In 2010, I was four weeks from my first proper tour, a journey that was as big at the time as the Round Britain ride itself. I went out for a ride in the sunshine, and less than half a mile from home the front wheel removed itself from my bike, bringing my world crashing down, literally. I got through that injury, and a similar one just a few months prior to leaving on last years ride. They knocked my confidence momentarily, but I had the resolve to work around the injuries they created, and carry on.
It would seem that every so often, life gives us a nudge. “How much do you want this?” it impolitely asks. For us cyclists it takes the form of crashes and injuries. Apart from the two crashes mentioned, I’ve been lucky (and careful). I’ve avoided injury, other than a repetitive strain injury towards the end of last years ride. This week life had another plan for me, a plan I didn’t see coming, as it asked that question of me once again, “how much do you want this?”
I was enjoying a gentle weekend. I’d accumulated a fair few mile during the week, and could feel I needed to back off and rest. I did, enjoying a day writing my blog, and chilling out to Miss Marple in the evening with a cold beer, something I rarely do these days. Riding was out of my mind, and my mind was as settled and content as it ever is over a weekend.
On Sunday, Irene winked at me, wanting a ride out. I noticed, but decided that, despite the sunshine, I would take it easy once more. Irene settled for having her chain cleaned and lubed, and all the filth of the previous week removed. I adjusted her brakes, and treated the saddle, before deciding I would put my tepee up in the children’s play area. This seemed harmless enough, and so it should have been.
It was soon looking splendid in the sunshine and attracting neighbours over for a chat. First came Katy and her chap, Ken. Then Pat and Tony from down the way. It was turning into a pleasant day all around, and I felt more and more relaxed than in weeks. All too soon it I had no excuse to not take it down again. As much as I like it, it won’t be following me to Ireland this year. As I crouched down to remove the frist peg, a searing pain shot up, and across my back. My lumbar spine went into spasm, and I fell onto the ground in a deal of discomfort. “How much do you want this?”
To say I was worried was an understatement. I collapsed a vertebra many years ago and this kind of event used to be common. The last episode had taken six weeks in order for me to function anything like normally again, and as I lay there, a mass of negativity started in my mind. I grovelled around, every twist and turn creating nerve pain across my lumbar spine and down my legs. I gathered up the floppy mass of nylon and headed home, some twenty metres.
Walking as though you have a broom up your backside isn’t the most comfortable thing and all that negativity swam around laughing, Hahaha, got you, you’ve had it, you’re not going anywhere now, are you? Alongside the negativity was the practical part of my mind. It spoke loudly saying words like arnica, ibuprofen, paracetamol and the like. I just followed its commands and tried not to listen to the wittering going on about not being able to ride.
I dragged myself upstairs and ran a bath. I knew from the past, that if I let this get a grip, it could take weeks to get through it, and I had a plan to be riding in four of them. It was now or never. Get in the bath, and out again, whilst I still could. My mind started to look back through the catalogue of disasters that have struck me down over the years of pushing my body to its limit whilst running, climbing, and the like. What it saw was a man who has always recovered well from injuries, apart from back problems. I tried to tell it sod-off, this was no different, but the effort it took to get out of the bath and into some clothes, suggested that I might be wrong.
“HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT THIS?” life shouted at me, as I feebly tried to cook some food without moving forwards, backwards or twisting. By bedtime I was on round two of the pain killers and the effort it took to get into bed was comical . I eventually got into bed, onto my back, and lay there, scared that maybe, just maybe, this was it. Perhaps this was the prolapsed disc that I had been warned was always possible after my accident. I couldn’t sleep. Every time I dozed off, pain would shout at me so loudly that I’d wake up again. I’d have to use my hands to move my body, even as little as an inch, and was happy that I’d heated up my mud pack to place under my lumbar spine.
Eventually it got light. I’d fallen asleep in the end, and now it was morning. Had I more money, I would have ordered a Stannah Stair lift there and then. Stopped by the fact that I didn’t seem to be able to get up from the bed, I felt seriously worried once more. Eventually, my day, without socks and underpants began. Instead of fannying around trying to find a painless way to get my body vertical, I applied the time-honoured trick of pretending to count to three and then just getting up on two. It doesn’t work as well when its self-administered. One, two AAAAAAArgh.
Each step brought shooting pain and so I decided to go for a walk. If I’ve learned anything about backs, it’s that they get worse by being stationary. I wandered slowly, saying hello to the snails and slugs that passed me. I got down to the town, and then turned around. It would have to do for now, and I set of home to do some stretching.
Okay, it sounds extremely silly to stretch things that already hurt, but with backs, all the muscles around the injury go into spasm and the only way to help is to do just that, stretch. The yoga poses of cat and dog went okay. The child posture was desperate to get into, but not so bad once fully down. Ever so gently, I gave myself a work out, albeit a tentative one. Gentle exercises like these, hamstring stretches, glutes and quad stretches, all help release the tension that caused the spasm, whilst the increased blood flow removes toxins and aids repair. That’s what I hoped anyway.
I talked to a doctor on the phone, and felt a little relief that they thought it was muscular. The vertebrae was tender because of the spasm. No, I didn’t have any tingling around my bottom, nor my man bits. Yes I can still pee without pain, other than in my back, and no I haven’t had a pooh, on the grounds that I can’t actually sit on the toilet seat. Friday is the earliest then? right, fat lot of good that is! I got off the phone and my therapist called. I’d left a sorry message saying it was unlikely that I would be able to drive on Wednesday, half hoping she would call back.
As supportive as ever, she suggested that now would be a good time to use the diazepam. It’s well know as a muscle relaxant, although not as well-known for that, as it for being addictive. “How much do you want this?” Enough to take the diazepam was the answer, and with that I set off for another stroll before taking the drug and collapsing, quite literally, on the bed, where I slept for four hours.
Evening time started badly. I’d managed to cook enough food the night before that I didn’t need to prepare anything tonight. That would have been great, except I couldn’t get it out of the fridge. I called a friend, they didn’t answer. As I spoke to another, who was busy trying to feed three hungry children, my other phone rang. It was the cavalry, just in time, as I stood in the kitchen and wept out loud at my inability to manage the task in hand. Most of the evening was spent taking the drugs I needed to get through the night. Paracetamol, trazadone, diazepam, ibuprofen, arnica and some deep heat rubbed in ever so gently. With that cocktail rattling around inside me, I took an early mark, and my iPad, and went to bed, which took a while, even without pants and socks.
Tuesday dawned bright and sunny and I went out for my morning hobble. Sue, a friend from down the road, offered me a lift to the shop and I accepted. Getting in the car was fun, despite the high seats, and it seemed to reaffirm the fact that driving to the therapist would be a big no. I called my friend Sarah, an excellent Pilates instructor, and within half an hour found myself facing my chosen instrument of torture, a Swiss ball. With Sarah’s guidance, I worked through a long series of exercises. I was amazed how my legs shook, as my body tried to control those muscles that had gone into spasm. It was as though some of the connections from my spine to these muscles had been temporarily knocked out.
It wasn’t easy and was often quite painful, but I worked around the problem areas, and by the time we had done, my lower back seemed to have regained most of the mobility and quite a bit of strength. I went home, took more diazepam and went to bed. On rising, another four hours later, I found that not only could I move, I could get up quite easily. I was amazed at the difference, and a big smile came across my face. I ran a bath, confident about getting in and out, and pottered around, trying not to spend too long sitting in one position.
Waking on Wednesday morning, I knew I could drive. It seemed like a miracle after the last forty-eight hours. I’d never recovered this quickly from anything. It appeared that, once again, my prayers had been answered. The lumbar vertebrae were tender, but I managed the drive to the therapist without a problem. I was elated, to say the least. All I had to do now was keep working on it, and to stay off the bike until the end of the week. With luck it would carry on repairing as quickly as it had up to now.
Sometimes, it’s easy for me to forget just how much hard work I’ve done in the last few years. I’m fitter now than I’ve been since my early twenties. That must have played a part in this recovery. It has also reminded me of why stretching and core work, such as yoga and Pilates, are as important as riding the bike when it comes to fitness regimes. I’ve done lots of both over the winter, but had lapsed quite a bit recently. After this I have heeded the warning and will return to the regular practise of these that my 52-year-old body needs to stay balanced.
It’s now Saturday, and I did a full session of Pilates yesterday, with very little signs of any damage. The lumbar vertebrae are still tender, but I feel relieved. Next week involves a long drive to collect my new cycle. I have to be able to ride in order for Alasdair and Shelagh of www.msgbikes.com to be able to do the final fitting. I’ll take a test ride on Monday.
I have several other appointments towards the end of the week, and lots of driving, but my trip to my therapist has moved to the Monday, freeing some more time for me to repair. This has happened because ,sadly, somebody in her life has passed away. In the scheme of things, my week has been trivial. As another person reaches the end of their life, I remember that I’m lucky to have mine still. When life asks me “how much do you want this?” the answer will always be the same. “Enough to make it happen now, because there may not be another chance.”
Please support Riding2Recovery’s fundraising for Mind: Donate at www.justgiving.com/Riding2Recovery