Saturday, April 09, 2011

Story - Kenda Girl

A long time ago, or so it seems, I had a horrific crash. It allowed me to experience a wheelchair (one of my own, at least temporarily, not one that I was repairing in the bike shop), it let me check off "broke a bone in my body" in my life accomplishments, and it led to much more pain and suffering to folks around me than I first thought.

Especially affected by this was the Missus.

My attitude was, "Look, it's my problem, I deal with it." I might ask for help when things are tough, but if it hurts only a bit, I don't need to share it with other people.

If it's unimaginably difficult or painful, okay, fine, I ask for help.

I didn't realize that it's that much worse to watch someone else deal with some unimaginable pain.

When one deals with adversity, it becomes very clear when a bright spot pops up on the radar. It really helps the folks watching the suffering. Yes, it's nice when someone treated me well. The way people treat you, the way they help, even if it's their job. I appreciate all that.

I didn't take into account that it helped those close to me as well, the "if you help a pained person it also helps the pained person's loved ones". It's kind of a colorrary to the "it hurts people to see their loved ones hurt" theorem.

A separate factor is the automatic response from someone like Kenda Girl, someone trained to help in those situations.

It's like a non-cyclist had a flat tire on their bike ride, or their chain came off. For us cyclists it's not a big deal to, say, put a chain back on a chainring. But to that "non-cyclist", it's a scary experience, to be unsure on how to treat the bike because suddenly the pedals don't work and there's a crazy chain tangled up all over the place. All too often you'll see recreational cyclists walking down the road, rolling along a bike with just a minor mechanical.

If a knowledgeable cyclist stopped, offered some brief assistance, it could make a world of difference to that non-cyclist.

When I hit the deck on that fateful evening, the Missus happened to not be there, I think the first race of the year she missed (other than tax season Bethels). Ironically, Mrs SOC was also absent, so I really had just SOC there for the normal friends/teammate type of company.

Fortunately for me, there were a number of trained emergency professionals present that same evening. I think the first to get to me was Doug M (a friendly rival who was spectating). Another was Matt S, our photographer at Bethel for many years. SOC, of course - although not trained in the medical field, he lent me a leg to lean on, enabling me to sit up a bit.

One of them stretched out my cramping legs, not sure who, but that got me away from "screaming" to just grimacing a lot.

Finally there was "the Kenda girl", at least that's how I thought of her. "Kenda" because she raced for the Kenda team. "Girl" because at that level, girls and girls and boys are boys (she herself calls the pro men "boys", the pro women "girls"). Hidden behind her sunglasses, her ponytail sprouting from her helmet, she presented only her "pro cyclist" face at the races, at least to me, not much more than that.

She raced at the Rent regularly as she worked nearby. I never met her face to face, it was more just a nod or an elbow wiggle while redlining in the race. At those points you don't really thinking about saying, "Hey, so what's up?"

One thing that struck me about her was that she'd be in there while I was getting shelled. I can handle that she was dropping me (because, let's face it, I get shelled by both men and women), but I figured she knew something I didn't know.

She rode a bit differently than me. Obviously if she just powered away, that's be one thing, but she seemed to be doing more consistent riding. A lot of smart riding, working really hard if necessary, but without flagrantly wasting energy. Since she was finishing races and I wasn't, I decided I should see what she did differently.

One week I followed her around. Ends up that, yes, she rode better than I did, and I learned a bit about approaching higher-average-FTP races (i.e. harder ones) by seeing what she did, and it helped. I finished a race there.

(Quick summary of my takeaway - don't do stupid stuff and you won't get dropped.)

What I didn't know is that not only was the "Kenda Girl" not just a smart rider, she's a doctor to boot.

I learned this second bit while on the pavement.

When I sat their leaning on SOC's shin, with two good guys drilling questions at me through the pain haze, I started getting a bit worried. The two guys were friends if you will, and their concern seemed, well, concerning. I felt like maybe this wasn't one of those "Ah, frick, now I gotta drive home" kind of crashes. It started to become more of an, "Um, can you tell me what's really wrong?" kind of crashes.

The thing I noticed was that the pain seemed a bit more... resistant, maybe that's the word. The pain wasn't going away. My body actually started getting numb with pain.

The fact that someone had already called an ambulance really threw me off, but I knew it was probably right - I generally say that if a rider is down for a lap they're really hurt, no matter what they say.

That night, for the lap it took the riders to cool down, I was screaming "I'm okay, I'm okay, no you don't have to call an ambulance!"

Then I'd try and sit up and I simply couldn't. SOC lent me a hand, sitting me up, and unfortunately that masked part of my symptoms. I was now "ambulatory" I think.

I kept denying that I was really hurt, but my actions weren't really matching my words.

Kenda Girl rolled over pretty quickly and took charge of the situation. My two friends deferred to her, just like a Cat 3 would defer to a Cat 2. She checked the two major points I complained about - my head and my shoulder. I felt pain all over my body but I decided that it was just a reaction to the tumble. I figured it was just cramps in my legs (we were just about to sprint when I hit the deck) and the road rash on different parts of my body setting my nerves on fire.

Part of the comfort was that professional doctor's tone. She spoke to me in a soothing, calm voice, no worry or panic in her tone, looking me straight in the eyes. She asked me slowly and clearly what hurt. She did some basic tests (I'm guessing they were tests but why else would you walk your fingers along a collarbone and then ask someone to look at a finger moving around and stuff like that) to make sure I hadn't scrambled my brain or destroyed my shoulder.

When she stepped away and got into a discussion with some other person (perhaps an EMT?), I realized that, regardless of her tone with me, she had strong feelings on what needed to be done, and done now. A huge thing is that she had the ambulance take me to a slightly further-away hospital, one that's closer to my home. This made the Missus's trip shorter (and less stressful since it involved no city driving). Kenda Girl wasn't just thinking "get him to a hospital", she was already thinking of the post-visit logistics.

Some folks loaded me up on the ambulance with those stretchers where the legs kind of disappear when you roll the stretcher into the ambulance (which I think is really cool). I don't remember a lot of visuals because I was covering my eyes. It was just easier that way, tears and sweat and pain and some instinctive "hide oneself by not seeing anything" feeling.

No one discovered that I'd fractured my pelvis, neither at the site of the crash (I was just sitting on the ground until I got loaded into the ambulance) or at the hospital (where I had x-rays and where it was clear I couldn't walk without significant pain).

Only when I broke down in agony a day later (trying to get to the bathroom, ironically in the now-den, and our bed was where Kenda Girl set up her bed) did the Missus call the hospital for a second look. We went for x-rays, I heard someone say "Stat!" for the first time ever in a real life situation, and I got the bad news. Later that day I had my very own wheelchair, at least for the month.

Note: the reason you don't hear "Stat!" in an emergency room is because, by definition, everything's already an emergency. The "Stat!" is implied and understood.

A cheerful picture, trying to cheer up the Missus. The first one was less so.

Of course I recovered from the fall. The human body is extremely resilient, able to recover from incredible injuries. Mine weren't so bad, in the scheme of things. No ten units of blood each night (someone told me that one recently), bloody footprints (I'll get to that), nothing quite so crazy. I started working again two months later, riding another month after that, and I returned to racing the following year.

Shortly after the fall I'd written a short note to the Kenda Girl, thanking her for her help. The Missus, more than anyone, appreciated the Kenda Girl's presence at the race that evening. I'd told the Missus just how much Kenda Girl's demeanor helped me deal with the situation.

It's one of those things though. If you helped someone put a chain back on their bike, it's no big deal, right? I mean, what, like a minute of your time? To make sure the rings were straight and the derailleur wasn't twisted off the bike.

But to the rider who dropped the chain, it's "a big deal".

To a doctor it's not a big deal to help someone who's hurt. To the hurt person, it's a big deal. The the hurt person's family? It's a big deal too.

Trust me on that.

I really couldn't offer much in return. Semi-pro type of racer, with kit and bike and all that already supplied to her. It's not like Kenda Girl was lacking for bike stuff. At some level I felt it would be good to be able to offer her something in return, but in another sense it wasn't something that would happen now. It'd be later, I was sure, but at that moment it'd wait.

Well, a year and a half later, Kenda Girl figuratively raised her hand in the "life" peloton, a signal for "I need some help". She lives out of state now, enough so that she has to fly to get here. She'd be returning to do Battenkill, arriving in Hartford at some late hour Friday. Kicker was that she needed a place to stay that night, hence the "raising of the hand".

We live 20 minutes from the airport. We have two unused rooms, although one is kind of full of stuff; the other had its own bathroom (a nice amenity for a guest), it was a floor away from our bedroom (privacy), and it had no critical cat things in it (so a guest could close the door for the night and not isolate the cats from food, water, or the litterboxes).

I called the Missus and ran the "Kenda Girl at our house" thing by her; she was fine with helping the doctor person who helped calm me in the worst crash I'd ever had. In fact she was all for it.

We prepared the house a bit when we both got home from work, cleaning up some of the ubiquitous cat hair, prepping our old bedroom (now a den) for our overnight guest, and set up a bed-like thing on our couch (we don't have a futon yet). The Missus turned in for the night, exhausted after another tax season day at the office.

I stayed up doing some race stuff, waiting for either a call or the cab. Eventually my phone buzzed; she was on her way. I put on the lights everywhere on the first floor, the walkway and driveway lights, and waited for a few minutes.

She arrived shortly after, bike case and backpack in tow. The cats immediately scattered, realizing that Something New was coming to the house. I showed her her room for the night, our den. A frantic Hal scrambled out from next to the couch, scurrying off to safety. She got settled in quickly - as a seasoned cycling person, she traveled with an air bed and sleeping bag. We left her bike/carrier in the living room, she got comfortable, and Seemingly clear of cats, and giving them a chance to escape by retrieving some stuff from the bike case, I left her in peace.

The cats slowly trickled back into the living room, checking out the strange grey box on the floor. I headed upstairs (it was past 1 AM at this point). Significantly neither Tiger, our orange cat, or Bella, our smallest tabby, fought for "under-the-cover" rights (apparently they don't like sharing under the covers with another cat, so one will get settled and the other will poke their nose in, see the other cat there, and leave).

Tiger, on the case. Hal likes the straps better. This was in the morning.

In the morning, Saturday, the Missus went to work; tax season demands a lot from an accountant. I had to get stuff ready for Bethel, and I worked on all the never ending things - wrong team, can you move me from here to here, questions about the race, stuff like that. I hadn't published the overall standings so I was working on that when I heard some noises from upstairs, more than a 10 or 15 lbs cat would make.

Kenda Girl was up.

The Missus got some food for breakfast, not sure what KG would eat. In the end it didn't matter - she brought her own food. I remembered the first day of the Tour of Pennsylvania, when I learned that most of the racers brought a lot of their own food. This was one of those pro things, carrying around your food, kind of like having your bed and stuff with you. She munched on her healthy looking stuff, sipped some coffee, and we talked a bit at the kitchen table.

Ends up that Riley, our shy white female, probably ended up hiding under the den couch, probably with Bella, when she first arrived the prior night. Usually, for the cats, the den's a good bet since guests normally stayed in the living room. And even if they came into the den they'd leave at some point.

I can't imagine their thoughts when, after an hour or two, the stranger actually went to sleep.

Bella (probably) got curious, like she does, and I think ended up curled up with said stranger. Riley ("a white cat") investigated too, getting an attempted scritch from Kenda Girl and scrambling away when KG actually moved her arm in response (Riley keeps her distance from everyone, given the choice).

Interestingly enough, as we talked, Tiger appeared and cautiously approached Kenda Girl at the table. After a wide-eyed look around for any feline-fatal traps, he jumped lightly onto her lap. After a minute or so he promptly curled up, happy and content.

When Tiger approves of a house guest it's a done deal.

Kenda Girl had to get to Central Wheel that day, a local shop and sponsor of a team, heading to Battenkill from there. She packed up most of her stuff, I helped sit on the bike case to close it, and we headed off in my "high school" (meaning it should belong to a high school kid) red car, burbling down the road.

She talked about some of her experiences racing and doctoring, both from vantage points I don't see, as I'm neither a doctor or a UCI racer, and I don't take care of injured people nor do I do "big" races. I liked one story where she left the emergency room in Hartford with a cycling friend who had crashed, i.e. a person like you or me. They walked out of the doors to see a car wrapped in police tape, a bullet hole in the window, and a trail of bloody footprints leading into the emergency room.

"Eyes like saucers", she laughingly described him.

I laughed too. If I'd seen that walking out of an emergency room...

Once we unloaded the car at Central Wheel I tried to escape quickly. I didn't want to "creep" Kenda Girl (I learned that term from the registration girls at Bethel - it means what it seems like it should mean), but Jeff, the owner of the shop and an avid cyclist and racer himself, intercepted and invited me in. He also demonstrated the term "creep" perfectly when I explained why I was trying to head out so quickly.

I hung out for a while, checked out their bikes. They carry the ubiquitous Cannondales, Look bikes, which I haven't seen anywhere except on the West Coast, as well as Guru. He even had the new Guru time trial frames (one is his personal frame), a very nice looking frame if I do say so myself.

Jeff even let me fondle a bar that's intrigued me, the FSA compact bar, a crit bend bar without the crit bend per se. It's his favorite bar, inexpensive ($40), and I may have to try it on my bike. It would beat buying new old stock (NOS) crit bend bars for $100-150 a pop. It bends forward only slightly, enabling an out of saddle sprinter to not really bruise his forearms in an all out sprint.

With a final wave bye and a hug to Kenda Girl I got in the car and returned to the house. I had to get the rest of the Bethel stuff ready, hopefully get a ride in, and head down to Navone Studios for the final 2011 Outdoor Sports Center Bethel Spring Series race.

I left feeling that I had, in some small way, been able to help out Kenda Girl. Maybe helped return that feeling of security that she gave me when I was sitting on the pavement, that things were going to be okay. For her it was just her duty. For me, well, it was more significant than that.

I could help grinning spontaneously to myself on the drive back home.


Anonymous said...

You have a good heart, I really liked this story.

DPN said...

I really enjoy your writings. This one was no exception!

ldjm said...

You're a great storyteller, in person and in writing.