On Saturday, June 5th, I got into a small bike accident. Enough people have asked about what happened that I figured it’s worth writing a blog post about it. It’s going to be kind of long because that’s the way I write, but I’ll tell you right now that nothing terribly interesting happens, so feel free to skip this one.
Warning: there is some mildly explicit description of minor injuries, but no gross pictures.
I was out on what was supposed to be a nice 22 mile ride on a sunny day, that really felt like summer as it hit 80°. As I approached Google on Stevens Creek Trail, I was feeling pretty good. Usually I’m mad at the wind at that point in the ride, but I was feeling unusually relaxed and as far as I can remember, riding pretty slowly. The trail at this part is up on a hill with no shoulder.
Suddenly, without any cause that I can remember as I don’t think I was trying to avoid any oncoming traffic or other obstacle, my front wheel went off of the right side of the trail. As soon as I was off of the pavement it was pretty clear that recovery was hopeless, and I went down without much of a struggle.
At first, I was just embarrassed. I was pretty sure that there were people behind me, and I must have looked like a klutz falling off of the trail when I could have been riding straight down the middle. Nothing really hurt aside from some stinging, although I could see that my left hand was bloody. As I tried to get back up to the trail, the hill seemed a lot steeper than it looked from above.
One biker whooshed past as I placed my water bottle up on the trail. I struggled a bit, but I was able to climb up pretty quickly and then pull up my bike. I had managed to turn the front wheel at least a full rotation, and as I turned it back to the normal position I noticed that the front brakes had become disconnected. Fortunately, other than a scratched-up handlebar grip, that seems to have been the extent of the damage to my bike. The chain even stayed on. At some point I realized that my right thumb was bleeding, as was my left knee.
Since the bike was rideable, and I couldn’t have used my front brake even if I wanted to thanks to the condition of my left hand, I got back on my bike so I could ride to work and figure out what to do from there. As I approached the building, I planned on hitting up one of the medicine cabinets for some bandages, getting patched up, and riding back to my apartment. Looking at my hands, though, I realized that if I opened the doors, I’d leave blood on the handles, and that’s just not polite. So, I went to the fountain we have in the courtyard to rinse off my hands.
The fountain has a very shallow section along the outside, so to get to the main pool I had to walk on water for a few steps— a bit which never gets old. As soon as the top layer of blood washed off, I could see the palm of my left hand was worse than I thought. It had been really sliced up by the rocks on the hill, which surprised me since I thought it was a pretty easy fall. Because of the way the skin was shredded, and the fact that there was dirt within the slices of skin, I knew that this wasn’t something I’d be able to fix myself.
I stood around for a few minutes trying to think of what to do, and in the meantime texted Charlene with some video advice. I think I got skin on my phone.
I thought about calling Google Security to see if they could help, but this looked pretty serious and they’d probably just want to drive me to a hospital. We have a medical center on-site, but I doubt the doctors are in on weekends. I thought about calling a friend, but my leg had a good deal of blood on it, and nobody wants blood in their car. Plus, I didn’t have a bike lock with me. I could have stashed my bike inside, but I decided that all things considered, it would be easiest to just ride back to my apartment and then drive myself to the hospital. Nothing was gushing out of me and I had been walking around for several minutes without passing out or anything, so I knew I could make it. I hopped back on my bike and had a quick, one-handed, 3.7 mile ride back to my apartment. I got a few weird looks as I rode along with my bloody chin, leg, and hand, but I think that since I was moving, nobody was too concerned.
I was able to get both myself and my bike up the stairs to my apartment, and headed to the mirror to check myself out. The chin scrape wasn’t that bad, but it was dripping, and I noticed an abrasion on my shoulder that I hadn’t seen before. Sorry, Newfound Lake t-shirt. I noticed blood on my shorts above the knee, but didn’t think much of it as that part of my leg didn’t hurt. I called the number on my insurance card to find the nearest emergency room run by my insurance company. I politely waited through the prompts asking me to hang up and call 911 if I was having an emergency. After initially suggesting Redwood City, an agent was able to give me the address of a closer hospital. I wrote it down on the back of an envelope and headed to my car. Obviously my injuries did nothing to improve my handwriting skills:
Just before I got in the car, I broke out the first aid kit I’d kept in my trunk for years without ever using, and put some gauze on my chin and then wrapped some around my leg, since they were both likely to get blood on my car. I made it to the ER safely, and as far as I can tell my car remained blood-free. Note for next time: do not put dry gauze directly on a wound. It sticks.
The ER visit took four hours, but I’ll summarize quickly:
- First step: Cool gel anaesthetic on most of my wounds (leg, palm, chin, and right thumb) that had to sit for about 30 minutes before they would do anything. Everyone who saw me asked if I was wearing a helmet, but they would stop mid-sentence as they noticed my incredible helmet hair.
- Got a tetanus booster while waiting. I didn’t feel it at all. I think this is the one that used to have the reputation for being painful, but the nurse said something about the new ones not using square needles. He scanned a barcode on my bracelet and then the syringe; I thought that was cool.
- Scrubbing. I don’t know exactly what went on here as I just stared at the ceiling, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. From what I can tell, it was mostly the nurse squirting water across the wounds. After he was done, though, the physician’s assistant came in, picked something up and said “Did he use this?” I told her that I didn’t know, and she said, “I still see some dirt.” She told me that she was more thorough. I told her that she was more painful. 🙂
- The PA asked me if I wanted stitches in my knee, which would speed things up and help reduce scarring. By this point, I had realized that the state of my leg was much worse than I had thought. However, stitches would mean more time in the ER (I had already been there for four hours and was hungry for dinner) plus a return visit to get them removed, so since they were presented as optional, I passed.
- Dressing. Petrolatum-infused bandages + gauze + surgical tape on most wounds, and adhesive bandages on the less-injured chin and shoulder.
- X-ray of right thumb which was painful to move. Just a sprain.
- Finger splint for thumb, plus an ACE bandage for my left knee to prevent me from bending it and breaking open the cuts.
- Would you like any prescriptions for the pain? Nope. Honorably discharged!
Recovery has been slow but steady. I’ve become pretty good at changing the dressings myself, and it’s getting less painful every time. In fact, the only wound that still causes any discomfort is my knee.
I’ve already removed the splint from my thumb, though it is still painful, and am covering the abrasion with a Band-Aid rather than the full bandage + gauze treatment. My chin is doing well; I still can’t shave over the cut, but it’s closing up and I have a Band-Aid over it since the nurse said that exposure to sunlight could leave a scar. I hated looking at my left hand for the first few days as it looks the most… complex, but starting on Friday I was happy to see that it had started to heal quite quickly. I’m still not completely sure what’s going to happen with all of the skin; I’ll spare you the details but I have a feeling some of it will be coming off. My knee is a little disappointing. I’m not using the ACE bandage anymore (they gave me two of them and I soaked both in blood on the first two days), so I can walk pretty well, but the wound continues to bleed daily. I probably should have gone for the stitches; it’s having trouble closing up.
On Tuesday night, I noticed that my left foot, and everything below my left knee, was much larger than my right side. It gave me an idea of what my leg would look like if I gained somewhere between 50 and 100 pounds. The next day, it was still swollen and not getting any better, so I made an appointment with the doctor just to make sure there was no infection. He checked it out on Thursday and didn’t seem too concerned, and by Friday the swelling started to go down. Friday was another important milestone as it was the first time since the injury that I was able to put on shoes. Before that, not being able to bend my knee enough didn’t allow me to reach my left foot.
At this point not my injuries are more of an inconvenience than a source of pain. Having bandages on my hand make things tough… even washing my hands takes longer than usual. Not being able to walk well (or bike) is also a little annoying, but the worst part of the leg injury is that it’s hard to get comfortable enough to sleep. The first night after the injury, I slept for six hours (unheard of on a weekend for me), and the second night only three. To help pass the time while keeping my leg elevated (for the first week it was difficult to even use a computer due to the position I was in, plus my injured hands), I watched a lot of movies on Hulu and my Apple TV. Get Smart was my favorite.
A lot of this writing wouldn’t have been necessary if I had been recording a video at the time of the accident. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.