With the Aid of Others...
400 km Brevet, Clermont FL, March 11, 2006
Exiting the bridge and struggling to regain control, I quickly scanned ahead for smooth tarmac to aid my recovery, but my headlight punched only a 3-foot diameter hole in the pre-dawn darkness giving me a tantalizingly incomplete picture of the road surface. Grass, dirt and sand rolled into view on the left-half of the light patch. That could only mean I was heading off the left-hand side of the road. Still somewhat off-balance I eased back to the road, mindful to avoid overcorrecting. That was my last erect thought. BAM! I was on the ground.
The surprising thing was, in the inky darkness of this wooded back-country road, I had no idea that I was about to hit the ground in the moment before impact. The sense-of-falling alone must be too subtle to act upon, or even notice, with no visual references. So, without any preparation I hit the ground on my right side with powerful blows to the hip and bare forearm. My arm landed on the roughest road surface I had ever seen. Illuminating it with my helmet light revealed a bed of jagged 2-inch rocks partially cemented together.
Despite serious pain in my arm and hip, my immediate concern was my bike. The only problem appeared to be my front wheel. At first I thought the rim was bent, but with the help of the other riders we determined it was just the tire bead rolled out of the rim. It just had to deflated and re-inflated. Pumping the tire increased the pain in my arm, so I asked my friend John Preston to pump it for me. It was then I noticed the large blood stain on my hand, jersey and shorts where I had been holding my forearm. Others noticed it too and asked to see the wound. Their winces told me it was serious, but having not seen it myself, I was still hopeful of finishing the last 210 miles of this ride. Since we were out of cell phone coverage and the bleeding wasn't too bad, we rode 12 miles to the next convenience store. Along the way I felt fortunate to be with this group of riders.
There in the bathroom mirror I saw it for the first time, a ragged and deep Y-shaped 6-inch long laceration to the bone. With that one glance, I knew this brevet was over and my concern shifted solely to medical treatment. Upon closer inspection my friend Boris and I saw bits of road dirt and dried grass in it. I feebly splashed water on it. But the debris held fast, stubbornly clinging to the mucus coating the exposed bone and muscle. Boris bravely dabbed Neosporin on it. In retrospect, I am not sure that helped much, but it made me feel better at the time. Above all I really appreciated his "Florence Nightingale" compassion and concern.
Meanwhile outside the store, John called ride organizer Michael Grussemeyer to come to my aid. He was about an hour away and had just finished helping another rider, Joe Fritz, fix a mechanical problem. With nothing else to be done, I asked John, Boris and the other riders to enjoy the rest of their ride. While I waited in front of the store, an elder man approaching the store saw my blood stained clothing and asked what happened. After a brief explanation, I showed him my arm. He shook his head and said he hadn't seen anything like that since his time in Vietnam. He offered to take me to the Lakeland hospital just 8 miles away, but since Michael was on his way I opted to wait for him. For the third-time this day I was struck by the compassion of others as this man stood beside me in the parking lot until Michael arrived.
What a relief it was to see Michael's van pull-up. We loaded my bike and headed to the Lakeland hospital with directions from the kind Vietnam vet. We planned that he would drop me off at the hospital, provide lunch to the other riders at the pre-designated spot about an hour away, then come back to pick me up. However, Michael decided to stay with me after it appeared that I would be fast-tracked. But progress sputtered and lurched as various hospital folks briefly visited my room then inexplicability disappeared for 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile Michael and I chatted. I found it a great comfort to have him there.
The doctor said the risk of inflection is very high with deep lacerations, particularly dirty ones associated with bicycle accidents. However, the light bleeding in mine was really helping her clean it well, as bleeding makes it hard for a physician to see all the foreign matter. Cleaning took about 20-minutes; fortunately the local anesthetic deadened the pain so all I felt were tugs and pushes in the wound area. Finally I was sewed up with 9 internal stitches and 15 external. Remarkably, I had no loss of function or feeling in my hand and fingers, and no infection later occurred.
This experience taught me the importance of being surrounded with good people either by chance or plan. Could I have managed to gather myself after the accident and get to the convenience store without them? I probably could have, but not if it had been any more serious. Could I have managed to get my bike and I to the hospital and back to my car at the starting location without Michael? The fact is you can never know in advance when you will be suddenly and utterly dependent on the aid of others, or when others will need you. But I can say with certainty that in times-of-need even the smallest acts of aid and compassion are greatly appreciated.