In August 2015, my husband and I were on a dream vacation riding our bikes from Vienna, Austria to Venice, Italy with Erickson Cycle Tours. Check them out, they are amazing and have gone above and beyond in supporting us through this process. It was a two-week trip, and we were on day six when a dog ran out from a house and straight into my front wheel. There was no time to react and my head hit the pavement before I knew what was happening. I remember thinking I needed to get away from the dog and trying to crawl off the road, but I couldn’t see anything for several minutes. The police and ambulance came, and they insisted on taking me to the hospital. I kept saying “I’m fine”. I didn’t feel fine, but I was in shock and all I wanted to do was get back on my bike and finish the ride. I was in and out of the hospital quickly with apparently no serious injuries. I thought I was merely shaken up, and felt dizzy and detached, but it wasn’t a bad crash and surely I was just upset from the whole situation.
The following few days were all kind of a blur. Several people on the trip, my husband included, told me I shouldn’t get back on the bike. I insisted that I was fine, and continued trying to ride the next couple of days. On the bike, I felt tired and would get dizzy if I tried to look around. In the evenings, I would have episodes of vertigo. Josh and I had to eat dinners at a separate table away from the conversation and laughter of the group that made me want to crawl out of my skin as I experienced sound and light sensitivity. After a bad bout of vertigo walking to our room, Josh told me he wouldn’t allow me to get back on the bike. He said it wasn’t safe, and I was likely to crash again. I was angry that he was telling me what to do, but I was even more upset because I knew he was right.
I took a few days off the bike, I didn’t look at the computer or phone, I didn’t read anything, and I took several naps a day. After that rest, I thought I was much improved and insisted on riding two days at the end of the trip. Josh was furious that I wouldn’t listen to him, and I was furious that he was being overly concerned and controlling. Clearly I was fine and completely able to ride. Truth be told, I was not fine. I was in denial. Getting back on my bike was the most reckless, stubborn and selfish thing I have ever done. I wanted to be fine, and I desperately wanted to ride again and not let the whole trip get ruined.
At the end of the trip, we flew home and made a connection in Newark. Passing the time with a couple of movies, by the end of the eight-hour flight, I could hardly walk off the plane. Josh had to hold me up, and I was in a swirl of lights and noises and people, and I had no idea what was happening. We went through customs and stopped in the United Club to rest and wait for the next flight. I slept for a couple of hours before Josh woke me up. We made our way to the exit, but I couldn’t find it, and I didn’t know where I was or how to get out. Panic hit me, and I started crying. Josh took my hand and calmly led me out to our gate. It was the first time I admitted both to him and to myself that I wasn’t fine.
We made it home and went to see my doctor the next day. I was told I would be feeling better in a couple weeks, and I should rest my brain. This meant sleep as much as possible, no TV or movies, no reading, no phone, no computer, no driving, no shopping, no work. The first week wasn’t terrible. I was so incredibly exhausted that all I wanted to do was sleep. Then it got harder. Two weeks turned into four, then six, then eight weeks. After that, the doctors spoke in months. As I write this, I am 8 months post crash. I have made some minor improvements, but it is very slow. Unfortunately, a lot of my improvements are simply because I have altered my lifestyle to avoid things that exacerbate my symptoms. The doctors are still saying I should improve, but no one really knows to what extent or how long it will take.
My symptoms vary from day to day and include migraines, mental fatigue, disorientation, poor memory, motion sickness, and light and sound sensitivity. It is really hard to explain if you haven’t experienced it, but I liken it to a really bad hangover without the fun the night before. I have good days and bad days, and it is directly connected with how much sleep I get.
There are many things I cannot do without triggering symptoms. I’ve been a veterinarian for 11 years but haven’t been able to return to work since the week after the crash where I tried to work and learned how symptomatic I could become. I can’t safely drive myself more than a few miles (only on good days), can’t shop, can’t have much social time, can’t spend more than 10 minutes on the computer, can’t watch TV or read, and can’t ride my bike. Running is one thing that makes me feel great, and this blog will be more about what I can do.