A bump in the road
When I said I wanted to start writing about our biking adventures and transition to an empty nest, I never expected I'd be writing a post like this. Accidents are not something we can ever foresee. Try as we might to prevent them with helmets, taillights, bright clothing, and by following the rules of the road, bicycle accidents still happen. One such accident befell (no pun intended) my husband Tom this past weekend. Biking has always been a passion of his (he was even hit by a car and broke his leg as a teenager), but especially in the past few years. With our kids grown, he was finally able to buy the road bike he had been wishing for, and since purchasing it four summers ago, he's logged 10,000 miles. Last summer he rode his first century (100 mile trip), and was hoping to complete two centuries at the end of this summer. Those plans are now on hold.
Last Saturday morning he headed out for his weekly "long ride," hoping to get in around 60 miles. He left around 10:00 a.m., and texted me at 12:28 to say he was "taking a break up at the Ed Lowe estate" (just east of Cassopolis). I had just left the Farmer's Market in South Bend, and was heading up to GFS to get a few more groceries for a little picnic we were hosting that evening. It was your typical summer Saturday. Until 12:57 p.m.
My phone rang as I was trying to find the frozen hamburgers and hot dogs at GFS. I saw Tom was calling. Whenever he calls on a ride my heart skips a beat. And up until this point, the only bad news I've ever gotten is, "Hey, I have a flat tire. Can you come pick me up?" This call was different. His first sentences stopped me dead in my tracks: "I don't know what happened. I must have fallen. I don't know where I am. I think I broke my arm." After a couple more minutes of him repeating those same lines, I could tell he was dazed and confused. I assumed he had probably hit his head...maybe had a concussion. Even with my explicit instructions, he couldn't figure out how to open his Cyclemeter app to look at the map so I could determine his location and come and find him. I finally decided it would be best for him to call 911 and told him to do so, and then call me back. Although it took a few seconds for him to figure out how to end our call, he eventually did. By then I was in my car and praying, "Please God! Let him be okay!"
I called 911 as well, and was forwarded to the Cassopolis dispatcher, who thankfully said the other dispatcher was on the phone with Tom, they knew where he was (they must have tracked his phone), and they were sending out an ambulance. Okay, Linda. Stay calm. What next? Who do I call first? My kids? Tom's Mom? My family? Close friends? I had a good 40 minute drive (plus a short stop at home to drop off all the produce I had just purchased), so I just started calling...first Leah, who would notify her siblings. Then Tom's mom, who went on to call his siblings. Then my oldest sister, who would let my family know. We needed that prayer chain rolling!
I also called the Cass dispatcher back to figure out where I would meet Tom and what they were doing with his bike (I knew this would be of utmost importance to him!). I was told I could pick up his bike at the fire chief's house and was given directions.
The chief met me outside as soon as I got out of the car. After introductions, he told me Tom's arm was in pretty bad shape and definitely broken. He said he had other areas of road rash as well, and yes, he was a little confused. I took a quick look at the bike and noticed some scratches, ripped handlebar tape, and a few other minor issues. Overall, it didn't appear to me that the bike had been hit by a car (a constant fear for any biker), as the wheels and frame were all straight and unbroken.
I loaded up the bike and headed for the hospital. Another 30 minute drive. More phone calls. And then Tom called me. He said, "I guess I had an accident on my bike." I told him I already knew since he had called me earlier, and he said, "I did?" I said, "Yes, and you called 911 too," and he said, "I did?" I don't think he believed me until he looked at his "recent call" list on his phone. He had no recollection of either call. Again I was worried this might mean he had a concussion, but at the same time I was relieved to again hear him talking. At no time in our conversations did he sound like he was in great pain or suffering. He was very matter-of-fact. This was also reassuring.
Fast forward to today. Tom's been through an ER visit, numerous x-rays, two CT scans, one preliminary elbow surgery, two nights in the hospital, an echocardiogram (to rule out a heart condition that might have caused him to pass out on his bicycle), and we've had training on the daily cleaning of the pin sites on his external fixator (the contraption that is holding his elbow in a fixed position until his next surgery). The past four days have focused primarily on his comfort. How many pillows do you want under your arm? Do you need another pain pill? How 'bout an ice pack? Are you hungry?
Another focus has been solving the mystery of what happened. Since Tom fell on his left arm, skinned up the left side (of his body and his bike), and rides on the right side of the road, it doesn't make sense that he would have been hit by a car, or even clipped by a mirror. It seems that an impact on the left would have sent him reeling to the right and out into the grass.
Tuesday evening we were finally able to revisit the crash site. Thanks to his Cyclemeter app, we could pinpoint almost exactly where he had fallen. It was a country road with a decent shoulder (i.e. no sharp drop off), and was fairly smooth...except in the spot where Tom fell. There was a pretty nice little series of potholes and bumps across the right side of the road. Our first clue. But still, we looked at it, and both knew that we often ride over bumps this size and while there is a bit of an impact on our tushes, they don't typically make us fall.
We started to piece things together as Tom remembered everything pretty clearly right up until the time of the accident. He remembered biking past this spot and seeing the highway up ahead. Wanting to avoid the highway, he stopped and looked at the map on his phone, and decided to turn around and go back the way he had come.
Our best guess is that Tom turned around and before he was up to speed, he hit the potholes. Hitting bumps at a lower speed makes it much more difficult to just "glide" over them, and more likely your wheel will get stuck or twisted and down you will go. If you see them coming, you can still potentially avoid them, but Tom now wonders if he looked away for a second to put his phone back in his bag and BOOM! He was down.
There have been no further signs of concussion, so we assume the confusion and memory loss at the time of the accident was due to shock. Although we'll probably never know for sure what caused him to fall, I'm still glad that Tom doesn't remember the accident. Our brains have a way of protecting us from memories that might be too hard to relive.
So what's next? Well, we went to visit the orthopedic trauma surgeon today. The physician's assistant described Tom's elbow as looking like "a mini grenade exploded in there." He said it was pretty bad, and will require a 5-6 hour surgery to reconstruct and another overnight stay in the hospital. In addition, there appears to be a slight infection at one of Tom's pin sites. This is not something to take lightly, and definitely not something they want to have present during a major surgery. So antibiotics have been increased, and the surgery is tentatively scheduled for a week from Friday, the day before Leah is supposed to move to college. Chloe is due to move to Minnesota the following weekend.
So...emptying our nest is proving to be a bit more difficult than we had planned. And biking adventures have come to a halt. We've come to both a literal and figurative "bump in the road." And we all know that bumps can cause inconveniences, discomfort, and detours. It's all part of the journey, I guess.
Note: Tom has a long road ahead, but with good doctors, caring nurses, and the support of family and friends, he'll eventually turn the corner. The journey has already been made easier with the outpouring of love, prayers, well-wishes and kind deeds we've received. We sincerely appreciate them, and will try to keep you updated on his "road to recovery!"