X-rays, Pain Medication and The Meaning of Life

(That’s not my x-ray, just a google image.)

The best thing about hitting the pavement at 26 or 27mph (or faster? I don’t know.) is the transmutation of time. Everyone talks about it, but you don’t ever get to realize just how cool it is until you’re there hovering just above the ground, marveling at your capacity to have one million simultaneous thoughts:

You’re headed face first into concrete.

Keep your hands on the bars.

This is really fucking going to hurt.

Did that squirrel really just run into my wheel?

Why did you brake? You hate squirrels.

You should know better than to brake like that.

This is a new helmet.

This is a new jacket.

I’m so glad I didn’t take off the gloves at the top of the hill like I’d meant to.

How am I thinking about all this stuff?

I’m about to end my ‘cross season.

I don’t know if you’re going to walk away from this one, Swift. Sorry.

Get ready.

“I” becomes “you” becomes “me” becomes “we” becomes “Swift”. The subconscious is not picky about tense or narrative details. It wants you to know as many things as possible before your soft body impacts a very hard world. It is trying to cram you with information that might help. None of it does.

I recall that I could envision myself exactly: front wheel locked, the back of the bike coming up and forward, the weight of me headed over the bars. I could see it as if I was standing and watching.

And then I hit.

I remember little between that moment and when I stopped sliding, but I do distinctly recall acknowledging that my head was going to hit the ground just above my left eye.

Giro sent me this helmet to test and promote.

This is an amazing helmet.

This probably isn’t what they had in mind, but let’s see how well it works.

I distinctly recall actually managing to be impressed as I registered the scraping noise it made as it slid along the ground, keeping my face up and out of the way.

This thing’s amazing!

*

I slide to the right and look to my left to see my beloved road bike cartwheeling off ahead of me.

It’s upside down.

It’s right side up.

It’s upside down.

It’s stopping.

So am I.

On the ground, the time warp suddenly seems much less impressive. Sound returns and I realize I am alone on the ground in Washington Park. The air is hissing out of the front tire of the bike.

Everything is broken. Everything is broken. I can’t move anything.

You’re fucked. You’re so fucked, Swift. Your legs don’t work. Your back is twisted. You’re so fucked.

No you’re not. Wiggle something.

So I wiggle. Toes then fingers then a knee bend then the arms. Everything moves. All limbs functioning.

Don’t sit up. Your back is fucked.

I’m laying in the middle of a descent, around a blind corner – I’ll get hit by a car.

Ok, maybe try to sit up.

Where is everyone? This road is usually filled with cyclists.

Someone has to be coming.

When I realize that my back and neck are sore but still functioning, I sit up halfway and begin to roll and scoot to the side of the road, dragging my bike with me like a war buddy I won’t leave behind. On the side of the road, I lay next to the bike and wait for someone to find me.

Please someone. Find me. Please? This is taking an awfully long time.

The someones finally come. They are recreational riders out for a ride in the late autumn sunshine.”I’m sorry.” I think to myself. “I’m sorry I’m ruining your ride.”

Then the traffic starts to back up and I realize that I am about to become a spectacle. This is the “Rookie Shit” exhibit in the museum of dumb-assed road cyclists. Please don’t touch the display. Doesn’t it seem real? Can you believe this actually once happened? Do you think she lived?

She lived.

****

“Are you ok?”

The someones are talking to me.

“I’m actually not sure.” I manage. The first words out come less easily than the torrent of thoughts that have been mashing around in my brain. It’s a half gasp, half whisper. The fear in my own voice startles me a little.

Over the course of the next 20 minutes, I manage to sit up then stand. A stranger fixes my flat. Another stranger scours the roadside for all of the missing pieces of my glasses, which smashed apart on impact. Another stranger lets me borrow a cell phone because, for some reason, mine is not getting reception. We inspect my helmet. I wrench my shifter lever back into alignment and get the chain back in place, realign the rear wheel.

Three cyclists escort me as we start to roll out down the hill. 20 minutes ago I’d been on my way to meet Russell at his apartment for a spin and a chat. Now, Russell is in his car on his way to meet me for a rescue. Halfway down I see Sal, who is obviously doing an LT interval. I flag him down and the other cyclists say goodbye. Thank you, thank you, thank you. In my confusion I have forgotten to get their names. I’ll realize this later and regret it.

“I crashed.”

I hate saying this. I hate it because I feel like an idiot. I hate that I ruined expensive shit. That I just interrupted his intervals. He never crashes. Why can’t I be more careful?

“Jesus.” . He’s looking at the blood pooling on the inside of my jacket. “Are you ok?”

“I don’t know. My arm is fucked. Russell is coming to get me to take me to the ER. We were going to have a chatting date so I figure we’ll have lots of time in the waiting room.”

“Your jacket!” he points to the shredded back panel of my beloved cream Rapha stowaway jacket. I hadn’t seen that yet. What next?

“Which arm is the bad one?” he says next.

“Not my throwing arm.” I am amazed that although it has been more than ten years since I played college softball, I still define my arms in this way. Throwing. Non-throwing. Once you fuck up a throwing arm, it will never be the same. So far, I’ve been lucky. I might never again need to huck a zinger for a one-hop tag play at the plate but I would like to keep the option open.

We ride together down the hill until Russell arrives.

“Don’t get my car bloody.” Russell says with a smile. What a dick.

I love him.

****

Nothing makes those $600 per month health insurance payments seem a little less painful than a trip to the ER. “I’m getting my money’s worth!” I think gleefully as we walk in through the automatic doors at Providence. I have never been to an emergency room before. It’s all so new and shiny.

Amazing what I can get excited about.

“Now walk up to the counter and tell them that we are here for three things,” Russell says. “X-Rays, pain medication and the meaning of life.”

The woman at the counter laughs and gives me a big pager.

“Just like the Olive Garden!” Cree exclaims.

I’m starving.

Jennifer Schweitzer brings me a peanut-butter-honey gluten-free english muffin and a little plastic baggie full of apple slices. It’s like kindergarten. I love her. I love everyone and they haven’t even given me the pain medication yet. Love love love love. There is nothing like a rush of gratitude to take the sting away.

“This is a stolen apple from Steven Hunter’s stash.” she explains.

Little known fact: stolen apples taste better than their honestly-procured counterparts. (Thank you, Shunter!!)

The doctor who treats me is concerned that my head hit the pavement at such high speed. I assure her that I’m ok. “I’m always this fucked up. Trust me.” She laughs, but I can tell she doesn’t think I’m very funny. I convince her not to blast my head with radiation. Let’s save the CT scan for another day, k?

Three hours later we walk out with pain medication and X-rays that tell us that I am officially unbroken. I have a slightly separated shoulder. It will heal. I can race as soon as the pain is manageable.

I can race I can race I can race I can race. Do you know what I do all year? I think about cyclocross. I would have survived if they’d told me my season was over, but it would have involved a thermo-nuclear emotional breakdown of grand proportions.

I can race! I can race I can race I can race I can race!

The meaning of life eludes us but I wager it may be hiding in some of these little white pills.

Rubber side down and lots of painful grit,
Swift

Possibly related (automatically generated) posts:

  1. In the O: The Meaning of Sport Today’s column in the Oregonian is the last piece to...
  2. Pain on the Peak: Aptly Named (the short version) Wow. Talk about a challenging cyclocross course. I spent half...
  3. I’m in Love With the Pain I was flipping between channels today as I was running...
  4. The Joni Kabana Effect (Living Your Best Damn Life) This is a post about how to change your life...
  5. Shut Up Legs as Life Principle There are a lot of things to love about Jens...

48 comments

  1. My first visit to your blog and I’m already hooked. So sorry this happened and so glad you’re all right, but you are a fantastic writer.

  2. Heal fast Heidi.

  3. I’m just wondering when you are going back up the hill to hunt down that squirrel! Damn squirrels.

  4. Joe Cipale

    Swifty,

    Been there, done that. Several times. ALthough I have to admit that on the 3rd or 4th such ‘Airborne Acrobatic’, the only thing going through my head was: ‘Oh shit… again?’ “Thud”

    Relax and let the wound heel. This is a chance to plot revenge on the furry rodent with the cute tail. ;)

    Joe

  5. Damn Swift. You write better hopped up on pain meds than most people could ever dream of in their most sober moments.

    Heal up quick.

  6. Your description of the transmutation of time is spot on. This story reminded me of a crash I took just before graduation from college. The six or so seconds I spent in the air as I separated from my bike seems like they lasted minutes. And the thud of my helmet hitting the ground ended those “minutes” rather abruptly. My ride home was a good 15-20 miles and I remember none of it.

    I hope you feel better soon.

  7. One month ago, I was where you are today. Thoughts, doubting, worrying, banged up and a lot of phone calls.

    You are surrounded by a group of amazing people, cyclist. That are here for the same reason – love of riding. Sometimes hearing about their cyclocross race, or latest road ride will pain me because I’m not there yet, nor will I be there this season or the rest of the year. I’m finding pleasure in slow rides, throwing a leg over my bike and all the things I took for granted of every single day I rode.

    You’ll heal. Make a winter cyclocross season. We are here for you.

  8. I’m pretty sure you weren’t *really* supposed to test drive that new helmet… Wish you speedy recove-time and lots of happy drinks.

  9. angrydavid

    excellent recounting of a crash it is amazing the rapid fire diarrhea of thoughts that blurt out of your subconscious when you are in the midst of a highly unplanned impact with the terrafirma.

    I accidentally filmed one with a handlebar camera and my thoughts were so pervasive that they practically made it on the video without editing.

    Sadly my most disconcerting thoughts were 2 fold: 1) man I f-ed up our ride and we came all this way 2). Son of a bitch I just built that wheel.

    Glad all came out well with nothing more than an er visit and some meds. At least your bike was ok.

    david

  10. Damn. You guys are amazing. Thank you for all the love!

  11. @cleopompom

    Utterly brilliant account. So so so happy for you that you can race! I hope you recover super-fast.

  12. I know all too well about the thermonuclear meltdowns post traumatic injury. Drop a line if you need so post-injuring coping mechanisms. Dont forget to take it easy on yourself, and dont push yourself too much – let your body rest and tell your brain when you are ready.

    Godspeed in healing, Swifty!

    And where did you get GF English muffins? I need these in my life. :)

  13. Wendi Deetz

    Oh, little – I’m so happy you’re (relatively) ok.

    xo

  14. “We all shall fall.” – Dwight Schrute. Don’t beat yourself up, the fall did enough of that! Heal quickly. Amazing people helped you out in a time of need – says a lot about our community.

  15. So glad you are not too broken Swift.
    Here’s something to listen to while you’re healing. This episode tries to explore the time you describe all those thoughts flowing the moment before impact.
    I love those crazy Radiolab guys.

    http://www.radiolab.org/2010/sep/20/

    Please let us know if we can bring you anything.
    Right now we’re sending love and pain abatement thoughts!
    (Miriam is right on, by the way. Hitting your head can make you actually feel disconnected from your body for a few days. Easy does it!)

  16. So glad you are OK!!!
    and able to right so eloquently about it, for us?

    You hit the nail on the head, as you do so often. Especially the time slowing down. I broke ribs at the outset of this season. 40mph. all i kept thinking as I was going down was, “I’m glad i wore my helmet”, “this gonna hurt”, “this might be IT”, “hope none of those wheelsuckers hit me”, “hope none of those wheelsuckers go down with me”.

    Rest up. A hardcore crosser will be back at it as soon as.
    Pain manageable ;) hand me the pills!

    Heal quick!

  17. Loved this piece! Espesh the slowing of time and hyperawareness in the moment of crashing. Been there and you captured it perfectly. Heal up.

  18. I am glad you’re not broken! Be careful and cautious with your head. Concussions are not to be taken lightly. That’s what they tell us in soccer, anyway.

    Hope you’re able to partake at the fairgrounds, but really, the important thing is you’re healed up in time for Barton!

    Wishing you quick healing! I will take out any squirrel that comes within 3 feet of me while descending Washington Park today.

  19. This is why I follow you, you capture these small amazing parts of your life, put them in words, and we can visualize them, almost see and feel what you do!

    Heal fast, and race faster!

    Always remember, You are smarter than you know,
    and stronger than you think!

  20. And I quote, from the Physician’s Asst at St V’s, when I found the pothole, then the ditch, and the Sekai broke and I broke… “When can I get back to riding and running?” PA: “sooner than you should”. You are so right about time slowing. Your body is doing stuff right now to make you think you feel better than you actually are; give it a few days :-)

  21. Glad you’re OK. I still think I’m an idiot from my crashes this past weekend. Just got to shake it off. I’m going to quit complaining about my road rash now.

    Heal up fast! See you at the races.

  22. Yikes! I REALLY hope being asked to do kit for a team called Yard Sale was nowhere in the chain of karma that left you wrong side up and bleeding. We have several docs on the team who all agree you should try to stop bleeding. Things tend to improve after that, albeit not as fast as you would hope. So: 1. Stop bleeding, and 2. Start healing. All our best.

  23. Stay strong! I had a fall over two years ago, your post brought me right back, it was scary, I still vividly remember the face of the stranger that came over to check on me. She saw the whole thing, had no involvement, yet said “sorry”, she knew I was in pain and just hearing a kind word helped. So to you I say “sorry”. Speedy recovery!

  24. I feel your pain…literally. I went down at 34mph, this is verified by GPS, and the quick drop off of speed to 0mph. The part I begrudgingly admit is that I was in a TT, starting to go uphill, and I can not to this day figure out why I. All I remember is seeing the same cartwheeling action of my carbon Cannondale Slice and thinking that I better find some way to make money since I am not going back to work for a while. Luckily, bike survived. I escaped with some road rash and a seperated shoulder. I did not go to the doctor’s office since thats what the internet is for. Thankfully, I was back riding in 2 weeks.

    I am proof that bodies heal better than carbon fiber….get better soon.

  25. Take care. I crashed a couple months ago and broke my arm. I wasn’t going nearly as fast as you were, but I planted right on my upper forearm, breaking its radial head. Interestingly enough, I don’t remember a single thing from the crash itself. I was riding riding riding, then falling, then all of a sudden I realized I was dragging my body to the side of the road and trying to figure out how to get home and if I was broken enough to go to the hospital (I was). No time dilation; more like black out. Actually, I wonder if I really did black out, since my head changed positions really fast. My bike is ok; I think my subconscious said something like “insurance will cover the arm, protect the bike-investment!” And I didn’t hit my head. (Perhaps my subconscious said “fuck the arm! It’ll heal! Save the brains! zombies may need for food one day.)

    Anyway, take care of yourself and heal up. Its not a rookie mistake; it just happens sometimes. I’ve fallen once in my life. And who knows why it was this time and not on one of the many insane descents I’ve piloted, or blind turns, or times I’ve had to hop on the grass for one reason or another. *shrug*

  26. Heidi,
    Sorry about your crash. Glad you’re not broken. Heal fast! Best wishes.

    Lloyd

  27. Heidi,

    My definition of a true cyclist is one who can be that close to hitting the pavement and have that little bit in the back of your head that says “I can totally ride this out.”

    You totally made that cut.

    Happy that you are ok, happier that you can race.

    Get well, go fast.

    d.

  28. Justin Benson

    A month ago whilst riding with a friend a squirrel ran straight across the road. We were traveling so fast as was the squirrel that there was no time to react. It went straight under his front wheel. Interestingly he hardly even wobbled on his bike. I thought for sure he would fall and I’d go with him given how close I was drafting off a pull.

    Having raised orphaned squirrels I know they’re actually very funny little characters. So I don’t hate them and was sad for this little guy. But it did answer the age old question I have whenever grabbing the brakes – what would actually happen if I hit one?

  29. 1. glad to hear you are ok
    2. this article is amazing (well, at least really damn good)…you perfectly described the intricacies of a crash….I only seem to remember blips and blurbs, but you completely summed it all up.
    4.painkillers don’t really eliminate pain, they eliminate you caring about the pain (which is still pretty good)
    5. again, glad your ok

  30. Heidi, Hope you are healed up and back on the bike soon!

  31. Probable the best post crash blog I have read, really hope you feel better soon and there is no lasting damage.

  32. If you were bedridden, I’d bring you breakfast any time. But I’m glad you’re not.

  33. Again, glad you aren’t broken, but sorry you are all banged up! And very sorry to hear about your bike (but hopefully it’s not totally dead!), and very VERY sorry about the fancy jacket. After crashes, I tend to be more worried about the STUFF I’ve ruined rather than my body! And you are one tough woman. If you ever want to try a sport that’s not on a bike, you should come try out some mixed martial arts. You are certainly tough enough for it!

  34. How bad is the jacket the chaps and chapesses at Rapha patched mine up…

  35. Queen of style, way to bounce back after the suicidal squirrel – take are of your wing so you can fly during your next cyclo-cross race!

  36. Sorry to hear of your Whamma-Blammo! episode.
    You nailed the time-space-warp thing perfectly.
    It happened pretty much that way for me too, with the only difference in my case being the momentum-altering truck door I shook hands with en route to the pavement.
    (Cycling IS TOO a contact sport. Sometimes.)
    Listen to your body, do whatever it tells you to — including nothing, if and when necessary — and heal soon!

  37. Oh Heidi Im so glad that you are okay… Hurry home so that mom can make you some pasta and get you better!!!

  38. Ro! Don’t tell Mama I crashed. She’ll take my bikes away!

  39. I promise I no tell!!! Just get better soon

  40. Oh no, damn squirrels. Take care, heal fast. Thanks for coffee yesterday morning.

  41. heal up fast! I know the pull of CX and can completely understand the relief/joy; you’ll be ripping it up and riding through cow pie’s in no time.

  42. sounds a lot like a crash I had when i braked too hard to avoid going into the back of a taxi that stopped suddenly. heal soon!

    I love your description of transmutation of time. Strange how the moments that potentially hurt the most happen so slowly, with no real change in the outcome. They always end with one left lying on the ground in pain on the brink of perception.

  43. earl patrick

    very sorry to hear about the crash. replace squirrel with big chunk of wood (not sure how i didn’t see it) and i’ve been there. as erik v said – concussions are no joke, so watch for signs. symptoms can be a delayed in showing up.

    super sorry to hear about the jacket too. i feel that pain. maybe a cannoli or two would take the edge off…

    swift recovery.

  44. Swifty: when it comes to squirrels… aim for ‘em!

  45. In my case, the squirrel lost, then for 30 days every squirrel within my riding range ran out in front of me. Yes, squirrels are a vindictive little swarm. This didn’t happen in the windsuit did it? ick We love you girl!!

  46. Heidi, heal up quick! Been there myself a few times. Like Joe was saying though, after a few of them, the novelty wears off and it’s kind of a resigned “ah shit, not again”. I guess the next blog post will be a review of your helmet? :) Good to know you weren’t hurt (that badly).

  47. heidi,
    i’m glad you are okay and will be all healed up soon
    while reading this i was getting a little worried you wouldn’t be able to ride on the bilenky tandem team for next year’s g-race…
    but it looks like everything will be fine
    love, bob

  48. last time I crashed on the road (minor, but hip bruises nonetheless) I actually said aloud, “Well, here we go again.” Crashing is almost worth that altered sense of time and space…not.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Writing vs. Blogging and the Oregonian Version of “Crash” | Grit & Glimmer - [...] this to say, the “Oregonianized” version of the crash story appears in the Travel section today.  It’s a little ...
  2. Who Invited the Clock Cleaner? | Grit & Glimmer - [...] pop up right away and everything is cool – closer to the big, mean scary way that happened last ...
%d bloggers like this: