This is something of a test. I haven’t written more than text messages and short emails since the concussion eight days ago. Since then, I’ve had some curious social encounters, been overwhelmed at times, but mostly have just been compelled to take long naps of completely empty time. Paraphrasing the words spoken by Johnny Knoxville when he was brutally knocked out by Eric “Butterbean” Esch, “I was a little concussed.”
Early on June 4th, 2016, I rushed down to Denver City Park to the start of the 50+ Cat 4 40 minute criterium around the park. Two parts of the course were tricky involving sharp left hand hairpin turns. Everything else was reasonably wide open. I showed up late and rolled up to the starting line minutes before race time. In fact, I missed the instructions and announcements. The instructions are always the same. I wasn’t worried.
The USA Cycling Race Predictor had me picked for 4th among the pre-registered riders. Of course, the winners always seem to register on race day. Still, I felt like I had a chance at the podium if not first place even though I was coming off a big week of workouts. I wasn’t rested but I was riding well going into the race and this was my first criterium with my new Mavic Carbone 40 wheels which had done wonders for my most recent time trial performance.
The race started out a little funky. The 60+ group started a couple minutes after us and caught the 50+ group. This was problematic because we weren’t allowed to work together so for a while, we were a big messy group being yelled at by the officials. After a couple laps of that nonsense, the 50+ group put the hammer down and dropped the older guys. I almost felt bad for them but I’ve been in the 50+ group when we were with the 40+ guys. They would do the same thing to us so perhaps this was the universe attempting to restore some sort of karmic balance.
I was warming up still and hanging back, chatting with people I knew and waiting for someone to do something crazy. About fifteen minutes in, there was a little break off the front that caused the pace to ramp up. We picked up the flyer (dude that went off the front). Riding faster felt good to me and I was feeling punchy so I moved up and tried to animate the race a little and keep the pace up. At about 30 minutes into the race (10 minutes to go), I decided to take a couple laps of recovery. Along the northeast side of the loop in a big sweeping curve to the left around the pond, I pulled to the right and let almost the entire field pass me on the inside. I slipped back into the peloton in front of maybe five people.
After this, I have only pieces of my memory to work with. Being in the back so close to the end of a race like this is dangerous for a couple reasons. For one, crashes anywhere in the peloton affect everyone behind them so being the in back means that I could be collateral damage should someone in front of me go down. In addition, if there was an attack, I would be caught behind most of the field and unable to respond aggressively. I would have to keep tight on the wheels in front of me and essentially race 10 riders ahead of my position. Especially around turns, to mitigate the accordion effect where the front riders get a lift coming out of the corner, I knew that I would have to take the corners hot and accelerate efficiently or I could have a problem.
The first corner we came to was the first hairpin left. I was pretty sure I knew what happened before watching the video Lloyd Jones took of the race but the video confirmed that I was mostly correct. As I rode through the corner, I started pedaling a split second too soon. My left shoe clipped the ground lifting my rear wheel off the tarmac. When the wheel came back down, it was six inches or so to the right. It caught rather than slid (I might have had a chance with a little skidding) forcing my weight to shift suddenly to the right.
The last thing I remember of the race was my front wheel violently being pulled to the right and then left. In the video, my weight shifts to the right, the front wheel jerks, and then I am in the air above my bike. I came crashing down on my right side with my hip leading followed by my shoulder and then head. I never let go of the handlebars which is good, of course, but my head does do a double tap on the ground:
In this entire experience, I’ve tried to be grateful and there are so many things and people to be grateful for. My wife Jane and Jeremy, my son, came down to get me. A race volunteer wouldn’t leave my side until I was delivered to the EMTs. The EMTs who were very nice to me. So many of the guys I race with came over to see how I was doing. When I got home, my neighbor Chris came over with DHA for my head. My boss and other office folks were super understanding. And, of course, back to Jane who has been my brain for the past week.
I am so grateful to all those people who were nice to me but two experiences also have been very interesting. First, after I came to or woke up or whatever, I was standing on the grass in Denver City Park on a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun was making the leaves of the trees glow. The grass was an over-saturated green. The day was warm but not hot with a perfect gentle breeze. It was the perfect version of City Park. If City Park exists in heaven, this was how it would look and feel.
To my right, a pleasant voice was speaking over the radio saying that I was OK and indeed, I felt OK. Nothing really hurt at all. The voice remained “The Voice” because I remember nothing of what the person looked like. The Voice asked if I was OK and I said I was fine but then tried to figure out what I was doing there, where there was, what had I been doing, and if I was wearing pants. See, it felt like waking up in a dream and after decades of having the “I forgot to wear pants to school/work/church/mall/etc.” I have apparently conditioned myself to quickly figure out what sort of dream I am having. Is this an inappropriately naked dream, a no-gravity dream, a drowning dream, a Ronald Reagan as my over-domineering great aunt dream, … Don’t judge me; your subconscious is a mess as well.
After saying I was fine and then contemplating the what, where, why questions and coming up with nothing, I said, “I seem to be having some memory issues.” The Voice directed me to walk across the grass to the EMTs and then went back to giving my status over the radio to the authorities, whoever they were. I remember interrupting one more time to say that I was still having some memory issues but this probably means that I repeated myself dozens of times.
The walk took just a minute it seemed but upon review of the course map, it was probably more like 10 minutes or more. The time with the EMTs was a blur as well. The male EMT took my Road-Id and called Jane. The female EMT kept me sitting down which in retrospect I apparently was not interested in doing. They bandaged up my right middle and ring fingers which were a little scraped up. The guy tried to convince me that I was winning until the crash and had me pretty convinced for a little while but then memory of the race started coming back and we had a laugh. A few of my fellow racers came over include Randy from Old School Industries, Philippe “Pippo” Capraro who I think is a doctor, and a couple others who are just blurring together now. Everyone wanted me to go to the hospital but Pippo was very insistent that I go directly. He and his wife gave me water. I like water.
Jane and Jeremy showed up and the EMTs let me go with them. Jeremy drove my car and I drove with Jane. I navigated which is why Jeremy got to the hospital long before we did. Jane called ahead so they were expecting me (we went to the hospital where she works).
The ED experience was less exciting than most of mine. I got out of my Swift Cycling racing skin suit that was nicely ripped up on the hip and shoulder. I am going to have the big rip on the hip repaired because showing up at races with a shredded kit speaks ominous volumes.
They gave me an elephant’s dose of morphine I think to shut me up more than anything. It was very nice; like falling gently into a pile of puppies. Then they CAT scanned my head and shot an x-ray of my hip. I had no apparent bleeding and the pelvis wasn’t busted but they did say that pelvic hairline fractures don’t always show up clearly right after they occur.
Everything gets pretty blurry after that partly because of the morphine and partly because of the concussion. I think Jeremy took me to Chipotle and I think it was awesome. I believe I took a shower which is when I discovered three small road-rash patches on the side of my right knee, elbow, and shoulder. In terms of things to be grateful for, there was blessedly little road-rash.
I was told to stay away from ‘screens’ like TVs, computers, and phones, not to read or write, and generally just to let my brain rest. I was banned from driving, riding, running, being around people, brightness, screens, reading, writing, and other intense stimuli. Pretty much that wraps up most things that I do. So, I was a little bored and decided I needed to cheat and turned on cartoons on the TV. I decided that I could watch TV as long as the plot didn’t make me think.
At some point, Chris from down the street showed up and gave me a big bottle of DHA because I had a brain injury. I remember just enough of the conversation to know that I have no idea what I said to him or how weird it may have been. I felt fine except for what felt like a heaviness in my head. It was sort of like a headache was trying to break through but never did.
That afternoon was my first experience with another thing I am super grateful for which I call the “hallucination nap”. For what felt like minutes but was actually hours, I laid on my back thinking I was about to fall asleep but instead just hovered at that twilight point between consciousness and sleep where reality is entirely in my head. Entire alternative realities and life stories would emerge in my head and for a while, I would be a completely different person. I would tug on the storyline and it would unravel just enough so that I would cross the conscious/unconscious line back to consciousness and the alternate reality would disappear. Over and over it happened and was strangely enjoyable.
For a couple days, at least part of my afternoon was spent having a hallucination nap but then they stopped and were replaced by black-out-missing-time nap experiences. These were actually a little scary because I wouldn’t take the nap; the nap would take me. I stayed home from work Monday and followed up with my primary care doctor who wanted me to essentially remain very still for a very long time. We agreed no driving for a couple more days after I essentially failed every balance test he gave me.
As my head was improving, my hip was getting worse with impressive swelling, bruising, and pain. Since the treatment of a broken pelvis is to rest and since I was going to rest until things felt better, we decided not to repeat the x-ray. I also know that the x-ray machine at the doctor’s office is crap and wouldn’t show a hairline fracture anyway.
I drove to the office on Wednesday and did some errands like dropping off my bike at the shop to get checked out. I was most concerned about the new wheels getting knocked out of true. At the office, I spent too much time talking to people and it was exhausting. I rushed home that evening and took another black-out nap. The next morning I emailed the office types and said I was out until Monday.
Bored to tears with cartoons and still having trouble reading even graphic novels, I decided to try gardening. I leaned into the gardening which seemed to be enough movement to keep my hip limber without over-stressing it. I would putter in the garden in the morning and black-out nap in the afternoon. Excitingly boring.
On Sunday, I tried going to church, listened to a sermon, read a little Greek, did lunch with some people, spun on a stationary bike, swam a kilometer, and then started writing this blog entry. It went well but truth be told what I wrote that Sunday ended about 1,000 words ago. My writing was interrupted by another black-out nap albeit a shorter one. The day before, Jane and I had done some shopping errands. When we got home, I felt scary tired and when I finally let my head hit the pillow, the lights went out immediately and I stayed down and out for almost three missing hours.
On Monday, I went back to work and started the day by writing an email warning people about the black-out naps and asking them not to freak if I was out cold. I made a point of mentioning that I am not the sort of person that appreciates practical jokes. I am more of the kind of person that responds to a Sharpie doodle on the face with a Keyser Söze style response of vengeance, revenge, and destruction.
I saw the doctor to report that I was able to crank my heart rate up on the stationary bike without any affect in my head. He was unimpressed. We agreed I would do more stationary cycling before getting back on the open road or track but that swimming was fine.
Over lunch, I swam 1.5km in the pool and my hip got angry. The hematoma that was causing bruising all over that area expanded to be about six inches round and ballooned out a couple inches. Five days later, it is still there. I have to wear my old ‘fat’ pants and I am thinking about perhaps cross dressing for a while because dresses and skirts sound really comfortable right now.
It has been exactly two weeks. My hip isn’t looking good but me head seems fine. My Smith Overtake helmet with MIPS did a nice job of keeping a bad situation from being worse. I am planning on riding in New Mexico next weekend. My concern is less that my head will be able to handle the ride than if my hip will play nice and that I haven’t lost too much not doing any significant training in what will be three weeks.
Again, I am trying to focus on gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a healthy practice but redirects from a selfish perspective outward to others and even to the Divine. Indeed, the miracle of my own brain even when it is damaged is glorious. That in spite of banging my noggin on the ground, I can have two of what the hippies would call a consciousness expanding experiences is amazing to me. Is it designed for this? A happy accident? I don’t care really. I can point to my Creator and say that I am simply grateful for the experiences, for the equipment (head, brain, etc.), and for the opportunity to push my body, well, too far.
Too far? Maybe but I am grateful for the grace to go a little over the edge and bounce instead of break.