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.


Kaycie said...

Funny. But what a horrible accident.

ciara said...

the whole squirtsquirt w heartbeat thing was funny...well, not funny, but you know what i mean. thank goodness for white knights and life jackets.

Jan said...

Carolyn=that was crazy. I can really visualize the whole scene. I can't believe you had a complete stranger be so kind to your needs. What a nice guy. I wish you could say thanks because that would be so cool to be able to do. I am so sorry about all the doctor care needed but I am going to the store tomorrow and purchase a life jacket. I start bike riding again soon. By the way. We use to go to Calgary when I was little. Do you still sale the plaid box of choclate covered caramels squares. It the main memory of the place. The stampede is awesome. One of my best friends is from Invemere Hot Springs. They were part owners of that resort. It was so awesome being a college student with a roommate like that. We would be helicoptered to the resort and put up in the Honeymoon suites with full service. Pretty nice eh.

david mcmahon said...

Brilliant. Just ducking out to buy a life jacket.

Jo Beaufoix said...

I loved that. Not, you know, the pain and the blood and all that, but the way you told it. Brilliant. :D

lime said...

here from david's...holy moses on a pogo stick! that is all sorts of unpleasantness. sure glad you had the life jacket on though!

P M Prescott said...

Nice to have a sense of humor over such a terrible time. I'll remember next time I ride a bike to wear a life jacket.

B.T.Bear (esq.) said...

Methinks I shall stick to riding in Mummy's rucksack.


Jules~ said...

David sent me over this morning and I am so glad I came by. Gosh I love your story. I am so sorry for the trauma of it all but ...goodness, you can't even make up a story like that. I love how you stumped the doctor. Praise God for that mysterious knight.

Carolyn said...

For the record, I've fully recovered with no visible signs of my facial trauma. I should have put a note in there to thank the plastic surgeon who fixed up my face. It's easy to laugh about it over 20 years later, but obviously I was traumatized enough to not want to ride a bike after all this time!

Thanks for jumping in the fish bowl everybody.

Quilldancer said...

Life jacket. There. Added to shopping list.

David sent me.

CrazyCath said...

Now why didn't I think of that?
I had a similar trauma on a bike a little younger, not such a big hill, loads of gravel, front brakes not back (not due to failure of bike but failure of father to instruct me further than to shout "Brake!" which I did. Hard.) and not such fross injuries (2 skinned arms, 2 skinned knees, skinned hands and bruised ego).
Excellent post. Well told with great humour (*sorry*).
Over from David's but seen you around!

CrazyCath said...

PS Purchasing life jackets for children in the morning.... ;0)

jennifer h said...

Horrible accident, but funny story--I laughed out loud when I got to "I was wearing a life jacket."

I found you through David McMahon's blog, and now know why he chose this for Post of the Day.

Not many people can include a knight in shining armour, a bicycle, a life jacket in the same story. Maybe no one else.

Mima said...

Hi there, I have arrived through David's blog, what a story, and a wonderful knight in shining armour! I think that you can take it as one of those pay it forward things, I'm sure that you have done favours for other people that have been in trouble! I totally understand your fear of bikes though!!

Daryl E said...

Brilliant! I too had a misshap that perplexed the doc's .. but you win the prize for most damage(s) .. someday maybe we can compare scars ..

David sent me!

aims said...

Oh Dear God! I laughed at this..I'm sorry - I couldn't help it! We all would have loved to see that doc's face - truly!

Very well told! Sorry - laughing again...

btw - David sent me - and boy am I glad he did!

Carolyn said...

It's okay to laugh everybody. I do.

CrazyCath said...

Carolyn - thanks for stopping by mine again! I like your 'warning' on your sidebar - we are the same. My friend tells me I will never say or write something in 10 words when 100 will do. She's right. :-(
Can I plagiarise your warning? (And it IS ok to say no!) It's just sooo me!

. . . Dallas Meow . . . . >^^< . . . said...

most EXCELLENT advice!

Nervus Rex said...

Loved it! I'm a nurse, so the squirt squirt made me laugh (hey, you gotta laugh sometimes, or you'd just CRY).

I came over from "Confessions" and I *need to know* your recipe for chickpea chocolate chip cookies and beet pancakes!! I love chickpeas and beets and I'm game to try to sneak a little :)

Nice to meet you,

Milla said...

Jeez that was vile. Loved the "thisclose" and, shudder, 58 stitches INSIDE your mouth!!! THat's one helluva bike ride.
And you thought my 7 things were bad!! This is so much worse and it's "only" one! (too many ! I know)

MamaGeek said...

Adding a lifejacket to my wish list as well. WOW. Simply WOW.

Johnny Virgil said...

excellent! You could have hung out with us when we were kids. (Although you were probably like 2 years old or something.)

Lazy Julie said...

You are so funny! Why no writing for a while?
Lazy Julie