Two weeks ago, in what was supposed to be my last race of the last weekend of the '06 road racing season, I crashed hard and broke my femur.
On Saturday I clenched the Amateur Lighweight GrandPrix championship. Then on Sunday I only had one more race remaining - in a class where I had skipped a bunch of races over the season and so was out of the top three anyway. I didn't care about finishing well. I thought I'd just go out and circulate, in the name of squeezing out the last bit of track time before the racing season's end... Darn! Hind sight 20/20.
Let's rewind back to the beginning of this racing season. I saw something odd in the neighboring garage bay: I saw an expert racer, Todd Babcock, unwrap a brand new set of Woodcraft-CFM footpegs, install them on his SV650, then take a hack-saw and chop them down to half their length. I asked: "Why?" He replied with a question: "Have you ever hit a foot peg on an apex curb?"
Why couldn't I take that implied advice on its face value and start shortening my footpegs from then on? Dumbass. I guess I thought that I wasn't fast enough to need that. I thought: "I don't lean that far over, and I don't hit the apexes that close. I usually pass my knee over the apex curbs, with enough of a margin that hard parts aren't anywhere near them."
Yeah, that was all true, in a way. Until that last race.
Here's how the Lightweight Superbike race went:
I was gridded in the last spot on the grid, because I had screwed up my pre-entry form and had to post-enter at the gate. Again, no problem - I wasn't racing for points in that class, and so didn't mind starting from the back. More passing for me, right?
The green flag waved, I got a great launch and ended up fourth going into the first turn. So much for all the passing that I was expecting...
I maintained that position through the first half a lap, and was chasing down the pack of four ahead of me. I got a great drive out of Loudon's steeply banked turn six (aka The Bowl.) As I was going into T7, which can be really thought of as the continuation of T6, as virtually no extra steering input is required between them, I realized that I was gaining on the bike ahead of me, but that I was not on the right line to make the pass. I slightly held back the throttle to stay close behind him this time, and that's where it all went wrong. Normally, I am full on the gas as I go through T7, and pass close to the curb on the left before standing the bike up and transitioning for a right-hand sweeper T8. However, with less than full throttle my line got tightened up a bit (acceleration makes the bike carry out wide, less acceleration means the bike stays closer to the inside.) I thought: "Shit, I'm too close to the curb."
Next thing I remember is feeling a bump that upset the chassis, immediatelyu followed by a violent tumble of my very own body. I remember pulling my hands tightly against my chest, so I don't break my arms. I remember severe pummeling all over that would not end. Remember seeing the proverbial "ground-sky-ground-sky-ground-sky..." sequence. Remember the several thuds of hitting my helmet on the asphalt. Remember thinking: "This is going to break bones." Then remember coming to a stand-still in a seated position, with my arms still crossed on my chest and my feet splayed out to the sides in front of me.
The immediate post-crash self-inpection followed next.
I felt pain in my left upper leg. The best I can describe that pain is as if someone took an inner tube and setup a tourniquet on my thigh that was way too tight. So tight and painful that I could scream.
I looked around carefully, and my head turned without any neck pain whatsoever. Good.
I moved my arms to brace myself agains the ground, and they obeyed. Good.
I moved my toes and ankles, and I felt the inside of my boots and saw the boots move. Good.
Then I tried to move my legs. The right one moved, and the left one didn't. Shit. It wasn't that it was painful to move - the pain was everpresent at that point and unchanging. It's just that I couldn't will my knee or my hip to make any motion. Nothing. Zip.
Based on the location of the pain, I decided that I broke my femur somewhere mid-shaft. But I was also very afraid that I could have dismantled my knee. It all looked sort of together in the leathers, and I have integrated knee armor, so I was hopeful, but the tendons in the knees aren't as easy to repair back to 100% as bones. At least that was (and still is) my dilettante opinion.
Life has taught me that I'm pretty good at taking pain. At that point the pain in my leg was over the bearable threshold.
I started looking around for cornerworkers (mind you, this is like 10 seconds after the crash). I looked to the T6 cornerworking station and did not see anyone there (turns out the worker was there, but positioned in a slightly different spot than usual - just out of my sight.) I then looked for the flagger in the T8 tower, whom I saw looking in my direction. I started to wave frantically, showed him the ambulance sign (I cornerwork almost every weekend between my races, so I'm familiar with hand signals), pointed to my leg and screamed at the top of my lungs.
To be honest, the screaming was as much for attracting attention as it was for coping with the pain at that point.
I saw the T8 worker briefly wave the red flag (though most of the racers were past him at that point) then put the flag away and start climbing down from the tower. This allowed me to relax a bit - I knew I was noticed and help was coming. I lied back and clenched my teeth.
The following 20-30 seconds I spent on my back contemplating the consequences of my presumed injury. Both, short term and long term.
In the short term I thought of how long it would be before they can drug me up. They usually delay that until after they inspected the rest of the body palpated for possible internal injuries. That sucks. Maybe I should always carry a Percocet or two duct-taped inside the gauntlet of my racing glove...
In the long term I thought of how the recovery would affect my life. Both mine and my wife's. I never broke as big a bone as the femur, but I knew enough to understand that it was just about the biggest and strongest bone in the body that carries a lot of weight and has some seriously big and strong muscles attached to it. I knew then that it would take a surgery to put it together, and that tere would be a lot of bed time, a couple of months on crutches, followed by many months of serious physical therapy. My wife would have to care for me. I would miss weeks of work even though I could pretty quickly start working from home (I'm a software engineer.)
In other words, not a pretty picture. Crap. And this was THE LAST FREAKING RACE OF THE SEASON!!! Cra-a-a-a-ap!
That's what I thought as I was lying on my back.
Next thing I saw was the face of a woman EMT.
I said: "My left femur is fractured, but everything else is OK."
She thought: "Shut up and let me decide what's wrong with you."
But she didn't say that, because she was nice.
The EMTs told me not to move, and very carefully rolled the helmet off my head. That was not a trivial task, as I make a point of wearing a very tightly fitting helmet. Next, they put me in a neck collar "just in case." Standard procedure, so to speak.
Moving me onto the body board was an ordeal. I insisted on sitting up a bit, so I could manipulate my own leg with my arms. At first the EMTs were insisting that I stay horizontal, but then I told them that I was sitting up and looking around just a minute ago and that I had no pain whatsoever anywhere near my spine, thorax or abdomen. I told them that I remained conscious throughout the whole tumble, and that I was more than reasonably certian that the leg was the only significant damage I incurred.
Against the standard protocol (but based on good judgement, in my opinion) after palpating my neck the EMTs agreed to take off the collar and let me sit up.
I literally had to pick up my leg with one hand just under the knee, and the other one under the calf and lift it up while the EMTs lifted the rest of me and slid the board under. As I was letting go of my leg, it rolled slightly and I felt the awful grinding sensation, which I remember from braking my collarbone. So it was confirmed: the bone was fractured, and it was in fact a complete fracture. I informed the EMTs of that. I think they were already gettign tired of my pretending to be an amateur doctor, but that was just the beginning.
Anyhow, to make the long story long (as opposed to very long) what ensued was a trip to the infield medical center at the track, followed by a trip to the Concord Hospital in Concord, NH, in turn followed by a 2+ hour drive to Boston's Mass. General Hospital (the trauma orthopedist on call at Concord said that he wouldn't touch a bone that big with a ten foot pole, which is fine with me.)
Now every time I had to get into or out of the various beds (track - ambulance - IMC - transport ambulance - Concord Hospital ER - another transport ambulance - Mass General ER - Mass General Bed -- that's seven times total) every time I had to do that I had to put up with the horrible pain and the god-awful bone grinding. No fun, let me tell you.
My initial field diagnosis held up. It was a mid-shaft femoral fracture with a butterfly fragment.
At Mass General I spent one night broken but in traction (sounds bad, but traction was actually a relief - no more grinding.) The next day I went in for surgery and ended up with a titanium rod spanning the inside of my femur from knee to hip.
(Actually, the proper term is "intramedullary femoral nail", but given the choice of saying "I've got a big rod" or "I got nailed," I certainly prefer the former.
The recovery so far has been ahead of normal schedule:
- I broke the femur on Sunday.
- Got the rod put in on Monday.
- Walked with a walker on Tuesday.
- Walked on crutches on Wednesday.
- Went up and down a flight of stairs on Thursday morning, following which I was promptly checked out of the hospital.
Now, two and a half weeks from the surgery, I can stand on two feet with about 50/50 weight distribution between my two legs. But I can't put 100% of my body weight on my left leg. I mean maybe I can (you know, titanium has pretty high module of elasticity), but I am not clinically advised to do that until about 6 weeks post-op.
As far as soft tissue damage goes, they had to cut through my muscles to get access to the loose butterfly fragment of the bone, so I have severely limited range of knee motion. I can now bend it up to 90 degrees (thanks to thrice-daily stretcing - it was more like 60 degrees post-op.) And for the life of me I can't straighten the leg and lock the knee. They tell me it's all normal, and that with my current progress I'm already way ahead of schedule. Good.
Got the good people at work to set me up with a nice dual-core Turion64 laptop running Linux (our development platform.) And am looking forward to slowly joining the ranks of productive people. Two weeks of watching TV is about as much as I can take. I even started reading books, if you could believe such a thing.
The night pain in the knee so far is the most difficult aspect of this injury to deal with. As I said before, I am fairly tolerant of pain in general, and so I can take it like a man during the day. But I can't fall asleep for the life of me. And it feels like it is getting worse during the night. All the other senses are cut off, it's dark, quiet, and pain in the knee is all there is. I take a doze of Vicodin at midnight, fall asleep, then wake up from pain two hours later and have to wait another 4 hours before I can take another one. Then, at 6am I pop another Vicodin and fall asleep for another two hours, only to wake up again from the pain.
When I complained about pain at night to the doc, he basically said: "No shit, dummy. You broke your leg. It's supposed to hurt." I'm paraphrasing, but only very slightly.
Hopefully, this will improve in the next week or two.
I guess that's all for now. I'll post the X-rays when I get them.
Oh yeah, back to the reason I crashed. I thought at the time of the crash that I rolled over the curb with my wheels. But I have since heard from another racer who was smack on my tail at the time of the crash, and he swears that he saw the peg hitting the curb before he had to take evasive action and ride through the grass to avoid hitting my tumbling body. (Thanks, buddy!)
One more point I wanted to make:
I was wearing an Arai Corsair helmet (one size smaller than comfortable), fully armored Dainese racing suit, Dainese back and hip protectors, Held racing gloves, Daytona internally articulated racing boots. There are two very significant impact sites on the back of my helmet, with corresponding compression of the EPS liner. There is evidence of impact on the shoulders, elbows, knees, shins, back hump, etc... Every piece of safety equipment that I used is essentially destroyed (the leathers were cut off me by the way - and I insisted on doing it myself, because I don't like girls waving scissors in the vicinity of my sack!)
Other than the damage done to my left leg (and it's the kind of damage that no suit or armor can protect against) there was not so much as a bruise anywhere else on my body.
I know exactly the brands that of motorcycle safety equipment that earned my trust. All the junked gear is getting replaced by either exactly the same model or the next higher model for next season. (Or whenever it is that I convince my wife to let me get back to racing.)
This accident was a 100% affirmation of every agonizingly expensive safety equipment purchase that I have ever made.
Now, if only I had listened to Todd and chopped down my footpegs...
PS: Here is a composite of two AP (anterior-posterior) X-ray images of the femur right after the surgery: