Wednesday, May 15, 2019

When Commuting Goes Wrong: Concussion Confessions

If you know me at all, you know a few key facts: Raw tomatoes are gross, I almost always wear Birkenstocks, and I love to ride my bike. Yes, there are more datapoints available about my life, but I think those three cover the essentials.

I cycle commute year-round and I love it. My current commute is a quick 2.5 miles and rain, snow, or shine you’ll usually find me on the saddle with a smile. Cycling to work has many advantages: no parking hassles, cheap(er) transportation, fresh air, low carbon footprint, a little extra exercise, looking like a badass (especially on bad-weather days). My favorite benefit is having quieting centering me-time at the start and end of each workday - cycling truly is therapeutic for my body and soul.

My husband gave me a bike for my birthday seven years ago, and shortly thereafter I started to cycle commute whenever I could. It was love at first ride.

Over the years I’ve ridden to and from work over 800 times. That means I’ve cycle commuted about every other day since I started. Not bad, considering vacations, sick days, travel, and the occasional day when I have to drive in (sigh) because of off-site meetings or appointments. I’ve racked up a total of over 8,500 miles in commute distances alone. At this rate, it will take me another thirteen years to cycle commute the equivalent of the circumference of the earth. I’m up for the challenge.

So, yeah, cycle commuting (and riding in general) is a big deal to me and something I’m super grateful for. And after those hundreds of rides and thousands of miles, I had never experienced a serious issue while riding. Sure, I blew out a few tubes and got a couple of scrapes, but nothing big. Until the end of March.

I was riding home at my normal time, on my normal route, on my normal bike, and I got unlucky and biffed a few blocks from work. I have only spotty memories from the incident...

I remember somebody asking if I was ok, so I guess a driver saw me go down and stopped to check on me. I’m sure I said I was fine (clearly I was not).

I remember being on the bike path I take home every day and feeling a little scared because I didn’t know where I was… but I knew I knew where I was. And I remember not knowing how to get home… but knowing that I knew how to get home.

Good thing my body knew the route even if my brain was at far less than peak performance, because the next thing I remember is stopping in my driveway, putting the kickstand down on my bike, walking into the house, and telling Steve that I had fallen on my bike and needed to go to Instacare.

Wise man that he is, he took me immediately to the Emergency Room. By then I was almost ok - I think I knew the answer to every question except for the year. That was frustrating. I knew I knew what year it was, it just took me 20 minutes to figure out the answer :)

CT scans and X-rays and a few checkups later, everything was ok, I just was very banged up and bruised - body and brain both.

Recovery has been slow and laborious. I love my brain, and the awareness that my brain is not performing at full capacity has been deeply challenging for me. My mental processing is still a little slow, especially at the end of the day or when I’m tired. I still get queasy if I spend too much time looking at a computer screen (I work in software, so that’s a bit of a challenge). I’ve given up TV and movies almost entirely because they just don’t feel good.

But you know what still feels great? Riding my bike.

People have asked if I wanted to give up riding after my accident, and my answer is a resounding no. I got unlucky. Accidents happen in lots of different ways and staying home on the couch (or deciding to drive instead of ride) in order to avoid an accident seems like an unhealthy response. Besides, plenty of people get hurt in car accidents, too!

I did get a new helmet. And I watch corners with curbs more closely now. I’m still taking things slow; there’s a lot of healing still to do. I get frustrated on the slow days and the headache days.

And when I get frustrated, my very best therapy - body and mind - is still a to hop on my bike and take a spin.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Jaime I had a similar bike thing happen to me in Tucson on Dec. 23. Riding along as usual and the next thing, I come to and I'm lying in the street with a paramedic asking me my name! SCARY STUFF! And the most unpleasant 18 hours I have ever spent in a hospital (concussion). Like you, recovery was a process and sometimes I still get dizzy if I look up for too long (like way up!)
Glad you are ok and glad you got a new helmet. I still enjoy riding my bike, but now I am even more cautious than before.

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