Monthly Archives: February 2014

Nine months later

A couple of weeks ago I went to see my surgeon again for follow-up about my tibial plateau fracture (and the other, far less interesting fractures). This is always a saga. I am booked for two x-rays every time (top and side) and there is a lot of hand-waving and frustration when the x-ray technicians realize that I have too much hardware in my leg to capture in a single shot. Then the techs apologize about having to take four or six shots instead, because the radiation involved in the number of x-rays I’ve gotten over the last 12 months is not exactly trivial. On the up side, I can now put my kids to bed without a night light.

I’ve learned the hard way that I need to dress for the x-rays and the subsequent physical exam: wide leg pants or skirts only, with easily removable hosiery, because I’m going to have to go bare from ankle to thigh. Leg surgeons hate knee boots. But there is always something interesting to learn. This month I asked why the x-ray machine had a cup holder, because it’s not like the techs stand around next to it and would appreciate a place to put their coffee—they sprint out of the room as fast as possible. They told me it was to hold the cup of contrast dye that people who get live x-rays of esophageal function have to swallow. I was fascinated.

My first post-surgical x-rays back in April showed my tibia in pieces, which were held together with a bunch of screws and a metal plate. (My fibula looked like gravel as well, but it turns out that no one cares about the fibula. It’s not weight-bearing.) Later x-rays showed that the tibia was once again whole, but still had huge, ragged divots that made it look like something a dog had been chewing.  But this set of x-rays showed my tibia had completely healed, with smooth edges from knee to ankle. I couldn’t stop admiring it.

This was fantastic news, especially given that I was told that probably wouldn’t happen for a year. I have been healing fast. And it also meant that I could schedule my final surgery, when my surgeon will take all of that hardware out. We were all feeling so festive that we picked the next available date right then: June 3rd, 2014.

It's impossible to take a good picture of a knee. Anyway, my real knee is at the top, and the bulge below it is the plate. Would you believe that nine months ago this leg was covered with bright red scars?

It’s impossible to take a good picture of a knee. Anyway, my real knee is at the top, and the bulge below it is the plate. Would you believe that nine months ago this leg was covered with bright red scars?

Technically removing a plate like mine is optional, but in my case there is so much of it that leaving it in would be problematic. The plate is so obtrusive that I’ve started calling it my third knee, and the longer it stays in the worse it gets, because more bone grows over it. It prevents me from doing things like kneeling, because putting weight on that part of my leg feels a lot like being stabbed in the tibia, which is pretty much what is happening: the plate presses on the screws, which in turn press into the bone.  So giving the kids a bath is an issue. When people see me walking now, my gait looks normal, but there are quirks; I have trouble on stairs, especially at the end of the day, and as a result I have become that person who takes the elevator to travel just one floor. I can’t run to catch a shuttle bus, and sometimes I fall over unexpectedly. I could improve the situation by lifting weights more often (okay, ever) but only to a certain extent.

This has all been an interesting lesson about invisible disabilities, which I appreciate, because I used to be impatient about things like people taking the elevator to go one floor. I have been sensitized.

Anyway, one more surgery, and although I’m looking forward to the outcome, which is a near-complete recovery, it doesn’t come free. I’ll need to take another two months of disability, because once the screws come out, my tibia will be so riddled with holes that it will look like a piece of Swiss cheese. With the bone so fragile, a single fall could fracture it again. So although I’ll be partially weight-bearing after I get out, I’ll still need to go back on crutches, and I’ll also be almost completely housebound. With the fall risk preeminent, I’m also not allowed to ride anything but a stationary bike during those two months.

I’ve also realized that even a much-desired surgery looks a little scary when approached without the benefit of a serious narcotic haze. I went on a morphine drip as soon as the paramedics arrived after we were hit in April, and didn’t go off IV narcotics for even a minute until I was released two weeks later, after two surgeries and several days of inpatient rehab. I’m mostly looking forward to getting the plate out, but there are moments when I put my head between my knees and take deep breaths.

Overall, though, I mostly feel lucky. It was a serious injury, and I’m going to walk away from it (literally) almost unscathed.

My colleagues sometimes joke that they expect me to commute by tank now, instead of by bicycle. The irony is that I wasn’t injured commuting. I was hit on a Sunday in Golden Gate Park, and I still sometimes have uncomfortable flashbacks while riding in the park on weekends. But weekday commuting doesn’t feel dangerous. There is no objectivity in fear.

My daughter has no patience with knee photos, and insisted that we take a picture together instead. She has a point.

My daughter has no patience with knee photos, and insisted that we take a picture together instead. She has a point.

Looking back, what happens seems both crippling and distant. If I’d been told in early 2013 I would be hit and spend months on disability, with a full recovery not expected until 2015, it would have seemed impossible to survive. But time rolls on and even now life is pretty close to the old normal, and I can afford to rearrange life a little over the next few months to make it completely normal. We still commute by bicycle and walk around the neighborhood. I wouldn’t wish an experience like this on anyone, but having been hit once, I understand why people shrug off injuries and keep riding. I’ve had lots of occasions to compare travel by car and travel by bike in the last year, and riding is still easier most of the time. Even when I was still using a cane, riding a bike where I needed to go meant that I could minimize painful walking. Now that I’m walking unassisted again, why not keep it up? I think that streets should be much safer, but even if they’re not I’m not ready to give up riding.


Filed under injury

Return to Seattle: Snow day!

A couple of weeks ago I took a quick trip up to Seattle. I was technically there to present a poster, but given that it was an evening session, I got to sneak in lunch with my mom and some time with Family Ride before getting back on a plane the next day.

The conference was massive, but I learned enough from the discussants who stopped by that my poster was outdated by the time my session finished, which I count as a huge success, because (a) I learned something and (b) I didn’t have to carry the poster home. Win-win!

This is what winter looks like in Northern California.

This is what winter looks like in Northern California.

Madi had offered to bring me a bike, which was awesome in principle but seemed scary in practice, mostly because I am such a wimp about being cold and it was freezing in Seattle. Like: the temperatures were below freezing. Yeargh, are you kidding me? But after she towed a spare bike over on her iconic Big Dummy I couldn’t really skip the chance to take a ride. Also it would have been embarrassing to wimp out. Luckily I had thought to insulate myself to Michelin Man proportions, so it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had feared. We rode down to the Washington Bikes Bike Love party, where I had occasion to remember that there are lots of people who ride bicycles without children perched on them. Their bikes looked fast.

And then we rode back to the hotel and while we were riding IT SNOWED. I RODE IN THE SNOW. It was, by riding in snow standards, totally pathetic, a few flakes rather than the mega-dump that hit Seattle just a couple of days later. But I suspect that I’ll never have occasion to ride in any kind of snow ever again, so this will have to do. Snow is pretty.

I plan to use this experience to build up all kinds of cold weather cred back here in San Francisco. Our local bike shop owner complains that half his customer base won’t even ride in the fog, which in this neighborhood means that they’re using alternative forms of transportation something like 350 days of the year. I ride in both fog and snow, because I am hardcore like that.

An infinite series of air kisses go to Madi, the best host in all of Seattle, for making me look so much tougher than I actually am, and to Jen at Loop Frame Love for reminding me that grudgingly riding in snow in Seattle is still the epitome of cool in California. I couldn’t have asked for better company. This was a very short trip, but I’ll be back. I’m taking the kids to see their grandmother for their spring break in the first week of April while their dad is in Australia. And I’ll be back for yet another conference, without the kids, from April 17-20. (This is a ridiculous number of trips to take to one city in three months, but I promised my mom I would visit her before my next surgery, applied to multiple conferences in Seattle to make sure that I could deliver, and then had papers accepted at all of them.)

Look out, Seattle family bikers: I know how to ride in snow. Now nothing can stop me from visiting the already-famous G&O Family Cyclery.


Filed under destinations, travel

San Francisco problems: bike racks

It seems tasteless to complain about the limits of San Francisco’s bike racks, a real bicycle first-world problem. Many cities are still trying to increase the number of riders on the streets, and here I am frustrated with the fact that I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find a place to park my bike. Part of the reason it’s irritating, though, is that it’s such an easy problem to fix. Bike racks are cheap, there’s plenty of room for them, and the city will install them on request (at no cost to the requestor), but you can end up waiting a long time. Demand is high.

Preschool parking at the street cleaning sign.

Preschool parking at the street cleaning sign.

Last year my problem was my son’s afterschool program, which is no longer a problem because they installed a bunch of new bike racks. This year I’m still waiting for the request placed at my daughter’s preschool to make its way to the top of the list. In the meantime, we juggle with other families on bikes to lock up to the street cleaning sign. Unfortunately one (non-biking) family has a really aggressive dog that they like to tie up to the same sign (because he’s too aggressive to be around kids at the preschool itself), and although I’ve asked them politely if they could tie him to a tree instead and they said okay, they sometimes forget. The dog will attack me and my bike, and my kids understandably run away screaming when they see him, which means I’m stuck waiting for that family to leave if they arrive first.

Every morning is a cargo bike roll call at Rosa Parks.

Every morning is a cargo bike roll call at Rosa Parks.

Our son’s school has lots of racks, but there are no longer enough to meet demand. The school district has found another large bike rack for us and is working on scheduling its installation, but it’s not there yet, so the school bike racks remain pretty packed. There are street cleaning bus zone signs we can lock to if necessary, but it will be nice to have another real rack.

Around our neighborhood and my office, there’s a different problem: non-bike competition.

A bike rack can't hold much more than one shopping cart.

A bike rack can’t hold much more than one shopping cart.

We live on Parnassus Heights and thus we are well above what’s referred to locally as “the shopping cart line,” but most of our local haunts are in the flats. The library, for example, has a pretty small bike rack anyway, and it’s often occupied by a stolen shopping cart filled with someone’s worldly goods. There is increasing evidence that homelessness is a problem that can be resolved pretty cheaply by giving homeless people places to live (relative to paying for the health care and jail costs of having people live on the streets). But in a city like San Francisco, which is reluctant build new housing even for billionaires, it does not surprise me that subsidized housing is scarce.

At work the bike racks are often occupied by motorcycles and scooters, despite multiple signs saying that this is not allowed, which also direct their riders to the designated motorcycle parking area. There’s usually room for bikes as well, but the motorcycle riders always take the spot closest to the door, and motorcycles are so big that walking around them means walking into a driving lane, and they smell awful, and it’s all just annoying.

Everyone, it seems, is beginning to discover what we’ve discovered: riding a bike is the easiest way to guarantee VIP parking wherever you go.  Even when I have to lock to a parking meter or a stop sign, it only takes one attempt to drive in the city again to make me realize how good we have it still.


Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco