My helmet saved my life. Of that I am certain. That and my cushioned rear. I'm publishing this now on the 2nd anniversary of my accident to remind myself to be grateful and to live my life to the full. More importantly, I’m also sharing my very honest and personal story for the first time to get the message out of how important it is to wear a helmet when cycling, they save lives. My helmet saved mine.
2 years ago I was cycling in Poland on my Iron curtain expedition across Europe. It’s remarkable that I remember that day with such clarity considering my injuries. I can press play on the film of the memory inside my head and see it all. I had a big day planned in the saddle, one that would take me to the capital of Poland, Warsaw. I was so excited to get there.
52 km to go. BANG!
I can still feel myself being thrown forwards, unsure of where I was hit, and rolling on the tarmac, coming to a stop on my back. The sunshine strained my eyes, so I rolled onto my front. In shock, and panting, I realised I’d been knocked off my bike, but was unsure how. I could see my bike laying in the road about 20 meters away.
Into survival mode and still lying on my front, I looked up to see if any on coming cars were going to hit me, no, but I knew I had to get myself off the road to safety. Panicking, I began crawling on my forearms until I got to myself under the barrier and collapsed. I could feel my helmet flapping around head as I desperately crawled. Once at the safety of the barrier, I reached my arm up to my head and felt that my helmet was in pieces and barely on my head.
That was the moment a man reached me, telling me in English I’d be ok and that an ambulance had been called. I asked him what had happened as I still had no idea how I ended up on the road. He was reluctant to say, I was surprised when he told me that I’d been hit around the head by a lorries wing mirror and thrown off my bike, landing on my bum. “Stay awake” he kept saying to me, this became my focus and the words I kept repeating back to him over and over to help me stay awake, “I’m awake, I’m awake”.
I remember the agony of the bumpy ambulance journey, being scared of where they were taking me and feeling very nauseous. The paramedic asked me where I hurt, I could only tell him “all over” and that my head was pounding. I refused all pain relief. I was alone and scared and wanted to keep my wits about me without being off my head on opiates.
Back in London I work in a hospital and had seen many young people with head injuries on intensive care, some who would have significant disabilities for the rest of their lives. At the hospital in Poland, I went into work mode. The staff spoke very little English, so I began animately telling them what they already knew, I needed my head and spine scanned whilst still refusing pain relief and throwing off my oxygen mask (I’m a terrible patient). Before they'd do anything, they wanted to see my passport, insurance and European medical card. Luckily, I could tell them where they were as the police had collected all my belongings and bike off the road.
This was the point I got really scared. I was semi lying/side sitting on the trolley, and I began to have black outs and my vision was blurred. I’m sure I was slurring my words and the staff were trying to get me to lie down. The doctor couldn't understand what I was telling him and I’m sure I wasn’t making much sense. I was also vomiting. My head throbbed and I remember thinking “this is it, I’m bleeding in my brain and soon I’m going to be unconscious, on life support and on intensive care like one of my patients, I may never be the same again, my poor parents”. I then passed out in the scanner.
I had a Polish translator on my phone, which helped hugely. The Police breathalysed me (Obviously I hadn’t been drinking) and through the translator the doctor was able to tell me that my head scan was clear. I phoned 2 of my closest friends to tell them what had happened, and for the first time, cried. I wanted to get myself together and then face timed my parents to tell them so they could actually see me, and see that I was ok. I lied and told them I was fine and walking around, not to come out and that I wasn’t coming home. I felt so guilty to be worrying them.
I spent 2 days in the hospital. On the day they discharged me, I’d wee’d into a cup once since the accident, hadn't even sat up and was still vomiting and had blurred vision. The only food I’d eaten was a slice of bread and butter they’d given me and 2 snickers bars I’d had left in my panniers. Polish hospitals don’t provide food. I only saw someone once per day during the doctors ward round. Despite my on going symptoms, when they suggested discharging me I agreed as I didn’t see any benefit in staying.
I couldn't get up the pain was so severe in my thighs, bum and pelvis. No position was comfortable. The dizziness remained for a few more days and the head ache a bit longer. I couldn’t move my neck due to the pain and stiffness from the whiplash and my jaw ached too. My bum was so heavy and big, bruised and swollen from the hard landing on the road. I literally felt like I was carrying around 2 water filled balloons. My skin was numb, and when I eventually got to the toilet I realised I had no idea what was going on down there, I had no sensation. Once, back in the UK after another scan, I learned I had fractured my coccyx and that the temporary loss of sensations probably due to spinal shock.
I was very, very lucky. I wouldn’t be writing this now if I hadn’t have been wearing my helmet and this is why I feel so strongly about cyclists wearing helmets. They really do save lives. It’s not good enough to potentially compromise your life because it will mess up your hair or you think that it wont happen to you. I’m 100% healed now and can do all the things I want to do, but I very nearly couldn’t.
Part 2 of this blog ‘Getting back in the saddle” will follow.