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Ups and downs...(sorry about the graphic images)
5 September 2016

Sometimes, things happen in our life that can lead to a period of self-reflection. In late June, I experienced a nasty fall from my road bike. Since then, I’ve been rising each day with feelings of gratitude about my existence and assessing some personal truths (about who I am on the inside), in a healthy and positive way.

The injuries and the pain have been a struggle at times. And the worry I’ve caused people and the ongoing – rather drawn out, and now laborious – saga of my treatment and rehab has required enormous patience in the process.

I’ve found writing about the experience therapeutic. It has helped me assess some issues which have been useful to discuss; especially with the friend who was cycling with me at the time of the accident. And with Drew.

Essentially, I set out on June 26 with good friend Simon to ride the mighty Col de Joux Plane; the final climb in the 2016 Tour De France Stage 19. There are many ways to access it from Morzine, but we’d set off on a steep descent at 9am from Les Gets towards Taninges. My GPS recorded 87 kph as I flew down the main mountain road (which had some straight and bendy bits); this was my fastest descent to date and was turning out to be one of the most exhilarating. The cool morning wind buffeted my face and body. I felt truly invincible. In control. And confident.

Simon and I slowed down, we navigated the final hair-pin bend before Taninges and we rode side-by-side for a few minutes and started to chat about ski touring kit he'd just bought for the coming winter season. We were probably still travelling at around 35-40 kph. There was no traffic and conditions were perfect.

Suddenly, and completely without warning, Simon said I flew through the air; straight over my handlebars. It was such an unexpected event, I had no time to realise what was happening and self-defend, roll, or fall in a way that may have limited injury. Instead, I hit the road with my face. Interestingly, all I remember is a dreamlike state of my mouth feeling concrete, but I was already in darkness then. Perhaps I’d just shut my eyes. Or the brain – the amazing organ that it is – protected me from recording the trauma visually.

In an emergency such as this, it turns out that I had the right bloke by my side. Simon used to be a Royal Navy Mine Clearance Diver, and is trained as a diving medical technician. He instantly went into medic mode. He checked me over for broken bones and told me (later) that my eyes were following his every move. Apparently I asked him what had happened whilst blowing blood bubbles from my nose; he therefore applied his training and was able to deduce that if I was speaking and breathing then I was not dead. You have to know his humour, but he made me laugh as he recounted these events when he came with Cassie to see me in hospital. I don't think I can ever thank him enough for how he behaved that day and how he organised everything and everyone around the accident site. He's such a good man, a dear friend, and I love him and his beautiful wife, Cassie, to bits. THANK YOU BOTH FOR EVERYTHING...

Drew took pictures for health insurance purposes (they've covered all the medical bills); he's not generally a macabre kind of chap but was being quite brave too !

Simon with Cassie - such sweeties!

I still have a complete blank space in my memory from the tumble. I came to my senses laying in the recovery position and someone was holding my head very still. There was a lot of blood on the road and it was coming from me. I knew my face was bleeding but I could not fathom if I had any head injuries. I had been wearing a helmet, of course. I wiggled my toes and could feel my feet. I thought this was a good sign.

I tried to speak to tell Simon I’d lost my front teeth. He told me an ambulance was on its way and I should lie still. He was amazing. In control and calm. He'd called Drew and I was relieved to know he was on his way.

Drew arrived and I felt reassured by his presence. The young team of ambulance paramedics got me into a neck brace and provided full body support with a vacuum splint. Apparently, as my face hit the road, one of my front teeth had broken and fallen out with the root intact. Simon had found it on the road quite close to where I fell. He gave it to a paramedic and it travelled with me.


My tooth! 

Many, many hours of A&E ensued at Sallanches hospital, and lots of morphine meant I was unaware of most of what happened next. Drew was amazing as his French has become fluent; he was able to converse with doctors in both French and English. He was calm, comforting, supportive and loving. I'm so lucky he is the man he is. THANK YOU DARLING!

We think that because I had a healthy tooth (albeit broken) with a root intact that could be returned to my mouth, the doctors at Sallanches felt it best for me to be transferred to the Maxillo-Facial Unit in Annecy (about a 1½ hours’ drive from Sallanches). Facial surgery was required and I was taken into theatre in Annecy around midnight. I have fleeting memories of dusty ceilings and overhead strip lights. And not much else. 

Post surgery results; the surgeon had a steady hand and neat needlework

Around 2am I returned to a room where Drew was waiting. We learned that I had fractured my top jaw, broken my nose, and had deep lacerations to the nose, top lip, tongue and chin. I had very bruised and battered hands (even though I’d been wearing cycling gloves) and they had been x-rayed but showed no breaks. I had whiplash to my neck and herniated discs which were causing numbness in the right arm and right hand. After intense and continuous back pain, a fractured vertebrae (L5) was noticed on a CT scan but it went undetected for weeks. But even with all this, I still feel grateful that my injuries were limited to only these above and nothing more serious.

The female maxillo-facial surgeon popped my tooth back into my gum, wired the jaw and teeth together and reset the jaw into position. The top lip and chin were a stitchfest but, as you can see, she had a neat and steady hand with the needle!

The wire had to remain for a month and I was told I could not chew for that time. Eating was my first challenge. Drew started me off with babyfood, and anything that was runny enough to get through a straw. For the first weeks, I tired easily and I lost 4kg from not being able to eat very much.

The wires were cut off after four weeks – during the most excruciating 10 minutes of discomfort – and poor Drew’s hand was almost broken by my squeezing. My recovery and healing process has been aided wonderfully by the amazing doctors, physios, nurses, neurosurgeons, and dentists, and all staff I’ve interacted with in all French medical facilities have been true professionals.

This week, I’ve had four root canal treatments to close down the nerves in the top front teeth. They have been affected by the jaw trauma and have started to turn grey. The next step is for my four dead teeth to be ground down to stumps and then four crowns to be fitted. I may end up with a Hollywood smile yet, according to my sister. I do hope so!

As for the bike, I had a new chain fitted and some minor repair work done. I got back in the saddle four weeks after the accident to overcome the fear and to try and regain some fitness (the fractured vertebrae had not been diagnosed by then) and I was hoping to complete the half-ironman triathlon that I’d been training for with Cassie. Of course, I did not take part once I knew about the vertebrae injury.

The reasons for the accident are still a mystery. I initially thought it could have been a ‘kinked chain’, which had happened during a bike ride a couple of weeks before, in a comparatively less dramatic situation. I thought that it could have kinked again while I was descending with Simon but – if that was the case – then the likely response from the back wheel would not have /should not have carried me over the handlebars. Simon does not remember anything distinct taking place. I'm a confident rider, so to admit that all this happened because of a stupid personal mistake is a bitter pill to swallow. I've been content not to think too hard about how it happened and focus on my recovery.

The face is healing fast and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I won’t have lasting facial scars once everything has settled completely. I have to stay out of sunlight and wear lots of strong post surgery SPF cream and a big floppy hat whenever I venture out.

This was taken on 31 August; the scars need massaging to reduce the colouring and visibility.  I do this as many times as I can each day. Bio Oil is my friend!

Since the back pain was linked to the fractured vertebrae I’ve stopped all exercise apart from swimming and hiking. So for the last few weeks, I’ve been doing lots of both. Lac Montriond is a wonderful lake nearby, and I’ve been in my wet suit getting some distances in while the weather has been lovely and warm. 

The lake will start to cool down soon, and the pool will close with the end of the summer season coming up, but hiking throughout the autumn will still be possible. 

I see the neurosurgeon in mid-October and I hope the news is good so that I can make my ski training plans for the coming winter season.

This was not the summer we had anticipated. But life delivers these tests for us. I’m healthy, I’m reasonably fit and I’m still getting to enjoy the mountain life. I feel so incredibly lucky.

Until next time...