October 25, 2013 § 45 Comments
I’m a wuss. When I tried to get out of bed this morning, and couldn’t, I immediately assumed that my anterior cruciate coliform had fractured in the Big Tuesday Crash. “Honey,” I said. “I gotta go to the hospital.”
Mrs. WM doesn’t like being awakened at 4:30 AM. “You onna what?”
“The hospital. I think I broke my coliform nexus prospangerineum.”
“I ain’t onna goin to no hospital.”
“No, honey, I can’t get out of bed. It really hurts.”
“How come you onna gettin out of four o’clock bed? Itsa sleepy time onna three more hours.”
“But I have to get up and pee and I can’t get up.”
Now she was alert. Mrs. WM always gets alert when it comes to bed wetting. “You ain’t onna bed pissing again?”
“No, but I need help to the toilet.”
“If you onna bed pissing, you changing the sheets. I ain’t onna touchin your hot bedsheet pisswater.”
“Please … “
She relented, and helped me up. As soon as I sat on the toilet, I had to number two. But the pain in my side was so acute that as soon as the log rolled down through the logjam and started peeking at the door, a tremendous stabbing pain shot up my side, so bad that it took my breath away and forced the log back up the chute.
“Why you onna gaspin?” she asked.
“Oh my dog,” I moaned. “I gotta crap but can’t.”
She stuck her head in the door. “It sure stinkin like you can.” She held her nose.
“I almost can, but then I can’t.”
“Well, I ain’t onna holdin that for you. Grabbin on the little chin-chin to pissin in the bottle I can do, but I ain’t onna helpin you poopers.”
The spasm came again. “Gimme that garbage can,” I said. She handed it to me, and I flipped it upside down, putting my right foot on the can and thereby raising my right knee high above my pelvis.
“How come you doin onna pilates?”
“It’s not pilates. I’m trying to find the right position.”
“Now you know how a girl feels onna lovemakin. Gotta get the leg up and the middle parts down low. Better onna action traction.”
Deep in the throes of Jakeleg Facing Dog Grunting Stool, I completed the mission, dressed, and headed off to Torrance Memorial.
Marcus Welby, M.D.
I limped into the admitting area of the E.R. “What’s your issue, sir?” the woman asked.
“He ain’t got onna no issue. He just don’ wanna go onna office. He was drinkypants last night like nobody’s business.”
“I fell down,” I said.
“From where?” the lady asked.
“My bike.” The pain was so bad I could barely stand, but they clearly thought I was flopping, especially after Mrs. WM had alerted them to last night’s drinkypantism.
In triage they examined me carefully. “Where does it hurt?”
Mrs. WM, who had sneaked in with me, piped up. “It’s hurtin’ onna place he can’t be drinkypants. He drinkin onna beer last night he wasn’t complainin. But he gotta go onna office all of a sudden he can’t walk or poopers.”
“How would you rate the pain on a scale of one to ten?” the nurse asked.
“Thirty,” I said.
“Let me go get the doctor.”
As we sat in the room we listened to the people outside pleading their case to the doc. “I just need the prescription refilled, Dr. Smorgasbord.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t see the need at this point. You stubbed your toe four weeks ago, and we’ve refilled your Percocet-Vicodin 12,000 mg prescription seven times.”
“But I’m in such pain, doc. You can’t imagine.”
Next it was our turn. “Well, Mr. Davidson, the x-rays came back negative. No fractures at all. I suppose you’ll be wanting some pain meds?”
“No,” I said.
She looked at me funny. “We were going to give you an injection. For the pain.”
“I don’t want one.”
“You said you were in enough pain that you couldn’t get out of bed.”
Mrs. WM chimed in. “He’s just onna complainin. He ain’t hurtin. Just puttin’ a leg onna trashcan and poopin like a drinkypants with too many chili burritos.”
The doc turned to me. “Your hip and back show significant bruising. How fast were going when you fell down?”
“You should really take the injection.”
“Just one question, doc.”
“After the injection, can I ride my bike?”
“Of course not.”
“Well, that settles it.”
And it did.
August 12, 2013 § 32 Comments
At the start of this morning’s Wheatgrass Ride, several riders were comparing ailments.
“My spine hasn’t recovered from that lumbar fracture of five years ago,” said one.
“I’m so sore throughout my entire body after a hard ride that I have to get a full-body massage and bathe in Epsom salts,” said another.
“After that separated shoulder, broken forearm, and hip replacement, sometimes it’s hard to even get out of bed,” said a third.
The talk continued; it was a litany of serious illnesses, broken bones, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to. Pretty soon the conversation turned to treatment and the reputations of various doctors, sports medicine specialists, orthos, chiros, massage therapists, acupuncturists, osteopaths, podiatrists, natural healers, and horse veterinarians.
I really felt for these folks and the obstacles they had to overcome simply to ride their bikes. Of course, I’d recently experienced a physical ailment myself, and I shared it with them.
Anatomy of an ailment
In well over thirty years of cycling, I’ve been fortunate to have escaped injury. Sure, there were the inevitable Cat 4 crashes when I first started racing in ’84, but I never broke a bone and never got more than minor road rash. Likewise, I’ve never had discomfort on the bike. I’ve never had back pains, neck pains, knee pain, hip pain, jaundice, leprosy, stinkybutt, or any other discomfiture except for the misery that comes from getting hammered and dropped.
However, last week, after doing the SPY Tuesday morning ride, I awoke on Wednesday with a muscular pain just above my right hip and off towards the left, in that soft spot between the backbone and the hip bone where I keep my fat stores for the winter. It was somewhat uncomfortable.
Each time I turned around, or when I pedaled to work, this small muscular/fatty area emitted a kind of sore feeling. On the Wong-Baker FACES Pain Rating Scale, I was a solid “2.” Perhaps it was even out of the 2 and even into the lower 3, but not by much.
This soreness occurred throughout the day at intermittent times and it was very annoying, almost painful, in fact. The discomforted area was about one inch in diameter, and although I could relieve the sort-of-but-not-quite-pain by pressing it with my finger for a second or two, an hour or so later after I had stopped pressing the afflicted area, the kind-of-soreness would return.
Getting old is hell
I’d heard my friends talk about the pains, illnesses, and aches that come with ageing. Until I got that sore spot I hadn’t taken them seriously, but now I can really empathize. This uncomfortable spot went away after two days, but while it was there it almost bothered me a lot. And although it was one of the worst experiences I can recall, it made me a better person because I can now really empathize with my cycling friends. It also made me realize how important it is to continue cycling, because the pain and discomfort of riding hard is what made it possible for me to get through those two days. I like to think that cycling has given me a sort of “toughness reserve” that I can draw on in times of almost feeling like I’m in pain.
I’m going to start taking better care of my health, too. This was a real wake-up call, the way that little sore spot just stayed sore for two entire days, on and off. It made me think, “If I’m already getting a little discomfort spot at age 49, what’s going to happen when I’m 60? Or 70?” Now’s the time to be proactive, folks, and to stop taking good health for granted.
So, I’m not trying to sound preachy, and certainly not trying to beg for sympathy, but it’s the tough times in life that let you appreciate the good ones. Take care of your bodies, folks, it’s the only one you have! Below is a true photo of the affected area. It was really partially uncomfortable some of the time. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
August 6, 2013 § 32 Comments
A buddy came into the office a few days ago to showcase his brain damage. Actually, he came in so that he could show me how to run a new piece of software, and he started off by telling me about his nephew’s success in a recent road race.
“It was awesome,” he said. “They put him up on the podium, gave him a big bouquet and a cool race leader’s jersey. According to my brother, he’d wear it to bed if they’d let him.”
An hour later we took a break and talked bike racing. Then we talked about crashing. He’d had a severe fall about a year ago that left him unconscious for about ten minutes. This summer he’d crashed again, equally hard, and although he hadn’t been knocked out, his helmet was shattered into three pieces and he’d been “dizzy and throwing up for about ten minutes.”
“Two severe concussions in a year?” I asked. “That’s pretty serious.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “I haven’t recovered from that last one. I can’t remember things that I should, and can’t focus on things very well, either. You know, shit that’s mindless, like filling up a water bottle.”
“Yeah. I’ll have to think extra hard about really little things and a lot of the time no matter how hard I think I can’t ‘get’ what I’m trying to get. It’s frustrating as hell.”
“You’ve got brain damage, dude.”
“It’ll take a while to heal up. A year, maybe two, easy.”
“Or maybe never?”
“Well, you were pretty thick-headed to start off with, so it might be hard to tell.”
He laughed. “Hey, man, my nephew won his junior’s road race a couple of weeks ago. He was so stoked. They put him up on the podium, gave him a big bouquet, and a cool race leader’s jersey. According to my brother he’d sleep in it if he could.”
“Yeah, it was awesome.”
“I thought it was awesome, too, when I first heard about it.”
“You heard about it?”
“You. About an hour ago.”
We looked at each other.
Those goofy bike racers
We all know plenty of bike racers who are a little “goofy,” not to mention the ones who are “out there,” and of course the ones who are “batshit crazy as hell.” I wonder how much of that is due to brain damage? Anyone who’s raced regularly for more than twenty years has almost certainly hit their head; racers who are particularly aggressive (i.e. successful) may have been dinged in the brain a dozen times or more over the course of a career.
These are hard hits, too. One buddy who got whacked by a car and was knocked unconscious took almost two years to fully recover his mental faculties, and he claims he has never fully recovered. I believe him.
What’s oddest isn’t the extraordinary danger involved in road riding, let alone racing. It’s the ease with which we forget, or rather the rapidity with which we internalize the horror and the trauma of bad accidents.
Whether it’s the buddy with a broken neck who spent six months in a halo and then had major surgery to have bolts put into his neck and a piece of his hip fused onto his spine, whether it’s the buddy who hit the deck on a concrete velodrome at 40 mph, whether it’s the group ride gone haywire when five buddies went down hard in a field sprint, or, what sometimes seems just as bad, whether it’s the fear and terror and shaking when you’re lucky enough to navigate through the mess of bodies and screaming victims and broken bicycles, the incredible thing is that we blithely continue on racing our bikes knowing full well that if you race often enough it’s not a matter of whether you’ll crash but of when and how badly.
What could possibly explain it?
Please set dial to “adrenaline”
The easiest explanation is that after a certain number of years, what is “fun” becomes nothing more than the thrill of combat. One buddy who smashed his hip so badly he was told he’d never walk again, then crushed an elbow, then broke a collarbone, the broke his other hip, then fell in a bad track accident, has stopped riding after each accident just long enough to recover. Once the bones heal he’s at it again.
It reminds me of men in combat who, despite suffering grisly injuries, couldn’t wait to return to their units. We get so used to the terror and the calamity that it’s not merely normal, it’s part of our mental fabric.
A few weeks ago one of my buddies went down mid-sprint at Manhattan Beach. He’s a big guy, and he hit so hard that you could hear his body smack the pavement as far away as the exhibitor tents. Just watching him inert on the pavement was terrible. He fixed his bike and was racing full-bore again at Brentwood.
PTSD: It’s not just for soldiers anymore
Two more buddies suffered catastrophic injuries in the past year; one in a race and one while training. Buddy A was so traumatized by the accident that he can barely ride his bike, let alone race despite being completely healed. Buddy B almost bled to death, then almost had a leg amputated, and is still disabled after numerous surgeries and extensive physical therapy. Yet another buddy who was run down from behind by a psychotic cager still has mental problems riding his bike. He can’t relax. The sound of approaching cars freaks him out. He’s recovered from his injuries, on the outside anyway.
What struck me about all of them wasn’t just the awful nature of their injuries but the battering taken by their psyches. They’re not the same ol’ girl they used to be. A part of them is missing, and you don’t have to talk to them long to figure out what it is. They’re in shock. Delayed, long-term, lingering emotional shock.
So with the brain injuries, concussions, shattered bones, broken necks, shredded faces, mangled digits (I didn’t even mention the people who’ve had their fingers sawed off while working on fixed-gear bikes doing things as innocuous as wiping a chain), and countless other horrific injuries to which the bicycling flesh is heir to, it might cause you to wonder why you keep doing it?
I think for most of us the answer is the same.
“I don’t know. Let’s ride.”