The Ride from the Other Side
I know the moment everything changed. I just didn’t know in that moment everything changed. It was really a beautiful moment. Leaving the last rest stop with another of our AIDS/LifeCycle Team San Diego riders, we were within a few miles of finishing Saturday and Sunday back-to-back mammoth climbing rides totaling 115 miles. As is often the case, we would be the last riders in that day, but we were nearly finished save for a few flat, breezy miles around the bay. We felt accomplished.
It was a simple slip. Making my way to the street to get back in the saddle, my right foot slipped on a metal grate and my left pedal smacked into my inner left calf. I looked down to see if I was bleeding and said aloud, “that’s gonna bruise.” I don’t bruise easily; I knew I had hit it pretty good. I didn’t really give it much more thought until about a week later a bruise did begin to show and I told Carol what had happened.
What came next was waking a few days later with a sore left foot. You know that feeling. Like I had twisted it in the blankets or maybe Birdie had slept on it all night. It loosened up as the day went on, and though I noticed a little tenderness and swelling while changing shoes for my ride that night, it was not at all bothersome on the ride. I even felt as good climbing Torrey Pines as I had felt all season. I awoke the next morning with it sore and swollen so I took an ice pack to work and tried to ice and elevate when I could. It was my short day and I had planned to ride after lunch with friends, but the pain worsened as the day went on. I was thankful for the strong winds that afternoon which I used as an excuse not to ride. Really, it was my foot keeping me out of the saddle. The winds were a blessing.
That was Thursday and the pain intensified throughout the evening and into the night. Carol and I were scheduled to leave the next morning for LA for Day on the Ride, a simulation of AIDS/LifeCycle, but as we got ready for bed, I told her I really should see the doctor before we leave town to make sure I didn’t have something serious going on. After that the timeline goes something like this:
7:00 am – Called Kaiser to see about appointment with my doctor
9:10 am – Dr. appointment in Pt. Loma
10:00 am – x-rays
10:30 am – x-rays read, negative for fracture or sprain
11:00 am – sent to Kaiser Hospital for blood draw to rule out blood clot
11:30 am – blood drawn; wait for results
12:00 pm – Carol joins me for lunch – still not certain we are heading to LA
12:30 pm – lab results show likely blood clot
1:00 pm – Doctor calls surprised it is a blood clot and will “eat her hat” if it is
1:10 pm – ultrasound in vascular lab at Kaiser Hospital
1:40 pm – clot confirmed in lower left calf at site of pedal smacking
1:45 pm – wheeled to ER; called Carol as iPhone battery dies; no trip to LA
3:30 pm – name called, more blood drawn, taken to ER room “Minor 9”
4:00 pm – ER doc explains clot and treatment; no exercise, i.e., bike ride
4:30 pm – ER nurse administers injection; discharge planner teaches self-injection
4:45 pm – released with a prescription for shots and pills; head to pharmacy
5:30 pm – arrive home exhausted, shell shocked; relieved to be back in Carol’s arms
The next few days I would receive instructions on bed rest (with bathroom privileges, thank goodness), compression stockings, injections, medication regimen and pain management. I couldn’t work until the week-long series of injections was complete. I was visited by home health nurses and had daily blood draws at home followed by consultations with a pharmacist as we tried to get the level of medication right for my body. The medication is supposed to thin the blood and prevent the clot from moving up the vein and into my lungs. Eventually, the clot will be absorbed into the vein wall, but that will take time. I learned I will be on the medication 3-6 months.
I also learned that for one in three people, a clot like this (medically referred to as Deep Vein Thrombosis or DVT) is fatal and is the cause of more deaths each year than breast cancer, AIDS and automobile accidents combined. People are often unaware they have a clot. This leads to clots moving to the the lungs which is often fatal. Wow. I got lucky. I knew my body and felt something was not quite right and I took action. My clot was caught very early and the likelihood that I will have complications is very small. It was all a little surreal, going from a busy, active, healthy life to one of bed rest in a potentially life-threatening situation but not really being sick or needing sleep. Maybe that’s why I remember the details so vividly; I played them over and over in my head. And, well, I am me. My brain just works that way.
The other thing that happened? I was overwhelmed with love and support. Visits from friends, well wishes from colleagues, grad students and hundreds of Facebook friends (who knew I had hundreds of friends?), food made for us to take the burden off of Carol who became caretaker, and the love bubble of the AIDS/LifeCycle community enveloping me like I could not have imagined. I am blessed beyond words. And lucky.
A seemingly insignificant incident while getting on my bike has taken me off my bike, at least long enough to keep me from riding in my third consecutive AIDS/LifeCycle. I am committed to this cause, to raising $10k, to stopping the spread of HIV, to ending AIDS and to improving the lives of those living with the disease. So now I’ll become a Rockin’ Roadie like my beloved wife, Carol. To quote a friend, I’m going to “see the ride from the other side” this time around. Rather than wallow in my disappointment and think of what might have been, I look forward to experiencing the ride from a different perspective, meeting people I would not have even crossed paths with had I been in the saddle for seven days. Yeah, I already drank the lemonade. Got more? My doctor is gonna need some to wash down that hat.