"Safe at Home"
When mountain biking goes wrong, not even in the mountains.
Hah! Home is not always safe! The title is a lie!
It was a warm, sunny spring day, just like any other day, except there wasn't any wind and the temperature was flirting with the high 70s. So I dressed in bike shorts and a T-shirt for my usual five-mile mountain bike ride in the dirt.
As I pedaled up the hill to my single-track, I looked at the odometer; so far since last July I had 650 miles under my treads on what I would call pretty much pedestrian rides.
I had ridden about a half a mile when I heard Huey, one of my dogs, barking furiously over and above my entry gate. What or who had gotten him so worked up?
I sped up so that I could get back to a point where I could see the dog, and took the sharp curve at a higher than normal speed. No big deal; I had taken this curve a thousand times before. But this time I wasn't concentrating on the curve — I was distracted by my barking dog.
Suddenly, coming out of the curve, I veered left, off of the solidly packed single-track, and my front tire hit soft dirt. I stopped dead.
And in less time than it took for me to blink, I was falling over on my left side. Imagine, if you will, using a swatter to hit a fly; your momentum increases as you swing. That's what happened to me; my momentum increased as I fell, and I couldn't extricate my foot from the pedal stirrup.
At 69, I just don't have the reflexes that I used to have, to get my feet out of those dang stirrups! The stirrups came with the bike 20 years ago, and until this second, I never had a problem with them, even when I had accidents.
My body slammed the ground, hitting somewhat first with my left elbow, but it was the excruciating pain in my groin and pelvis that held my attention. I had felt and heard a "crack" as my body slammed the dirt.
I squirmed and squiggled out from under the bike and struggled to my feet, and then collapsed in agony. Had I broken my left pelvic bone? I was now on my right side in a fetal position, afraid to try again. My house was but a scant 80 yards away.
I decided to crawl, but I made only 10 yards before nearly passing out. Should I yell for help — but who would hear me? My house is isolated from others. I thought of just lying there until my wife came home, but then I realized that it was "grocery night"; she wouldn't be home for five hours, well after dark, and by then it would be cold. And I wasn't dressed for it. Bummer.
So I crawled another 10 yards, but almost passed out again. My bare knees and hands were picking up goat-head thorns unnoticed because of the pain wracking my body. Now they were getting my attention, too.
Now I was getting mad! Mad that I was 69 years old; mad at being distracted; mad that I had an accident, and mad that I couldn't get to my house! I crawled some more, but soon collapsed in the dirt, thorns puncturing my legs and body.
It was then that I thought to plead with God for help or to give me strength over the pain. I stood on my two feet and fetched up a yucca stick to help me. Bent over like a hunchback, I headed to the house as nausea flooded over me.
Once inside, I now realized that my left shoulder was killing me, too. I settled into my recliner, an ice pack on my groin and thinking I'd do the shoulder next. But soon, the pain in both places got to me; the ice wasn't working down there.
That's when I called the local VA and they gave me authorization to go to Gila Regional Medical Center's emergency room. I called Jeri and she came to deliver me there, retrieving a wheelchair to get me from her vehicle to the desk, assisted by a nurse.
Let me say here that the care I received from the hospital was great from start to finish. The staff poked and prodded and asked a bunch of questions. It was "suspected" that I had multiple injuries: a broken pelvic bone; a broken shoulder; maybe a fractured wrist and elbow; a ruptured spleen; a ruptured testicle; and last but not least, a spinal bleed (my nose began to run the minute I hit the ground like I had a severe allergy and that was the indicator for a spine bleed). Wow! They put a very uncomfortable brace around my neck to keep me from moving.
Next came morphine to subdue the pain; it helped but slightly, so they administered another dose. That helped, but I was never without a whole lot of groin pain; I could neither stand nor walk.
Hours later, after a bunch of X-rays, CAT scans and ultrasounds, the good news was that I had none of those suspected injuries — praise The Lord! The neck brace came off, and I was given crutches to hobble around with.
My only problem was that no one ever diagnosed what indeed was wrong with me; they just wrote down I had a contusion (bruise). But I was in a heck of a lot of pain for a bruise, and besides, there wasn't any discoloration.
I diagnosed my own self after getting on the web: a torn groin and torn shoulder muscle. Later, my personal VA doctor confirmed my diagnosis. I did later find out I also must have torn the mesh and operation from a hernia repair exactly a year ago. My doctor said all would heal in time; I just had to take it easy and do no heavy lifting all summer.
It is now four weeks since the accident; I still have pain at the hernia site and I have yet to get back in the saddle. I began hiking gingerly this week, albeit wearing a neoprene waist belt to help my weak back muscles.
My calves ache a lot! It surprised me how fast my muscles deteriorated in a month. I can do but a half-mile at this point; otherwise my body screams at me.
What have I taken away from all of this? After all, each act in life should be a learning experience. Well, for starters, I am not 40 years old, and I must adapt to my age when I do things, even though my brain still insists that I am equal to 40!
Second, even at home or near it, nothing is a given; stuff happens! Third, as my wife reminded me, I absolutely have to carry my new cell phone, even around the property; I could have called for help right away and spared myself all of that pain. Did you know that most driving accidents happen within a half-mile of home?
Fourth, never take any activity for granted, even inside your house. I will also never assume that even though my bicycle speed is well below 25 mph, that I am safe!
If there is pain, I must not assume that I don't need a hospital! To heck with pride. And last, don't assume that just because the pain went away, that you are healed! A past surgeon once told me that it takes a full year to heal most injuries, even though they may seem slight. Better safe than sorry — ALWAYS!
I did go out on day three after the accident and take those dang stirrups off of the pedals. When I get back on in the next week or so, I don't want any obstacles if I fall again!
As always, keep the sun forever at your back, the wind forever in your face, and may The Forever God bless you too!
When not ramblin' outdoors, Larry Lightner lives in Silver City.