crutches). While I’m not “crazy to ride” at this point, I am feeling the effects of exercise withdrawal.

It’s not so much that I miss the bike right now, it’s that I miss doing something.

I got my first grown-up road bike in 1986 and have been riding continuously ever since. I can count on my fingers the number of days in the last 12 months that I didn’t ride. And on those days I did something else like run or hike. So it feels very strange going from doing vigorous physical activity almost every day to almost nothing, overnight. The body doesn’t like this development, nor does the psyche.

Fidgeting has been one way of coping with this I think. In the hospital they were getting annoyed with be because I couldn’t hold still long enough for them to get a blood pressure reading. I guess it’s the body’s way of staying in motion despite being mostly stationary.

I’m hoping this will get better as I’m able to use crutches more often, and more confidently. I’m already devising a path that will get me, unassisted, outside to the patio for coffee, and I’ve got visions of making it down the driveway and taking a “walk” down the street.

Anyone who’s spent some significant time on crutches: I’d be interested in hearing any tips for making it easier, and more importantly helping to make sure I stay upright on them.

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Normal people don’t understand

While on a ride after he stopped racing, Tris told me he was asked, “how does it feel to be a normal person again?” I don’t think it quite works that way. I still refer to him as “my teammate” even though he doesn’t race anymore.

Once you get sucked into this sport, it’s not something you do casually, and then it has a way of hanging on to you. Normal people don’t fully understand this — confirmed by the questions I was getting from the medical staff before and after surgery:

“So you were riding your bike and you fell off?”
“Does your bike have those skinny tires?”
“Did you ever do the Pedal to the Point ride?”

By strange coincidence, one of the RN’s on my floor at the hospital was Nick, a triathlete I know from the Thursday night Leroy time trial. He said the other nurses told him there was “a cyclist” on the floor. When he realized it was me, he told them, “that’s not just a cyclist”.

“They don’t get it”, he said, when he came in to talk with me. “I asked one of the nurses, you love to read, right? Well what if someone told you that you weren’t allowed to read a thing for the next 3 months? You’d go crazy.”

I’ve not gotten to the “going crazy” point yet. I think the severity of the injury has prevented that. When you can barely move your leg, it’s hard to imagine being on a bike. In that respect a broken collar bone was worse. My legs were OK and I could sit on a trainer, and it was maddening not to be able to ride outside.

I expect that at some point the “crazy to ride” feeling will arrive, and I will try to take that as another step in the recovery process.

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Two shuffles forward

Waking up after surgery from the anesthesia, the faces hovering over me asked if knew my name, where I was, and why I was there. I remember saying “whoa, I was dreaming that I was in a bike race. I guess that’s not where I am.”

Then I said, “you fixed my leg, right?” They assured me they did. That moment was the first sense of relief I’d had since the time of the crash.

Back in my room, my leg felt like one of the Iberian ham legs I’d seen hanging in restaurants in Spain 2 months ago:

Iberian ham legs hang in a cellar at a factory in northern Spain

Very swollen, and the nerve block meant I couldn’t feel or move it. Actually I wasn’t disappointed that I couldn’t feel it.

I’m already getting the sense that each one of these little forward progressions will ultimately lead to the next frustration. The next day post-surgery, the PTs came in and tried to get me out of bed and standing, with a walker.

I told them I was starting to see stars. I don’t think they believed me until I promptly passed out and had to be put back on the bed. This went on the next 3 days. Not passing out, but being unable to do much more than go from the bed to a chair.

It was shocking to think that in the span of 3 days I’d gone from riding 28.5 mph at the Presque Isle time trial to being unable to stand with a walker for more than a minute or two. And also rather sobering to consider just how quickly your fortunes can change.

Day 5 post-surgery I finally started to feel a bit stronger and was able to stand and move a bit longer each day. Day 7 I was finally going home.

Which then has led to the next set of challenges and frustrations as I have to navigate the house, do things for myself, find a comfortable sleeping position (still working on that), and perhaps most difficult: keep from going crazy while being inactive.

So far the biggest accomplishment has been going to the kitchen and bringing coffee back to “my chair”. I’ll take it for now.

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A Sunday in Hell

I distinctly recall talking with Joe Huth about the possibility of sliding down from up high on the velodrome banking. Joe said it had never happened to him (knock wood), but from what he was told, “you don’t have any warning. It just happens.”

That conversation flashed in my head as I felt my tires let go. It was a shock. I was just turning laps above the stayers line and then I was sliding.

I didn’t hit a pedal. I don’t know what happened really. The best explanation seems to be that the gusty winds that day slowed me up just enough in turn 1 that I went below the ‘safe speed’ and then physics took care of the rest.

When I hit the apron at the bottom I knew immediately that something was seriously wrong. Usually after a wreck you get the bike off you and get up. Only I couldn’t. I looked at my right leg and thought “Marcus Lattimore” (S. Carolina running back injured last year. Video too gruesome to include here).

Next came the cascade of thoughts on all the training and then missing all the upcoming races. Same thing you would think when you realize you broke a collarbone.

But it quickly became apparent that this was going to be a whole lot worse. Screw the bike racing, I just wanted an ambulance, and wanted to get my leg fixed.

One of the things the EMTs and doctors ask (repeatedly) is your pain level on a scale of 0-10. I can say with certainty that I have a new definition of what “10” is. The EMT said I was getting the “Saving Private Ryan dose” of pain killer, and I have to say I would not have known it. He told me, “yeah, it usually doesn’t do much in these cases.”

I count that I was moved 6 times from the infield at the track to when I went down to the OR. Each one of those moves rated a “10”. But the worst was when they tried to put my leg in traction for the night since surgery couldn’t happen until the next day. Pretty sure the entire ER heard it.

The diagnosis was broken femur, and “not a clean break”. I had made a few calls while in the ER, waiting for the X-Ray results, and I had said, “I can tell by the faces on the ER people that this is not good.”

When the doctor said they couldn’t do the surgery until the next morning, I was tempted to ask if they could take me across the street (i.e., the Clinic) but even if that was an option I knew I couldn’t tolerate being moved again.

Perhaps the most surreal part of the day came while laying in the ER waiting for my room to be prepared. For some distraction I flipped on the TV. There was some kind of news report flashing the names of “Amanda Berry” and “Gina DeJesus”. I knew the names, and was thoroughly confused. Were the pain killers making me disoriented? I fell asleep and didn’t learn until the next day what I had been watching.

This was my version of A Sunday in Hell, thankfully not captured on film.

***

I want to profusely thank Gary Burkholder, the other rider who was at the track, and the firemen from the firehouse down the street, who helped me out in those first minutes after the accident. Not sure I would have held it together without them.

***

Hat tip to John Lowry for this:

I have exclusive use of “10”

***

Reading the physician’s report of my ER visit, found this:

“… EMS gave him 4mg of morphine for pain that he stated was the worst in his life when they attempted to move him”

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