Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bystander


Have I mentioned that my friend Andrea is my cycling hero?? We have a mutual friend who told her once, under the influence of alcohol and in a hot tub with beer involved, I believe, that I could kick her ass on a bike. This was before he even rode with me so he really didn't know what he was talking about and I was kinda embarrassed that he would pump me up like that and it still, to this day, makes me cringe to even think about it.

But truth of it is that maybe last year we were a little closer together in ability but this year she's flatting my ass on the road like a crepe. Not a pancake, as is the cliche saying, but a thinly squashed crepe.

A week ago today, while once again acting as crit groupie, I watched biking go bad as Andrea had her second crash of her cycling career. This seems to be the summer of the crash. I've heard of so many nasty crashes this year. A truck turning in front of one friend, a friend of a friend who also got hit and was thrown from a bike by a vehicle, a broken arm two days before a big race, two friends going down on one of our group rides when one got his wheel caught in a nasty road crack and was thrown into the other, and of course, the probably numbering in the hundreds of crashes at this years Tour de France. 

We have a dangerous hobby but I think to some degree we all accept this as the inevitable. At one point or another we will all crash. Some of that is because we do things to be faster that deliberately put our bodies in danger. We ride as close on each other's back wheels as possible. We ride in high traffic areas. We ride on sketchy roads. We ride sketchy roads while they are wet. We take tight corners on angles.

I'm terrified of crashing. I am terrified of each and every little nick and uneven bounce and close encounter with tree and rock delivered to me even on a mountain bike. Road crashing is a lifetime's worth of mountain bike crashes all at once. My terror, likely, makes me more at risk of crashing than those that accept the adage: There are two types of cyclists, those who HAVE and those who WILL. Given as I don't don't think my crash into the bushes at age 12 counts... I am in the WILL category. And when you see a crash up that close, all of us who ride bikes see our lives flash before our eyes.

I didn't even know what happened. All I saw was the racers slow down from my position across the field. The pace line became discombobulated. The medic went running. Another friend of ours went running from the opposite corner where he was videotaping the race. Oh yes, there is tape... yet to be watched. I turned to watch those left in the race pound their way to the finish line and as my eyes scanned the racers looking for my friends, there was no Andrea and no Scott. And that's when I went running, flip flops and all, across the field. My kids were at the race. I didn't even know where my kids were.

Andrea said as we sat around and drank too much gin the night after (well, I had too much gin) that she didn't even know it was her that was crashing. She heard the scrape of metal and the thought that passed through her head was "somebody's crashing" and then she was on the ground ("Oh its me") and another rider was rolling over her and the next thought was.... "not again..."

And then it was about 20 minutes of nothing going on, yet... LOTS going on. I'm a nurse and I've been in lots of high paced situations but I would consider myself to be virtually useless on the side of the road. I left hospital nursing to get away from scenes like this, although, ironically enough, that kind of adrenaline rush goodness (or badness, really) is what drew me to nursing to begin with.

On the road, there is no equipment. I want oxygen hanging on the wall and IV's to play with. I worked in ICU for the last two and a half years of my hospital career. I dealt with situations where six people standing around the bed side were not enough to do everything that was needed. Give drugs. Take vitals every 2 minutes. Hang blood products. Up the drugs again. Assist with line start. Intubate. More drugs. Page this person, page that person. More drugs. Chart this. Change this dressing. I can deal with all that. And in ICU we often deliberately render the person unconscious because it medically benefits them. It keeps them calm.

But on the side of the road the most important thing to do is talk. And not say stupid things. And we don't have drugs to keep the patient calm. Scott who stopped his race when he heard Andrea go down, knowing it was her from the yelp she gave -- a yelp he'd heard before just a little over a year ago -- was at her head holding it and this was his job. He did superb. He talked and he was calm. And when someone, a bystander, any of us sitting around her on the side of the road, said anything negative like this looks baaaad (and people did say such things, sometimes it is hard not to when when the mouth is working more effectively than the brain and you are feeling high-strung yourself) he changed the subject. He talked about the bike. He talked about the firefighters. He just talked.

The biggest mistake that we make as health care professionals is that we stop seeing the person. All we see is the wounds and then we are all experts. Without x-rays we are diagnosing dislocations and fractures. We tell the patient there might be a dislocation or a fracture and we send them into a state of internal chaos. We forget there is a conscious person wondering what the hell is going on. And possibly panicking with the uncertainty.

I sat on the side of the road at her feet and mostly kept my mouth shut. I didn't ask around but in all likelihood I was the most highly qualified medical person there. I didn't announce myself as such. I'm a teaching nurse now for cripes sake.... I am RUSTY. I only pull rank with medical training when another health care professional is being condescending (as I did on many occasions with nurses who wouldn't listen to me when I was hospitalized for a couple surgeries or as I do when trying to get information about family members). So in this situation I just listened and I watched. Mostly I watched for anything that could be unsafe or dangerous to take place and then I would have stopped it. And nothing did, other than a well meaning by-stander who wanted to give her something to drink. But I don't need to be in control for control's sake. If the machine is working well, no need to tinker with it.

When you work in a medical profession you develop the ability to shut off your emotions with this person in the bed in front of you. Patient faces and diagnoses all blur together. It is simply a way of coping with disaster and chaos. But when it is your friend on the road in front of you that is a whole other situation. There were five of us that ride with her regularly out watching (or racing) that night, by some stroke of fait. We just needed to feel useful within our helplessness and we all found our own ways to do that. A couple were content to stand back and stay out of the way. One did the talking. I sat at her feet and watched just wanting to be close by. Another friend was a leg rest for one propped leg and he started out in an uncomfortable squat, fearful of moving because- what if I move and I cause damage?

And maybe that was my fear too? What if I speak and cause damange?

The fire trucks showed up first and the ambulance came next and these are the side-of-the-road experts.They got the neck brace on her and put her on the back board and wrapped her right elbow which was scraped the worst and put a small piece of gauze under her shorts over the tear in her hip. But in terms of bystanding, the best things we all did was call 911, call her family, and just keep her comfortable and still.

And by comfortable I mean psychologically comfortable.

And there is an aftermath for all of us. Poor sleep. Worry. We couldn't all go and hang out at the hospital so it was a waiting game until we got information and that wasn't really until the next morning and, by that time, she was discharged.

I took home her crooked bike and her shoes and her sunglasses and the other gin induced black humoured giggle we had the other night was pulling out her sunglasses for the first time, holding them up to the light, and checking out the CSI-like splatter pattern and scratch marks. Time to call in the team to investigate. Andrea took a very moving photo of her glasses and posted it on her blog and I've stolen it without permission for you here, and I hope she doesn't mind, because the emotional impact is heart stopping.

You replay bits of the normal parts of the night: Chris telling me about the ride from Saturday where it was him and and a bunch of really fast guys and how relieved he was when someone of his calibre showed up. And I laughed because I FELT his relief. I've been in his shoes. Chris wheeling me coffee on his bike with coffee stains splattered all over his clothes. The conversation about being a big fish in a little pond versus being a little fish in a big pond. Meeting Dave's wife and teasing him about remote control cars. Pinning Scott's race numbers for him. My kids pushing each other and fighting at the side of the road. Michael talking about his saddle trouble. Me explaining the tactics to Mark -- big pro that I am now that I've watched 3 races (haha). And how until the crash, the race was actually pretty tame and slow and I felt more actively assured that I was going to buy a licence and try this next year.

Geez it was a typical night at the races. Was there any clue -- ANY -- that something like this was going to happen?

I'd like to try. I'm not sure I have the aggression it takes to do those kind of races. I already know that long triathlons will NOT be my race goal of the near future regardless of how well I did in Calgary and how close I came to sub 6 hours (take that 4 extra km off the bike and I would have been there). I know how happy I am on a bike. I know what a mental struggle it has been to get me to put as much effort into running and swimming when I would rather be biking. And I KNOW how much I admire Andrea's ability and how much she has grown as a rider in a year's time and I want to grow up to be just like her.

But I have a few skills I have to work on first. You could say, I have the desire but I'm not ready.

(One could say the same thing about my love life right now too. I have the desire but I'm not ready. But that's another blog.)

3 comments:

Andrea said...

Of all days for everyone to be there. I am healing well and thankfully the big show that night was mostly precautionary. But the drinks and company the next night with you and Lisa saved my life.

Kim said...

I'll save your life with gin and tonic and laughter and good conversation any day. Trust me, love, you've done the same for me.

Lisa said...

Gin?!?!? Did someone say gin?!?!?!?
;0)