Sunday, June 14, 2009 was a beautiful day. I held an open house that afternoon, one that was successful enough to justify staying there on a day when I would otherwise have been outdoors. People kept arriving and I stayed open an hour and a half past the scheduled closing time. Then I had papers to deliver to my office. I decided that with three hours to go until sunset and nothing else I had to do there, I would bicycle to my office, thus getting in a ride on this pretty evening. I set off on the Schwinn Sierra commuter. I made the left turn onto Lee Highway from Quincy Street (which avoided a hill), and immediately a car with a loud exhaust passed me a bit too close for comfort. I decided to get off the street onto the sidewalk, much as I dislike riding on sidewalks—it enhances the motorists’ opinion that bicycles do not belong on streets. On this stretch of Lee Highway, the speed limit is 35 but the traffic speed is more like 50. I headed into a gas station (the nearest access to the sidewalk), and caught the lip of the driveway, perhaps an inch high, at too low an angle and speed to go up it. The bike tripped and went down on its right side. I landed on the point of my right elbow and the heel of my right hand. I felt something go in my elbow as I hit. Immediately two guys in the gas station ran to me and offered assistance. I refused their offers to help me up, lay as I had fallen and took inventory. I saw no open wounds, only a mild road rash on my arm from landing. No visibly broken bones. My arm bones seemed intact. My hand, protected by my cycling gloves, was a little sore but not really hurt. My head, in its helmet, never got near the ground. But the tip of my elbow moved around like a kneecap. I tried my arm and I could move it. I was going to hurt later, but I didn’t yet. Meanwhile my would-be helpers were shouting offers of assistance at me. Did I need to call an ambulance (no, it’s not that serious—besides, I thought, I don’t need to lose the bike on top of this, by leaving it while I go off in an ambulance). Could they call someone I knew for help (there’s no one to call). Finally I was ready to stand up. The bike was undamaged except for a scrape on the right brake lever. I evaluated my situation. Although I was more than halfway to my destination, it seemed foolhardy to continue there. I needed to get the bike back home and evaluate my options. I managed to ride home, carefully and using the left hand to brake. I’ve been in the process of changing my brakes around on all my bikes to use the right lever for the front, European style, but hadn’t yet on this one, so I had the use of the better brake.
I arrived back home and put the bike in the garage. I still had work to do. I was likely to be in more pain the next day. The work needed to be done. I got in my car, drove to the office, and did the work. By the time I was done, my elbow was swollen up and I was starting to hurt enough to distract me. I drove back home and began looking up places to get treated. In my mind this was still not an emergency—that would have been a compound fracture or bleeding wounds or inability to use my arm. I thought it was not severe enough for the emergency room, that they would think I should not have come there with it, and I had no taste for sitting around in an emergency room waiting area all night anyway. Plus I was worried about the cost. One of the casualties of my reduced income had been my health insurance, that I had worked so hard to get in 2005 (during another health scare). Now that I was making money again, it had, ironically, already been on my to-do list for Monday to call up and get reinstated. This did me no good now. So I looked up the hospital urgent care facility, saw that they did not even do x-rays at night, and went to bed planning to go there in the morning.
Next day (Monday the 15th) I went to the Arlington Hospital urgent care facility. They X-rayed my arm and confirmed there was a bone chip, looking like an island off the coast of my elbow. They splinted my arm and gave me a referral to Commonwealth Orthopaedics. Soonest appointment I could get with them was Wednesday afternoon. I continued to work on Tuesday and Wednesday until my appointment.
I had taken pot luck on which doctor was available—knowing nothing about any of them—and ended up with one of the best in the business, Dr. Gordon Avery. He said he was not concerned about a bit of calcium loose in my arm, but after he had me try moving my arm in various ways, he said he thought I had detached the triceps muscle. That requires surgery and further treatment that he estimated would cost $10,000. He prescribed an MRI to make sure. I left to digest this news and get the MRI.
I had told Dr. Avery that I was not in much pain, except when I moved my arm the wrong way. The rest of the week I was in a lot more pain, which I took care of with ibuprofen and fortitude. I continued working. I had to sell my way out of this. Fortunately $10,000 is an amount I can at least see how to earn, although I would have had other uses for it. And I did reapply for health insurance. I considered myself lucky. This was my wake-up call from the universe, telling me to get this handled before something really serious happened. Two of my friends, last winter, slipped and fell and had compound leg fractures that were costly to repair and rendered them unable to work for several months. I could still work and take care of myself. I am largely ambidextrous, although this tested it to the limit.
It was Monday evening, the 22nd, before I got the MRI, a new experience for me and one I hope never to have again. It was like spending a relaxing evening inside a torpedo tube, accompanied by loud electronic music. I did not consider myself particularly claustrophobic, but it was all I could do to stay in there and go through with it. I told myself that I needed to do it, closed my eyes and listened for patterns in the noises the machine made. Finally it was over. Afterwards my arm felt so much better that I thought perhaps I had escaped with only the chipped bone.
I was not so lucky. Next day I talked with Dr. Avery about the results. I had indeed torn off one of the three attachments of the triceps to my elbow. Surgery is needed within the next two weeks. I am awaiting a call from their scheduler. It’s outpatient surgery, a day trip to the hospital. Then I’ll be in a cast for a month, then have to limit use of my right arm for another six to eight weeks. So I won’t be riding a bicycle the rest of the summer.
I’ve delayed posting this, as people close to me read my blog and I did not want to alarm them unnecessarily about something they could do nothing about. It even occurred to me that by the next scheduled family event at the end of August, I’d be out of a cast and they would never need to know. Eventually I saw that withholding this would not work—it would only get harder to hide. It was inconsistent, anyway—I wasn’t hiding it from everyone I know. Maybe I was simply not willing to admit to my family that I’d been stupid enough to be caught without health insurance.
Now I’m concentrating on selling an additional $500,000 to cover the cost. There’s another irony in this too. Since March, I’ve been interested in getting a recumbent tadpole trike, just because they are fun. I haven’t yet mainly due to the cost, as well as considering whether I would really get the use out of it. And lately I’d gotten fired up about bicycles again, building the new Surly and refurbishing the Grand Prix. Now I have a condition that will prevent me from riding a bicycle for three months. My immediate concern is to maintain and improve upon my physical conditioning and weight, so I will need to find alternative forms of exercise and go on an even stricter diet. However, I could ride a recumbent trike a lot sooner than I will be able to ride a bicycle, because of the way that the arms are used. So now I have a reason to get one. At the same time, I have to meet the medical costs—and I was concerned before about how to pay for a trike. However, after paying ten grand in medical bills, the price of a Trice (about $3,600) will seem like dessert. I intend to be riding one as soon as possible.
At Le Cirque du Cyclisme, I was inspired by the beautiful bikes. I've always been a sucker for good machinery. I remember my first sight decades ago of high quality bikes in a shop, where I had gone in search of a simple utilitarian transportation bike. Two weeks later I had my first drop bar lightweight. It happens that while I sometimes think the bike enthusiasts go too far in the direction of "jewelry with wheels on," I also succumb to the charms of a pretty bike that also does its job well. For me, that's always tempered with practicality and rideability.
Recently I've been interested in getting a recumbent tadpole trike. These are expensive--comparable to a better grade bicycle and indeed less than many of those, but still more than I have ever paid for a bike. I looked at my bike fleet and concluded that I could sell off some of those to help defray the cost. One of those I thought of selling was my 1986 Raleigh USA Grand Prix, which I would not need once my new Surly was complete. It seemed to me that I would only need one conventional bike and one trike. I was all set to sell off the Grand Prix until I made the mistake of riding it again. It's just too nice, with its lugged Reynolds 531 butted frame. In fact, my only complaint about it has been that it doesn't have the low gears I want for hill climbing. It has a perfectly good road crank typical of its vintage, with 130mm bolt spacing so little rings don't fit. In back, it has a six-speed freewheel in a range of 14-24. In what Brian Buffini calls "a blinding flash of the obvious," I thought that a triple crank, such as I used on the Surly, would be the answer. And I am reminded of why I used a triple crank on my tourer in 1974.
Back then we had 5 cogs in back--what is now called a road bike was known as a 10 speed. Most bikes came with a 40-52 chainring combination and a fairly wide range rear set--often 14-34 or so. This allowed the bikes to be ridden in any terrain, but the gears were often uncomfortably far apart, especially if you were riding in flat country. In South Florida, where I was then, discerning riders fitted close ratio freewheels, since hills were not an issue and that way we got lots of closely spaced gears suited to the local conditions. Racers tended to ride these kinds of gears anyway, even in hillier places, relying on their strength to climb hills or using different gearing--even different bikes--in steeper places. When I built my tourer, I wanted to be able to have close ratios and still be able to handle grades with a loaded bike. The only way to do this at the time was with a triple crankset, which was then rather uncommon. There were only two brands of crank at the time that would do this--TA and Stronglight--and my bike attracted a lot of comments.
Nowadays, we can put 10 cogs on the back wheel (although I limit mine to 8 for practical reasons) and triple cranks are everywhere. When I put a triple on my Surly plus an 8-speed Sheldon Brown touring cassette on the back, I ended up with gears lower than I am likely to need--I could have used a double crank and gotten the range I had with a triple in 1974. Well, the difference in price between a Sugino double and triple is only $10 and I don't have to use the small ring even if it is there. But on the 6-speed freewheel of the Grand Prix, it makes sense. With a triple crank and some fenders to go with the Nitto Noodle bars and Suntour Barcons it got last year, the Grand Prix can change from club racer to randonneur.
Memorial Day, 2009--Having found that there was bike valet parking at the ViVa Vienna festival, I headed out there on the green Surly despite the rain forecasts. En route I happened upon the Falls Church parade, and stopped a while to watch. Resuming my ride, I was on the bridge over Broad Street when I heard someone say, "on your left," meaning they were about to pass-on a narrow, wooden bridge barely wide enough for one bike. I said, "not on the bridge," dropped into top gear and took off, leaving them behind. I had gone some way on the trail when I heard a faint noise from the rear wheel area and felt something wrong in through the pedals. I slowed down to look and my lycra-clad pursuer zoomed past. Just then the the pedals locked up and wouldn't move forward or backward. I stopped and got a foot down in time to halt my fall, although my Achilles tendon was sore afterwards where the chainstay hit it. I looked at the chain and saw a link had come open, one end of a plate popped off the pin.
I was perhaps 4 miles from Vienna where I knew there was an open bike shop, Bikes @ Vienna. A mile or two behind me, in Falls Church, was another bike shop, Bike Club, that might or might not be open. I pulled out my phone and called them. They were starting to close, but would wait for me to get there. I started walking the bike back, then realized I could coast some of the way, kicking it along in the manner of the bicycle's original hobby-horse ancestor. A passing Shriner clown car's occupants, fresh from the parade, greeted me with hoots and howls. I didn't care. When I ride the trail on a weekend, what's one more brightly-clad clown matter? I got to the bike shop in less time than it took to walk, which was the point. Once there we saw that the hook from the elastic lower attachment for my pannier was missing, so I theorize that if came loose and got into the chain, causing the breakage. It was a simple matter to put in a new link and off I went to continue to Vienna.
In Vienna, I enjoyed the festival, ate stuff not usually on my diet, and looked again at the trikes at Bikes @ Vienna. I also saw one in use and talked with its owner. Eventually I set off for home. It was raining most of the way home, at a temperature that was comfortable in the warm air. So I guess I could call it a triathlon.