Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Private Helicopter

About 7 weeks ago, on Labor Day, I took a pretty good spill on the bike. Check that, I took the worst fall I've ever taken. End result? Cracked and displaced vertebrae with torn ligaments (T-12) , broken arm (radius, right near the elbow), and a collapsed lung. Helicopter ride to Swedish Medical Center included. No damage to the bike whatsoever - I provided a nice cushion for my Trek Fuel's tumble.

It was a group ride with 7 or 8 guys, including my 15 year old son, Ashton. We left from a trailhead near Roxborough Park, which I'd ridden from once before, but we took a route that I'd never taken.

The first mile was fast, sandy road, with some up and down. The second mile, the road climbed up to the west at a pretty good incline, and turned from road to doubletrack as we headed up the front side of the foothills. After reaching the top of the first really good climb, I was behind the two lead guys on the ride by a few hundred yards, so as I crested the top of a hill, I shifted into my middle chainring and pedaled hard to try to see if I could catch up to Jeff and Roger, who were the two guys ahead of me.

I picked up speed immediately after cresting the hill and was moving pretty fast down the road, which at this point was partial doubletrack, loose, and a bit rocky and rutted. A few hundred yards downhill, I checked my speed a bit with the back brake, and my rear tire started skidding out. I found myself sideways and still moving at around 15-20 mph (rough guess). At that point, I don't remember exactly how I transitioned from upright to hitting the ground, but I sure remember the impact. I came down hard on the top right rear side of my head, shoulder, and upper right side of my back. This wasn't one of those falls that you feel yourself moving in slow motion. Sideways skid...and smack! After the fall, my helmet was cracked along the top right rear side in a few spots, and my head showed bruises in the same spot. I must have come down pretty hard on my back because, one of the Powergels in my Camelbak exploded from the impact, and my riding glasses, which were in my pack, were crushed pretty good (I found this a few weeks later, the Powergel had dried all over all the other gear in the pack).

I felt that impact from my head through my spine, and hit so hard that the wind was knocked completely out of me. I didn't roll or tumble and all, and ended up laying on my back. I couldn't breathe (if you've ever had the wind knocked out of you, you know how fun this is). After a few seconds of struggling, I was able to take a few breaths. If you've ever had a good fall, as you know, it always takes a few minutes to really assess how hurt you really are. I laid there on my side as the guys behind me rolled up.

This was definitely different. My back was in what felt like one huge spasm from top to bottom. The neurosurgeon later said that the pain was primarily caused because my T-12 vertebrae was perched out of place on top of my T-11, and the T-11 was trying to rotate inward. I couldn't get a deep breath because the air from my collapsed right lung was filling up the space in my chest cavity, preventing that lung from fully inflating. My right arm was pretty sore, but kind of the least of my worries at that point.

The guys called 911 and took good care of me while we waited (me in the fetal position, trying to move as little as possible. As luck would have it, one of the guys that was riding in the group was a former EMT, and a rider in a group that rolled up about 30 min later was an orthopedic surgeon. Someone was looking out for me.

It took around 2 hours for the paramedics to arrive (the got lost on the way, and had to navigate the dirt road to get to us). It felt like a lot less time had passed - I'd kind of gone to another place as I tried to control my breathing and focus on staying alert. One of the guys, Jeff, sat up against my back to give me something to lean on, which helped a ton. Whenever I tried to roll to my back, the pain was pretty intense.

The paradmedics decided it would be best to get a helicopter in to take me out of there, and the helicopter arrived pretty quickly after their call. They rolled me onto a backboard, which took the pain to a new level, but as they carried me down to the helicopter, they started some morphine, which was a huge help (I think my exact words were, "That's good stuff - I could get used to this".

They put me into surgery about 2 hourse after I got to Swedish (4 screws and two rods to fuse my T-11 to my L-1), and I was in the hospital for just over 4 days.

All in all, I feel pretty lucky (blessed), that I walked away from this. After 12 weeks total, I should be pretty much back to normal and shouldn't have any long term problems from the accident. Had I landed a little differently, things might have turned out much differently.

It sounds cliche', but I really have gained a new appreciation for life through the experience - as well as an appreciation for my family and all the friends that have been there for me as I recover. For the first few weeks, I had nothing to focus on but my health, my loved ones, and my relationship with God. When you strip life down, what else really matters?

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