Updated: Jul 14, 2019
It was a gorgeous Sunday morning. Sunny with a cool breeze. A great spring morning.
I had just finished a fun open water clinic with my favorite swim coach. I was all set to ride my bike for 1.5 hours and then take a nice 30 minute run. My first real brick (bike then run) workout, a great chance to practice transition, and a good practice for nutrition planning and hydration.
It was a brisk day, so long pants and a jacket were called for. I clipped in and was off. There was a pretty strong headwind so I figured it would be better to go 50-55 minutes out and then 30-35 minutes back, since it would be easier on the way back. Plus, if I went just a few minutes more I’d be at Green Lizard. They could take a look at Rosie and figure out where that crazy clicking was coming from. They did take a look and I had a nice 15 minute break. She was still clicking, but the gears shifted much smoother now. I decided not to head back for the clicking. I’d just come back out in the next week or so. I was feeling good; the headwind was now a tailwind and things were just peachy. I passed a few pedestrians, always calling out “on your left” and then thanking them.
I was in Reston and going down a nice hill under a road. I saw a woman up ahead and I called out. Within a split second she decided to turn left and cross the trail, right in front of me. This is the last memory I have. It’s burned in my brain. I’ve spent hours thinking about it and trying to figure out what happened next. Here’s what I know about that image. She was holding something. She was wearing headphones. Her head was down. She did not look before she turned to cross the trail. She was standing two steps to the left of the middle line.
The next thing I remember is Vince’s voice saying ‘I love you’ on the phone and hearing the ambulance sirens in the distance. Then the next thing is a female EMT asking me all sorts of important questions and asking me to move my feet and legs. She was so kind. Somehow the EMTs put on a cervical collar and rolled me on a backboard. Then I was in the ambulance. The female EMT asked me who she could call. I told her not to call my mom because she was out-of-town. I knew Vince didn’t have a car, so I asked her to call my father-in-law (who lives in Springfield and has a car). He didn’t answer. So we called Vince. He was already on his way. At the time I couldn’t figure out how he knew; the details and timeline were sketchy until I started thinking it through later. It was because we had already called him, of course. The male EMT put in an IV, and I didn’t even notice. In what felt like minutes we were at the hospital.
Then things got really interesting. But I don’t remember most of it (I asked everyone involved and they filled in the details). Lots of questions. Tests of my brain and my reflexes. Questions about what happened. I asked 3 separate times if the woman I hit was OK. I was told I didn’t hit her. I let everyone know I was wearing a heart rate monitor and PLEASE not to cut it off (it was new and expensive).
All of the sudden Vince was there. And Pat, our friend who lives 5 minutes away from our house and gave Vince a ride when he called. And I was sobbing. And then my sister was there. And I really started crying.
Over time people came in and out. They did an ultrasound of my abdomen. Probably to rule out any internal bleeding, but also, I suspect, because I said I had surgery three years ago. They sent me for a CT scan and when that came back clean I got take the cervical collar off. Then they got to cleaning up my wounds, which was the worst. By now things had clotted up nicely, and I had plenty of road rash where there weren’t big scabs. Dr. Admiral Ackbar (not his real name) decided I needed stitches for my eyebrow, but that everything else would be fine.
There were moments when there were no doctors. Just Vince holding my hand and saying kind things while I silently sobbed. I kept trying to get out one sentence, and only one sentence, but I just couldn’t.
“I’m so….. I’m so….” I couldn’t finish it. I just couldn’t.
All I wanted to say is “I’m so sad.”
Because all I could see was my first triathlon season going up in smoke. All my hard work and training, gone. 4 races for the summer, gone. My first race in 3 weeks, gone. I was inconsolable. I couldn’t even get out the words.
Later, in talking with Vince and telling him why I was sobbing so uncontrollably at times, he said he knew. And he did the best he could. Held my hand, stroked the not-blood-clotted part of my hair and head and whispered kindness and love to me.
At some point they gave me some good pain meds for my headache. Which was at 11 by this point. I also realized I needed to pee. Really a lot. By now, Pat and Richard had already gone to get my car from Vienna and they had come back and parked it at the hospital. So my sister and her husband took Rosie out and put her in the car. Along with all my stuff. Since it was quiet and just Vince and I, I decided it’d be a good time to take care of the pee situation, before the stitches. They didn’t want me up and walking around, since I hadn’t even sat up yet. A bedpan was in order. Hooray? Better than a catheter, I suppose.
Having never actually used a bedpan, I asked for the nurse. We were all good to go, but then I couldn’t go. So she turned on the faucet. Thanks mom for training my bladder/brain connection. I filled the whole bed pan and then some. Thank goodness they put a pad thing under. Then it was time to get dressed. But I was pretty… wet? I definitely needed a wipe. But between the IV and the bed edges and everything else I couldn’t do it myself. Cue the video of Vince and I in our old age. Me, lying in bed, Vince doing the loving husband part of cleaning up his wife after a pee. Touching, really.
The absolute worst and most painful part was getting the numbing medicine for the eyebrow stitches. Oh. My. God. I think I broke Vince’s hand squeezing it while Dr. Admiral Akbar was injecting me. And I’m so glad I went through everything to pee. I would not have been able to hold it.
I got 9 stitches and now hold the family record. At least 3 times Dr. Admiral Ackbar told me to keep out of the sun for 2 months if I didn’t want a scar. Out of the sun? In the summer? In tri season? I’m pretty sure I’m going to have a scar. And, honestly, who doesn’t want a scar? Dudes (and chicks) dig scars!
((Updated side note: I do have a scar, but it's perfectly inline with my eyebrow line. I can feel it, but you can't really see it.))
Then I got to sit up. Oh sweet joy! By now I was feeling more myself and aside from the searing pain in my head and the throbbing on the entire right side of my face, I felt pretty ok. More hospital people came in and there was talk of sending me home. And then there was a wheelchair and we were headed to the door. And then we were walking to the car. And then we were driving home. And then we were home. And I sat down on the couch and cried some more.
Vince stayed home from work on Monday and we spent the day doing nothing. Eating soup and ice cream. Drinking everything through a straw. Listening to a lot of TV (because I couldn’t take screens or lights). That’s how most of the week went. Along the way I picked up a coloring book and some markers from somewhere in my craft stash. And went on a walk every day. And slowly slowly started to eat and chew food. And feel a little better.
On Thursday we had a follow-up appointment with my regular doctor that turned into an all day adventure at Kaiser Tysons Corner. I had an MRI and they didn’t find anything that was caused by the accident. But there were two pockets of “unusualness.” All that means is that I have to have another MRI in 3 months.
After a week I was feeling depressed. I still couldn’t drive (the headaches would get dramatically worse when I was behind the wheel). I was still having pretty bad headaches, even with pain meds. My body still hurt, though my face was getting better. I went to have my stitches out and talk to neurology. Both were ok, but not great or motivating. That same day, as if by divine intervention, my coach called me. He gave me a great pep talk. I made a plan. A series of plans, actually. Each one based on a different situation. Would I race on June 5? Just swim? Just bike? Just run? No race at all? I set out a plan of action for each situation. Then I called my mom and asked her to drive me out to the bike shop and the triathlon store. I got my bike fixed. My mom bought me a new fancy helmet. I rented my wetsuit for the next two weekends. This was part of the “I’m going to race on June 5” plan. All of the sudden, everything turned around. Now I knew what I was going to do.
No matter what, I knew what I was going to do. By Wednesday I was able to drive. On Saturday I went out to the Reston Lake swim and open water clinic. It was great. This morning Vince and I went for a leisurely bike ride out on the Mt. Vernon trail. It was wonderful. I’m amazed at how wonderfully my body is coming back to itself; how strong it was, and continues to be.
My parting words? Wear your helmet. Make everyone you love wear a helmet. Pay attention on busy roads and trails. Teach your friends, your family, your children, how to be responsible trail and road users. Give a hug to all the EMTs you see. Whoever took care of me deserves a big thank you, and I don’t know who they are, so just hug them all. I’m sure it’ll get back to them somehow.
Be safe. Make good choices.
Items of interest: -At one point we were going 93mph in the ambulance. I was wearing my Garmin and they didn’t turn it off until we were at the hospital. Tracked the whole thing! -Apparently I asked the woman at the scene not to use my team jacket to wrap around my head, but to use my long sleeve shirt that was underneath. This feels very unlike me, as I would say to use whatever the hell you want to put compression on my head wound! Also, how the hell did I get my long sleeve shirt off? It goes over my head. Somehow, with magic. #shakeshead -Rosie, my bike, got to ride in the front seat of the ambulance! And she was in the ER with me the whole time. And every EMT and nurse and doctor made sure to tell me that my bike was OK. They knew their patient's real needs.