I remember seeing the head of the black Beetle nip into the middle of the street, not at the corner, not while signaling, but while I was passing in the bike lane. I heard my own shriek, the squeal of the tires, the crunching of the bike against the car and the thud of my own weight hitting the ground. Then for a brief moment: silence.
As I began to hear the worried sounds of inquiry around me, familiar and not, for a brief moment I contemplated whether I should just get right up and stop being a baby. Then the fact that a car had just hit me registered and I felt like I never wanted to get up, like I wanted to pass out into a sound sleep and wake up somewhere better, anywhere but lying face down in the middle of the street hit by a car.
But reality is as impatient as traffic blocked by a human barricade. “Am I OK?” I couldn’t breath. I felt terrified. I truthfully had no idea whether my head, torso or limbs were in tact – everything hurt. I had no idea how I’d fallen or landed just that I had: my eyes were open for part and closed right around the time I knew I wasn’t going to make it staying on my bike – the blood and guts part of the movie. Pass. If I had lost consciousness it would have been an indication of a more serious injury, but without this consequence I wish I had no memory of the crash.
Without the memory I wouldn’t constantly relive the experience asking myself if I could have somehow avoided the car, which I’ve been reassured tenfold by my riding partner, who gave a statement to the police, that there was absolutely nothing I could do. If the crash was inevitable what does this mean about cycling and how will I ever get on a bicycle again?
I admit it’s the first thing I thought of when the EMT’s put the neck brace on me, then strapped me to the board and put me in the ambulance. I felt unsettled as I rattled off an embarrassingly lengthy medical history to the doctors who prodded and pulled at me, while nurses stripped me naked in a room full of people. To preserve the integrity of the neck brace I had to urinate horizontal into a bedpan, like I was wetting the bed. Try unlearning that tradition. The whole time I was unsettled by thoughts not so much of “Why did this happen to me?” but “This happened to me, so is this going to happen to me again?” with fear and a loss of hope.
Biking has brought so much joy to my life. It’s not just good exercise but it has helped me considerably in shedding some difficult to lose pounds that wouldn’t budge with other regular exercise and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the results. After losing my business and finding out my mother had a brain tumor my long rides through Marin and soothing ferry rides home were immensely therapeutic and swelled me with pride compared to my first fumbling attempt in heels only 5 months before. Being outdoors, feeling so connected to nature was so new and enlightening for a city girl. There’s never been a time in my life where I spent so much of my days around tall trees, green grass, unobstructed sky and calm water. To be writing and photographing this blog reignited a talent I thought would die as I left my career as a fashion editor. My fiance and I bonded over the shared time we spent together in this new healthy weekend lifestyle. But was it worth this?
My neck and head hurt like the hangover from a night of a dozen mojitos AND a bottle of champagne. And in what felt like the chokehold from one of Lady Gaga’s concert headpieces I sensed soreness in my neck like the night I was rear-ended by a drunk driver and later found I had whiplash. When Morphine doesn’t make you feel better, you worry. My fiancé stood looking down at me and all I could do was stare back up at him. I wasn’t sure if I had succeeded in getting away unscathed because of the obviously unbroken bones. The lingering question in my heart was whether I was if I was ever going to be safe if I ever climbed on top of another bicycle. I saw the urgency with which the medical professionals treated me. What were they expecting, I wondered?
I wanted to tell him to find a way to cancel my $3000 dream road bike I’d gone to incredible lengths to get my hands on. I was afraid to tell him I never wanted to get on a bicycle in my life ever again. So I didn’t speak. I just looked up at him and let the tears roll down the sides of my face while the thoughts circled the drain inside my mind.
Anything that involves spending six hours in an emergency room sucks (unless it’s where you work. Bless your hearts, I saw the other patients screaming there – whoah!) I have insulation from riding gloves, full-length riding pants, a long sleeve coat and a GIRO helmet, I would bet my life on, to thank for suffering no serious injuries other than strain to my neck, head pain and some bruising and scratches to my face (that aren’t too ugly). Whether you are religious or not, believe me that God blesses bikers with helmets on. Those riding without helmets (or as I call them “organ donors”) might as well tape their organ donor cards to their foreheads – dingbats!
(The helmet AFTER the head-first landing onto the street – minor scratches! Talk about a lifesaver. However, according to Bicycling Magazine June 2010’s article ‘Post-Crash Checklist’ you should replace your helmet after one hit unless you own a multi-impact helmet. “Even if there’s no visible damage to the shell the foam layer’s ability to protect your noggin from future hits has been compromised.” Although you can check whether your helmet has a replacement policy.)
As for my relationship with cars and bikes I would be lying if I told you we’re all good now that I know I’m in the clear . . . this time. This time was my first fall. Recognizing that the incident was not my fault and I had no way of preventing it means coming to the conclusion that the fall was inevitable and unlikely to be my last. The bike accident in your future is inevitable too. It would seem that throwing the unpredictability of bad drivers, unforeseen obstacles, lousy road work, even other overly aggressive cyclists into the mix, and like riding horses, ride for long enough and as probability will have it you will fall off your bike. The difference between a few minor scratches you might just peddle away from and a Christopher Reeves like fate (Duh (a.) helmet), riding less aggressively with greater care and caution could save you from a grizzlier fate. After all, just how much of a hurry are you really in? In which case six hours at the hospital will certainly slow you down.
I sincerely hope my relationship with my bike, love of biking and ability to ride will not change from this experience. As soon as my bike and I are medically able, I plan to get back on the horse. (I also call my bike Horsey. And Horsey ripped the side-view mirror off the Beetle that hit me because Horsey fights back. Not to worry the owner will paying for her damages, mine and my medical expenses. Let that be a lesson to you drivers.) Only when I ride I will do so with a newfound appreciation that in a face-off between car and bike, car always wins. Cars, like teenage girls, behave erratically, irrationally and more often than not are unremorseful for their actions. Car still wins. So in my newly formed rapport with this beast I will not just look out for oncoming traffic but keep an eye out for those “girls behaving badly” too. I’ll let you know how it feels getting back on the road.