Three-Fourths Healed (No Poker Content)

by Lou on July 23, 2009

The fingernail on my left ring finger is three-fourths grown back. I lost it—all of it—and almost lost my entire finger in a bicycling accident March 8.

I punctured my rear tire. I can recall the bike wobbling, and then I started going down. I was going very slowly at the time. A group of us just started out on a group ride early Sunday morning. I’ve fallen before. Everyone who rides has fallen before and will fall again. It’s just a matter when, and how bad it is.

Most falls aren’t much. A little road rash, some cuts and bruises and that’s it. But this one was different. When I fell my handlebar landed on my left ring finger with the weight of my body holding the bar.

I remember the beginning of the fall, but not the fall itself. Then I recall shouting, “I’m down. Rider down,” to alert riders in front of me.

There was blood all over, and I felt for a moment that I might lose my finger. Another rider helped me wrap my finger in his bandana. We called 911. They were there in a few minutes and took me to Eisenhower Hospital’s emergency room, less than two miles away.

I didn’t have to wait. When the paramedics bring you in, you get priority over walk-ins and drive-ins. One of my friends took my bike back to the gym where we met to begin our ride, and stuck it in the spinning room for safe keeping.

I called my wife who drove down to the ER and got there just as the doctor was looking at my finger. The ER doc and I were talking about bicycles.

Lucky for me he was a cyclist himself and understood why the first question out of my mouth was, “When can I get back on the bike?” That’s when Deirdre walked in, saying to the ER doc, “Are you sure you should be treating him? You sound as crazy as he does.”

I took 14 stitches, and because one of them went right into the nail bed, he told me he’d have to extract the nail. He gave me a nerve block that removed all feeling from my hand. Then he extracted the nail. I couldn’t watch. Deirdre scrutinized the whole thing.

After he stitched me up, they bandaged me and put an aluminum splint around my finger, and told me to go to my doctor for follow up wound care in about a week.

On March 17—St. Patrick’s Day for those who care, and because my wife was born in Ireland, this household cares a lot—I took my first ride in 10 days. When you get beyond the Guinness, St. Patrick’s Day symbolizes springtime and new beginnings, and I took that as a good omen for getting back on my bike again. Going down hill was difficult because my left hand had a tough time putting pressure on the brake lever, but that got better in time.

I wore that aluminum splint over a bandage for months, until I began riding with just a band aid over the area where the nail was growing back.

They told me it would take about five to six months for the nail to grow back, so it seems to be right on schedule.

I still have numbness in the finger, and it tingles when I exert pressure on the tip of the finger, and tingles when I type “2,” “w,” “s,” and “x” on my keyboard.

I’ve picked up my guitar recently, but it’s tough to form chords with that finger, so I’m going to have to work on it. Perhaps the tingling and numbness goes away with time. I’m not sure. But at least I feel three-quarters healed. I’ve ridden more than 2,800 miles since the accident and tomorrow’s ride will put me over the 2,900 mark. That may sound like a lot of miles on a bike, but some people do a lot more than that. And I’m not talking pros either. Regular people like you and me ride a lot more than I do.

Earlier this spring I was riding when I saw a group of riders up ahead. Thinking I would ride with them a bit, I caught up and integrated myself into their peloton. They told me they were riding a supported tour across the United States. They left from Huntington Beach and would wind up in North Carolina. They were followed by a van with all their gear, spare wheels, food, water, jackets, and a mechanic. Their itinerary averaged 100 miles a day, from California to the Atlantic Ocean, and even riding west-to-east, which puts the wind at your back most of the time, you still have to deal with high mountains, all sorts of unpredictable weather and other unknowns.

I turned south after about 10 miles and continued on my ride while they headed east. When I got home that nice spring day was beginning to get hot. I did 40 miles and felt knackered. They still had 60 to go to complete their day.

I thought about their journey. There are oodles of supported tours like this, and if Pacific to Atlantic seems too far, there are supported rides from Oregon to San Diego, and all up and down the Eastern seaboard.

It’s very appealing to carry the idea of just dropping everything to ride across the country in 30 days. No computer and no poker for 30 days. Just the road, the repetition, the weather, and the other riders—precisely the kind of cocoon I could immerse myself in given half a chance. Maybe someday.

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