Sunday, May 07, 2006

A SPEEDBUMP ON THE ROAD OF LIFE

I've been training pretty hard for Cyclocross Africa, and on Wednesday I hit one of those big speedbumps that sometimes lie along the road of life.

I was biking home from work (about 25 miles, a ride which involves one good stiff hill climb). For some reason I had decided to carry my laptop in my backpack, which was a mistake because this 10 pounds of metal really makes your back ache. So halfway through the journey, I stopped at Nathan and Becky's house, in downtown Puyallup, and dropped off the laptop. I also made a slight adjustment to my seat. Then continued.

My last lucid memory is of pedaling at a steady pace southbound on 2nd Ave. I remember looking up, to my right, and seeing the back side of Safeway. My intention was to turn right on 7th, then left on Meridian, to continue up the hill.

My next memories are a jumble of confusion. It wasn't until maybe a half hour or an hour later when I "came to," thanks to the sound of sirens in my ears and the feeling of fresh oxygen being sucked into my lungs through a nosepiece. I was in an ambulance, and an attendant was leaning over me.

"You already asked me that twice," he informed me. "Don't you remember what I told you?"

Asked you what? I thought, bewildered and frightened by my predicament. I could feel a backboard beneath me and a neckbrace holding my head rigid. There was an IV in one arm, blood on my face and a blaze of pain in my head and neck, my hands, and my right knee.

It seemed like a few short moment later when we were wheeled into the trauma center in Tacoma. I drifted in and out of lucidity. I have only snippets of recollection of what happened there over a period of two or three hours -- of being loaded into an MRI machine and having my brain scanned; of having a second IV started, of having all my clothes cut off, and of having my smashed upper lip stitched up. Soon my wife Darlene appeared, and my daughter Mandy, and they were later joined by my brother Don.

The MRI showed small bone fragments all about my spine, at the base of my neck. Had I had a previous injury, they asked? I told them about my face plant of a few years ago. Since they didn't x-ray me then I suppose it's possible the damage had occurred during that earlier accident.

Yes, I had a concussion, they said, but it didn't seem too serious. Since Darlene is an RN and knew what danger signs to watch for, they felt they could release me to her care. Eventually I got a wheelchair ride out to the car, and then the ride home.

On the way, we stopped at the scene of the accident. Nothing looked familiar. Still no idea why I crashed. Had I struck something? Been sideswiped by a car? Simply blacked out? No way to know. We stopped by the fire department, and they loaded my bike and biking bag into the car. They warned us that the bag was soaked in blood. The damage to the bike, surprisingly, was light -- the right front handlebars were twisted. Not much in the way of clues. I plied them with questions. Was a car involved? They didn't think so, it just appeared that I fell from my bike. If there were witnesses, they couldn't tell me who they were. The woman who was first at the scene, who called them, said she thought I had been "drowning in blood." Apparently from all the blood on my face and in my mouth. A private ambulance which was passing by stopped and rendered assistance, before the paramedics arrived.

The next few days were a haze. I was told to rest. With a concussion, fatigue and depression are often symptomatic. The first two days I took Percoset for the pain, and it was like constantly napping. After awhile I was tired of being fuzzy. I struggled to hold and recall details in my brain, memory seemed fleeting. The line between reality and nonreality became very blurred. I had a number of odd visual effects, more "floaters" than usual and also disturbances like vibration in various parts of my visual field. The ministrations of friends and family during this time were much appreciated and I craved company.

The third day, my muscles were acutely sore and the jacuzzi became my best friend. Normally unused muscles (along the back sides of my arms, for instance, and various neck muscles) burned. Aside from struggling with the feeling that I was in a dreamlike state, I became very grateful that the accident, which could have been much more serious, wasn't.

I was also plagued by odd fears. Several times I thought, "What if I really died out there on the pavement, or in that ambulance? And that my odd, dreamlike experiences since the accident which I don't remember weren't really reality, but some sort of echo in my dying brain?" I wondered if others who had gone through a brain injury felt similar fears. What ultimately convinced me that I was still alive was the pain of recovery.

Where to from here? One of the things I fear is that this may spell an end to my short biking career, which I really enjoy. My wife has already laid down the law: "No biking in Africa!" This is my second serious biking accident, and while the first one was clearly carelessness, I thought I was being very careful and I still have no idea why this one occurred. What's to prevent a third -- and more serious -- accident from occurring? Should I simply stop? But I so enjoy biking (and it's health benefits, at least most of the time) and the thought is truly depressing.

Well, I did get back up on the bike. Secretly, yesterday, I rode up and down the road near our house. Nothing magical happened, no suddenly returning memories flooding my brain. But I did enjoy the exertion of muscles, the coolness of the air, the silence of the forest as it glided by. I don't think I'm quite ready to give it up yet!

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