The long road back: Part 1

Coping with the most serious crash of my cycling life and a mangled shoulder…Part 1.

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Surgery and immediate aftermath, December 2015

“This is a big injury, Peter.”

It’s never good when your surgeon frowns. His previously jovial tone had changed considerably from the previous week, with CT scans confirming I’d managed to inflict a decidedly complex combination of structural injuries to my left shoulder, the result of a high speed cycling crash that saw me hospitalised in California in early December.

On my heavily-sedated return to Australia three days later I already knew I’d suffered a serious but common enough Grade Three separation of my left AC joint; even without the hospital x-rays, the tell tale shoulder lump (“you’re deformed Dad!”) was proof enough of that. Far less common was the accompanying fracture to the end of my left clavicle. This doesn’t usually happen to cyclists apparently, it’s typically one injury or the other – not both.

Of even greater concern, however, as was now being explained by my frowning orthopod, was these injuries were quite literally only half the story. Such was the force of impact with the Californian tarmac the subsequent CT scans revealed far more damage. I’d also managed to crack my scapula and, most worryingly of all, fracture and displace a body part I’d never even heard of before called the coracoid process, a small but important hook-shaped bone connected to the scapula and bicep. Conservative (i.e. non-operative) treatment wasn’t an option, nor was waiting. Within 24 hours I was being sliced and diced on a Sydney operating table, just three days out from Christmas. A long and uncomfortable road to recovery had begun.

‘Big’ operations generally mean two things: big medical bills and big pain. The bills haven’t started to arrive yet, but I’m sure they’ll be spectacularly high when they do – I just hope my health insurance covers the lion’s share or I’ll be eating baked beans for a while. As for the pain, well, it hasn’t taken long to realise OxyContin, high-strength ibuprofen and my trusty ice pack have become my new best friends. With the help of this trio the first few days home from hospital have been manageable, if only just. Without them I’m sure I would have been crying and moaning like an Italian riding in the rain. Oh, and don’t you dare tell me about Rule #5. I’ll hunt you down and show you what pain is, titanium wing and all.

Which brings me to the x-rays, one of the few things to make me smile of late, even if for entirely perverse reasons…

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I’m not going to deny it. The post-op x-rays are impressive. With some serious hardware – including a sizeable contoured plate and seven screws – now an integral part of my reconstructed left shoulder, quite possibly forever, I feel like a bit of a bad ass, albeit a bloody sore one. Part-man, part-machine it immediately made me think of Lee Majors’ cult 70s TV character Steve Austin and the theme music from the Six Million Dollar Man. We can rebuild him.

It’s still only very early days as I type this, one slow letter at a time. Who knows what the journey ahead will hold? For now every movement comes at a cost. Changing shirts is agonising. Sneezing isn’t much better. Comfort, I’ve found, is all about incremental changes in angles. And pillows. Lots and lots of pillows. It’s also been a godsend to have my mum around to help. She is simply awesome.

I know I can’t of course. But like all hopelessly addicted road cyclists I really just want to throw on my shoes and knicks and get on my trainer. Cruelly it’s still sitting right beside my bed, dormant, gathering dust. I’ll have to move it tomorrow, even though I don’t want to. I just can’t stand looking at it all the time. I can already feel my condition draining away through the bed. But I’m under strict instructions to do nothing with the arm – no weight, no pressure, nothing – for at least three weeks, and more likely five, possibly even eight. I can’t drive. I can’t lift a coffee cup. I can’t start physio. I can’t even take my arm out of the sling in the bath or shower. I’m told the risk of another displacement – and potentially permanent structural damage – is too high. Coracoid process, I hate you.

The coming week between Xmas and New Year’s is going to be tough; torture by Strava feed I suspect. My club-mates will no doubt be logging day after day of epic festive rides to all corners of the greater Sydney region and beyond, just as I would have been under different circumstances. Not much to do except lie in bed and be jealous – and rest of course, something my kids are even less pleased about than I am. After all, it’s summer school holidays. Sadly for us the most exciting events in the coming week loom as getting yet more x-rays, and having my sutures checked by my GP. Whoop, farking, doop.

All I can say is thank goodness for laptops and one-fingered typing … this blog may be the only thing that keeps me sane. Until next time…

 

 

 

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4 thoughts on “The long road back: Part 1

  1. Eight months ago I bought “the bike” that I have been drooling over for ages at my LBS. I was thrilled to pull the trigger and ride my new epic steed. 3 days later I destroyed my ACL and tore my meniscus in my left knee in a non-riding incident. It required a full knee reconstruction (involving removing a portion of my hamstring to use as a graft) and removal of the meniscus as it was too badly damaged to be saved. So my new bike just sat in the corner looking at me. I had only ridden it 60km between buying it and destroying my knee. It still had the rubber tags on the outside of the tires for god sake! Through several months of grueling physio and learning how to walk properly again I got back on the bike. Today marks 7 months since my operation and I have just returned from a ride that has been on my local bucket list since well before my injury. A 70km loop in Brisbane that took me up Mt Nebo, then up Mt Glorious and back over Samford ranges. A total of 1800m elevation and views to die for. My reason for mentioning this story is not to gloat (despite still being full of coffee and endorphins) but to reassure that the rewards of returning to cycling are spectacular and a goal to keep you motivated during your recovery. All the very best of luck. If there was a Strava type app for rehab I’m sure we’d be on to that and trying to smash out PB’s. Take care! Dave.

  2. Just had this link sent to me by a friend, as I’m on a similar journey myself. Broken clavicle and scapula, not to mention pelvic fracture and 5 ribs, all on the same side. Not being able to walk for a while really sucks.

    Persist with what the doctors are telling you, even though you might be busting to get back on the bike. Best of luck with your recovery, hopefully the road isn’t too long.

    Gary

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