Stayin’ Alive

Five months today since I smashed my wrist. Maybe I should have bought flowers to commemorate the day, but actually I did something far more exciting.

Bike in the Park

Bike in the Park

In the weeks following the accident I seriously wondered if I would ever get back on my bike. It stayed locked up in the bike shelter, gradually getting dirtier and dustier while I looked at adult push scooters, and waited for my fracture to mend.

I thought about selling my bike; unravelling the floral garland; removing the star shaped reflectors from the spokes; handing it over to a stranger along with my cycle clips, gloves and hi-viz jacket. It felt like betrayal. But I was scared. What would happen if I broke my wrist a second time? The talk of possible nerve damage when I was in A&E kept playing in a loop around my head. I’d got away with it this time, but a future when I couldn’t use my right hand made me cold with fear.

The consultant was reassuring. With all the metal in my arm, even if I broke it again, it would be in a different place. Rather haughtily I was told they had done all the wondrous and wonderful work on my wrist exactly so I could ride my bike again.

So the problem was me, how I felt, not my healing wrist. I kept renewing my bus pass and stopped looking at my bike. Deep down, I believed my cycling days were done.

Yet something still niggled. I searched online for group cycle rides where I could get back in the saddle and pedal in a crowd. There were lots, but the start points were miles away, and I had visions of myself plodding along, pushing my bike to the meet venue, cycling for hours, then pushing it home again.

I found details of a local ride that was a comfortingly far in the future. It said children could join in, so I felt confident there would be a lot of attention to safety, and the ride would not be too demanding. I registered (it was with Breeze Bikes, a part of the SkyRides British Cycling has set up that aims to get more women cycling), then I forgot all about it.

Over recent weeks I have found myself watching cyclists; feeling pangs of envy at the freewheeling spirits, feeling frustrated and trapped by my pedestrian status and my own cowardice. Even so, a part of me has wanted to wave my wrist at them, especially the helmetless, insouciant ones who pedal along while talking into their hand held mobile phones, ignore traffic lights, and spin past reversing lorries.

I began to fantasise about riding my bike again; maybe an easy cycling holiday somewhere; no roads, just disused railway tracks and empty spaces; dappled sunlight coming through trees whose leaves stirred in a refreshing breeze; the wheels turning smoothly through mile after mile after glorious, safe, cycle paths.

An email arrived to tell me my SkyRide was coming up. I looked at it; remembered; felt a stir of anticipation and anxiety; realised I had not had my bike checked since the accident. I visited Patrick, our local garagiste, cricketer, cyclist and motor cyclist. He said he could do the job.

My front wheel was bent. Both tyres needed replacing. He replaced them, adjusted my brakes, oiled the parts that needed oiling, gave it back to me on Friday. The total cost was £55. That decided it. If I was paying out decent money, the tyres were not going to rot unused in the bike shelter.

I looked at the details of the ride again. Heavens! the route seemed to take in all sorts of ghastly locations that would be full of traffic of the four-wheeled kind. I reminded myself about the children, wished I had a brown paper bag to breathe into, decided if it was raining that would be sufficient excuse to duck out.

It wasn’t exactly sunny; in fact there was more than a nip of autumn in the air, and the skies were increasingly grey. Not battleship grey; just that can’t-be-bothered-to-be-a-proper-colour grey that successfully filters the joy out of the sun and covers up all the blue. Fortunately, the flowers are still in full song.

Colour

Colour

On the plus side, there was very little traffic on the way to the meeting point, the café in the local park. Peddling across the empty main road and down the side streets, my heart began to lift. My legs certainly remembered how to do this, but my right wrist started to ache alarmingly quickly. I remembered what the physio had said to me about driving when I told her how incapacitated I felt after my few days behind the wheel when I went East: it would get easier, and I had managed to drive.

There was no one at the café. On the other hand I was a good ten minutes early. After five minutes there was still no one, and I remembered there was another café on the other side of the tunnel. Going down the slope to cross under the road, I needed to brake and my nerves jagged. Interesting. I hadn’t thought of how my body would connect braking with pain and injury.

There was no one at the second café. But there was a very nice dog called Sam.

Sam

Sam

And a pleasing water fountain in the shape of an elephant.

Elephant Drinking Fountain

Elephant Drinking Fountain

A woman appeared with a very new bike and asked if my name was Abigail. I thought she was the leader; she thought I was. We got that bit sorted out. Her name was Rose. We chatted, compared saddles and I realised how much of that bike talk I have been missing. An athletic looking woman cycled up on a narrow tyred bike and introduced herself as Freda. I misheard, and spent most of the morning calling her Rita. We discussed our needs. My nervousness was matched by Rose’s inexperience. The morning’s itinerary changed. We did bike checks and discovered that Rose’s saddle was facing north east, while her handlebars were facing north west. She had said she had suffered several falls. It was easy to see why. Freda suggesting dropping my brakes so that the angle was kinder to my wrist. Excellent.

The Team

The Team

I practised braking gently with my right hand, and Rose, her bike now aligned, tried to take one hand from the bars to indicate. I was enjoying myself. It was simple, gave me confidence in my bike and in controlling my speed when I need to slow. If I can rewire my brain not to apply both front and rear brakes instinctively, I may avoid another over the handlebars incident. The café patrons watched as we rode around in circles opposite the adventure playground where small children hurtled along zipwires.

Café

Café

Adventurous

Adventurous

Then we were off for a spin around the park. Dogs played; small children scootered; boys fished; men dismantled the funfair from yesterday’s event; tennis balls twanged across the nets; one small boy played air guitar on his racquet.

Rose spoke for me too when she said she felt like she could do this all day. I don’t know when or if I’ll be using my bike to commute again, but this morning made me glad to be alive, glad to be back on the saddle; and more grateful than ever for the outstanding treatment I received at St Thomas’.

I mean to sign up for more Breeze Bike Rides. I reckon the support and guidance is going to do wonders for my rehabilitation. And if my hair would just grow as strongly as John Travolta’s in Saturday Night Fever, my helmet would be well and truly padded for safety.

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27 thoughts on “Stayin’ Alive

  1. I’ve only recently come to your blog so didn’t know about your accident. Sounds nasty, but excellent news that you are back in the saddle again 🙂

    • Thanks Izzwizz. Are you an Isobel/Isabel/Isabelle too?
      It was a bad break, but I was extremely fortunate to be treated at St Thomas’ Hospital. I could not fault them. My wrist is very stiff this evening, but it will pass. I am very much looking forward to telling the physio!

      • Yes, I’m an Isobel too. There are lots of them now, aren’t there, but when my parents named me, it was because it was a name they liked that bridged the French – English divide (my mother was French) and was terribly unusual. I’m glad you had good treatment. I also have thought myself very lucky to have been treated at St Marys in London a few years ago. We are very lucky to have such good teaching hospitals on our doorstep.your physio will be proud of you I am sure!

        • I was named for a great aunt. Her middle name was supposed to be Isobel. Turns out she was an Isabella. I prefer our version. But when I lived in France I became Isabelle v easily. Isabels are two a penny these days. I hear my name called, and turn round to see a tot! I have never answered to Is, or Izzy. Always Isobel, and to a small number of friends Iso, pronounced Is-o.

        • Yup. Got a hooter for my bike when I was twelve as a riposte.
          Loved Nash’s Isabel poems. Our headmaster used to read them especially for me. I have never met another Iso, apart from the one in Marilyn French’s novel, The Women’s Room. And she was Isolde.

    • Thanks Pam. You know, I don’t think I realised until today just how much I have missed being out on my bike. It was great. So maybe I shall take myself down to the park and pedal about, retraining my braking habits, and getting ready for next month’s ride. The leader, Freda, gave us her email so we contact her and if she is free she will be happy to do some more sessions between times.

  2. Glad to hear you’re riding again. It’s not easy getting over an accident like that. When I was in a nasty car accident years ago it took me weeks to get behind the wheel again. Take it slow. I know you love it and it’s wonderful that you can ride again.

    • It’s counter-intuitive, but many country roads are scarier to cycle along than town ones, as they tend to be faster and narrower. I dislike the big main roads in London, not least because of the pollution, but you are less likely to meet a driver using them as a race track.

  3. I think your accident was during the long period when I was off line for different reasons. Belatedly sorry about it – but delighted you have braved the saddle again. You are right that accidents leave an imprint on parts of the body that weren’t actually affected by it – I have similar reactions occasionally over a car accident I had a long time ago – odd, but very gut and subliminal. Your new bike venture sounds a great way back to something that was a big part of your life – good news. LOVED the video, love that song – it peels the years off in one easy swipe! PS Yes, the London teaching hospitals are terrific – Kings was our nearest, but several friends trained at Tommies.

    • It happened on St Patrick’s Day. Obviously I missed all the celebrations. I hadn’t anticipated my fear of applying the brakes, so it presents a new challenge. I live in a great triangle of hospitals; Tommy’s, King’s and Guy’s.

  4. I am soooo *pleased* for you Isobel! :-)) I had noted the lack of bike but knew you would come back when you were ready.

    What a nice group of women and how good the re-introduction, feeling the craic again in a companiable, traffic-free environment.

    It’s not easy to ride without alarming flashbacks when you’ve had a nasty prang. As you found, just the action of braking triggers something in your brain that will never quite be forgotten. But gradually, as time goes by and the wheels turn, that effect will fade.

    Good luck Isobel. Rediscover the fun in riding again, safely. 🙂

    • Thanks Jan. Your comment means a lot as I have felt your support for my forays into cycling these last few years.
      Just before I had my accident I had been looking at new helmets. I went back to my diary to check out the one that had been recommended again, so maybe that’ll be my next step back.
      I saw Patrick today to pay him, and he just advised me to take it slowly. I like the idea of riding in the park.

  5. Hi Isobel, I can certainly relate to what you’re saying. I’m still undergoing rehab for a broke right wrist. It’s been just over 5 months and in that time, I’ve had to fight my own demons – fear of wet surfaces and slopes as a result of a fall on a slippery pavement after it rained one day in February 2016. I’m training myself to get back on my feet and not give in to my fears because if I don’t, I wont be able to resume the active outdoor lifestyle I enjoy.

    I’ve also found it therapeutic to blog about my experience. Like you, I enjoy writing and have freelanced a bit. I live in Singapore in case you’re wondering. You can read my blog at whatsyourreputationworth.blogspot.sg

    • Thank Kai. Good luck with your wrist. mine is 99.999 back to normal thanks to our fantastic NHS and the superb surgeons at St Thomas’ Hospital. The physiotherapy made such a difference too. I do not know that I will ever be a road cyclist again, but I do enjoy rides through the park. Any accident when you suddenly realsie the vulnerability of your body has a knock on effect, but perhaps learning to be careful is no bad thing. 🙂
      I shall checl out your blog, but blogspot and I do not have a good track record.

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