Having suffered 4 major crashes in the past 25 months has given me the insight and expertise needed to deal with a major athletic setback. I’m no shrink, but I think I’ve earned some creds from the school of hard knocks. If you have a major crash, here are the different stages you can expect in the path to recovery.
Stage 1: The day of the crash
This day is similar to the first day of each semester at college. Looking at the course syllabus I think – “6 weeks to study Finite Element Analysis? Pfft. Despite the thick textbook, this is easy and smooth sailing. I can do it in four! The professor doesn’t know how good I am.”
Once the doctor calmly lays out the path to recovery, asimilar mindset kicks in – “6 whole weeks off the bike? Pfft. Ill be back on the bike in no time. The
professor doctor doesn’t know how good I am.”
Stage 2: The night of the crash
After a few hours, the painkillers & adrenaline wear off. Waking up the nociceptors. Nociceptors are the sensory afferent nerves that signal pain. They become extremely active around bruises and play two large roles:
- Signal discomfort
- Help you develop an immense hatred towards bedsheets which rub your bruises.
As you lay in bed struggling to find the least uncomfortable position to sleep in, you realize how badly you had underestimated this whole challenge a few hours ago. Squirming from one position to the next, you constantly search for the bruise or injury that is the least intolerable and positioning yourself accordingly.
Lying awake, you try to figure out the crazy series of events and decisions that led you to take up this pursuit and whether it really is worth all the struggle. You decide to wake up fresher and rethink your approach towards the recovery process. You also mull an investment into a memory mattress. After a few minutes or hours, sleep finally kicks in.
Stage 3: The rock-bottom
Waking up the next morning, you will feel like Superman… who’s wearing a kryptonite bodysuit. Your energy levels are at an all-time low. Your body is using up a lot of energy in damage control – regenerating new cells, healing broken bones, warding off infection and healing the bruises. Can’t the nanotechnology revolution happen sooner?
This stage is the longest and the worst. Every time I broke my collarbone, I spent the first 3 to 4 days laying in bed 22 hours a day. Your support network (friends and family) largely determines the duration of this stage. The lesser energy you spend, the faster you will recover.
Like an infant, you will depend on your close ones for the simplest tasks. From preparing meals and having clothes washed to searching for the phone charger and overturning washed socks, you will shamelessly ask for help.
The bright side: you will gain a larger sense of gratitude, respect, and affection for those helping you get back to normalcy again.
Stage 4: I love my trainer
This is the stage where you energy levels are back to normal, but your movements are restricted by the injury and the supporting contraptions. The cravings for exercise-released-endorphins get stronger by the day, but the doctor’s recommendation for rest keeps you away from strenuous activity.
Until one day, you feel a surge of energy and dust off your bike, set it up on the turbo trainer, cleat in and start revving! The feeling of invincibility is strongly present in the first 10 minutes. You feel like Superman without the Kryptonite and nothing can stop you! But after 30 minutes, you are tired again. Your body is telling you that it has had too much. You acknowledge its signals but negotiate for 15 more minutes.
After you get off, you feel great and decide to increase the duration by 15 minutes each day and throw in a bit of intensity by the end of the week. You feel like you have the power to conquer the world and everything in the world seems great.
Stage 5: I hate my trainer
The first 3 to 4 days on the trainer go swimmingly. So much so that you chart out a training plan with absolute confidence that nothing can hold you back from logging in 15 hours. Nothing.
Until you hit the second hour of the first ride. Which is when the deafening boredom of the trainer comes into action. You look at the Garmin and wonder if the timer is working right.
Ultimately, you find it within you to push on and complete the workout, but the feeling of invincibility is no longer there. There’s no way around it – you push yourself to get back on the trainer each day to complete the workout and regain the precious lost form.
Stage 6: The hiccup
At some point in the recovery process, Murphy’s law comes into the picture in the form of an injury setback. Minor or major. The first time I broke my collarbone, my forearms muscles became atrophied due to inaction and hurt like hell, requiring a hospital visit.
In my latest injury, the cast got bent and pressed against my palm nerves, resulting in 2 sleepless nights of pain and suffering. Furthermore, an infection had developed and the doctor had to employ a metal brush to scrub out the muck and grime from the infected area. Followed by a prescription for 2 weeks of heavy antibiotics.
Once the setback has been dealt with, you thank your lucky stars and begin to take the recovery process a lot more consideration.
Stage 7: A return to normalcy. Almost.
After weeks of patience and focussed recovery, everyday activities now no longer seem daunting. The joy of doing simple things without worrying about the right limb alignment is much welcomed. You can now prepare your own meals, head out of the house alone and reach under the bed to grab the phone charger. With this new found confidence, you are ready to take on bigger challenges, namely training on the road again.
Stage 8: The (4th) best day ever!
Once all the contraptions have been removed and you gain enough flexibility to move around, you decide to get back on the road again. The excitement of doing so is uncontrollable and you spend the vast majority of the night before cleaning the bike, pumping up the tires and triple checking the drivetrain.
The next morning, you feel like a kid at a candy store. Getting on the bike re-reminds you of the freedom and magic of your first time riding a bike with a small dose of .weirdness as the body tries to recollect what is needed to maintain equilibrium on two wheels.
Soon enough the muscle memories kick in. The sensations of the wind in your face, the thrill of the speed and the innocent joy of riding a bike take over. The feeling of glee that comes from balancing on 2 square inches of rubber while conquering the local hills, sprinting to the lampposts and dodging the odd pothole (or fifty if you are in India), fills you up with adrenaline-fueled satisfaction!
Stage 9: Normalcy
When I finish an exam, I have a pretty good idea of how I will score. But while hitting the refresh button awaiting to view my results, a wave of doubt may flow through my mind wondering if I had largely miscalculated anywhere. “Did I calculate all the variables in the dynamic equilibrium problem? What if I had spent more time on question number 9? Have I messed up and will I need to take the whole subject again?”
A similar train of thoughts runs through your head while at the hospital waiting room before the final check-up with the doctor. But in reality, the hiccups are far more easily identifiable.
The doctor looks at the final X-rays and gives the nod to remove the cast/contraptions/bandages. A huge wave of relief rushes through and you feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders –quite literally if you have a broken collarbone.
Walking out of the hospital, you are gleaming with hope and optimism. With no injuries holding you back or needing extra attention, you can now focus on the bigger challenges that life can throw at you.
Like looking for the adapter for the phone charger!