I missed the 6-month anniversary of my little get-off back in September. It was a week and a half ago, and I forgot it because I was busy celebrating my daughter’s birthday. Considering the way things could have gone, I feel fortunate to have been playing games at Laser Tag instead of taking a dirt nap or being spoon-fed at a long-term rehab facility. So let’s recap where I’m at today.
When I came home from the hospital on October 2 my left lower leg was in a cast, I was weak as a kitten, I was in constant pain from my broken ribs, and I needed a walker to get around at all – and very slowly at that. I was 17 kinds of messed up.
I went back to work on October 26, still in a lot of pain, but strong enough and mobile enough to get around on crutches – very slowly. The very first thing I did my first day back was to trip while coming up the steps into the building and go down like a sack of bricks. I think I re-broke one of my semi-healed ribs when I did that. Vicodin was definitely my friend on that day.
Somewhere around Thanksgiving they took my cast off, took the pins out of my foot, and put me in a “walking boot” – basically, a splint with a sole on it. I still needed the crutches to walk in it, but I could put weight on my left foot and start using a more normal walking range of motion.
By December 6 I had dumped the crutches and was walking with a cane. More importantly, I started riding again. I rigged up a cane-holder on the bike, used the cane to get the kickstand up and down, and got my knees in the breeze. I felt like a rookie rider all over again the first time I tried to lane-split. I was riding in medium-heavy traffic on the freeway and dove into the gap between two cars to start splitting – and my sphincter puckered right up like a bible thumper at a gay pride parade. It scared the crap out of me and made me realize that I had to heal my mind as well as my body if I was going to get back to riding like I used to.
On New Year’s Eve I went for a ride along the coast with the P of my club. I was still easing my way back into riding again and had a nice, safe, sedate, girlie-man ride in mind, but he talked me into taking the canyons on the way back instead, which meant facing the kind of twisties I had crashed in, the kind that I still wasn’t comfortable riding yet. But he went slow for me, and I went slower – so slowly at one point that I might as well have had training wheels — and it was a good ride. I appreciated the push. I needed it.
On January 7 I got clearance from the doctors to dump the cane and walking boot and start walking normally. That turned out to be easier said than done – my ankle still hurt, it wouldn’t really bend, and my version of walking looked more like a drunken peg-legged pirate in heavy seas. But I kept on keeping on and called it “walking” anyway.
On January 10 my job sent me to Guatemala for two weeks, so the weekend of the 16th I rented a dirtbike from an adventure riding tour operator in Antigua and went on a back roads/dirt roads tour of some of the local villages. I could barely walk on the village cobblestones and had to ride an electric-start bike because I couldn’t kick the kick-start, but dammit I was going on that tour. My biggest fear was that I’d have to put my left foot down during a slide and re-tweak my ankle, but I managed to keep it upright and in the tracks the whole time, so it was a good time. Everyone — EVERYone — thought I was crazy for doing it.
By mid-February I finally had to admit that my ankle wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing, so I started going to physical therapy. Go figure: it’s actually helping – my ankle is getting much stronger, I’m regaining range of motion, I can almost mostly walk without a limp now, and I’m getting to where I can shift gears on the bike now with my heel AND toe. I’m still not 100% but I’m closer than I was. And I can’t get enough of the electrical stimulation – it’s my favorite thing about it. They put contacts on my foot and ankle and basically start electrocuting it and it’s AWESOME. I keep telling them to turn it up; my therapist says he’s never seen anyone ask for as much juice as I do. He says it’s maxed out and I’m going to start glowing in the dark. I don’t know why I like it so much, I just do.
As for the rest of my injuries, well, they’re pretty much in the past. My shoulder blade has completely healed (it never really bothered me that much in the first place, ) my lung is totally healed and I can breathe normally now, losing my spleen hasn’t had any effect on me at all (unless not being as big of a dick as I used to be can be attributed to that), all the scars are healing and are pain-free except for still being a little ache-y where one of my chest tubes was. My voice is still raspy from the intubations, but I didn’t have a future as a singer anyway. The ankle is the worst of it, and it’s getting better.
Riding-wise, I’m on the way back to my former self. I’m lane splitting again with close to the same confidence that I had before, but I’m still twitchy in the canyons. I still can’t really push it if I can’t see all the way through the turn, and even when I can see I’m still nowhere close to scraping my floorboards with the same abandon as before. But I keep telling myself that it’ll come in time, that I just need to log the miles and build the saddle time and I’ll get back to where I was.
The worst of it is that while I have no memory of the accident, I can still “feel” it. Even though I don’t actually remember going down, I can somehow remember how it felt slamming into the pavement, the sensation of bones breaking, the out-of-body detachment of going into shock. Imagination? Muscle memory? Vaginitis? I dunno, all I know is that the crash is still in my head and it’s affecting my riding. It’s going to take time to shake it.
And the weirdest, strangest, most obtusely wonderful thing of it all is that, in a way, that accident is one of the best things that has happened to me in a long time. It woke me up somehow, snapped me out of the life I was living. I’m a nicer guy now. I’m not as angry anymore. I’m a better friend. I appreciate my club brothers more. And things are better at home than they’ve been in years. I’m closer with my daughter now. I have a newfound respect and affection for my wife. In a very real sense, I feel like this saved my marriage. I don’t think it’s the cliche of a near-death experience making you appreciate life more, but whatever it is, it’s real. I’m in a much better place now than I would have been if I hadn’t gone down that day.
To paraphrase Hunter Thompson: I hate to advocate crashing, pain, injury, and near death to anyone, but it worked for me.