This is probably the longest story I’ve written. I can almost feel you groaning. I’m also going to come clean and say while I think it’s a really good story of stupidity, and pain and perseverance, and more stupidity, it is also a fundraising effort. I’m starting my fundraising for the MS Ride from Calgary to Olds in June. The donation link is at the end. If you are too exhausted to donate after reading my version of War and Peace (if War and Piece was only 3500 works), I understand. Hope you enjoy!
I’m sure it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has been reading this blog that I have a bit of a hard time knowing when to quit. While it would seem to be a pretty good character trait most of the time, sometimes a person needs to learn when to cut their losses. I never seem to know. This is a story of what happens when life screams at you “you need to stop now” and you are genetically predisposed to ignore it…
For those of you who live in the south and don’t know it, walking around in northern climes can be treacherous in the spring time. Some days, it can rain during the day, then freeze, and then snow. Snow is actually generally pretty easy to walk on. Ice isn’t, but usually you can see it and know to tread carefully. But in the spring when snow is covering ice things can get tricky. On my way to the train to get to work one morning, I was walking on what I thought was a nice dusting of snow. Next thing I know my feet are above my head (you have a second to think “what the hell, this isn’t right”) and my head hits the ground. Hard. So hard that both my ears immediately started hurting. Now, I’m no doctor, but even I thought this could be an issue. To cover my bases, and make sure I’m not being overly sensitive, I phone my wife to confirm. She has her degree in nursing, so I figured she should have an opinion. Her opinion was “if you think you need to call me, you should get to the walk in clinic right now.” She might have said “go to the emergency room” and I ignored her and went to the clinic. Whatever.
I get to the clinic, they see me right away and do a concussion work up. I had no symptoms, but he said if any manifest themselves to go straight to the emergency room. Okey doke I think, dodged that bullet! Off I go to work, no problem. I bowled that night, no problem. Had a great weekend, and forget about falling on my head.
On the following Monday I start getting really dizzy coming back from lunch. A bunch of people are out with the flu, so I figure I have the flu coming on. I go home, and not very long afterwards feel fine. Jackie comes home and asks “what are you doing home?” I tell her and she says “that’s from your fall.” I tell her she has no idea what she’s talking about (I am an engineer after all and she’s only a nurse. What could she know). I tell her I am getting the flu. Who gets concussion symptoms 4 days after the incident?She tells me I’m stupid and to go to the hospital. I ignore her. Not my best decision.
A couple of days later, it happens again. This time I’m dizzy for a few hours and again it goes away. Jackie once again counsels me to go to the hospital and I counsel myself to ignore sound advice.
When it happens the following day, I head home right away. This time it keeps getting worse and worse. So dizzy I can’t really stand up, so I lay down. It continues to worsen, to the point that I literally cannot move my head without throwing up. Jackie comes home and immediately tells me we are heading to the hospital. I’m not really in a position to argue, so Jackie gets her essentially immobile husband to the car, with a bucket along for the ride. It gets used. Once we arrive at the brand new South Calgary Hospital, she gets a wheelchair and brings me moaning and groaning and puking into the emergency room. They try to put me on a bed, but I’m resisting because moving is truly horrible and I’m starting to freak out a little. She finds the thought of this funny, in a macabre sort of way, and is giggling a bit (she tends to giggle when she’s nervous or when her husband is being whiny, or in this case both). I don’t really know what was funny. But I was too busy moaning to protest.
I was diagnosed with extreme vertigo.They gave me some anti nausea meds and fortunately they worked. I’m not going to attempt to describe it here, other than to say it was like being seasick all the time, literally all of the time. Fortunately, the nausea didn’t ever really come back, but walking around was a major challenge. Workmates would tease me about walking in a zig zag. I remember at therapy filling out the form to describe the symptoms and one of the questions was “are you embarrassed by walking around like you are drunk?” I answered no. The therapist asked “you don’t walk all crooked like you are drunk?” I answered “hell yes, but I’m not embarrassed by it!” They give me all these exercises to do, and very slowly (over like 3 months) the symptoms receded and eventually mostly went away. Though to this day, 3 years later, I will move my head a certain way and still feel the dizziness, like it is just waiting to come back.
About a month after the accident, I decide I really need to start training seriously for the Ride to Conquer Cancer that was about 2 months away. Now, I am getting to the point I can walk in more or less a straight line, but I’m still dizzy, just not as bad. So I get my son and we go for a ride.I figured now was as good a time as any. I’m a little nervous, but after a couple of minutes on the bike and not falling, I think I’m good to go. So we go for a training ride. It didn’t last long. About 5 minutes in I look behind me to see where Ben is. I turn back and the entire world starts to rotate and my bike rockets across the bike trail, I correct and it rockets back. Behind me my son’s says “what the hell are you doing?” I stop without killing myself (yet) and say “Maybe I’m not quite ready for this?” Ya think?
So now most people would take the hint and postpone their training for a few weeks. All I can think is I’ve never ridden 200 km in two days and if I don’t train my legs,not to mention my ass, I won’t be able to finish, and in no way is that acceptable. In thinking about my first attempt to ride I realize that the dizziness only manifested itself when I turned my head. The obvious solution? Don’t turn my head. But head turning is pretty necessary when operating any moving vehicle, right? Hmmmm. I know, 2 helmet mounted mirrors! And to be safe (I know,funny right?) I will only ride on bike trails to not expose myself to traffic. Genius!
And it works. My son and I train hard in the river valley over the next couple of weeks. I use my mirrors and begin to incorporate the moving of my head, albeit slowly. So after two weeks and no falling, I decide that I can ride to work downtown. 95% of the ride is on bike trails, so in my one track mind I’m not really exposing myself to very much more risk. Traffic smraffic.
Let’s recap. Man has vertigo. He has to ride his bicycle using mirrors so he won’t turn his head and fall down,possibly exacerbating the vertigo. Man decides to ignore all that and ride his bicycle in early morning downtown traffic. I ,mean really, what can go wrong?
So I forget one little time not to look behind me as I cross lanes on 9th ave (one of Calgary’s busiest roads) and I end up lying on the side of the road, barely missing a telephone pole. I thought I had done a pretty good job making sure I fell on my backpack to protect myself. Still, my head hit the concrete pretty hard and I internally call myself a moron and pray I’m not about to start round 2 of extreme vertigo. After a minute or so I decide I’m fine. My head is clear (yay helmet!) and bike seems ok too. Shoulder is a little sore as I slowly start riding down the sidewalk (yes, I know it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk,sue me). I’m only a couple of blocks from work, but I start to wonder if I’m going to make it as my shoulder is getting more sore with every pedal stroke. As I make the final turn onto the street our office building is on, I can literally feel and hear my shoulder crack. Again, I’m not a doctor, but I deduce that this cannot possibly be good. Didn’t even have to call a my wife to confirm. See, I’m getting better at this diagnosis thing.
Now I would imagine most people would go upstairs to their office and get someone to take them to the hospital. You would think, but you’d be wrong. I’m in spandex. We had this guy that used to bike to work and would go to his office in spandex to change. People would snicker. So I would always change in the gym to avoid the snickering. I’m not letting anyone in the office see me in spandex. That morning, I go into the gym and tell Keith the gym manager”I think I need some help.” “What’s up?” “I’ve really hurt my shoulder and I need your help changing” “What the fuck for, Rick?” “Dude, I don’t want to listen the the teasing about the spandex, just help me change clothes.” Because, you know, no way Keith would tell anyone “you won’t believe what this crazy old guy did at the gym today!” I’ll keep it short by saying changing clothes hurt a little. In the same way Trump is a little of an asshole (I’m sorry if I offended any Trump supporters, buy ya gotta admit he’s an asshole) I don’t think I cried, but I might have.
Upstairs I go all in my work clothes, walk into my managers office and say “I’m going to be out for a bit. I need to go to the hospital.” Short explanation later he convinces me not to walk (seriously, it’s only a couple of blocks) and one of my workmates drives me in. To this day he talks about how moany and groany I was on the way and I accuse him of hitting all the speed bumps as hard as he could on purpose. I go to the emergency room and while talking to the admitting nurse I see a sign that says that the current waiting time is about 2 hours. I start to panic a little and say “I’m not sure I can wait two hours!” “Sweetie, don’t worry, you will be going straight in!” Thank God.
I have to admit to being a passingly familiar with emergency rooms. I haven’t had a ton of injuries, but a few memorable ones. A couple of broken noses a couple of months apart when I was 12. One was an encounter with a baseball bat while playing catcher in a pickup game the other an encounter with a head playing a game of pickle at school. We would put multiple kids in the basepaths between bases and the two “basemen” would try to tag us out. The kid in front of me decided to change direction when I didn’t and my nose hit his head. My new nickname was Evil Eye, which was way cooler than Ricky Roach. A broken leg skiing. Then there is my left shoulder. The first time I hurt it I was like 18 months bouncing on the bed. According to my Aunt Lloydell (who was like 12 and babysitting), I flew off the bed and hurt my shoulder. I really don’t know if it was my left shoulder because I don’t really remember my 2nd year all that great, but for the purposes of this ridiculously long story lets assume it’s my left and I can tease my aunt about her setting me up for long term shoulder issues. Good times. First dislocation was playing tackle football without pads when I was 21. Dislocating your shoulder hurts. Relocating your shoulder REALLY hurts. The second time was playing Jungle Rules Volleyball (the greatest game ever created), also in the Navy. My friend Todd destroyed me and my shoulder at the net (almost as fun reminding him of this as teasing my aunt). This was at a picnic kind of thing and the Submarines Corpsman was there. He taught me how to relocate my own shoulder. Hurts just as much as when they do it at the hospital, but saves you the car ride. After that, for the next several years my left shoulder pops out at least a couple of times per year and I get very adept at putting it back in. Kinda like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon (and who would have thought that Mel Gibson would seem like the sane one?) without ever having the guts to pop it out on purpose, though I’m sure I could have. One time it happened while I was driving my dad’s shrimp boat with my brother, who would have been 18 at the time. I was backing away from the dock turning the big captains wheel and pop. I make the appropriate “holy shit” noises and my brother goes “what do I do?” I say “drive the fucking boat” and pop my shoulder back in. And make more appropriate noises. He asks if we are going back in and I say, “what the hell, might as well go make some money.” Anyway, the point of all this is I have familiarity with busted shoulders, and in my mind I’m thinking it might be dislocated, even though it hasn’t happened in probably 10 years or more. Im also thinking it is really going to hurt when the put it back in, and before that happens I want drugs. Now, had I been more rational I would have realized that the symptoms of a dislocated shoulder were in no way like what I was experiencing. The pain wasn’t immediate, and a dislocated shoulder doesn’t go “click, click” when you move it. But as I’m sure you can deduce from the all of this, I’m not always the most rational thinker. If I was, don’t you think the vertigo would have dissuaded me from riding a bike in the first place. Rationally speaking?”
Back to the real story. The nurses had a tough time getting the IV needle in. I have no idea why really. I’m just shocky and dehydrated from the ride and my veins are in hibernation. First nurse tries, no luck. Second nurse tries, same result. They call in the heavy hitter, queen of the IV starting. She fails her first attempt. She is trying to be careful and I say “don’t worry about it, just treat me like a pin cushion. Get that needle in there!” I’m hoping there is pain medication coming my way via the IV. After a couple of more attempts, in it finally goes. It takes a few minutes for someone to come get me for the x-ray and while waiting, one of the nurses comes over to see how I’m doing. And she slips a little on the side of my bed. She says “oh shit” under her breath and I see her grab my IV line (not hooked up to anything yet. Where are my pain meds?) and close the valve. “Was that blood?” I ask. “Yeah, a little.”she says. For some reason, maybe it was the shock or pain, or a little fright, I find this hysterically funny. And I laugh out loud. The nurse is visibly mortified. I tell her “don’t worry about it. My wife is a nurse and and starts iv’s all the time. I can’t wait to tell her about this! Just to warn you, I’m going to make fun of this a bit!” I never did get any drugs, dammit.
A few minutes later I go in for x-rays. They manipulate the shoulder in all these different orientations. Remember the changing clothes part? This hurts worse. I swear, x-ray techs are masochists. Sweating and really wanting pain meds I go back to recovery waiting for the results. One of the nurses stopped by to see how I am and I ask “do you think it is dislocated or broken?” He says “dude, your shoulder is shattered.” The x-rays confirm this. The Dr. (very young guy) tells me I win the prize so far that day for the most traumatic break. So hurray. I get some pain meds (FINALLY) and they tell me what the rehab will be like and get ready to send me on my way.
I’m getting all my stuff back together and state “has anyone seen my heart rate monitor?” 3 nurses and 1 doctor whip around to look at me in panic. I say “not that kind of heart rate monitor, an exercise heart rate monitor.” One nurse says “you almost gave me a heart attack!” That was funny to me too. Actually, that whole experience was really humorous, except for the whole busted up collarbone thing. And the wait for medication. That was seriously not funny.
A very quick aside, the care I received at the Sheldon Chumir was absolutely fantastic. And funny, which was a total bonus.
So to recap again:
- I still have vertigo, though getting better
- I now have a completely shattered collarbone (it’s cool when you can see bone fragments in an xray). My brother in law says “now you can call yourself a bike rider”
- The ride is in just over a month
- My ass and legs are still not ready
Now someone may ask “if the ride is in a month and you just broke your collarbone, you have to cancel, right?” Don’t you remember the first paragraph? I had raised around $5,000 for this ride. My dad died of cancer and my mom is a breast cancer survivor, so the cause was very personal. I wasn’t about to give up. During therapy (the shoulder therapy, not the ongoing vertigo therapy), I asked my therapist if he thought I could ride in 4 weeks. He said I needed to talk to my doctor and wouldn’t give me an opinion, no matter how much I begged. I was afraid of talking to my doctor because if he said I couldn’t do it, I was pretty sure I would ignore him. He is very conservative, and remember, I’m an engineer so of course know my body better than him. He probably believes in vaccines too. Doctors. More importantly, I was afraid of what my wife would say. To my surprise, my doctor tells me that he would evaluate closer to the ride and as long as I was structurally sound, which was likely, I should be good to go. Assuming the vertigo was ok. “But Rick, even if it is sound I’m not sure you are going to be able to do it. It is going to hurt.”
Buoyed by this news I start to train. No, not on a real bike (even I’m not that stupid), on a recumbent bike. Pretty much every day at the gym. I do my vertigo therapy religiously. After my sling comes off I do my shoulder therapy as fast as I can (though even up to the day of the ride I couldn’t really lift it over my head much). I go back to the doctor a week before the ride and he green lights me. I start to train on the real bike trying to find a position to hold my arm. It hurts, but it’s not unbearable honestly. The vertigo is 95% gone, and looking behind me is ok as long as I don’t do it quickly. I still have the two mirrors. I start to think this is really going to happen. My only fear is riding in a pack in case I have a vertigo incident. I don’t want to wreck anyone. I figure I’ll just let everyone go and stay out of groups. Suddenly, the ride is in 2 days, and I figure I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I plan to do one more short training ride on Thursday, June 13, 2013. It was raining a little that day….
The Ride for the Cure postpones it’s ride until August.
So a final recap:
- Vertigo slightly present but under control
- Shoulder structurally sound, though a bit atrophied and pretty damn sore
- Legs great from all the recumbent training. Ass a bit of a concern because of not enough seat time, but will have to do
- Calgary is essentially closed. Ride is cancelled until August 9th
- Edmonton Folk Fest is that weekend, which I haven’t missed in around 20 years. so I can’t ride that weekend
Well, I guess that’s it, right? Not on your life.
I go to google maps and map out two different 100KM loops around the rolling hills west and south of Calgary and program it into my phone’s bike app. On a beautiful Southern Alberta June morning I start the ride on my own. It was very surreal as I couldn’t help thinking about the devastation not 20 KM away (they didn’t start letting people go in to start cleaning up until the next week. One day I’ll tell the story of helping clean up Calgary, and my love/hate affair with Mayor Nenshi, my stalker. I also thought a lot of my parents and anyone else I’ve known who has had cancer. My shoulder hurt, but in all honesty it wasn’t that bad. Vertigo wasn’t a problem really at all. I ran into some other riders who saw my Ride for the Cure shirt and they said they were going to ride in August. I said I was doing it today. They rode with me for a half hour or so. It was very, very, very cool. I got home tired but really satisfied. Times were better than I’d imagined. Drank a lot of fluid. Slept really well.
Sunday was a carbon copy of Saturday. The first 70 km passed without incident. With 30 KM to go, I made a turn to the north into a light wind. That felt like a hurricane. My legs were starting to tell me they were getting a bit fed up with all this bicycle riding. It was impossible to find a comfortable way to sit as my ass was letting me know I didn’t train it enough. My feet were totally killing me. My shoulder was hurting a bit more, but in a ranking of annoyance it was a distant 4th behind dying legs, feet and bum (and bum was the leader, followed closely by feet with legs a close third). Only a little over an hour to go I think. Thirty minutes or so later, or 2 or 3 days in subjective time, I get to a little country store and top off my water bottle with gatorade. Actually, the cover shot of this post is from a guy I got to take a picture at the store. I also call Jackie and tell her I’d be home in around 30 minutes. She asks me to call when I’m closer. I say “I’m not calling anyone. I’m pedalling home and not stopping again until I’m done.”
The last 30 minutes turned into 45 minutes. It was not fun. At all. I hated my bike. I hated my ass. I hated myself for being stupid enough to do this alone. But finally, I make the turn into my cul-de-sac expecting to see my family waiting for me. Uh, nope. I think “well, that’s about right.” I get to my house. I drop my bike and walk into the house. I could have possibly been a bit on the grumpy side. I open the door, Ben sees me and says “oh, no!” Jackie literally runs down the stairs and says “can you get back on the bike and come around the corner again?” And this is when I finally chose to quit. I say “there is no way on this planet I’m getting back on that bicycle, I’m done.” She says “Please, we just lost track of time”
I wish I could go back. I wish I would have gotten back on the bike and let my family welcome me home. I mean really, how effing stupid was it that I had all those opportunities to give up and refused to do it, but wouldn’t suck it up one more time for the most important people? For an extra 3 minutes on the bike, if that. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that at the time my brain literally couldn’t process the thought of getting back on that torture machine with wheels. Next time I’ll know better. I’m not a guy that has a whole lot of regrets. This is one of them. I was, and still am, really proud of myself for that ride. It was stupid in so many ways and I shouldn’t have done it, but I’m extremely glad I did. I’m also more than a bit ashamed of being a total asshole at the end. Since that date, my family has cheered me across the line of a couple of long charity rides. And it was great each time. It would have been greater if I had let them do it that first time. My sore ass overrode common decency. It won’t happen again.
That’s pretty much it (only 3300 words!). I never did get to ride in the real Ride for the Cure. They changed their date permanently to the same weekend as the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. I have since switched to the MS Ride each June. It also is a personal cause as my sister is an MS sufferer, as is one of my neighbours. Each ride has had it’s challenges and some stories to go with them, but none like my first charity ride. This year, I’m doing the MS Ride again. I’m hoping that some of you who read this (I would say enjoy, but a better word may be endure?) might have it in you to donate. I know there is a lot of economic woe here in Calgary (and I’m sure everyone knows I’m a casualty myself), and it’s not the best fundraising year. Not to be more cliche than usual, but every little bit helps. Thanks in advance!! Here is my donation site:
Also, I’m really looking for riders. If you’ve ever wanted to try something like this, please let me know. Nobody from my team last year can ride for various reasons (lost jobs among them) and I’d really like to have a team. Right now it’s just me and my son, and he’s only a soft yes! If you want to ride, please contact me. If you don’t have my contact info, you can always comment below.
A quick note on comments. If you like what you read here, please use the comments. I’d love the feedback. Not to be all needy, but sometimes it does feel like I’m shouting into the void! It’d be great if the void shouted back.