Thursday 30 August 2012

Bruised and Broken on the Bypass

Two days before my wife and I were due to fly to Africa, I broke my collar bone.

The day started innocently enough.  I cycled into work along my normal route and had a busy day getting items cleared up in preparation for my lengthy holiday.  I didn’t finish everything, but I still had a day of work to go, so I left work in good spirits.

It was a nice day, cool but clear, and free from the rain that had washed away most of the Oxfordshire sporting season. My legs felt good, and I found an easy rhythm on the bike.  It would have been nice to cycle straight on home, but I had one errand to which I need to attend. I had decided to that my tennis shoes were just too old and too worn to face an African safari and would have to be replaced. So, somewhat reluctantly, I pulled into the large Go Outdoors store, a few miles from my house.  As luck would have it, I quickly found a nice pair of shoes, for a good price, and was out of there in record time.

It was then that I made a very poor decision.  A few weeks earlier, I had bought another pair of shoes from the same store.  Unable to fit the shoebox in my bag, I had discarded the box.  However, when I latter determined that the shoes didn’t fit nearly as well as I had thought, I was unable to return them because I didn’t have the box.  Unwilling to risk that happening again, I decided this time I would cycle home with the shoebox bag dangling from my handlebars.  After all, I had cycled with bags on the handlebars a dozen times before and never had any problem.

Back on my bike and feeling good.  As I came up onto the large cycle path that runs next to the southern bypass, I gave the pedals a few extra kicks to get my speed up – and disaster struck.  As the bag bounced around underneath my handlebars, the bottom of the box hit the top of my knee.  Had the bag contained something soft, or a lot of small items, probably nothing would have happened, but since the box was solid, my knee drove it up into my handlebar.  This caused the handlebar to jerk to the left, turning the front wheel nearly perpendicular to my direction of travel. I can’t say exactly what happened next, other than I tumbled off the bike and landed hard on my left shoulder.

This was probably the third or fourth time I’ve come off my bike and every time it has hurt, a lot.  At first, this crash didn’t feel any different.  I got up, walked around a second, and then picked up my bike.  As I lifted the bike, I felt a disturbing ‘grating’ in my shoulder. For a second, I thought I had dislocated it, but then I reached up and felt a bump of bone that hadn’t been there before...

I called Steph, my wife.  By this point, I was sweating so profusely that the phone was slippery in my hand.  I asked her to come pick me up from the nearby parking lot.  She said she would, but that if I was really hurt, I needed to call an ambulance.  Hanging up, I tried to push my bike, but the chain was so badly mangled that the back wheel wouldn’t roll. It didn’t matter; I couldn’t stand up for much longer anyway. Sitting/laying in the grass, I called an ambulance. Steph found me before the ambulance, either because she came so quickly, or because I gave the ambulance bad directions.  By that point, I was in enough pain, that it was hard to think.  Steph called the ambulance again, and eventually they found me.

The paramedics made a sling for my arm and gave me a canister of laughing gas to suck on.  The gas made me dizzy and sick, but it did help control the pain, which was necessary on the bumpy road to the hospital.  They dropped me off in the A&E ward, where Steph eventually found me after loading my bike, bag, and new shoes into the car.

At the hospital I was given some proper pain killers. My shirt was cut off so they could have a look at my shoulder.  After an hour or more of waiting I was x-rayed.  An hour or more after that, a doctor confirmed what I had already suspected; I had broken my collar bone.
Although I was in pain, my real worry the whole time was that I had just ruined our trip to Africa.  However, this was not the case.  They can’t put a cast on a broken collar bone. They just put it in a sling and let it heal itself.  Thus, there was nothing to prevent me from flying.

So, feeling ‘lucky’, Steph drove us home, some five hours or more after I had left work.

In a final stroke of irony, my newly broken collar bone meant I couldn’t tie my shoes.  Thus, I ended up taking my old shoes to Africa, as I could slip these on and off without untying the laces.

* * *

It is three weeks later now.  My shoulder seems to be healing nicely.  I have nearly a full range of motion in the arm, although it has no strength and still spends most of the time in the sling.  The doctor said it would take 4-6 weeks to heal.  I have to go back in another three weeks for follow up x-rays to make sure it has healed correctly.

All and all, it could have been a lot worse.