Summer Hits with a Bang
You expect serious injuries to announce themselves with at least a teaspoon of pomp and ceremony. The trail should be difficult and the riding should be daring. There should be a smidgen of a ragdoll, and hopefully a bike part or two will break. What you’re looking for is a decent story. Stepping onto a small rock is none of these things.
I say “serious”, as in serious for me. No bones broke through my skin and no ligaments required surgical reconstruction. I consider anything that restricts my ability to walk for an extended period of time to be serious. A partially torn calf muscle falls into this category.
Deniz, Graham and I were shooting photos somewhere on the dark side. The trail had some sort of throwaway name that I’ll never remember and there was probably a story about how so-and-so had worked with what’s-his-name to sculpt this prime cut of rock, roots and dirt into the mass of chunder that we were now bouncing down. Deniz spotted a sketchy little line with good light and I was hiking up with my bike to take a look. I took a normal little step onto a small little rock and then it felt like a much larger rock had crashed into my leg. I was momentarily confused but I quickly recognized the electrical sort of pain that was shooting through my calf muscle. I yelled a few times at some random trees, Graham and Deniz looked a bit confused, and then I gave them my diagnosis. I tried to talk them into carrying on with their photo shoot but they didn’t seem keen on letting me ride down on my own. Looking back, this was a very noble and solid decision on their part. Luckily, we were near a trail crossing and it was a relatively gentle downhill tripod out.
This was not the first time that I had experienced that specific pain.
The first time I had been playing tennis. Not even playing tennis, but warming up to play tennis. It was the same sort of thing. I was going about my business, reaching for a shot in a mellow rally and it felt like somebody had shot me in the leg. God, I was a giant baby about it that first time around.
Not to say that it wasn’t painful. The initial tear feels like somebody has jabbed you with 220 volts, and then it subsides into consistent throb. When you don’t know what is going on, this can be somewhat frightening.
But when you do know what is going on, it’s smooth sailing. You can approach your recovery with a zen-like acceptance. You can avoid all of the over-confidence that leads to re-injury. Recovery becomes much easier.
That’s not to say that it all goes perfectly well. I certainly had more than a few mental lulls. The worst thing that I struggled with was the manner in which this injury took place. After the first injury, it was pretty easy to swear off tennis and construct a happy little story as to why that injury happened. This time? Stepping onto a fucking rock? I’m not going to be able to avoid stepping onto a fucking rock in the future. What does this mean for my life?
And then there was what I refer to as The Great Test Bicycle Fire Sale of 2022. Rapid organization of resources is not generally an area of expertise within the NSMB ranks, so it was shocking to see the speed under which I found myself hemorrhaging bicycles. I will still trying to find a pair of crutches in the correct size yet there I was, hobbling around in my front yard, juggling too short crutches and tools while I stripped parts off of bikes. No, I wasn’t going to come anywhere close to riding one of those bicycles for at least a couple of months, but it still hurts to have your status so bluntly confirmed. We live in a transactional world and as I was no longer going to be able to hold up my end of the bargain things were going to be different for a little while.
These were the setbacks. These were the hurdles. What I had working in my favour was a very solid and tangible goal. We had a 3-week trip to Europe planned with a departure date exactly one month post injury. Not only that, but we were going to spend the first week traveling around on bicycles. Perhaps this was an impossible goal. But perhaps not? The last time around I was riding my commuter bike within a month of the injury. Yes, I immediately re-injured my calf and added a few weeks to my recovery time, but now I knew enough to be able to avoid that path.
The look from my physiotherapist assured me that this wouldn’t be possible. She humoured me. “Well…maybe if you ride an e-bike you could do a half hour ride each day. Is that what you have planned?” No. Our plan is for five days of riding, three to four hundred kilometers on crappy rental bikes with a luggage trailer filled with 80 pounds of luggage and a dog in a backpack. She looked horrified.
But we got down to business. She explained that the next few weeks were going to be a balancing act of healing, maintaining motion, increasing strength and avoiding re-injury. I dove into her regime with the prescribed intensity and things progressed well. After the first week, the crutches were gone. At the end of the second week, I was hobbling along pretty well. Week three saw my walk returning to something close to normal. Week four saw me riding the stationary bike for a half hour at a time. Week five had us pedaling a few hundred kilometers through Germany and Austria, hoovering up schnitzel and enjoying the scenery.
Post European vacation, I felt strong, ready and eager to get back on the mountain bicycle. This return was an illuminating experience. With nearly two months off and only a week of riding a sub-par city bike, I felt very in touch with the feelings coming towards me from the bicycle. The first surprise was adjusting to climbing on a modern steep-and-slack mountain bike that wanted to flop around a whole bunch. We’ve definitely adapted to something that is sub-optimal.
The descent was another batch of feelings. I was very conscious of exactly what was happening with the bicycle. I felt almost hyper aware of the terrain and how my bicycle was reacting to it. Where I might usually just blast through things without a thought, I could really feel each bump and ripple. My timing was a bit off, but it all came back fairly quickly, perhaps aided by this sensitivity.
Maybe some of this is down to the terrain that I was riding? With the goal of not blowing things up immediately (that is, my leg), I was completing a remedial North Shore re-entry plan. Four laps on Bobsled one day. Moving up to Leppard/Crinkum the next, and finally graduating to a mellow lap on Seymour. It all felt remarkably great. Until it didn’t. At the top of my Seymour lap I washed my front end out on an easy corner and went down like a sack of hammers, grinding my chest and my leg across the trail like a t-ball player learning how to slide into home plate.
I lay on the ground for a while. Quite a long while. My Apple watch prompted me for signs of life. I dusted myself off like an old-timey movie character and pondered the stupidity of it all. Did I really just crash on my third ride back? On Upper Severed? I went and looked at the corner. It wasn’t even really a corner.
The crash wasn’t bad, but I was injured. Thankfully, it wasn’t my calf, but the rest of the leg above it had some pretty deep bruising. It left me with no strength and an inability to pedal. I made my way down the mountain by the quickest possible means, limped over to my vehicle, stuffed my bike on the back and started driving, wondering how this injury was going to go over upon my arrival home. I didn’t know it then, but this was to be my last ride for another extended chunk of time. My shit body had a few more things in store.
A few days after my crash I started to feel not good. First a sore chest. Then sore shoulders joined the party, eventually growing into calamitous amounts of pain that made it difficult to breathe. For about two hours or so I’d have periods where I struggled to breathe because my chest and my shoulders hurt so badly. Between this and my leg, though, there was a theme! This wasn’t the first time that I had experienced this specific type of pain.
A few years earlier, the same thing had happened. I woke up one evening with chest pains that wouldn’t go away. After a few hours, we phoned the nurse’s hotline and they suggested that I should phone 911 immediately and under no circumstances attempt to drive to the hospital myself. If you’re trying to calm yourself down and feel better about things, having a trained medical professional tell you to rapidly make your way to a hospital (without getting behind the wheel yourself) is not what you want to hear. My breathing became somewhat difficult and I began to wonder if my last few moments were really going to take place with me laying on the floor in my underwear.
A dozen or so firefighters later, I felt fine (that is…in the 3 years ago timeline…not this time around). They hooked me up to their little portable ECG, poked around the house a bit, told me I wasn’t having a heart attack, suggested I go with them to the hospital, and then left when I told them that I didn’t think I needed to. Honestly, for about 30 minutes I was convinced that I was about to die and once I realized that I wasn’t, it was all a little bit embarrassing. Explaining to your neighbours that you were the commotion that woke them up in the middle of the night isn’t all that fun.
This time around (we’re back to the present) it felt like the same thing. I mean, it was much worse, but it felt similar enough. The pain was largely in the same places. My experience from 3 years ago was the only context that I had for the situation so I assumed it was the same thing. I kept popping antacids, propped myself up at a 45 degree angle on the couch, and attempted to sleep it off. Morning came and it still hurt a lot. Even the smallest movement to re-adjust my position hurt. This felt like a sign that maybe we should go to the hospital.
I had rehearsed what I was going to say, as I didn’t want to over or under-sell what was happening. “I’m experiencing chest and shoulder pains that are making it difficult to breathe.” The doctor asked me if exertion made it worse. I said “It probably would…but like…I haven’t been able to move in the last few hours because if I do it’s excruciatingly painful.” He blinked at me a few times. “This has been going on for 12 hours?” he asked.
They put me in a bed and started taking blood and ECG readings and hooking me up to IVs and feeding me a mixture of Tylenol, Advil and Aspirin. I was actually surprised that it didn’t hurt that badly to lie down. Shit. I was feeling better! I was definitely feeling better. I probably didn’t need to be there and they were going to tell me that it was just bad heartburn, send me home and make fun of me in the lunchroom. They kept asking me questions. The same questions! They came back with the ECG. They sent me for an X-Ray. It definitely hurt a lot less. I started to feel really stupid.
Eventually, a cardiologist showed up, which filled me with mixed emotions. This felt like validation for my trip to the hospital, but it’s seldom a good sign when they send in the big guns. He was a remarkably friendly man though, and immediately put me at ease.
“Well, you’re not having a heart attack, so that’s great!” Again, I wasn’t entirely certain how to feel about this information. “What I think is happening is that there’s this sac around your heart and it’s inflamed. It’s called pericarditis.” He assured me that this did indeed hurt like hell and that it was very good that I had come to the hospital and that it was unlikely that there would be any permanent damage and that I would be back to normal within a non specific period of time. At least, that’s what I remember hearing.
There were numerous questions asked about whether or not I had experienced any sort of viral infection over the previous weeks, as that’s the typical cause. I hadn’t, and the only thing that I could think of was that smacking my chest off the ground may have been a contributing factor. Although “trauma” is listed as a potential cause, the doctor didn’t think so in this case, as it would have shown up earlier. What does he know, though, that the internet doesn’t?
In the moment, this felt like the perfect outcome – serious enough to justify going to the hospital but not so serious that the remainder of my life was to be compromised by a wonky heart. They did a bunch more tests, kept me around for a few hours, handed me a pile of paperwork, slapped me on the back (not really) and sent me on my way. I was feeling pretty good about things! Until the painkillers wore off.
I was told to “take it easy”, without much more in the way of specific instructions. “You don’t need to lie around in bed all day but…you know…take it easy.” Easy is the way I took it. By day three or four I felt fine. Absolutely fine.
So now I’m in this weird sort of limbo where I feel absolutely fine, but I’ve been told not to get my heart rate up for a while lest we get into a terrible sounding feedback loop of re-irritated heart sac. I’m also finding that as I discuss what happened with people, as soon as I mention the word “heart” and suggest something along the lines of a “problem”, they look at you like it’s surprising that you’re able to stand upright without keeling over. I think it all sounds a bit worse than it is.
So, this is what I’ve been up to so far this summer and it’s feeling pretty tedious. I managed to get back on my commuter this week and that was the most excitement I’ve had in the past month and a half. I told myself that I’d be back on the mountain bike in early August, and here we are. I’m now going on several months of significantly reduced riding capacity, and that’s a bit much. I tell myself that it’s too hot out there anyhow, so this is a good excuse to just lounge around in the shade. Once I’m back, hopefully I’m smart enough to enjoy it for all its worth as it seems like it could all go up in smoke pretty quickly.
The other lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes it can be helpful to build on past knowledge of injury and to use that knowledge to achieve a positive frame of mind for dealing with certain situations. But then sometimes that knowledge means that you’re going to sit on your couch for 12-14 hours suffering in excruciating pain when perhaps the best thing that you could do is forget what you think you know and just go to the hospital. This is the problem with lessons. Often, the knowledge that you gain is incorrect.
The photo that graces the top was taken about 5 minutes before my calf went pop. I wasn't sure where else that information belongs, but I felt the need to put it somewhere.
Uncle Dave’s Music Club
This song has been floating my boat for a few months now. What’s so good about it? I think part of it is just how stripped down to the essence it is. I think there’s a nice little powerful bass line floating around. The melody is super clean. I think the vocals are interesting and catchy. The video scares me a little bit, and I like that. It all just sort of works.