🤬 While racing a bike Strava segment, during our weekly group ride with our friends, I broke my elbow in two! Due to the kind of break, it required surgery & cyborg 🦾 upgrades. Surprisingly, I had very little pain throughout as long as I didn’t move it to a painful position.
Here we are in our weekly “Thirsty Thursday” group ride with our friends and ‘mates from EBGB. Last day of August, a beautiful night. I’m now about 10 days home from 2 months on the east coast.
… and here I am after my bad crash. I was racing the mostly off-road segment behind Miramonte High School, going for a Strava “Queen of the Mountain” (fastest recorded woman ever to ride this mile).
There is a gate at the end of a fireroad (see below), with openings to the left & right side of the gate and road. The left opening is wider – but it was a bit congested with our riders and cars in the asphalt road on the other side of the gate. So I took the much rarer, narrower right opening.
I had forgotten there was a small ground angle change right by the gate. So I pivoted at the last second, got bike into good position, and… BANG!! I just clipped the vertical pole with my left side handlebar – at high speed. My body (and thus weight) was now slightly over the right side of the bike, due to the last minute shift. In a millisecond, the left handlebar was instantly spun left to the max – which meant I went hurtling under the right handlebar which was much more up in the air.
All of my momentum was stopped nearly entirely by my right elbow smashing directly into the pavement. My elbow didn’t stand a chance….
Still, I wasn’t sure it was broken. My pain sensors weren’t at a 10 – instead it was like the arm sensors were 100% saturated and all I could feel was “white noise”.
But my elbow wasn’t moving, and it had swelled up to double size in minutes.
Drew gave me two advil. Amanda called rider Jana, a neighborhood nurse who bikes with us but not tonight to get her to drop by the end meetup and advise. Trevor fixed my seat, and helped Hunter bike the final two miles and get our car to pick me up. Amanda & Drew kept me company while my head and body was still reeling.
1-2 hours from the crash, the pain wasn’t bad at all. On the fence to go to ER or Urgent Care, we decided to hit the Canyon Club Brewery (beer garden) that our group meets after rides to start with. Jana soon arrived and advised I visit an Urgent Care bone specialist center (!) she knew first thing in the morning.
By keeping my arm pretty immobile, there was minimal pain, like 0 to 1 out of 10. (I will end up taking only 2 days worth of minimal pain meds post-surgery; with one precautionary pain pill the night of the crash).
So I was pretty shocked that morning to see the XRay where the reviewer told me I’d need surgery. The lower left end of the elbow – the “olecranon” – had split off completely. It attaches the tricep (back of upper arm) muscle. So not only was it a huge gap between the two bone pieces (that a cast wouldn’t fix), the tricep would just keep pulling that little bone break away from the lower arm (!)
Quitting biking ~2h/day cold turkey – had to come up with a plan. So I got to hiking 1-3h each day. The next Thirsty Thursday I hiked 6.5 miles (half-offroad) with my half-cast & sling. Perhaps a little questionable judgment (esp. with a gate that had to be scaled along the way) – but I needed to keep active. Here I am at the right-side gate – I had just touched that yellow vertical pole and flew full force into the pavement…
Hiking to see my super supportive riding mates every Thursday really helped my spirits! You can see how swollen my right fingers are.
And so, I was going to hike hike hike. Here I am with weekend long hike partner Kim – my bestie for over 30 years!
Hiking the north bay.
Sept 12 surgery, ~2 weeks from crash. Woohoo! I am super happy because: everything went smoothly, I didn’t have to go fully out, and after I was opened up, indeed the break was pretty “simple” so I was able get the most minimal hardware.
It was fascinating being awake for the surgery. They gave me Versed – a strong sedative. But the Fentanyl didn’t really make me sleep or get close to it (in and out). So, I heard and remembered everything, including the drilling of the self-tapping screws (6 of them), the operating room chatter (there were at least 6 people present, including a medical student observer, for the entire hour operation). I couldn’t see anything (a curtain in the way) – and I had a hardcore nerve block in my shoulder so I couldn’t feel anything in my right arm.
Here’s my new “Wonder Woman” bulletproof elbow. Two small thin plates, “X” connected, with four short screws into the main Ulna bone – and two long screws through the “olecranon” elbow end of the Ulna and deep into the Ulna.
A brief note on the arm nerve block, administered for the surgery. My arm was fully paralyzed for about 36 hours. No pain – but couldn’t even move my fingers or anything in the slightest. You also tend to have a “shadow / recording” feeling from pre-surgery – so it felt like my thumb and pointer finger were touching like an “OK” sign – though they weren’t. It swung around like a dead weight and was THE CREEPIEST thing I think I’ve ever experienced in life. It would swing around if I leaned forward, and hot fingers would brush my left side or arm. But unlike anything touching you, there was no interaction, no deformations, not the slightest amount of interaction. It was like a dead body touching you. And it’s your dead body.
I joked “put a pen in my hand” as a reference to the honorable Bob Dole’s presidential candidacy from back in the 1990s.
I was so glad get arm feeling back, even though it was a bit painful for (just) 24 hours.
The Ugly 🦾
Two weeks after surgery, the half-cast came off and we see the scarring for the first time. The eight stitches were just manually removed via staff with tweezers (eww).
I had a rough 2 weeks here. I broke my right arm – and I’m right-handed dominant. 🥺 I was only 2 weeks in a half cast (formed to arm underside, ACE bandaged in place) pre-surgery and another 2 weeks post-surgery. I was using my swollen black-and-blue fingers to type at least. Once everything came off, I had fair wrist rotation and finger movement – though I had swelling and black-and-blues up-and-down the lower half of my lower arm. But the elbow joint itself? Could barely move it to my shock! If full range is nearly 165 degrees, I was at about 15 degrees!
It was a fight every day to increase that. Showering one-handed was my personal low – depressing to try to wash loooong hair with one hand, clumsily one-hand brush/comb – hair coming out all over. When casted, trying to tape a bag around it to keep it dry was sad. So I took off the cast carefully 2 of ~6 showers and didn’t move my arm. That was better at least. I fell back to showering every 4-5 days. I couldn’t floss my teeth for weeks, couldn’t even touch my face, get food to my mouth. Seeing early on receipt signatures I tried to do with my right hand – it’s sad to see how badly this person was struggling.
But on the other hand – post-surgery, every day gets better!
To minimize swelling, I’d point my arm straight out much of the time (to keep arm over my heart). A visiting friend kept thinking I was pointing out of the corner of her eye. So I was joking how it’d be hilarious if a kestrel landed on my arm like they do in falconry. 🤣 I mocked this up to make me giggle. I was… surprised how many people thought this might be real!
Given the kinda cool wavey-ness of my scar (I had assumed it’d be a 5" linear scar), we thought it looked like a bike trail. So I’m likely to tattoo a small sepia/brown bike at the end of it. This is a rough mock-up.
Getting stronger for my fall hikes.
This whole KEEP OUT gate is silly. I had to scrabble over this every Thursday.
I’m doing physical therapy ~2x/week now for a few months. I mostly see this amazing PT named Garrett who is also a biker, knows a bunch of our riders, and also has crashed 2+ times with surgery fixes. He definitely wants to get me back on my bike! Here I am after the intensive PT getting my elbow cooled with ice water in/out of tubes into the elbow jacket.
It’s 5 weeks since the crash. I nervously start doing my first of about seven 30-45 minute stationery ZWIFT rides using Hunter’s setup, my old bike, and ZWIFT setup on my phone. My arm still isn’t very strong and it tires easily.
It’s my Birthday! I had hoped to finally get back out on the bike this day! I am very nervous and not sure how my balance & strength will be. What if my arm collapses! What if my body is all out of whack and I crash!
It’s working! I made it down our long serpentine hill and now a few minutes climb to our favorite morning cafe. I’m over the moon! A ll I wanted for my birthday was to ride again with my baby. And we luck out and have awesome weather for a November morning, too!
YAY! I’m feeling so good we decide to add Bayview/Sequoia in favorite Joaquin Miller Park on the way home, slowly!
Here we are wrapping up the ride with “West Ridge” trail in Redwood Park. What an amazing return, only ~2 months since my crash! I’m wearing elbow protectors now, every ride.
The very next day, I decide to go for it and try the shorter variant of my favorite bay area ride. We bike from Mill Valley downtown, up Old Railroad Grade to ~2/3 up Mt. Tamalpais. Then down to Coastal Trail, to the Pacific Ocean. We then climb back up the coastal ridge via Green Gulch trail. and then return to downtown via Tennessee Beach. We always end at Pizza Junction beer garden for great pizza and a hazy IPA. 😋
This is my favorite little singletrack that pops in/out of the woods with some tricky roots & rocks.
Yay! I did it! My arm is a bit tired, but this is not an easy course. So I’m just utterly thrilled I was able to do 25 miles, 3000 feet of climbing, mostly offroad, in 3-1/2 hours.
Most of my arm abilities are back now. I am thankful this Thanksgiving long weekend for my friends, families, riders. and medical teams who supported me, fixed me, and got me back to normal in two months!
The only issue right now is the straightening of my arm. I am only able to get it down to maybe 80% of normal. I’m working hard at it – have really ramped up in the last few days. I’ve got “power bands” (rubber bands of differening resistances) and really trying to get flatter!
I did end up winning that “Queen of the Mountain” (QOM) for the segment I was racing the night of my crash. I found out at near midnight. As my riding mates asked “was it worth it?” -> “HELL NO!” And I will be taking things more easily and safely. But sure the QOM was a nice consolation prize. I’ll lose that soon enough from my own EBGB super-talented & strong riders.
But I did win a race – a super hard & long gravel ride in Tahoe/Sierras this year. So going forward, as I get and keep being able to “hold” less QOMs, I’ll always have this important-to-me race win. So that’s OK!