Friday, December 10, 2010

How I Would Have Died--If I Lived 100 Years Ago: Bicycle Racing

Latest post on my work blog:


On Wednesday, May 9, 2007, twelve riders (including me) started down a 3/4-mile winding descent known as Turkey Hill. If you live in the Northeast, you probably have eaten Turkey Hill ice cream. It's that Turkey Hill—a real place on the west side of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Turkey Hill is a coasting race; no pedaling allowed. Riders sweep down the hill crouched as low as they can get on their bikes, passing each other using the momentum of the draft. On that lovely spring afternoon, I started at the back of the group and picked off the riders one or two at a time as we went faster and faster down the hill.
Just before nearing the finish line, I swept left to pass the lead rider. I timed it perfectly—except that the lead rider moved left. We touched wheels. I remember less than two minutes of the next three days.
When two-wheeled vehicles touch wheels, the back rider crashes. According to the ten riders behind me, I flipped through the air and landed on my head and right shoulder, sliding into the ditch at the base of the hill.
By my count,  I would have died four different ways 100 years ago. In order of severity:
1) I broke cervical vertebra 1 and 2 and smashed C-7. 100 years ago, spinal injury victims survived for weeks or months at best.
2) My high-tech bicycle helmet was crushed and covered with blood, but intact. Without it I might have been dead before I was done sliding without the bike.
3) Within 30 minutes after the accident I was in a MEDEVAC helicopter on the way to the Trauma Center at Lancaster General Hospital. With a smashed vertebra, I could have been quadraplegic or worse before I got the hospital by any slower means.
4) When I landed, my racing glasses dug into my forehead, peeling it up about two inches and ripping the skin from the bridge of my nose. Plastic surgery put me back together. Without it, infection could very well have been fatal.
This does not mean I got off scot-free. Stay tuned for next week's post, when I explain how modern medicine healed my spinal injuries.