Sunday, March 16, 2008

are you sure that doesn’t hurt?

DISCLAIMER: If stories of bodily injury or ten-speed bicycles make you queasy, do not read this post.

I have not ridden a bicycle more than twice since the summer of 1986 because I am terrified to do so. This quirky phobia stems back to the time I was catapulted over the handlebars of my trusty ten speed and skidded face first along a bed of gravel when I was thirteen years old. (I’ll leave you to do the calculations on what a rotten time in a young girl’s life that is to destroy her self-esteem.)

As usual, I’m quite longwinded, so I’ll give you the scorecard up front for this little bicycle accident in case you don’t want to read the whole story:

One cracked chin;
Fifty-eight stitches inside my mouth;
Six stitches in my forehead;
The removal of an entire layer of skin on the left side of my face from my hairline to my chin;
A left eye that was thisclose to being punctured by a rock;
A lip swollen so badly that it touched my nose;
An eye swollen so badly that it also touched my nose;
A bucket full of blood exorcized from my body;
One knight-in-shining-armour;
One dumbfounded and confused doctor;
A healthy fear of speed, and;
A healthy fear of bicycles.

Oddly enough, I still love to watch the Tour de France.

Here’s the story.

The summer I was thirteen years old, my brother Gord and I took sailing lessons together. We had just moved from Toronto to Vancouver the summer before and it seemed like sailing lessons was the thing to do.

Our house was perched at the top of a very big hill in West Vancouver and the yacht club where we were taking our lessons was at the bottom of said very big hill. Gord and I rode our uber-fancy ten-speeds to get there. For ease of transport, we also wore our lifejackets while riding our bikes. Strange tidbit of information to add to the story, but it factors in later, so bear with me.

On one particular beautiful sunny (typical Vancouver summer) day, Gord and I were riding down the aforementioned very big hill when suddenly my rear brakes stopped working.

Stopped. Working. No rear brakes. Nothing.

And with no brakes, I am now quickly gaining speed on the aforementioned very big hill.

I am gaining a lot of speed. And a corner is rapidly approaching that cannot be navigated at this high rate of speed.

So what do I do?

What else can I do?

I apply the still working, but haven’t been used in maybe, er never, front brakes. And as such, the never-been-used-front-brakes are extremely sensitive and functioning perfectly. Just like they're supposed to.

Perfectly. Instantly. The front brakes are successfully, perfectly and instantly working.

Oh lucky me.

Now I don’t know much about physics, but before I go much further with this story, picture what happens when you apply pressure to the rear brake of a bicycle travelling at a high rate of speed. No big deal right? The rear wheel slows and everything in front of the rear wheel slows smoothly along with it right? The stopped back wheel just kind of drags behind you as the rest of the bicycle calmly and smoothly comes to a stop. No problem right?

Now picture what happens when you apply pressure to the front brake of a bicycle travelling at a high rate of speed. The wheel stops right? But it’s not so smooth is it? Because everything behind the now stopped front wheel jolts suddenly and, because the rest of the bicycle has nowhere else to go, it continues rotating around the front wheel and into the air like a bucking bronco right?


Which is a big problem for me.

Because I have just applied pressure to the perfectly working front brake of a bicycle travelling at a high rate of speed.

So there I am. A fresh faced thirteen-year-old girl with a front wheel stopping suddenly in front of me and a rear wheel rotating violently towards the sky and a bicycle that wants to buck me from its saddle like I’m a cowboy at the Calgary Stampede. (For those of you who aren’t Canadian, the Calgary Stampede is the big rodeo in here Canada).

And over I go.

My body is summarily discharged from the bike with my collarbone ploughing into the handlebars and my face landing on the gravel shoulder beside the road. I skid along on my face for God knows how long until I finally come to a complete stop with a mouth full of said gravel and a fountain of blood spritzing from my forehead like something out of a Wes Craven movie.

At this point, all I remember are two things:

1. The traumatized look on my poor sweet brother’s face. I think he was in more shock than I was. Seriously. I still feel sorry for my brother to this day.

2. The blood. There was lots and lots of blood. It seems that head injuries tend to produce copious amounts of blood. And it squirts. It really squirts. It squirts in time to your heartbeat too, which is kind of cool when you think about it. Squirtsquirt. Squirtsquirt. Squirtsquirt.

Gord and I just stood there staring at each other for what seemed liked five minutes as my head squirted blood and I spat gravel out of my mouth. I didn’t even think to put pressure onto my head and neither did my brother. It just kept squirting.

And then, out of nowhere, a tried and true, real life, knight-in-shining armour showed up.


This handsome young guy pulled an abrupt u-turn in his beat up old jeep and came to a screeching halt next to us. He jumped off his horse jeep, threw my bike in the back, gave my brother a reassuring pat, asked him where we lived and said, “I’ll get her home. Don’t you worry about a thing.”

Just like that.

And off we went.

A minute later, my knight-in-shining-armour and bloody me were barrelling along at breakneck speed up the very big hill towards my house. He was talking a-mile-a-minute and asking me a million questions like: “What day of the week is it?” and “Do you know your middle name?” and all sorts of other random questions you might ask someone when you figure they’ve bashed their head hard enough to not remember stuff like what day of the week it is.

Before I knew it, my knight-in-shining-armour had escorted me into the kitchen of my house and into the loving arms of my mother who calmly thanked this unknown young guy for bringing home her bruised and bloody young daughter.

And then, he was gone.

It was totally something out of a movie. My knight-in-shining-armour, amidst all the confusion, disappeared without my mom or I ever getting his name.

I still to this day do not know who he was and I never even got the chance to thank him. So wherever you are oh-knight-in-shining-armour, thank you!

Moving on.

The story ends like this:

My mom rushed me to the hospital where I was poked and prodded and prepped for surgery to repair my mangled face.

The only thing I remember about everything that happened once I got to the hospital was the dumbfounded and confused look on the doctor’s face as he squeezed my shoulders and my collarbone and said:

“Are you sure that doesn’t hurt?”

I was sure. He’d grabbed and squeezed me about ten times. My elbow really hurt, but my collarbone did not.

He squeezed me again. This time much harder.

I didn’t yelp.

He looked like he wanted me to yelp; just so he could stop being confused.

My mother finally said, “What’s the problem? She said it didn’t hurt.”

To which the doctor replied, “I’m sorry, but I’ve just never seen a bicycle accident this severe with a face this mashed up where the patient didn’t break their collarbone or a shoulder or at least a rib or something else on their torso. I just don’t understand.”

He squeezed me one more time and said, “Are you sure that doesn’t hurt?”

To which I replied, in my dazed and confused blood-loss state, “I was wearing a lifejacket.”

Remember the lifejacket from the beginning of the story?

Well, if that didn’t just about finish him off. The doctor was right back to shining a light in my eye because a statement like that meant for sure I had some sort of a head injury. He was starting to get angry.

“I thought you said you were riding a bicycle!” he said.

“I was.” I said.

It went back and forth like this for a minute.

I wouldn’t back down, but I also was too dazed and confused to explain. I really was wearing a lifejacket. I was wearing a wonderfully thick, full-of-foam flotation device, which, as it turns out, also makes an excellent cushion against the perils of high-speed bicycle crash collarbone and shoulder impact injuries.

My mom finally jumped in to explain the sailing-lesson-lifejacket-bicycle connection which was a relief because I was too tired to go on with the back and forth about my collarbone and how not sore it was.

The doctor was too annoyed to laugh, but my mom and I sure did. Even as bumped up as I was, it was funny.

So there you have it. The longwinded-could-have-been-told-in-four-sentences story about why, to this day, I will not, under any circumstances, ride a bicycle if there is a hill involved.

Especially a very big hill.

Thanks for reading this far. And remember:

Life is rough. Wear a lifejacket.