In the spring of 2013, I was in the best shape of my life, despite being the oldest I had ever been in my life. I felt good on a bicycle. I was running (slow 5Ks). I was even swimming occasionally, for the first time in, oh, at least 5 years.
Then, on May 17, I had a bicycle accident. The police conjecture that my bicycle went down because of bad pavement/irregular road surface. Given the extent of my injuries (besides the concussion, a broken clavicle and 3 broken ribs, it was hard for me to think that I, just riding the bike, could have generated enough force to cause that damage.
At any rate, my recovery continues. I can’t lift up anything heavier than a piece of paper (ok; a newspaper) until the clavicle and ribs are healed – weight bearing is very bad for the healing of my non-displaced fractures. At the time of the last x-rays, the orthopedist predicted that the ribs might be healed in one more month and the clavicle a little longer. Here’s hoping.
The whole process of accident and recovery – what was done for me, and what I have to now organize and do for myself – got me to reflecting on how I can control my health, how I have controlled it up until this point, and what I need to do going forward. Here are some of those reflections.
After the accident, the first thing I remember is waking up in the Traumatic Brain Injury ward of a Washington DC hospital. My sister, bless her heart, was there, and explained what happened. What I didn’t remember is that I had had similar conversations with my sister many times in the previous eight days that I had been in the hospital. My sister’s presence – and humor – was critical for my recovery. She joked that she knew I was recovering because I started complaining about things. (Complaining meant I remembered an incident long enough to complain about it)
After 12 days in two hospitals, I was released, and went to stay with my sister’s family for a few days. As an out-patient, I passed my concussion test, which certified that I had no discernible brain injuries from the concussion, and I would be okay to live on my own. So I went home, with a friend for a few days, then on my own, with friends to help with the shopping and driving to doctors’ appointments (since I couldn’t drive, because of my broken ribs and collar bone and couldn’t carry the groceries).
From that point, I was mostly on my own. Being able to work – from home – kept me sane, and gave me a framework around which to organize my day. The orthopedist I saw prescribed some exercise – at that point, walking was it. So, every day I tried to walk to the local shopping district about ½ mile away – to treat myself to lunch; to go to the library; to window shop; to get a long-overdue haircut. My recovery seemed to be going very well, until about 6 weeks after the accident, when two additional injuries made themselves felt. And these injuries, alas, have been the source of much angst, but also great learning experiences re: my recovery and the medical establishment.
The first injury has been fairly straightforward to diagnose and treat (so far). It only took two visits to a dentist, one to a periodontist, and one to an oral surgeon to definitely determine that I had cracked a root of a tooth (where my face hit the pavement) and would need oral surgery and an implant. That process is still continuing, but has proceeded fairly smoothly.
The second symptom has been much more problematic – numbness and tingling in my right foot. Getting this one diagnosed has been a saga too long for this report – involving visits to Orthopedist #1 (my rib and clavicle MD), Neurologist #1 (a non-specialist; a mistake, but I was desperate); Orthopedist #2 (a back specialist, who ordered an MRI to rule out back damage); Orthopedist #3 (a foot and ankle specialist, recommended by Orthopedist #1); and Neurologist #2 (referred by Orthopedist #3). Neurologist #2 redid an EMG, a test previously done by Neurologist #1, and got results that led to a diagnosis. Finally!
So, the good news is that I have a diagnosis for my sensory nerve issues – a compressed nerve in my right leg, probably compressed for a period of time during my crash, although, alas, since I don’t remember the crash, and don’t remember how long I was on the ground, this is a working hypothesis at best. The bad news is that there is no treatment for a compressed nerve – sometimes nerves heal, but it takes a long time. In the meantime, I am free to pursue my usual activities. I just have to get used to my foot feeling funny. I am also done with the neuropathy medicines that Neurologist #2 kept throwing at me, despite having no definitive diagnosis for my problem, and which were causing various funky side effects without helping the problem. This foot saga is a primary reason that I have come up with a new saying: “I don’t know why they call it ‘Medicine’; they should call it ‘Trial and Error’.)”
So here I am, six months after the accident. I’ve outlined some of the b-a-d things that resulted from the accident. But there are also good things. And some mixed.
- Good: The accident gave me time to get in touch with some friends that I hadn’t been good about keeping in touch with, and to resolve to be better about this
- Good: The accident gave me an incredible appreciation for people who have a chronic illness. Although they are under continuous medical attention, but still try and maintain a “normal” life, of family, friends, work. My admiration to you.
- Good: During the recovery period, I re-upped with an informal group called “Fab Fitness”, associated with an informal bicycling group in my neighborhood, Babes on Bikes. Fab Fitness encourages its members to make a list of fitness goals that can be accomplished within a short time span – six months. The goals can be both physical fitness and mental or lifestyle fitness. I’m afraid my physical fitness goals were a bit too ambitious (Regain physical condition before the accident), but the other goals have really helped me “get over the hump” (Do stealth good deeds; Try to experience one new thing a day; Don’t sit down at your computer in the morning before getting washed and dressed)
- Mixed: When you have a serious accident or illness, you tend to hear the gory details from friends who have suffered similar accidents of illnesses. The Bad aspect of this is learning precisely what agonies your friends suffered through – and empathizing with their pain. The Good aspect is that, for the most part, your friends have recovered completely from their ordeals, so there is hope for you.
After the accident, following are some of things I did to remain active, healthy, and continue with my recovery:
- For 8 weeks after the accident, I couldn’t bicycle (or drive). So, I experienced walking anew. It was an adventure to get out of the house and walk to the local shopping street for lunch or a coffee. It was also a cautionary experience. During that time, I couldn’t do any of the physical activities that I enjoyed. In fact, since I couldn’t drive, I couldn’t easily to get out of the house to do anything I enjoyed. But I did discover my local walking route, and the local restaurants.
- Eating was the one activity that could be relied on to be enjoyable. So I made sure to savor what I ate, and not overdo it. And find fantastic and fairly healthy dishes (the roasted brussel sprouts anyone?) at the local Italian eatery.
So, my recovery continues, mostly in the right direction, but with definite ups and downs.