Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Monday, September 16, 2013

2013 has not been a good year

Fear Rothar often teases me about my totally irrational superstitions, most notably my rule that no one can discuss the weather during a bike ride, since merely by mentioning that things could get worse, things do get worse. 

I really am a logical scientific person, and I know that when a cycling companion says something foolhardy like, "At least it's not raining," that he or she doesn't really cause the heavens to open up on cue. But it's fun to have someone to blame when weather conditions get worse, right after said rule violation!

Now despite having this no-weather-talk-while-on-a-bike rule, I really don't subscribe to superstitions. I don't have lucky or unlucky socks. I don't have a lucky ritual to do before races. And I don't panic when I draw the number 13 as my race number.

But I've got to admit that 2013 is really shaping up to be my unlucky year, and while I'm not one to wish my life away, I will be happy when 2014 arrives. 

Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean that no one is really following me.

Friends and regular blog readers know that in June, near the end of a long ride, I was hit by a cyclist who was riding on the wrong side of the road at the time, resulting in a broken collarbone for me. I had surgery to insert a stabilizing plate and 6 screws. While I was well below my usual level of fitness and endurance, I was able to get back on my bike just a few weeks after the surgery. Green Mountain Double Century, an event that had been a major goal for me this year, went on without me, just a few days after my surgery. But I refused to skip the other big events on my summer schedule, despite knowing I would be quite slow. The randonneur in me said not to worry about speed on the rides, but be persistent, step up to the enhanced challenge and don't quit.

And as anyone could have predicted, Newton's Revenge was a disaster from the performance point of view, but I did get myself all the way to the finish line. And this gave me the motivation I needed to get back to more normal riding, possibly even bordering on training!

In addition to the loss of fitness,  I now have nerves of jello. Everything, and I do mean everything, spooked me at first, especially blind corners, where I could no longer trust that I wouldn't encounter another out of control cyclist on the wrong side of the road. And because the doctor's orders were to do whatever I was comfortable with, just don't fall, I became overly cautious on dirt and descents. Given that, I was often the last one to finish many events, and I was rarely able to ride with others since they'd have to wait after I inched my way down a hill. At D2R2, my friend Susan showed incredible patience, waiting for me or riding slowly, so we could do the ride together. 

This is not to say that I was a jittery or unpredictable cyclist. I've always ridden in a careful and legal manner, stopping for red lights and stop signs, giving proper hand signals before making turns, and I continue to do this. But this summer, I've just been slower on descents, and using even more care when making blind turns, always on the lookout for the wrong-way cyclist.

Over the summer I had many discussions with people about how lucky I was. It could have been much worse. My desire to keep a positive outlook had overridden my superstition about speaking aloud what could be worse.

As the summer wore on, things were getting better, if not yet back to normal. I had another appointment with the surgeon to review x-rays on the Tuesday after Labor Day. The collarbone has mostly healed, but a small gap was still visible on the x-ray. It was exactly as he expected it to be. My activities had not affected the healing. Come back in three months.

The next day I flew down to NC to help my father move from a retirement community into assisted living. He's been having some issues recently that necessitated this move. I had a very busy few days, as I got him packed up and moved from one place to the other on Thursday. I then stayed overnight with him to help him settle in. Saturday afternoon, I slipped out for a very brief mind-clearing bike ride. Riding for me is absolutely therapeutic. It almost always takes the stress away. After almost a week off the bike, that very brief outing was mind-clearing and it was as if I hit the reset button on my fatigue. 

Sunday morning, I decided I would go for another quick mental-health spin before going over to spend the afternoon with my dad. I had downloaded a route that started very near my cousin's house where I stay when I am in NC. The route covered some roads I'd been on before and added some new ones. It was a figure 8, which meant I could just do the bottom half to keep the distance down.  The morning was delightful, and the roads were relatively quiet. I was enjoying the rhythm of riding my wee simple fixie in gently rolling terrain. 

And then I wasn't...

The next thing that I remember is being in the hospital as a spine surgeon explained to me that I had a burst fracture of the T11 vertebra along with lots of other fractures in the spine and ribs. He explained the surgery that he would perform to stabilize the area, and all the risks. I don't know whether I was still in shock, or the brain really works overtime to protect us from traumatic memories. For some reason I was holding my phone, so I snapped a selfie, which I posted to facebook, saying I was headed off to surgery!

I am pretty amazed that I was able to do that. Must have been some pretty good pain meds or something. 

The patrolman who was at the hospital told us that I had been hit from behind by a big pickup truck. He gave a form with the driver's insurance  to my cousin. I haven't been able to get the accident report yet, so I'm still unclear on many details. Apparently, it takes 10 days to produce. I am going to try to contact the Sheriff's office tomorrow to see if I can get any more info. 

To date, we have slowly pieced together enough info to determine that I was conscious and responsive for much of the time at the scene, but I have no memory of the time from when I was hit until just before I signed the surgical consent form.  I'm not sure who called 911, but apparently I was lucid enough to tell someone how to unlock my phone and find my cousin Tommy's phone number, my local emergency contact. We found the call to Tommy in my phone log!

The officer who called asked Tommy to come pick up my bike. He also told Tommy that I was being transported to Duke Hospital. 

Tommy was given an address about 7 miles into my route on a quiet rural road. After loading up my broken bike, Tommy then helped the driver change his flat tire, which he claimed had blown out before he lost control and hit me. 

In the meantime, Tommy's wife, Bennie, and daughter, Debbie, headed to the hospital to check on me. They were there when I was told my back was broken and they were taking me to surgery. This is where my memory begins. Debbie phoned Fear Rothar to break the news. A little while later, the surgeon phoned
Fear Rothar again to give him the surgical details. He used my phone for this, and then handed it back to me, which must be when I took the selfie and posted to FB.

I had to have been pretty well in shock and numb at that stage to have been able to post. I also had no idea how bad the situation was or could have been. The T11 vertebra had a burst rupture, which means parts of bone flew into the spinal canal, and I was pretty damn lucky not to be paralyzed

Bennie and Debbie waited until I got out of surgery. They were at the hospital for about 13 hours. My father and I are truly blessed to have Tommy, Bennie and Debbie in our lives. I simply can't express my gratitude enough for all they have done for us. 

The surgeon fused the broken vertebrae above and below and put in rods and screws to stabilize the back. I am still learning and struggling with how to get in and out of bed now. The pain is through the roof at times, mostly when I move or lie on my back. 

The doctors and nurses kept asking me, on a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is your pain. I never got the chance to fully explain that this pain scale was a whole new one for me. My worst pain in the past would merely rank as a one on this new scale!
I also have many fractured ribs and a very sore throat from being intubated. Despite falling on the left, I did no damage to my shoulder and collarbone, but I do have some nice technicolor bruises and road rash on my shoulder, arm, bottom and leg. My elbow is still quite sore, and I cannot roll over onto the left side at all.

I had some very low moments over the next few days. My father was having a really rough time adjusting to his new home (the reason for my trip) and I had a hard time getting his schedule and drugs properly set up. My memory was unreliable at times, so I could never remember who I'd talked to, but I did my best to manage his care from my hospital bed. I must say the folks at Duke Hospice have been a tremendous gift for me, as they have helped me navigate through the regulations at the new assisted living community. I had originally hesitated to let Daddy enroll in hospice because that step made real the end of life battle he was facing. But it seems the people who work for hospice are motivated to help both the patient and his family, and their compassion has really been the bright spot in my father's battle with cancer and dementia.

The days I spent in the hospital are a blur that moved along at a snail's pace. I don't know what happened when or who I told what, but I did learn an awful lot about the broken system there, that required me to tell everyone what hurts and to constantly ask for meds! Seriously I would tell the doctor something hurt. S/he would order a medication, with directions to take as needed. The meds would arrive, but the nurses wouldn't give them to me unless I specifically asked, since it was ordered as needed. But I didn't know what had been ordered, or that it was now available, so I didn't know to ask for it. This happened multiple times until I finally learned the system. I'm sure that everyone got tired of me telling them what hurt and asking them constantly what medication was newly available to help.

Randonneurring has trained me well for the endurance event I am now undertaking. Aim for a big end goal, but don't get overwhelmed by its size. Take baby steps. Break things down into smaller, achievable goals.  Patience and perseverance will get me to the end. And there will be suffering, so just toughen up - as they say. 

Despite the considerable pain; the emails, phone calls, in-person visits, flowers and gifts that I received were my highlights. I'm not the mushy or sentimental type and at first I asked Fear Rothar to take the flowers to the children's ward, but I quickly came to appreciate their healing powers. This is not an appeal to send me more flowers! I just wanted to say thank you to everyone for all the positive energy, emails, phone calls, visits, flowers and gifts, etc that continue to reach me. It means so much to me that I have such caring friends.

Saturday, 6 days after the crash, my cousin Rose came to the hospital to drive Fear Rothar and me to my temporary home in Durham. I'm still having a rough time, sleeping is very difficult, and the pain meds just don't seem to be strong enough. 

But I'm taking those baby steps. Fear Rothar removed the dressing on Sunday and I finally had a shower, exactly one week after the crash. That shower was spiritual. He then reapplied the dressing and gently applied antibiotic ointment to my road rash. As an independent person who doesn't like asking for help, it has been very challenging to let go and lean on others.

For any who have had surgery with anesthesia or taken lots of pain meds, you can relate to my other big milestone, for which I will spare my gentle readers the gory details. I have joked in the past about people who use social media to share every minute detail of their lives, including the achievement of that particular event. But wait, I did actually tweet about it, but I tried to be subtle. I said that my eyes had changed color from brown back to blue!  This daily goal is going to remain an ongoing challenge for as long as I'm on pain pills. But I'll spare my friends and readers the daily updates.

This post has taken several days to write - partly due to emotion, partly due to lack of ability to concentrate, and partly due to the extreme pain. 

Now that I'm out of the hospital, I'm hoping to get a lift over to visit my dad at his new place soon and then if I can tolerate it, fly back to Boston before the end of the week, where I can convalesce at home. 

I should have plenty of time in coming months to catch up on some reviews and equipment posts and such. So even though I won't be riding outside for a long time, I hope to post some interesting content on the blog. Despite posts on the blog coming in fits and starts for most of this summer, they really should be more regular in the coming months.   

So that's the all news from Lake Wobegon, which is the attitude I am trying to take - woes be gone.


  1. So you don't know me, but I'm a big fan. I am so so sorry to hear about your accident and just want you to know that your West Coast fan is giving you a big internet hug. One that doesn't hurt! :)

  2. Oh Pamela, I'm so sorry to hear this. You have so many friends, and even more acquaintances (like me) who would be very willing to help you in any way. You've given so much to us, tell Fear Rothar that he can use all of us for dinners, movies, whatever.

    Feel better! and good luck with the healing.

    Geoff (I sat next to you at breakfast after d2r2!)

  3. Though I'm just a person who follows your blog, words can't communicate how badly I feel for you and how sorry I am for your pain and hurt. Thank God, you are, despite all your damage, still intact and whole and wholesome and showing us how to live. I'm thinking of you on my morning bike rides and dedicating them to you with energy and every good thought to flow to you and speed your healing. God Bless! Jim Duncan

  4. My young friend who lives next door just went through the most recent of what seems like "one too many" health challenges, and what she said to us (kidding, with a serious undertone) was she just wanted all of us to tell her "how brave she is!"

    As one of your many Internet friends whom you have not yet met, let me say "Two accidents in one year, the most recent of which sounds totally overwhelming PLUS trying to care for a seriously ill parent? You are so brave!" For a couple of years now, you have been a guide and inspiration for my beginner's struggles to become a randonneur. You have now become a life inspiration as well. I hope, mixed with all the physical and emotional pain you are stuck with, you are feeling very proud of yourself as well - you most definitely deserve to!

  5. So sorry to hear about your most recent misfortune! We haven't met, though I thought we might cross paths at D2R2 this year (I just did the 100K), and I've seen your name on some Strava segments on a few of my rides.

    Best wishes for dealing with your challenges: I know what it's like caring for a parent who is dying of cancer, but I can't imagine doing that while also recovering from a serious injury. I'm glad your broken back didn't result in paralysis! I hope your recovery goes well.

    Should you find yourself in western Mass., on a ride or otherwise, and you want a cup of coffee or a place to spend the night, let me know. I'm on Warm Showers.

  6. Pamela, we've never met but I have followed your blog for a long time and you have been a true inspiration for me. I've always admired your strength and toughness and I know you'll be back on your bike in no time. Stay strong!

  7. Pamela--like so many others (I'm sure!) my wife and I follow your blog regularly. You and Fear Rothar have inspired us to our next challenge (tandeming. Best of luck to you with your newest injuries. And peace to you and your Dad---I've been through that personally, and know from what you speak. Steve

  8. Pamela!! I hope you are doing better in your recovery -- I'm in shock that this happened. Well, the federal fiscal year is ended Sep 30 (that's soon to a new year)! My prayers are going out to you. Please keep up informed about your recovery. When you get better I have a nice Royal H mixte I'll be happy to donate to your recovery cause. I am in shock. I can't imagine that. And, the truck didn't stop???? God bless those troopers that found you. Stay strong and email me on PM if you need to talk. I'm in California and don't got to bed until midnightish (3-4AM your time). Hang in there! You are in inspiration!!! Other Pam

  9. Pamela--I'm another stranger who reads your blog and tries to borrow some of your courage. I want you to know its OK to take your time healing. Don't try to rush it. My grandmother was always promising to say a prayer for me and, when I'd cringe, she'd say "a little blessing never hurt." In that spirit, I'll say a prayer for you and your father.

  10. Pamela,

    Best wishes from me and Sherrill for a continued speedy recovery and achieving all of the little triumphs along the way. The fact that you are so fit and strong will serve you nicely as you heal.

    Like you, I have a hard time being vulnerable and accepting help at times, but I've just recently learned that it's OK and not a sign of weakness. Keep asking for help when you need it, and as you can see from all of the FB and blog comments, it will be gladly offered.

    I hope to see you and Fear Rothar on the dirt roads of NH, MA or NY next year!


  11. I dedicate my next ride to Pamela, a woman I've never really met but who inspired me to ride my first century.

    I hope that you are feeling better soon.

  12. From the west coast where I read with such admiration and aspiration...so sorry! I was in tears! What is the long term prognosis and did the truck driver stop? I know how hard it is to recover from such injuries and that long term it can mean chronic pain and aches. I was never one to ask for help, or admit weakness, so it was a challenge after my car accident, but please accept help.
    As hard as I worked after my car accident I could never ride the way I had before. Back and shoulder pain makes long distances unbearable. I was never going to accept defeat or feel I shouldn't do things again, but I have been very nervous driving and biking ever since. Despite being a life long cyclist and serious commuter I had put touring and randonneuring on the back burner for years. Your blog and articles have been so inspiring, but health issues the past year kept me off my bike quite a bit.
    I am certain you will take this challenge in stride and be back in action, but do not feel bad if it takes longer or if you have to let certain things go.
    I had minor surgery this summer so I know exactly what you mean about a certain thing. Best wishes and courage!

    1. I calmly reread post and noticed that yes the driver stopped and you had his info, but will insurance cover your medical costs and will you get a settlement etc? As a canadian I dread to think what such an accident would cost(I know what a broken foot cost me in the US). I am assuming you have insurance since you had the collarbone surgery, but there are all the extra costs of such injuries and long healing/recovery times, physio and the things insurance might not cover like accupuncture, massage, shiatsu etc... I waited 5 years for the insurance settlement after my accident and it was whittled down to nothing compared to what was promised for the injuries, trauma, life long pain, long time off work, and minor disability. My husband got hit by a truck while cycling and got almost nothing, although he was mostly unhurt.

  13. Sorry to hear about this and hoping along with many other for swift and continued recovery.

  14. Pamela, I'm so sorry to hear of your accident. If there's anything we can do to help out when you get home, please let us know! Thanks for keeping us all up to date on your blog, and best of luck on the road to recovery!!

  15. Jessica from SeattleSeptember 19, 2013 at 8:34 PM

    Pamela, so sorry to hear about this. Wishing you good spirits, hope, and as quick a recovery as is possible. May 2014 be better!

  16. Having followed your blog posts over the years, I'm confident that you'll work through the many challenges ahead of you, on your road to recovery. And I'm still hopeful, that some day you'll find your way to Eastern PA someday, and clip-in for one of my events.

    Best regards,

    -Tom Rosenbauer
    Eastern PA RBA

  17. So sorry to hear of this painful event and all the suffering you're having to go through. You are amazing for having helped your father so much while you yourself were injured. Best wishes for a lessening of pain and fast healing!

  18. An astonishing, dismaying, and ultimately hopeful post. May your recovery be speedy and full.
    I too am glad for the presence of your cousins in both your and your dad's life. Sometimes that little bit of family makes all the difference.

  19. Pamela, I am deeply saddened to hear of your accident. My thoughts and best wishes for you in your recovery. You and Fear Rothar have been a great inspiration to my girlfriend and I in our dirt, distance, and tandeming pursuits, as well as a source of information. I've ridden some of your DROVE routes and found out about Green Mountain Double from your blog. I saw you at D2R2 and would have introduced myself if it had been opportune to do so. I look forward to having that chance again at some dirt road event when you are back on the bike.

  20. Pamela,

    I've very much enjoyed reading your blog and your website before that. Your stories of tandeming in NZ were one of the main reasons I took up the sport. I am so sorry to hear you've been injured, and I wish you the best for a speedy recovery.


  21. Pamela, I'm very sorry to hear your accidents. It's really tough on the 2nd one; on the other hand, it's also fortune that you're not paralyzed. I can understand what you meant by having to rely on someone's help, as I had similar experience last year. I wish you all the best, and pray for your fast recovery.


  22. Pamela,

    Your blog has long been a must read for me -- I'm really sorry to hear of your accident. I was hit by a car many years ago w/spinal and other injuries as well (including a compound fracture). The rehab can be tough, and it was hard to get over the fear when riding again, but riding again is what really made the difference in my recovery. Know you have many friends and supporters, many of whom, like me, will likely never meet you but are pulling for you. Be strong, but be willing to accept help!

  23. Pamela, words can't really do justice to wanting to say exactly the right thing. I wish you all the best in recovering, as this was a brutal crash. You and John are strong people--you will prevail.

  24. Wow! I'll never think I had a bad summer again! Really sorry to hear about your misfortunes. I wish you a miraculous and full recovery. If I know you at all, you WILL fully recover. Please hang in there. And, for what it's worth, your publishing skills haven't suffered one bit - a perfectly written account.

    All the best in the coming months.

    Just another T@H member.

    Ed Hass
    1990 Fisher Gemini and 2009 Co-Motion Speedster

  25. At the bottom of your blog there is a Stava "bug" that shows your distance, time, etc. for the week. One part of it is obviously incorrect, because under "Achievements" it indicates "0". In fact, you have managed to make good progress toward recovery, and you have managed to be yourself despite some punishing challenges. Those are some REAL achievements!

    Best wishes,

    Mike Wilkinson
    (Occasional blog reader and regular Hobbes list follower)

  26. Pamela,
    God speed.
    Rob & Janika

  27. I follow your blog a little and really enjoy it and the really cool pictures you post of all your adventures, I hadn't checked in for a while and read this.


    Add one more to the list of people wishing you a blessing and thanking you for sharing what you're thinking and feeling. It's helpful for all of us.

    Carry on...


  28. Pamela,

    When I started rando training I read often of you and you are still an inspiration.

    I simply send you heartfelt full recovery prayers both physically and mentally.

    May you ride long and prosper.

    Baby steps!!!!