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Monday, September 23, 2013

My Cycling Accident - My Experience and Perspective After Suffering an Injury

My Cycling Accident - My Experience and Perspective After Suffering an Injury
By:  Michael G. Lander

Sixteen days after the cycling accident, I have already had surgery and, as of
Friday, September 27th, I started physical therapy .

Sometimes, things happen in your life that can, in one brief moment, forever alter and change things as you know it.

Mine did after my cycling accident.

Accidents happen, and if you ride a bike long enough it is eventually something that you are likely to experience yourself.  From a simple fall to a more serious run-in with another cyclist, or even a car, it is always a risk that can happen each and every time you climb on to the seat of your bike and ride.

While many accidents can be avoided by remaining vigilant and aware of what is happening around you at all times, sometimes it can happen even when you think that you are doing everything right.  That is what happened to me on one September afternoon in 2013.

Like most other cyclists, I'm sure, I rarely gave any thought that I might actually experience a serious injury or that I might be involved in an accident.  It certainly never entered my mind on what was, otherwise, a beautiful autumn afternoon. 

The weather was really nice with sunshine and cooler temperatures on Sunday, September 15th, so I decided that I would get in a short ride before getting back to studying for a class that I was taking at the University of Memphis. 

With temperatures in the 80's, it was a marked contrast to the past weekend when I participated in a 150 mile bike ride for the MS Society, when it was hot and humid with temperatures in the mid to high 90's.

I was close to 8 miles into what I had hoped to be a 25 mile ride when I finished.  As I approached the end of the street that I was on, (which was Poplar Pike near Poplar), I started to turn around and head back in the direction of my home. 

As I did that, I saw a SUV and another car starting to turn off Poplar and come toward me, so I began to turn and, as I made the turn, I must have hit some loose gravel, or raised pavement, and before I even knew what was happening, I was down and in the middle of the road. 

I quickly jumped up, and felt that my knee was scraped up pretty badly and bleeding.  At that moment, this was of little concern to me since I have continued riding with a minor injury like that, but as I leaned over to pick my bike up to get it out of the road, I immediately realized that I couldn't move my left arm whatsoever. 

It was just hanging there and it felt completely paralyzed.  I knew right then and there that I had dislocated it and that it was likely broken in one or more places. 

At this point the SUV that had been coming toward me had stopped and the driver rolled down her window and asked if I was all right.  I told her that I was alright and that, if you ride long enough, this kind of thing does happen.  She then said that she would wait there so that nobody would hit me. 

I leaned over and picked my bike up and set it down on the side of the road and I started to feel increasing pain in my left arm, which ironically, I had broken and had dislocated (in the shoulder) as a kid. 

The driver of the SUV then told me that the light that had been on my bike was sitting in the middle of the road, but at that point, I did not really care all that much about the light since I knew that I had more to be concerned about than that.  Since I wasn't doing anything to retrieve it, she got out of her car and gave it to me and I thanked her and she drove away. 

It was after this that I called my wife and told her that I had broken my arm and I asked her to come get me and take me to the hospital.  She had been driving down to visit family in Olive Branch, but she quickly turned around and got to where I was in about half an hour. 

As I waited for her under a tree near Stringer's Nursery, a couple, (Marcie and Jamie Cohen), stopped, got out of their car, and walked over to where I was sitting beside the road.  The two, I later found out, were both cyclists themselves and Marcie was the membership chairman for the Memphis Thunder Racing Triathlon Team.  

When they came up to me they told me that they had seen that my left knee was all bloody and they wanted to make sure that I was ok.  I told them that I had fallen and that my wife was on her way and that I would be alright.

After they realized that I had indeed sustained some injuries from my fall, they stayed with me even though I had tried to get them to go on, assuring them that I would be just fine. 

While I felt really bad about inconveniencing them, I was especially grateful that they would actually take the time to stop and then stay with me, making sure that I was alright and that I would be taken care of. 

Throughout the time that they waited with me for my wife to arrive, and long afterwards, I was extremely moved by Marcie and Jamie's simple act of kindness, their compassion, and their concern for a complete stranger like me. 

It truly touched my heart and it reaffirmed my faith in the goodness that exists in others.  I felt so very fortunate to have had them there with me, during this time, and I will always have a tremendous amount of gratitude to them for what they did.  

Even though I did not immediately realize it at the time, I came to an even deeper appreciation for what they did because, had things been a little different for me, I could easily have had a more serious, life-threatening injury, or even gone into shock. 

From all this, I have been left with the hope that others will follow their example and will do as they did, should they ever come across someone like me, since it may be what ultimately ends up saving the life of another person someday.

When my wife finally arrived, Jamie, and a Stringers employee, helped me into my car.  They then took my bike to Stringer's and asked them to hold it for me and my brother-in-law later retrieved it for me later that same day. 

From the scene of my accident, my wife and I went to the Baptist Hospital emergency room in Collierville and I had my knee cleaned, (just below a scar from another fall years before).  I was given a tetanus shot, and then probably had two dozen x-rays done of my knee, wrist and left arm. 

After these were looked at, I then got the dreaded news in which they confirmed that my elbow was dislocated (as was obvious by how the bones were clearly protruding from my arm) and I was told that I had fractured both bones in my forearm and had shattered the radius head when I slammed it into the road hours before.

While I met some extremely friendly and concerned ER staff at Baptist, I did have one unpleasant experience and that is when it came time to put the bones in my elbow back into place. 

For about four minutes or more, an orthopedic doctor from Campbell Clinic, twisted, tugged, and pulled my arm and made numerous attempts to get the bones back into place and he finally resorted to, grabbing my wrist and forearm, putting his knee up on the table, and pulling my arm up toward the ceiling as hard as he could. 

This ultimately ended up working, but it did not happen without me letting him know just how uncomfortable that it was. 

After he successfully accomplished this feat, however, I felt a real sense of relief, and I thanked him and I was able to smile and laugh with those who were around me in a congested room filled with more medical personnel and medical equipment than I had ever seen in one single room. 

My arm was then put in a sling and, after about 4 1/2 hours in the emergency room, I was sent home with a prescription for a pain-killer. 

The next day, I saw an outstanding orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Benjamin Mauck, who told me the severity of my injuries and said that it was absolutely one of the worst things that could have happened to my elbow.  Any further injury to it in the future, he later added, would be catastrophic.

After that, the surgery was scheduled for Friday morning, September 20th at Campbell Clinic in what a nurse there, that morning, described as "the works."  In a two and a half hour procedure, I had a brand new cobalt-chromium radius head put into my arm and all the tendons and ligaments were reattached and repaired. 

Everything went pretty well for me after that and I was pretty happy to start down the road to recovery.

In spite of my condition, I managed to make it to my class the following week and would have kept trying to go if it were not for the surgery.  Because of that, I missed two classes, which was a first for me since returning to school after my retirement from the military.

On Monday evening, I spent hours trying to alleviate the swelling in my left hand so that I could get my wedding ring off of my hand and to avoid having it cut off. 

It was very important to me to do this because the ring was a symbol of my love and commitment for my wife.  After a couple of hours of trying to work it off, the ring finally slid past my swollen knuckle and it was one of the first of many minor accomplishments that would follow.

One other thing that made me even happier than anything was the outpouring of love and support that was demonstrated to me from many of my friends and family. 

It is sometimes easy to overlook and to just take people for granted, but there are times like this that remind you of something that none of us should ever fail to truly appreciate in our lives and how nothing in life is ever as important as this.

Physical therapy began a week later, on September 27th, and I was put into an adjustable metal brace and in less than two weeks I began the long and arduous process of physical therapy and I had the stitches removed from a crescent-shaped 4 1/2" incision, which will forever serve as a reminder of a fall that I have subsequently characterized as a World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) move, with my elbow, on the pavement.

Even though I've had a few falls ever since I got back into cycling in 2007, until this accident, I had never experienced anything serious in the approximate 19,000 miles that I had ridden. 

While some might think that this might be enough to give up on cycling, I love it too much to quit it right now and having the goal of coming back better and stronger was been the inspiration and motivation that I needed to get through all of this. 

Being told that only five percent of those, with a similar injury as mine, ever regain full range of motion and extension of their arm was also a challenge that I was more than willing to take on. 

I like to take on challenges and, even with the odds stacked against me, I wasn't going to let that, or anything else, get in my way of what I wanted to achieve. 

If nothing else, I was going to rely on sheer will and determination, which is what helped get me through many long, grueling, and extremely difficult bike rides. 

With that, and with the wonderful assistance and diligent efforts of my physical therapists, Blake Kurts and Phillip Greer, I was able to regain full use and range of my arm.  On Jan. 20, 2014, Blake was able to press my arm down so that it extended close to zero degrees, but after that I would not ever be able to hyperextend my arm on my own. 

My arm is now about as close as it was before the accident and I honestly could not be any happier about this than I am. 

I truly believe that the physical therapy and both of my physical therapists made all the difference in getting me where I am.  Had it not been for them tugging and pulling, and pushing me and my arm as hard as they did, I am certain that I would not have been able to get where I am today. 

Since my physical therapy ended on Feb. 6, 2014 it will now be totally up to me to keep at it so that I do not regress and that I continue to see improvement in the months ahead. 

This photo is of me on my first ride since my accident on 11 January 2014.  It was taken at
the scene of the accident on Poplar Pike near Poplar.  Even though I only did a 20-mile bike
ride this day, I was just happy that I was able to even do that much.  Since then, I have
done several long-distance rides and hope to soon get back to my average of 35-40 mile bike rides.

Even though no two accidents are exactly the same, the dangers are all the same for each and every cyclist. 

The main thing that cyclists should do is to always pay attention to what is happening around them, and what is lying on the ground beneath them. 

It is also always good to be aware of any potential threats or risk factors and to avoid or to minimize them whenever you can.  Having kept my attention on the road certainly would have helped me to avoid learning this lesson the hard way.

Thanks to always trying to be safe and wearing safety gear, like a helmet, I have, up until now, been able to avoid sustaining any other serious injuries. 

With a little luck, and my continued efforts in riding safely in the future, I will hopefully not experience a similar incident like this ever again. 

The take-away that I hope others will get from my experience, is that they will learn from this as well and that they will take all the precautions that they can so that will not have to endure anything like what I had to go through.

For more suggestions and advice on bike safety, go to the memphiscyclist website to read more.... and please be safe.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Memphis has a lot to offer anyone who might be interested in cycling

Memphis has a lot to offer anyone who might be interested in cycling
By:  Michael G. Lander

These cyclists are crossing Mullins Station Road near the intersection with Farm Road in East Memphis.  Currently cyclists can ride from Germantown, into Shelby FarmsPark, and then travel west on to the Greater Memphis Greenline toward Memphis and back.

Look in and around Memphis and you are likely to notice a lot more cyclists riding their bikes than ever before.  Over the last couple of years there has been a tremendous rise in the number of cyclists riding on some of the new trails that have been created, while others are out riding in the parks, in the neighborhoods, or on the city streets.

From the young and old, and people of different shapes and sizes, Memphians seem to be coming out in force to ride their bikes.  Some of them do it just for the fun of it, while others ride their bikes as an alternative form of transportation and still others who are into bike-riding for exercise and who ride to stay in shape.

Whatever the reasons might be, most health experts will tell you that cycling is one of the best aerobic-style, low-impact activities that people can do.  And getting to take in all the scenery around you is an added plus for many.

For those who aren't already cycling, the biggest challenge or question might be exactly how to get started.  Kyle Wagenschutz's answer to this is clear and to the point.

"Just keep it simple and keep it fun," Wagenschutz said. 

Wagenschutz is the current bike and pedestrian coordinator for the city of Memphis and the first to occupy that position.  He recommends starting out slowly by just doing a few rides here and there, and he then suggests doing a little more over time.

For the president of a local bike club, no time has been better to think about starting to ride a bike.

"The new bike lanes and trails in Memphis have been awesome," Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club President, Bill Ramia, said. 

Ramia believes that people now have a lot more places to ride than ever before and that things are getting a lot better for cyclists in the city, including the attitude that people have toward cyclists themselves.  He attributes this to the efforts of the Memphis Hightailers Bicycle Club and the city government under Mayor A.C. Wharton and the city's bike and pedestrian coordinator.

Cyclists have a bike and pedestrian trial that runs along the Mississippi River near the Harahan Bridge to Tom Lee Park in downtown Memphis.
As for choosing a bike, Ramia doesn't think that someone just getting into cycling needs to worry that much about the bike that they start out with.  For him, the most important thing is to just to get out and ride.

"Pretty soon, you will begin to figure out what you need and what you want," Ramia said.

Cost-wise, Wagenschutz said that you can spend as little or as much as you would like to on a bike.

"Generally speaking... you don't need to spend thousands on a bike though.  For a couple hundred dollars you can get a bike and start enjoying the ride," Wagenschutz said.  "Practically speaking, a bike is a bike.  If it has two wheels, goes forward when you pedal, and stops when you hit the brakes, you're in good shape."

More than anything, for Wagenschutz and for most avid cyclists, getting the right bike comes down to sizing.

"If your bike is too small or too big, it will be uncomfortable to ride and could cause pains in your back, neck, or legs, and it could be unsafe," Wagenschutz said.

Both Ramia and Wagenschutz advise beginning cyclists to think about riding with others and Ramia said that there are several groups in the city tailored specifically for them.

One of the trails in Germantown currently runs parallel to Humphreys Blvd with another that runs along the Wolfe River.
"The Hightailers have true beginner rides on Monday evening led by one of our past presidents, Steve Watson, which meet at Cameron Brown Park," Ramia said.  "There are also two beginner-level rides in the midtown area with one organized by the Vollentine-Evergreen Community Association and another ad-hoc group that meets at Overton Square each Wednesday night."

One of the advantages that group rides offer, Ramia said, is the chance to talk with other cyclists and to learn from one another.

When it comes to safety, Ramia strongly recommends always being visible and always being predictable.  He also thinks that it's a good idea to carry a cell phone and to carry a few basic tools and items needed to change a flat tire.  For maintenance and upkeep of a bike, Wagenshutz said that cyclists should always consider their ABC's, which consists of air, brakes, and chain. 
"Make sure you've got enough air in your tires, check to make sure your brakes are working properly, and keep your chain lubed," Wagenschutz said.

Cycling is a big part of For Ramia's and Wagenschutz's lives.

"For me, riding a bike is a logical and rational choice for how I live my life.... I wouldn't use a car unless I absolutely have to.  It's cheap, efficient, and it keeps me in good health," Wagenschutz said.

The bike and pedestrian trails in Germantown and Memphis are perfectly suited for those who want to do a slower, more recreational bike ride while taking in the scenery, and who prefer not to ride on the city streets.
Depending on his work and travel schedule, Ramia said that he tries to ride his bike two to four times a week.  
"I ride for many reasons.  I do it for exercise, relaxation, and social networking.  My wife and I have made a lot of friends through cycling, and I am motivated by getting to see my friends and by the desire to get faster and stronger in my riding skills," Ramia said.

Even though it can be a lot of work, Ramia said that he enjoys his role as the Memphis Hightailers president and what all the club does for the community.

"We are involved in supporting numerous charities through the proceeds of our rides and we donated over $15,000 last year to charities like the Church Health Center, the Mid-South Food Bank and Moscow Food Bank, Rossville Volunteer Fire Department, Oasis of Hope Bike Ministry, Bike/Walk Tennessee, Livable Memphis, Shelby Farms Park, Greater Memphis Greenline, Inc., and others," Ramia said.  "Many other groups come to us on a weekly basis to help them with rides that they are organizing, too."

With the group rides for beginning cyclists and the proliferation of trails and bike lanes in the area, Memphis offers much, especially to those who might be interesting in cycling.