I feel very fortunate to be able to write this report. On Wednesday morning July 11, 2012, I was hit and run over by a small pickup truck while riding my bicycle, in what could have been a fatal accident. As I write this, it has been nearly four weeks since the accident, and I am happy to report that I feel like I’m on the road to recovery.
Before I dig into the details, I must first thank everyone who has given me support along the way. Both my state of mind and my physical recovery has been positively impacted by numerous friends, family, co-workers, and community members. I also want to apologize in advance for the length of this blog, as it includes a lot of details as well as my rambling thoughts.
July 11 started like any other day. My coach had me scheduled for about an hour swim and hour bike ride that I needed to get done sometime during the day. Although my long-course triathlons were compete for the season, I had qualified for both the USAT Age Group National Championship and the 5150 National Age Group championship, so I was working on shorter and more intense training sessions. I decided to ride in the morning and swim at noon, leaving time in the evening to spend with my family. I mentally debated whether to ride outside that morning or stay inside on my CompuTrainer. Since I had just had my bike tuned up, I decided to ride outside. As usual, I road about 4 miles on the roads out of Polk City to the Ankeny – Woodward bike trail. I had a series of intervals to do while on the bike trail. A break in the intervals came up at 35 minutes, and I turned around to head home. Since the ride was supposed to be one hour duration, I decided to get back on the road at the first opportunity to try to get back within an hour timeframe. This change in route still only put me on the road for about 4 miles, but reduced my time on the trails, getting me home a little sooner. My choices to ride in the morning, ride outside, turn around at 35 minutes, and take a shortcut put me in front of the Wolfcreek townhouses on N. 3rd St. of Polk City at approximately 7:55 AM.
As I travelled south on N. 3rd St. into Polk City, I was approximately 2 miles from home and going down a slight hill. I checked my speed because I was approaching a 35 mile an hour speed limit. I remember my GPS was showing me at 32 mph, just prior to the entrance to the Wolf Creek town homes. As I looked ahead I could see a few vehicles going northbound, coming to a stop. As I approached the lead vehicle, a small Chevy S10 pickup truck started to go, but then stopped. As I got closer, the truck started making a left-hand turn directly at me. I yelled, “no, no, no” and slammed on the brakes. I remember feeling the rear tire lock up, and seeing the front of the truck approaching. I remember feeling the impact, sort of a crunching sound, seeing the front bumper. My next memory was flopping around like a rag doll underneath the vehicle. I could see the daylight as I looked down toward my legs, which would’ve been right behind the passenger side front tire. I remember wondering if this is really happening. The next thing I remember was laying behind the vehicle with the tailgate just above my left shoulder. I was looking left at the differential underneath the truck. I could only wonder how my body went under the differential, which looked very close to the ground. As I turned my head and looked up at the blue sky I thought, “people don’t live through things like this”. As I looked at the sky, I saw the driver stand over me and he asked, “are you okay?” I said,”no, you need to call 911″. As I laid on the ground, I briefly looked down at my body to do a quick survey of my injuries. I could see that my right wrist was grossly deformed. My right knee had a lot of blood and hurt quite a bit. My rib cage was also hurting and I was really concerned about internal injuries. A man and woman who had been following the truck driver got out to help. Since I didn’t have an ID with me I quickly told them my name and gave them my cell phone number.
I asked if they had a paper and a pen. Once they had a paper and pen, I told them my wife’s name and her cell phone number. I thought about telling them to tell my family that I love them, as I wasn’t sure at this point whether I would survive the accident. I consciously decided that this is too much like giving up, and I wasn’t ready to give up just yet. I reached up with my left hand, undid my strap and took off my bike helmet, as it was putting my neck in an awkward position. I heard the truck driver say, “he came out of nowhere”.
I remember thinking, “I’m wearing a bright red shirt”. The man who got out to help was acting like a first responder and asking me about my injuries and asking me to lie still. He asked if I would prefer to go to Mercy or Methodist Hospital. He commented that Methodist had a great trauma center, so I said, “please send me to Methodist”. Then I simply laid in the driveway waiting for the EMTs to arrive.
It was interesting to see the formal accident report. It said that the witness stated the truck driver stopped to wait for a vehicle to go by (going the same direction as I was travelling). After the vehicle passed, the witness stated that the truck started to go and then stopped again. The witness thought the truck driver had stopped because they had seen me coming. But, after pausing the truck started turning again. The witness reported seeing the truck strike the bicyclist and run over the bicyclist with two sets of wheels going over the bicyclist’s body. They also stated they saw the bicyclist, “tumbling underneath” the pickup truck.
The truck driver admitted seeing me further up the hill. He stated he lost me when the car went by and he didn’t see me until he struck me. This is counter to my recollection of the accident, as I remember seeing the truck being stopped and start again with an unobstructed view of the front of the vehicle. A more likely explanation comes from a rumor I heard recently. Literally a friend of a friend knows the truck driver and was told by him that he was watching oncoming traffic further up the hill and decided at the last second he could make it across before the oncoming car, without remembering I was there. For whatever reason, he didn’t see me as I approached the driveway where he was turning. The truck driver was fined for operating a motor vehicle too close to a bicycle.
Before I continue at the accident site, I want to share a little additional background information. I have never been comfortable riding on the road. In the last three years I have over 9000 miles of bicycle seat time. Only about 2500 miles that has been outdoors, as most of my time spent on my trainer inside. Out of 2500 miles outdoors only about 1000 miles was done on the road, as I spend most of my time on bike trails. Ironically, I’ve always been afraid of being hit by car. I only had one dedicated 60 mile bike ride this year on the road. My coach wanted me to focus on hills before I did the half Ironman in Québec, so early in May of this year I started a road ride near Luther, IA and biked along the Des Moines River Valley toward Boone. About 20 miles into my ride, just north of Boone, I was the first person to come across a fatal single car accident. I spent about a half hour on-site trying to help the victims and EMTs, until the life flight helicopters evacuated the victims. I hopped back on my bike, shaken by the thoughts of the death of an 8 year old boy and the repetitive cries of the 12-year-old girl saying, “I don’t want to die”. I started to ride on, but felt really uncomfortable being on the road and decided to turn around and call it a day. I realized that the car in the accident had spun across the road right where I was riding, maybe a minute or two before I arrived on site. My confidence in riding on the road had dropped to an even a lower point after that event.
As I waited for the EMTs, I pondered the idea of luck. Was I lucky to be alive, or was I unlucky to be in an accident? I didn’t have an answer. I also marveled at the irony of people comforting me while waiting for the EMTs when just two months ago I was the one helping someone else. I knew my body was likely going into shock. I had pain in my body, but it was not completely overwhelming. I could tell my blood pressure was dropping. From the previous experience, I knew what to expect when EMTs got there. They quickly assessed the damage by asking what hurt and asking me to systematically move my extremities. They isolated my neck and my wrist, and put me on a backboard. They checked my vitals, put me in the ambulance, started fluids, and started pain medication. I heard my blood pressure was very low. I could tell they were concerned about it. The police did a quick interview with me before we left. My GPS device showed that I spent about 15 minutes laying on the pavement and about 15 minutes lying in the ambulance before we left. The ambulance went up to 80 miles per hour on the way to the hospital (per my GPS), and they changed my status from level two to level one trauma enroute, because of my vitals.
I was swarmed by doctors and nurses once we reached the Methodist trauma center. Once again I was asked to categorize my pain and move my extremities. They started x-raying various parts of my body as they began to give me additional fluids as well as pain medication. Once they had me stabilized, they ran me through a full body CT scan. The miraculous news was that although my blood pressure remained very, very low, they could not find any internal bleeding or internal damage. I did have a left broken fibula (leg), a right broken scaphoid bone (wrist), and a right crushed radius bone (arm). In later x-rays it was discovered that another bone in my right wrist, the triquetrum, had also been broken. I also had several sprains, and substantial bruising and road rash on my body. Basically, the only joints in my body that didn’t sustain some sort of damage were my toes and my left hip.
The following pictures show some of the damage that occurred:
The most significant damage was to my right wrist and arm. After making sure I was stable, they got me ready for surgery. They expected the surgery take about two hours and they planned to install a small internal plate and pins in my wrist. Unfortunately, the surgery didn’t go as planned, as the damage was much more extensive than anticipated. My right radius was crushed so badly there simply wasn’t enough good bone left to install the plate. Instead, an external fixator was installed to try to hold my wrist and arm together in the correct position. This is basically a small carbon fiber rod that was screwed into my hand and my arm bone with stainless steel screws.
A screw was installed to hold my scaphoid bone together, and two pins were also install the stabilize the wrist. The surgery took almost 5 hours.
After surgery, they returned me back to my room, where I had a very long night with very little sleep. I wondered who was having a worse night, myself or the driver that hit me, as of that point I doubt if he knew whether I was going to live or die.
I stayed in the trauma wing of the hospital from Wednesday until Monday afternoon. On Thursday physical therapy came and helped me walk a few steps. Basically one person held me up with a belt around my waist and the other held on to my good arm to keep me stable. The challenge wasn’t just my broken leg, it was that I lacked stability from the rest of my joints as well. My right leg had a sprained ankle, my left arm had a sprained wrist, my left shoulder also had some damage (wrist and shoulder making it hard to put weight on the cane) and my right hip hurt as well. On Friday PT came back with a cane. With someone supporting my waist, I was able to get out to the hall and back to my bed. On Saturday I was able to walk with a cane out to the hall by myself, and with the help of PT, I was able to go up and down small steps. This was a big step for me and it allowed me to go to the bathroom by myself, as well as cleared me to be discharged from the hospital. Sunday was just more practice at walking before leaving the hospital on Monday. Several visitors (including some Tri-Racer friends), emails, cards, flowers and fruit sent during my stay all kept me positive while I was in the hospital.
It was great to get home. My wife and daughter did a great job taking care of me. Each day I continued to get a little bit better. By Friday, just over a week past my accident, I gave up using the cane. The following day I was able to shower without assistance. I started going for short walks to help me feel better. After working out for typically more than 10 hours a week, sitting around the house was killing me. I started back to work exactly 2 weeks after the accident. I am only working about four hours a day, as I find I still need to get back and take a nap in the afternoon. Between the casts, my arm pain, and the pain medication, I’m just not sleeping well at night. Getting back to work was much more enjoyable than the daytime TV anyway. On Monday, August 6th, I reached another milestone by eliminating my daytime pain medicine, and driving myself to work.
Most bike riders want to know what happened to my bike. I was riding my carbon framed Cervelo with carbon Zipp wheels when I was hit. The front end damage was extensive. Both front forks were cracked, the front wheel was cracked, both aluminum aero bars were broken off, one of the aluminum brake clamps was broken, and one of the aluminum wings on the handlebars was cracked as well. There are a lot of scrapes on the bike and it’s unclear if there are any stress fractures on the main frame. When I took my bike to Bike World in Ames to have the damage assessed, the bike tech took one look at it and said, “Man, you got hit HARD.” Then he looked at me and said, “But I guess I didn’t need to tell you that….”, which made me chuckle.
As I approach almost 4 weeks from the accident, I still have a long way to go to be completely recovered. I will be able to remove the boot on my broken left leg in the next two weeks, which will make getting around easier. I do still have pain in my left wrist (the non-broken wrist), my right ankle (the non-broken leg) and my left shoulder.
My right arm continues to be in pain most of the time, and I have virtually no use of my right hand (yes, I’m hunting and pecking with my left hand to write this blog… as I am right-handed). Besides the cast on my right arm, some of the nerves and tendons have been damaged, severely limiting the range of motion in my fingers. The second week in September the cast and all of the associated hardware should be removed, and then I can begin more physical therapy on my hand and wrist. I should be “mostly” recovered early in October. In the long run, the doctor expects my wrist have a limited range of motion and will likely have arthritis as well. He’s hopeful that my finger dexterity and feeling will return eventually.
In terms of triathlon, I don’t know what the future holds for me. After being injured, I’ve read the joints are seven times more likely to have arthritis. At age 47, I’m not sure realistically if I will ever be in the shape I was in before the accident. That being said, I don’t expect to be done at this point either. As soon as I’m physically able, I to plan to start training (and Tri-ing) again.
I always try to find some type of learning lesson from all my significant life experiences. I really don’t have a good takeaway in terms of bicycling on the road. The guy saw me and forgot about me, which seems like a low probability cause for an accident. Instead, my big take-aways are how fortunate I am and how good people can be. I am fortunate. I easily could’ve been killed or more seriously injured.
I am blessed with a wonderful support group including family, friends, coworkers, and a great community. Everyone has been so helpful. The entire hospital staff were supportive, empathetic and dedicated. Friends and family have cooked us meals, volunteered to cut our lawn, etc. It is easy to have a positive outlook on the situation when everyone is providing you with so much help and support.
Again, I can’t say enough as to how fortunate I feel and how thankful I am for all the help and support.
Updates on my recovery are here:
With just over 12 weeks passing from my accident, I continue to improve and expect to be able to race again next year. They did find more damage to my body over time. Specifically, after 10 weeks I continued to have nagging pain in my left wrist and left shoulder. After x-raying each, they found that my left wrist is also broken and my left shoulder is separated. The shoulder will not require surgery (just more PT), but the wrist may require surgery as it has not healed properly. My right wrist has had the 4 screws and 2 pins removed, and I am working on the dexterity and flexibility. After 12 weeks the bones are still not healed so I continue to wear a splint. The bones are in bad shape, and my wrist is not expected to ever get back to normal.
But, I have been cleared to begin exercising again (on 10/3), and have done a little running, biking, and swimming. My cardio has dropped significantly during my hiatus (literally my HR to power and paces has gone backwards 4 to 5 years), but it feels good to be moving again. I did also make one ride to where I was hit, just to get over the butterfies. People continue to be very kind and supportive, and I continue to feel fortunate.