When this new year began I said I’d get back to blogging a bit about life on and off the bike. After the crash in January 2015, I spent the rest of the year getting myself through the injury. I dutifully followed Doc Hottie’s orders and spent the year healing. The goal was obvious, I had broken bones, and the plan was for them to heal, which they didn’t. Amazingly, ten months after the crash, I went to Chile and Argentina for 6 weeks in November and December, which I have yet to write about, but will. It was an amazing trip and I need to write about it.
I returned from Chile and rang in 2016 on the operating table with Doc Hottie again, replacing hardware for the third time, then later for a fourth. Much of this has been written about by my friend, Seth Davidson, who checked in with me periodically from SoCal, and you can read about it here
I don’t need to go over the details, it’s still with me every time I look at my right leg, the scars are still pretty fresh.
Looking back on 2016, it felt dark. I struggled with the continuation of a non-union leg in pieces. Everyone else from the crash had returned to their lives and even Gabriel Ray had been sentenced. I was on a different timeline, clearly not one of my choosing and it wore on me. I continued to be solely focused on my leg, which makes sense because it just wasn’t getting better.
I am my own worse critic and I summed up my year in a sentence or two. Hell. OK, fucking Hell. But when I dug a bit deeper, I found some light. A couple of weeks ago, I was scrolling through my picture gallery looking for something for a customer and I scrolled through 2016. What I found were tons of pictures of me having a great time, or at least a very good time in spite of, or more correctly, in addition to, being injured.
It turns out that while I had “the worst year ever” dealing with my right leg, I also had quite a bit of fun. There were plenty of great points in my 2016 and that’s what I want to highlight. While the focus was largely about managing pain and day to day tasks made tougher with a shattered leg and all the bullshit that goes with it, life went on and some great things happened.
Just after surgery #2, Willy, Tim and Mark came over and retro-fitted my bathroom with handicap grab bars, so I was safe in my shower. In retrospect, I don’t know how I made it through 2015 without any bars, it was petrifying to navigate that shower. Willy hadn’t ever done any drilling into tile and it was pretty hilarious giving him the drill. He had two (de)mentors and it all went well. To date, the bar hasn’t fallen off the wall and it has saved my butt a few times.
My friends stuck with me through this very trying time. Many people suffer an event; an illness, a death, something, and their friends show up to care for them. Understandably, after a while, they return to their typical pattern of interaction: a phone call, a visit, a simple email check-in. I had friends who would drive 100 miles or so to spend a day with me the first year, which was amazing and I am so thankful. But when a second year of injury sidelines you, people can get weary of showing up. I don’t blame them, everyone has a busy life, and helping a friend in need isn’t always at the top of people’s to-do list. I am fortunate that a number of close friends came by, and stood by me, really hanging out, helping out, just being around. The end result was that fun was had even while managing pain during less than stellar times.
By March, I was able to get back on a bike and riding with friends was awesome!
And my garden, what an amazing place for healing. Getting my hands dirty, watching things grow, tending to them. It has been and continues to be a complete pleasure. Can’t say enough about how interesting getting a garden of whacky succulents, cactus, lavender, and poppies has been.
When May rolled around, I was riding close to 80 miles. At the time, I didn’t know it was with a broken leg, because I was caught up in trying to get back into shape (again) and enjoying Spring with friends. During May is Bike Month a bunch of us rode out on Scott Road that was closed to cars making it fantastic! We added a dirt loop out around Michigan Bar, which was a total blast and then came back into town for a round of brews. So great.
I also visited with Doc Hottie and it was confirmed, more broken screws, the surgery had failed once more. We talked about options and he said to take June to have fun because come July, we were going to take pretty aggressive measures to get this thing healed. The longer my leg didn’t show signs of healing, the less likely it would and that meant I was moving closer to losing it for good. Not good.
With that deeply depressing news, I packed my end of May and June with fun. More cycling. Trips to Colorado, the Sierras and North Carolina for a vintage bicycle show, where my bike won a first place prize(!). I got a chance to visit another good friend recovering from an injury caused by an asshat in a car. And yep, I acquired a new-to-me bicycle.
Then in July, another trip to see Doc Hottie in the operating room. It was by far, the most intense surgical procedure for me, with the hardest after effects to cope with. It knocked me back to square one for the fourth time; life was defined by pain, sleeplessness, the wheelchair, and crutches. Dealing with the halo was harder than hard. The hardware and risk of infection required constant attention and the emotional/psychological piece of having this really awful thing on your leg made going into public really tiring. And Hottie had been crystal clear, it was staying on until the leg was healed. Without a clear timeline, time just seemed to drag…
Without a doubt, I never would have made it through this period of time without the love and support from this fine man and his two whackadoodle pups. Mark has been an incredible partner, giving me my independence and yet still being right there. Constant, loving, unflappable. Omar the Terrible and Starlicious bring love. It’s unconditional from Star, less so from Omar, but he has issues. A whole lotta healing comes from these three forces for good in my life. I am ever so thankful.
In July, friends carted me around so I could join in on riding adventures, and by August, Doc Hottie told me I could start lightly putting weight on my leg. The idea was to be able to load it while it was healing. He gave me the go ahead to spin inside, so I set up my trainer with a mixte, and used two crank arm extenders and a shortener so that my halo’d leg could make circles and not hit the back of my thigh. It was far from perfect, but it brought a tiny bit of peace of mind to my psyche reeling from physical inactivity.
Along with Rivet work, I spent time volunteering as well. It really helped me keep my head together in some form to be connected to the randonneuring community. It was bad enough to lose the ability to ride with my rando-peeps (I knew friends were gathering 2-3x a week to ride and I couldn’t join the posse. Brutal!), but I could help out in some form and so I did. Volunteering at rides, being at a control to check riders in, was as much help for me as it was for them. Personalized notes on everything that left Rivet WHQ helped me feel connected to my fellow randonneurs. I was riding vicariously through them.
By the Fall, I was stronger, off all pain meds and back on crutches. Doc Hottie had given me the OK to travel and so I flew the coop. Incredibly, I attended and survived a very painful Interbike, and on the way home, Mark and I spent a lovely afternoon in Tuolumne Meadows. A few weeks later we drove up to Crater Lake and then Bend, OR for a long weekend, which was fantastic and we made it to the beach with the pups. No doubt about it, I have travel and wanderlust in my blood. For me, sticking around the house is detrimental to my well-being.
I visited Doc Hottie at the end of September, we took x-rays and looked at them together like we had done for the past year and a half. He wanted to know if I could walk sans crutches which I couldn’t, so he pushed me to work towards it. I jettisoned the crutches at home but took them along as back-up to Boston to see friends and attend French Fender Day, where I also left my new-to-me Rene Herse mixte for a light restoration.
In October, I started riding outside again. This was sketch for sure and crazy if I fell off of the bike, but Hottie had said that I should be putting more weight on my leg and I felt like I could do it, albeit very carefully. I started by riding around the outer road where I live. The first time around, I was thrilled, so the next day I did it again, this time making it around twice. Ten minutes of work and I was worked!
Meanwhile, the extraordinary Queen of Coffeeneuring, Mary Gersemalina, was in the midst of her annual Coffeeneuring Challenge. Details about it are here, and I decided that I had a chance at getting it done, but it would take some planning, some blind courage (falling is not an option) and a bit of luck. Fast forward, 5 trips to 5 different coffee shops within 6 weeks’ time, all of them at least 2 miles away from my home and voila! I earned my badge. It was a huge accomplishment.
As the year wound down, Mark and I took a trip to Tucson where he participated in a vintage bike event and we both thoroughly enjoyed the desert. We participated in a fun Appetite Enhancement Ride with a bunch of Sacramentans on 2-wheels on Thanksgiving and finally, finally, FINALLY, just before Christmas, I went into surgery for the FINAL time and Doc Hottie took off the halo. My bones had shown signs of healing.
There’s a quite a bit of research that’s been done on resilience and grit. Who has it, can it be taught and particularly for athlete’s, how to deal with injury and come back from it. Rightly so, the focus is on healing the injured area and pain management. I tuned into my bones which narrowed my field of focus the way sitting in a movie theater focuses your attention on the screen once the lights go down. That narrowing made me forget about all the other great things going on, for me, and with me — friends, travel, food, love. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful, I was (still am), but I hadn’t taken a big step (or two) back to see the whole picture. In doing so, it’s provided me with a deeper understanding and appreciation of year two of my injury and recovery.
Yes, I said appreciation. No, I do not wish that I had been injured, but life is about Both, And. The bitter and the sweet, and all too often we focus on the bitter, and it ends up being what defines us. I am definitely more than that and I can say in all honesty, that last year was hell. It was a beautiful hell.
P.S. If you are wondering about Recovery part 2, it’s in the works. Life isn’t linear – neither is storytelling.
Thanks for reading.
What a long, hard struggle you’ve had, Deb! Congratulations for all of your many accomplishments and for keeping your spirits high despite some rather somber disappointments. What else can you do, though, right? It’s remarkable to think about the life-changing impact that a few seconds on a bicycle can have on a person’s life. Wishing you every success in your continued recovery. Hope your riding at whatever level brings you joy in short order. You sure deserve a break!
Wow. I’d say you have some grit!
Thank you for the wonderful article and update on your adventure and misadventure. I am glad the scaffolding is off your leg. I have poked in on the Blab every 2 or 3 months (by accident I stumbled into this a couple days after you wrote it),and it was lovely to hear an update and that the bones may (slowly) be healing. Best wishes, Eric.