A Bike Accident! :-(
This post is out of order, but given its significance, I thought it important that I publish it as soon as I was up to writing it.
It was our first full day in beautiful Petersburg Corps of Engineer Campground outside of Augusta, Georgia. We had stayed in this park a year earlier when heading north out of Florida, and were looking forward to a three-night return stay.
We had just had a great road ride exploring some of the area around Lake Strom Thurmond on a perfect spring day. We were taking a cool-down loop through the shady campground, which is a bit on the hilly side.
Barry was ahead of me and had already ridden through the downhill loop ahead. It was a blind curve, but since he'd ridden through, and I hadn't heard any yelling, I started coasting downhill around he curve without expecting anything blocking my path. Since the road is one-way, I knew I wouldn't encounter anyone coming towards me.
Suddenly a tiny little girl (maybe 3 years old) on a teeny-tiny bike pulled out right in front of me, crossing the road. She didn't see me coming, and I didn't see her until it was too late to stop or go wide.
Though I didn't have time to direct my body on the bike to avoid the accident, my brain did indeed register what was about to happen and I remember feeling horrified that I was about to crash into her, but I had no idea how bad it would be. If you've ever seen one of the many crashes when the Tour de France is televised, though, you have some idea how quickly a lightweight carbon bike can go flying. It's not a pretty sight.
I crashed right into the little girl broadside, and my bike stopped immediately and sent me flying over the handlebars face first. I have never endo'd before, but I know it is pretty common, especially among mountain bikers. Often a wrist or collarbone bears the brunt of the impact, and I must have gotten my hands out to try to break my fall, since I had injuries there, but I took the worst of it, as they say, on the chin.
I was bleeding quite a bit from around my outer mouth area and felt like I'd lost a bunch of teeth in back as my bite was immediately messed up. Fortunately, the body protects us from pain immediately after an accident, as happened when I fractured my pelvis almost twelve years ago to the day, so I didn't feel pain at that point, but I was totally conscious and realized that this was bad, very bad. We were in a campground, with no car, I knew I'd need to go to an ER, and I didn't know how much damage I had done to my body. As you might imagine, I was scared and upset.
The little girl's father, who was notably absent at the time of impact, showed up soon after the accident. She, thank the gods, was okay, just a skinned knee and shook up, of course. I felt terrible that I hit her, of course, but I do blame her parents for not paying attention. No child of that age should be riding a bike in the road, even in a campground, without parental supervision, and I am sure her father learned a valuable lesson as his daughter could have easily been hit by a car rather than a bicycle and had much more serious injuries. (I learned many lessons as well.)
Some campers at an adjacent site brought ice and paper towels while Barry called 911. They also took care of both our bikes while we were in the ER. They were strangers to us but anxious to help in any way they could, and we both so appreciated that.
An ambulance, the sheriff, and the park host arrived pretty quickly, I was soon whisked off to an Augusta hospital about 30 minutes away. Before leaving for the hospital, there was some discussion of whether Barry should drive Pearl to the hospital or come with us in the ambulance. Thank goodness the latter solution was chosen. He was shaken by seeing me all bloody and banged up, and having to unhook and then drive Pearl in an unfamiliar place while upset could have been dangerous. But I was thinking of Paisley inside and how long she might be there alone before we'd be able to return. We hadn't had her out to do her business since 7;30 am, and the accident occurred around noon. Normally I take her out for the second time of the day around 1 pm.
The pain started kicking in on the ambulance ride, as it did with my pelvic injury in '05, but , like then, they can't give anything for pain, so I was suffering pretty badly. My left thumb, right pinky, and jaw felt like three pinpoints of pain.
I was in the ER for approximately six hours, and it took a couple more hours before I got any pain medication after begging the nurse for it. When it finally came, it provided blessed relief. X-rays of both my hands were taken and showed that I had a left thumb fracture and right pinky sprain. These were both splinted and wrapped.
They next performed a CT scan of my jaw. The jaw wasn't broken as I'd feared, but I wish I'd thought to ask about dislocation, because it certainly seemed to be. Even as I write this nearly a week later, my bite is still off more than a little. I am very thankful that I didn't actually lose any teeth, as it had felt like I had. I've had a lot of dental work, so my teeth are worth quite a lot! There is a tiny chip on one of my front teeth, but that is all the damage I've been able to assess so far, and I had no bleeding inside my mouth.
The last thing they did before I was discharged was suturing small lacerations above my upper lip and on my chin. Both required a couple of absorbable sutures. The impact also took off some skin in both places so I have "strawberries" there and and am still cleaning the wounds and changing bandages daily. I've got purple (now complimented with yellow) bruising on my neck and a big bruise on my left quad. I was sore in the rib cage and sternum area, like I'd done an intense workout at the gym, but those areas have both improved a lot day by day. My neck, back, and legs are fine (other than the one quad bruise), so I'm getting around fine.
I was finally discharged from the ER around dinner time. Since we have no car, we had to take an expensive cab ride back to the campground. First, though, we had to stop at Rite Aid across the street and get my prescriptions filled. Barry made sure they understood the scenario, and the pharmacist rushed them through. Thanks, Rite-Aid! While he was waiting, Barry walked across the road to McDonald's and brought me back a smoothie. We hadn't eaten anything since breakfast.
It was dusk by the time we reached the campground, and thankfully, Paisley was okay and hadn't peed in Pearl. She's a real trooper. Barry had to take two walking (actually jogging) trips over to the campsite where he'd left our bikes, and ride each of them back over to our site. My bike was in much better shape than I was.
Almost a week later, my lower face and jaw are much less swollen than initially, but I can't open my mouth very far, making eating and tooth brushing difficult. I also have an area of numbness with tingling on the left side of my bottom lip, left side of chin, and lower left quadrant of my jaw and gums inside my mouth. From my online research, I understand that this is nerve damage and has a good chance of resolving in weeks or months. I am very hopeful that that will occur as this would be hard to live with; it's like I just got a bunch of novacaine injections on that side of my mouth; only the numbing doesn't wear off.
We are now back in North Carolina, and I have an appointment with my long-time PCP (who happens to be a cyclist and tri-athlete, so she understands my lifestyle and passion for cycling) next week. I may have to consult an oral surgeon if my jaw alignment doesn't resolve on its own once all the swelling is gone, There's a possibility I'll have to have jaw surgery. I really hope I get my smile back, as it's my favorite feature.
My sprained pinky is no biggie. It's still a little stiff but getting closer to normal every day. My thumb is also improving. It's still swollen and stiff, but improving, and I'm only wearing the splint at night. During the day, I'm moving it gently to keep it from freezing up.
Each day is a bit better than the one before, so I am trying to remain optimistic. The little girl could have been seriously hurt. Or I could have knocked out all my front teeth or messed up my neck, for instance.
As I mentioned above, I learned some valuable lessons from this unfortunate accident. I should have been going slower around a downhill blind curve. I could have easily avoided hitting the little girl, no matter where she was, had this been an uphill or even flat section of road. But with downhill speed, even though I was just coasting, I had much less time to react. I also re-affirmed my belief that most people are basically good and want to help. Even though Barry and I sometimes feel that we are "different" than most other campers with our active lifestyle, bicycling passion, and different political convictions; ultimately, we are all human beings first. The campers who unselfishly helped us when I crashed in front of their campsite reminded me of the good in people. I won't soon forget this, and to these kind strangers, I send out my heartfelt gratitude and love, even if they never see this post.
It probably goes without saying, but our summer plans of road-tripping out west are on hold for now. We're just taking it day by day, and I'll continue updating the blog now and then with my progress as well as post other things I had planned. I am disappointed as I was having a really good cycling year, with over 1600 miles on the tally so far, but life will continue, and like I did after recovering from my pelvic fracture and surgery in '05, I am hopeful I'll get back on the "horse" one of these days!
5/3/2017 09:37:52 am
Wow quite a story - glad it didn't turn out worse for you and the little girl! I thought you were leading up to the classic cyclist broken collar bone ending. Get well soon, Emily!
5/3/2017 08:18:40 pm
We'll see if a collarbone fracture might have been preferable! I go to the oral surgeon next week, as my jaw is still out of alignment.
5/14/2017 08:11:59 pm
Hi Emily, you don't know me (I was aka_kim on TE) but I occasionally check in here to read about your adventures. Jobob told me about your accident, and I just wanted to extend my best wishes for a speedy recovery. I had a similar accident 2 years ago with nerve damage in my jaw ... you do learn to live with it ... Anyway, get well, and hope you're back to further adventures soon.
5/19/2017 08:10:58 am
Thanks so much for your kind wishes, Kim! I just had surgery to put my jaw back in the proper position and wire it shut. I will have the wires on for two weeks, then switch to bands. I hope no further surgery will be required and eventually I'll be almost as good as new. I didn't realize how common accidents affecting the jaw were. I may always have some nerve damage in my chin area, but I keep telling myself, it could always be worse, right? Don't know when I'll be back to cycling or when we'll be able to travel again, as I'll have many follow-up appointments, especially if I need orthodontia. Time will tell, but I am trying to remain positive and concentrate on healing and acceptance. Thanks again for stopping by the blog!
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Emily & Barry
We're a long-married, early-retired couple who are currently traveling as nomads with no fixed home base. After years of living in North Carolina (Emily's home state), we spent 18 months living oceanfront on Ambergris Caye, Belize, a year road-tripping the US in a Honda CR-V, a year in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, and are now roaming North America in our 32' motorhome, Pearl, following warm weather whenever possible.
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