Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gettin’ Fat / What Happened?

OK, it’s been a few weeks since I last posted. In this case it is no news is good news (or just no news?).

The main item to report on the health front is that the leg wound finally healed over about two weeks back, which is great and the first time in five months I haven’t had an open wound. No more plastic bags in the shower!! It now means the Docs and I can start to plan for the next phase – getting a prosthetic leg sized up, made and fitted.

I’m still on a number of medications, mostly to mitigate against the chance of the MSRA infection that I picked up in hospital reoccurring (but also to deal with other consequences of a leg amputation). It’s a pretty nasty bug and I must be diligent to ensure it doesn’t flare up, especially in the bone. The drugs are fairly powerful, so no doubt they contribute to a feeling of tiredness at times. Also, the inability to exercise in an aerobically meaningful way is also having an effect.

This sedentary state, combined with an overly healthy diet, means the weight has gone on and I’m probably as fat as I’ve been in years. I’m not game to jump on the scales.

Many people have asked me what actually happened.

Basically, it goes like this: 11 April 2007 - I was on a normal morning training ride as scheduled by coach, fairly steady as I was taking it easy in the transition week or two following the National Masters Track Champs, where I had good form. As usual it was an early morning ride, out at about 5.30am. I wasn’t doing a long one, so I rode south from my place out to Taren Point, a route I’ve ridden literally hundreds of times over the past decade. Turn around via Sylvania Waters and back over Taren Pt Bridge on the way home using the cycleway on the eastern side of the bridge. That cycleway leads you into the car park of the St George Sailing Club in Sandringham and straight onto Riverside Dr. It was 6.15am as I crossed the bridge, the sun was poking up over the horizon.

See the picture below courtesy of Google Maps (click on the pic to see a larger version). The orange dots mark the path.

As I entered the car park, all was normal – quiet. I checked the traffic left and right on Fraters Ave. And Riverside Dr. and nothing was about. I’m usually pretty careful at this point as there are a number of potential hazards (speed humps, gravel, glass etc) on what looks a pretty straight little piece of road. I did nothing different today. I have been through here dozens and dozens of times over many years. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a boomgate, closed across the entrance to the car park appears right in front of me, and I mean with only a fraction of a second to spare. Crunch.

I hit it flush at speed, no time for braking or avoidance manoeuvres. The left leg, just below the knee took the full force and this impact caused all the damage. I wasn’t actually sure what part of my leg had broken at the time, I found out later in hospital: a fractured tibial plateau (the upper bulge section of the shin bone or tibia) – pretty well smashed into lots of fragments, a fractured fibula, a severed posterior tibial artery and severe damage to tissue and capiliaries of lower leg, leading to compartment syndrome and operations to graft in a new artery and a knee to ankle fasciotomy on both sides of my lower leg to deal with the severe nature of the inflammation. Multiple operations and many weeks of treatment later, the complications could not be resolved, too much flesh had died (almost all the lower leg muscle tissue bar the upper calf muscle) resulting in the need to amputate the now non-viable lower leg.

So how come I didn’t see the boomgate? I have no idea but it must just blend into the background. It’s a single steel horizontal boom about 4” in diameter (i.e. very solid), hinged at one end, latched at the other side of the road (so it wasn’t moving nor have any "give" in case of collision), is white in colour and with no warning signs. Nasty. As I discovered later on, many other riders had hit it before or had near misses as it is so hard to see at times.

When I visited the crash site after finally getting out of hospital (a bit over four months), it was good to remind myself that I wasn’t an idiot and it was an accident waiting to happen. Someone has since hand painted with a spray can some warnings on the road and suggested an alterative turn just before the gate location to another bike path (which is obscured by the bushes).

So I went from my best ever personal race result, to losing my leg in a short space of time and dreams of competing at the world champs dashed. I was really looking forward to donning the Aussie skinsuit in the points race (an honour granted due to my result at the Nationals).

Still, I look forward to getting my prosthetic, walking again, losing all this puppy fat and ultimately getting back on the bike and being as competitive as before. It will take a while though but it will happen.


Rich Gift Of Lins said...

Over this seasons racing I have found your various web contributions on training very interesting.

Having been involved in an accident 10 years ago, though not nearly of the severity of yours, I can relate to your circumstances. It is good that you can be this candid, and your obvious motivation will pull you through. There is always another goal to aim for. I put on 28lb, but after a 14 year break from racing I am now relatively svelte again!

Anonymous said...

It will take a while though but it will happen.

That it will, Alex. I have no doubt whatsoever you'll be back and then some.
Keep on getting stronger.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post and the more detailed information. I hope it's good for you to share. I didn't find your blog until you were already in the hospital but have followed consistently since I found it.

I'm consistently amazed and refreshed by your attitude about this new path in your life and look forward to reading more about your recovery and road back onto the bike.

Unknown said...

Alex- I knew about your months in the hospital and the numerous operations but I had no idea about the loss of your leg.

All of us wattagers can't wait to hear about your return to Natz in a year or two. Keep up the good spirits, you make the loss of a chunk of my arm from a similar situation seem trivial.

Lennyk said...

I used to read your posts in cycleforums when I first got my bike last year and was trying to get in shape. I did get in the best shape of my life this year but I have chronic knee problems and I am going for surgery this Tuesday,
we are pretty sure that I have a degenerated knee or one which is degenerating fast and hence the chronic pain and frustration after being in such good shape.
Reading your story certainly makes my situation very petty and I admire your motivation and look towards your progress.


rmur said...

best wishes Alex. I've had a few knocks on (and off!) the bike but nothing to compare with what you've endured.


Alex Simmons said...

Thanks guys, I'll post an update before long.

Anonymous said...

Far out man!! Ive heard about it all through the cycling community (tempe track mainly) And its amazing how unlucky you were in the end! Its good to hear your attitude with it all being so good! especially with the mrsa?!
Ive done some nursing work on a vascular ward, with people finding out they are loosing legs etc, and it really is a big deal, i dont know how you cope!

But yeah good to hear your going well, and thanx for telling us how it happened!!

Lorri Lee Lown -- velogirl said...

Alex,yours is an impressive story, I'm glad you didn't give up.