Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Alive and Kicking

"Rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated" seems a very poignant quote from Mark Twain.

As some of you will be aware I had a visit from the Grim Reaper on the way home from a ride on Saturday. This manifested itself in the form of a couple of idiots driving a Ford EconoVan.

I was on the last 10k of an easy 130k ride with Mr Chan's group and the National Juniors. I was riding along at about 31kph with beautiful clear weather, on a huge open road with very little traffic - I was contemplating getting home and having my Maggi Noodles and my easy afternoon run when there was an incredibly loud crash as I was first flung backwards by the impact (smashed the van's windscreen with my head - helmet took the full force, I didn't even have a headache, but I still keep finding bits of broken glass lodged in my wounds); then rapidly forwards and down towards the tarmac.

It was instantly clear what had happened, there was no time for reflection, no visions of my life flashing before me, there was a flash of light however but I think that was the sun coming into view as I hit the road.

I confess to shouting out a futile "Noooooooooooooo....." (I've always wondered what I'd say in similar circumstances, my choice of words would have been "Oh Well Ay!" but I guess you're not at your literary best in such circumstances.

Several things were clear though, I was now travelling faster than my original 31kph, I was losing what felt like a lot of skin on the road and clearly the next step in this "Series of Unfortunate Events" was that whatever hit me was about to drive over the top of me.......

These were clear thoughts that went through my head, the last being the most urgently in need of addressing. As I was decelerating I turned my head in the direction that I was sliding in the futile hope that I could somehow affect how I got run over and perhaps survive. I was somewhat surprised to see an empty road behind me - now that was strange and lucky and I knew it. Somehow the van had missed me but where was it?

During the whole event I didn't know what had hit me and not only did I keep consciousness throughout I was very conscious of most details except this one. I didn't know whether it was a car, a van or a truck and didn't get so much as a flash of wheel, body or colour - it was only later when a witness provided me with the details that I knew my adversary's form.

As soon as I was stationary the very first thing I did was wiggle my toes, thank goodness, not only did they work but no apparent pain in my legs. Fingers, hands and arms the same. Head seemed clear but my back was aching badly and this so soon after the impact was not a good sign. I rolled over onto my back to relieve the pressure and waited.

This is when the good and kind people of Malaysia demonstrated their humanity and compassion. I am humbled by their concern and support. This began at the roadside and hasn't abated since. THANK YOU kind strangers whose names I do not know and THANK YOU good friends that I have known over the years.

Actually the roadside assistance didn't start off too well, as the first people to the scene in their desire to help and to get me to safety, tried to “help me” stand up to get me off the road. This I knew could be fatal depending on what internal injuries I might have and certainly could lead to paralysis as I knew something wasn't quite right with my back. I made it clear I wasn't moving anywhere until the ambulance arrived and the crowd went about making me comfortable. Water bottle handed to me almost immediately, helmet off, sunglasses put back on my face, bicycle pouch and computer removed from the bike and handed to me.

An ambulance was called and then the next thing I was asked was whether I'd like them to call a friend. Amazingly I recalled my wife's hand phone number without difficulty (which I considered a very good sign under the circumstances). They soon handed me a piece of paper with a vehicle registration number and vehicle type. Apparently a lady had seen the accident through her rear view mirror and upon seeing the van continue without stopping had the foresight and consideration to take down the number.

Moments later another piece of paper was handed to me with a name and telephone number of a man named Jafar. He said he'd look after what was left of my bike and that I should call him when I was better.

It was not long before the ambulance arrived (no more than 30 minutes and probably much less). I arrived at Kajang Hospital and was dealt with very professionally and efficiently which instilled great confidence. They took my details and called my wife to make sure she was clear where I was. As soon as she arrived I felt like things were already getting back to normality and off I went to have my X-rays. Soon after I was in the ward and being ever the optimist I assumed I'd be kept in overnight for observation of my strained back and then released - sadly it wasn't to be.

However, as I lay in the hospital a chap came to my bedside wearing a Newcastle United football shirt that I recognised from the crash site - it was my new friend Jafar. He'd decided to jump on his motorbike and come and make sure I was OK. It turned out that he rides a mountain bike from time to time and once I'd said hello to him on a ride to Kuala Klawang. Jafar then took my wife back to his house to collect my wrecked bike and then came back to finally make sure I was OK - What a diamond of a human being.

However, when my wife returned and couldn't locate either a doctor or a nurse she decided that enough was enough and arranged an ambulance to get me to Damansara Specialist Centre where a friend had recommended a Spinal Specialist. Upon arriving there I was whisked in for more X-rays and put to bed on a spinal board (simply put, a rock solid board to support my back - very very uncomfortable considering the pain I was already in).

I saw the specialist and was scheduled for a CT Scan on Monday morning. In the meantime I was told not to move or leave the bed for any reason. Bathroom visits were the bed bound portable kind but at least I was looking forward to the nurses giving me the sponge baths. Sadly I was horribly disappointed, firstly they insisted that these would take place at 4 a.m. every morning, secondly they didn't seem to realise how painful road rash is, thirdly they didn't seem to remember how painful road rash was from one minute to the next, and finally when it came to sponging my fun bits they gave me the sponge and said do it yourself!!!!!

So here I am flat on my back after a near death experience, everything settling down but contemplating what the prognosis for my back might be. A dangerous time to start worrying or even go into shock perhaps - NO CHANCE, from that moment on I had visitors none stop - it was fantastic (although I did have to repeat my story 1,000 times). I'd sent out a few SMS's to let people know that I'd had an accident and before I knew it I had people visiting me from the guys I'd been riding with, fellow cyclists, fellow triathletes, golf friends, running friends, drinking friends, work friends, family friends, my swimming coach and some people I'd not seen for months. If people couldn't visit they called and texted - it was amazing, Maxis must be wondering why the sudden peak in their business.

As I said earlier I am humbled and forever grateful for the support that everyone gave me in hospital and continue to do so now. THANK YOU, no person could have asked or expected for greater care, solidarity and friendship; I am truly fortunate!

As for my poor old back it turned out that I have four cracked vertebrae and will have to wear a body brace for a minimum of six weeks and cannot even leave the house for the first two weeks. Alas, Desaru half Ironman this weekend is a non starter and I am very disappointed that this also means that Florida Ironman in November that I entered a year ago is now out of the window.

I’m entered for Phuket in early December but that looks doubtful (we’ll see) so the next target is Langkawi Ironman in February.

As I hope my epitaph will read “Oh Well Ay!” – this sums up my take on adversity. These are the cards that I was dealt and this is what I will deal with.

My next and most immediate mission is to get the Malaysian police to take my statement. They refused to come to the hospital or accept my wife’s statement – they only agreed to see her after the intervention of the British Embassy!!!! They are refusing to even contact the owners of the van that hit me until I personally go and make a statement.

My wife asked what would have happened had I been killed – the police chief said “but he wasn’t killed lah!”, when she asked again he laughed uncomfortably. What we did find out is that the van is registered to a company but has no tax or insurance.

One thing the police, the owners of the van and the driver will find out is that I am very tenacious. Also I have nothing to do for the next 2 or 3 months so they all are going to get very used to hearing from me.

I’ll keep you posted. Also as time goes by I’ll add some more photos to this post so check back if you’re interested.

My final thoughts on this all – Should I stop riding because of the dangers? I have two sons now and I must think of them.

I’ve given this some considerable thought and I have concluded that if the dangers and the chances of death or serious injury are so great, then I should never have started riding a bike at all. That is not to dismiss the dangers, they are real and will not go away but to give up something that you love because of the fear of what might happen is tantamount to giving up on part of yourself, part of the fabric of who you are.

I totally respect anyone that has had a serious accident on a bike (or even a near miss) who has given up riding. It is their choice and is part of what makes us human, it is the instinct of self preservation and if this overrides the feeling of enjoyment then there is no longer any enjoyment and they must do something different.

As for me, I cannot stop, I must continue, I must overcome and conquer – whether this is to overcome and conquer fear or just idiots driving a van with their eyes closed – it will not be without some fear and trepidation but it will be with a smile on my face.

And what of my boys? If I wrap myself in a cocoon to protect myself, then surely I must do the same for them. None of us will enjoy the full glory that life has to offer – mediocracy, compromise and a life without a little adventure and danger is no life at all in my view.

Ultimately, they will come to their own conclusions and I intend to be around to offer my guidance and support – I will no doubt try to dissuade them from base jumping but if it’s the joy and freedom that riding a bike that they want then that’s what they shall have.

Ride safe and ride hard!