Time and space, or bits and bytes, have recently intersected in my Inbox about two stories of injury and rehabilitation. One story combines a downhill descent of an experienced rider crashing out due to what is still some 10 months later explained at best by a hypothesis of what might have happened. The second story is about a bicycle crash that occurred in a mundane setting doing something that had been done thousands of times before. This time, however, it resulted in serious injury and long recovery…
But first, the fetching group of folk in the image are the participants in last Thursday’s BicycleHaywoodNC sponsored group ride for “new and newly returning” riders. Led by John Mudge, owner of Rolls Rite Bicycle Shop in Waynesville, NC, the riders enjoyed an 11 mile cruise along the Haywood County Greenway to Lake Junaluska and back. A couple of folk stretched themselves physically to make the ride and a couple of folk found some much needed relaxation in the early evening cruise to and around the lake shore.
(Thursday night riders. Mudge is the fellow in the multi-colored jersey!)
Stories of Challenge and Recovery…
The first story occurs on August 20st, 2010 during the inaugural ride of the Blue Ridge Breakaway. Gary Williams, an experienced cyclist from near Gastonia, NC was descending Stamey Cove when something went wrong – very wrong. To do justice to the story and his recovery, I’m going to provide the link to a news article just published 10 months after his crash:
The second story relates to my friend and occasional riding partner, John Bryan. John lives primarily in Florida where he gets to ride year round. Our paths intersected last year on several occasions and, as it turns out, we had some mutual friends in addition to a mutual love of riding. John just completed BRAG. He graciously gave me permission to share his story of recovery after he read the link related to Gary Willliams. Following is John’s story in his own words…
I've thought about writing about my accident and the recovery, but never have. The accident was one that could happen to any one of us at any time.
All it takes is a slick road, or maybe in some cases an oil spot, or a deer, or almost anything and we can fall.
Most of our falls aren't that big a deal. Everyone who rides a road bike will fall sooner or later. I went over the handlebars one time, years ago, when I cut across a grassy area to take a shortcut; I didn't get hurt.
Everyone who uses "clipless" pedals has or will fall sometime.
The secret is in how you land. Most of the time, you land well. You get some bumps, some bruises and maybe a little road rash. You might hit your head, but if you've got a helmet on, it's no big deal. But every once in a while, one of us lands wrong.
Gary Williams landed wrong. If he had landed a little differently, he would have gotten up, checked his bike and finished the ride. When I crashed, if I had landed a few inches one way or the other, I would have had a bruise and some road rash, but nothing more. It's when we land wrong that bad things happen.
My landing drove my left femur through my pelvis. The femur was fractured, but the pelvis area was really busted up. Technically, that area is called the acetabulum. My acetabulum was badly fractured.
The first hospital the ambulance took me to couldn't treat my injury. My regular doctor, the ER doc and the on call orthopedic doctor all agreed I had to go to a trauma center. They put me back in an ambulance and away I went to the trauma center at St. Mary's Medical Center.
The trauma specialist told me my injury was really rare; I thought about sending my wife out to buy a lottery ticket. He said they usually see it from motorcycle accidents and get just a few a year. Lucky me! But the good news was that he was pretty certain he could fix it so I could ride again.
The surgery to fix my multiple fractures involved cutting through the tissue on my left buttock, cutting two muscles, and placing two plates and ten screws in my pelvis. The surgeon referred to cutting my muscles as "releasing" them; they cut my piriformis, which is the big butt muscle, and my adductor, which I identify as my groin muscle. I lost a lot of blood during the surgery and had to get two units to replace it. They didn't do anything to the fracture in the head of my femur.
There wasn't a great deal of pain once they fixed the injury, although I did get a really neat looking 10" scar on my butt. Morphine, by the way, is as good as advertised! For the first few days, I was sure I would never want to even look at a bicycle again. But then the doctors told me I could ride again and most importantly, my wife assured me my bike wasn't hurt and that she would do whatever she could to help me get back on the bike. Within a few days, I was planning my first ride.
Fortunately, my helmet saved me from any neurological damage like Gary suffered.
After 8 days in the hospital, I went home. They told me I couldn't put any weight on my left leg for 8 weeks. I had to get a wheelchair and a walker.
In one swift second, I went from being an active, athletic, fit person to being an invalid.
The first day I did therapy at home, the therapist told me to lay on my back and lift my left leg; it wouldn't move. A week later, it moved, but it hurt.
My wife and I thought that when the 8 weeks was up that I would just jump up and being running around. I made my appointment for my first real therapy at the out patient center. Just before the 8 weeks was up, I developed a deep blood clot, or DVT, that ran from my groin to my ankle in the left leg.
That bought me another 8 days in the hospital.
Out patient therapy started out with exercises in a warm pool. As soon as I was allowed to put weight on my left side, I felt a pain in my foot. Back to the doctors and x-rays, where they discovered I had an undiagnosed fracture of some bone in my foot; the initial therapy messed it up just when it was almost healed, so I had to deal with that for a few weeks.
There were a bunch of "old" people at therapy who didn't seem to want to get better. I wanted to get better. After two weeks, they told me I was motivated enough to do the exercises on my own.
On April 17, 2010, 4.5 months after the accident, I rode my bike again. I had to lay it on the ground and step over it to get on the saddle. I went just over 8 miles. About half way through the ride, I was thanking God for healing me and I actually teared up.
By June, I was well enough to do some rides from Bethel Middle School, but it was tough. I rode with you guys in July, but was still a long way from full recovery.
It has been slow, but it has been amazing to feel my body heal. It was around April of 2011 before I could swing my leg over the bike to mount it correctly. This was almost 1.5 years after the crash. In June of 2011, I managed to do the BRAG ride, 402 miles in one week. I feel pretty much healed.
The lessons I've learned are many. The first and most important lesson is
"don't fall". The second is almost as important as the first: when you fall, fall the right way and not the wrong way. Always wear a helmet. Be vigilant for slippery spots and never, ever turn the front wheel if you think there might be a slick spot. Stay away from asphalt that has been recently resealed.
The most important lesson is that we should appreciate every single ride.
Each ride is a gift from God. It might be cold or rainy, or hot and humid, or uphill or slower than we would like, but riding a bike beats the heck out of wheeling yourself around in a wheelchair or hopping around in a walker.
I'm about 90% back and expect to be 100% at some point. There have been bumps along the recovery road, the worst of which was the massive DVT. I've had some nerve issues on the non-injured side that are just starting to clear up. I'm dreaming about getting a new back, although I know the one I have is a great bike.
So be careful out there. Let Gary's injury and his comeback be an inspiration when you get some minor or major injury. We can come back from injuries and if you think about it, we really have no choice. We move on.
- John Bryan
Please note that John didn’t write this for publication but was gracious enough to allow me to post it. I do so because I know how easy it would be for either Gary Williams or John Bryan to have become depressed and given up when their lives took such drastic and unexpected changes. Whether a deer crashes you out or the simplest of maneuvers takes you down, both of these gentleman are living proof(and I mean LIVING in its fullest context) that perseverance can overcome adversity. My hope is that when the day comes that I find myself “down and out”, I can recall their journey and take hope from it. I hope you can too!
P.S. Speaking of inspiration – don’t forget to check on our fellow cyclists from the Cherokee Nation, who are retracing the Trail of Tears.