Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Crash Course

I would say that I woke abruptly, but I would find out later that it was far from abrupt. My eyes were fuzzy as if I had contact lenses soaked in milk. I could hear loud voices barking instructions at me from people in blue uniforms. Hospital uniforms. I recognized the nurse as someone I'd met earlier that evening. She was young, perhaps in her twenties, dedicated and thorough with her responsibilities as a night nurse. Between barking instructions at me, she was exchanging non-verbal communication with the other male nurse in the room. Not a pleasant conversation. The room was brightly lit with flourescent tube lighting.

They told me to relax my breathing...they didn't exactly tell me, they were just short of yelling to catch my attention. The first few questions I couldn't answer as I was in a fog. I knew it was in the early morning hours. Well after midnight, but the sun was not up yet. I thought I could hear stirring from my neighbor in the hospital bed next to me.

"Where are you," they asked?
I wasn't sure and I wasn't entirely sure why I was there.

Hospital visits to Kansas City to visit my sick brother earlier in the month confused me. Was I in Kansas City? Commands escalated to tell me to calm down while asking me where I was. I could tell I was breathing hard through the air mask over my nose and mouth. The breaths were short and panicked. The drugs I remembered inducing earlier in the day to dilute the pain had worn off.

"I feel like I've got the flu...I'm gonna throw up!," I told the two nurses. I threw up into a plastic bag and caught the eye communication between the young nurse and her older partner. "We're losing him!" was the way I read her eyes. This made my breathing more labored. I had the chills, but don't remember blankets. "We need a chest x-ray before we can do anything," I was told. My lips were parched and I begged for water. "Not until we get that x-ray, then it became not until your oxygen consumption is_3".

I don't remember the exact number she wanted, but I remember the second digit was a three. I would learn later that my blood oxygen consumption was at 50% when the nurse came in to check in on me. I was un-responsive.

I lost track of the amount and types of drugs I induced in the hours since my crash hours earlier at the Rocky Mountain State Games Triathlon. Percocet, Propofol,, Dilantin and the Fentanyl which was pumping through my veins with the PCA pump--the self-administered narcotics with the click of a black button. When they couldn't wake me, they administered Narcan (an anti-narcotic that reversed the effects of all drugs I'd taken throughout Saturday). Drugs used to ease the pain of four broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Once the counter-agent kicked in, I could feel the rib pain no doubt inflamed by the 12" of garden hose-sized tube they inserted into my ribs. This tube was to drain the fluid that filled my body cavity due to my pneumothorax (air leaks between the lung and chest wall due to the collapsed lung.) Surprisingly, my ribs hurt the least--the strongest pain emanated from the front of my chest plate through the right scapula in my back. I would describe the pain as if I was shot by a cross-bow arrow. The chills switched to sweat. At this point, I needed to pee. I begged to piss just as I'd begged for water, but the x-ray hadn't happened. Both water and piss were denied and my breathing was still out of control. I wretched in pain when they lifted my back to put the cold hard xray plate behind me when the xray techs showed up. I thought I would pass out due to the pain as the powerful pain narcotics had worn off.

I remembered thinking that if I was going to die, I didn't want to die alone. I'd sent my wife to a nearby hotel to get some sleep. I thought of my daughter. She wasn't there, nor were either of my boys. Eventually, my coherence returned. The male nurse asked why I was there,

"I crashed on my bike in a triathlon."
"What kind of bike do you have," he asked?
"Trek, Speed Concept."

I started to realize I was not in Kansas City, but at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Ceiling tiles with maple leaf impressions looked familiar. A day earlier, I decided on the Rocky Mountain State Games Triathlon since my son's triathlon team was racing there and I thought it would be fun to have another father vs. son match-up. The alternative was the Tri-Rock Triathlon the following day where I took 1st place in my age group and finished in the top ten the year before--it was tempting, and I will no doubt second guess that decision. This was going to be my third triathlon of the season, and I felt my training was in prime position for another podium performance.

We drove to Colorado Springs on Friday night to stay near Memorial Park for the race start on Saturday morning. My son and I would be competing in the Sprint distance. 750 meter swim. 10.2 mile bike ride, and 5k run. Getting in the night before gave us the benefit of driving the bike course. Roughly a half mile into the course, there was a wicked fast downhill that made a "hard right" into the toughest part of the course--a 6% half mile hill climb.

Race morning went routine, and I felt confident going into the race. I decided against using a wetsuit, but had practiced in my Tyr tri suit earlier in the week and worked hard on sighting which had been an issue the previous two races this summer.

As the purple caps (men aged 44 and up,) gathered for the beach start, I realized this was a small field, and was certain that this was going to be a podium day if I had a strong swim. After the short 750 meter swim, I exited the water feeling strong knowing that I hadn't lost a ton of time straying off course like I'd done in previous open water swims. Without a wetsuit, my transition time was smooth and was off for the first of three loops of the course.

The wicked downhill didn't bother me as it resembled a similar downhill and right turn I practice on at home. What I didn't see the night before was that large orange cones only cut off half the traffic as it would head up the hill I worried about. I clearly took the corner too fast, and took it at the wrong angle. Two other bikes were rounding the corner. Not wanting to hit them, I went wide and knew I was going to hit a cone. Not the small soccer practice cones, but the large heavy ones. My injuries would indicate I didn't go over the handlebars but swerving put my bike out of control and I fell hard on my right shoulder fracturing four ribs and collapsing my right lung. After bouncing on the right shoulder, road rash would show I took another bounce on the left shoulder.

Everything seemed like it was in slow motion and I tried to gather myself and go about getting back on course. A nearby officer asked if I was okay, and of course I said I was fine. I knew then my breathing was labored, but I chalked it up to knocking the wind out of myself. The scene reminded me of the battle scene of Saving Private Ryan except I was the only one on the beach. I saw that my water bottle was on the other side of the road. I walked over to pick it up just as the soldier on the beach was searching for his limb. I clipped back into my bike pedals and started to peddle up the hill I'd  worried about. My handlebars were completely bent out of alignment with my front tire. Ruby red blood was starting to pool on the aero bar pads on my handlebars.I had it in my mind that if I could get through the first lap, I might be able to regain my breath, strength, and finish the race.

I rode up the hill I was so concerned about and around two miles to get back to transition area and the start of the second lap. My bike was a wreck and I was barely peddling. The pain was not disipating and my breathing was becoming more difficult. I was bleeding more now and would later get stitches in my right elbow to repair the laceration that exposed tendons in my elbow.

After that lap on the bike, I realized I was done and needed help so I pulled off to a lot in the park. Fortunately, I quickly spotted one of my son's teammate's dad (Jeff.) He realized I was pretty bad off and got his wife who's a nurse who was quick to get medics on-hand and an ambulance to get me eventually to Memorial.

As I write this, I'd spent my tenth night in the hospital. They finally removed the 12" of garden hose from my chest cavity which has been draining fluids associated with the chest and lung contusions.

There are certainly things I learned about the triathlon game that I won't have happen again. One thing is certain and that is my next race won't be on my near-new Trek Speed Concept triathlon bike. I told my wife that I didn't want to see the mauled bike when I got home. Taking my advice, she went to the bike shop where I'd bought my bike to try and get it fixed before I got home. My Trek was "totaled." No insurance
certainly adds to the wound that I won't be able to ride the $2,400 bike again. The three bike techs that looked over the bike were surprised my injuries weren't more serious considering the carnage that once resembled a wicked-fast tri bike.

I have dipped in and out of depression this week kicking myself over the mistake I made in the race. The cracked helmet serves as a reminder that this could have been a lot worse. Perhaps exuding a dispirited tone on social media this week, a SeekingBostonMarathon.com reader suggested I look at five things I'm grateful for to put things into perspective.

1) I am thankful to be alive. I could have died on the course and came very close to knocking on Heaven's door in the trauma unit again on Monday morning.
2) I am thankful for my wife. I loved her before the accident, and words can't describe how much she's helped me the last ten days and how grateful I am to have her as my bride.
3) I am thankful for my kids. I was panicked to think I was leaving this world without them nearby. I can only hope this will make me a better dad (and husband.)
4) I am thankful for my family. My sister is a nurse and even though she probably prefers not to be the family Dr., she's an incredible advocate when situations such as this occur. My other siblings, parents, and other relatives have been a huge boost in my run and triathlon career and in helping me get through this tough stretch.
5) I am thankful to be a runner and a triathlete. For those that know me, I can't wait to get my body back into shape to compete at the level I was competing at.
Bontrager helmet took the brunt of the impact as shown by the crack just above and to the right of the logo.

Yes, I will take it slow as much as I can, but I also know my wife will have me on a very short leash (as she should) to bring me back to the sports I love. I've accomplished a lot in the sport of running and triathlons, but this was a tough way to notch my first "DNF" (Did not finish,) but I am far from finished.

Update: A special thanks to Bontrager. Once home from the hospital, I got a close look at my gear and realized my head did in fact strike the asphalt, yet I suffered no concussion or any other head injuries. If you look close, you can see where the helmet cracked in the rear just above (and to the right) of the Bontrager logo name. There are several indentations along the silver section on the right that appeared to take the brunt of the impact.

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Average guy w/ an above average appetite for marathon racing and triathlons. Ran my 5th Boston in '15. 3:21, 1:29, 19:21 PR;full/half/5K Opinions & wit are mine