During the depths of winter last year I managed to get a good block of training in, fully recovered from Godzone, speed was coming back to me and running was feeling good. then at the very beginning of August I started to come down with a cold. Apart from being a bit of a nuisance, the timing worked out ok as I was able to watch a good chunk of the Olympics while I was lying on the couch trying to feel human again.
Once my Covid test had come back clean and the Olympics were over I was able to go back to work. Turns out, not for much longer as the whole country went into a sharp lockdown the very next week. After over a year of semi-normality we were back to square one with harsh lockdowns again….
Working from home seemed not too bad for a change, I had plenty of electronic paperwork to catch up on so it was a good opportunity to sort that out. I also got back some momentum with the training again which was good. This rolled into the weekend, and while there was fantastic weather and fresh snow in the mountains, we couldn’t get near it. Saturday I went for a Port Hills run, then Sunday I couldn’t bear to do another Port Hills run, so after a good feed of pancakes for breakfast, I rolled the Mountain Bike out of the garage and headed out for an easy ride (as per the lockdown rules).
I headed up Rapaki track, which is just around the corner from home. I did a quick loop of the easy Taramea trail, then decided to head along and up the rest of Rapaki via the side trail. Yesterday’s run had taken a bit of enthusiasm out of the legs, but I carried on and my mind continued to wonder as to where to go next or whether I should just turn around and go home. I had been riding this section of trail at least once a week for most of the winter so I wasn’t too concerned about where I needed to put my front wheel until I approached a very small low rock which I normally just roll over with a bit of momentum.
As the wheel touched the rock I knew I had hit it wrong, it had caught me off guard. I am unsure as to exactly what happened next, but as the front wheel went over the rock it basically stalled against a tussock off the edge of the trail. The momentum I was carrying was enough that the back wheel immediately kicked up, and next thing I knew I was over the handle bars with no control. I impacted the ground with the forehead of my helmet, then as everything seemed to slow down I felt the twisting downward motion of first my nose and then my chin getting mashed into the ground. My teeth and jaw seemed to get a good shove from the contact too.
Surprisingly, even to myself, I was not knocked out, just flung after the initial impact to the side of the track, facing the opposite direction. As my eyes opened I saw quite a bit of blood dripping, and some intense pain in my face. For a brief moment I even contemplated getting up and continuing to ride…. however second by second I realised that some of these wounds were probably going to need some medical attention, maybe some stitches even. I had lost my sunglasses I was wearing at the time, so I gathered them together quickly and recovered my bike from the track. I was worried someone might come along and run these over. Next thought was, maybe I needed to call an ambulance? Where was my phone? It was in my back pocket, but now it was no longer there… Good old Garmin “find my phone” function came in handy. I was able find it pretty quickly, it had come out of my back pocket and over my shoulder and was caught in my jacket. From that point on I figured I could walk ok, so I could probably get myself back home without having to wait for an ambulance to get to a moderately difficult location and then there was the whole Lockdown restrictions too. Then I thought I probably look very obviously injured, so pulled my buff up over my nose and rolled cautiously down the hill.
By the bottom of the hill the pain was starting to kick in, also the reality of what had just happened. There was a hundred thoughts racing through my mind as to what a stupid situation I had got myself into, and I just need medical attention to fix me up as fast as possible. I also knew there was going to be a bit of waiting and pain to grit my way though before I could fully relax again. When I arrived home, I let my flatmates know that I probably needed some stitches….then reveled the extent of the damage by pulling down the buff. A quick wash with water and then a very quick glance in mirror made me realise how bad my injuries were. After grabbing some clothes a face mask I was whisked away to the afterhours clinc as it was a Sunday after all.
When arriving at the clinic there was a bit of waiting around in line outside while everyone was pre screened for Covid. This was the first time where the shock really started to set in and I started to feel a bit faint… luckily it wasnt too much of a wait and I was quickly let into see a nurse.
As soon as I took my mask off, the nurse took one look, said “oh you’ve done a good job there, you need to see the doctor”
I was quickly rushed through to another room while the next nurse, made an attempt to provide some pain relief with liquid panadol and a syringe through an undamaged area of my lips. It was sort of helpful I think, as apart from some throbbing there wasn’t a lot of extreme pain. As soon as the doctor arrived I had to take my mask off again, the doctor this time took one look, said “oh you’ve done a good job there, you need to see a plastic surgeon”. He briefly paused to take a photo presumably to send to the hospital and disappeared for a bit.
When he came back, he was wound up pretty tight, I think he had presumed I was out doing something extreme and not at all in the realms of the level 4 rules. Without actually asking what had happened, he proceeded to tell me that I had broken the rules, and the police may be waiting for me at the hospital…. Probably not really all that professional…. and this accusation made me pretty upset as I just happened to be on my mountain bike and had a bit of a freak accident… talk about kicking someone when they are down…. At least the nurse was there with me and as soon as the Doctor had stormed out, she said to me ” oh don’t worry about him, that’s just grumpy Dr Greg” or something to that effect. She then bandaged me up and sent me back outside to the car park with instructions to proceed to A&E at the main hospital, they were expecting me!
I jumped back into my flatmates car and we were off to A&E. Traffic was pretty minimal which was good, there seemed to be a police car following us too. As we pulled into the carpark it made me pretty nervous, as so too did the police car. Walking into the reception required talking to the person on the door, then waiting, in line to talk to the next person, before walking down a hall to yet another reception. At the second reception, I had to give them some details, but because my mouth was bandaged shut and covered by a mask it was difficult to explain that I wasnt really able to speak. The reply to that was, that they just thought I was super scared about covid!
Next step in the process was to walk down the hall again and wait. It was a bit of an awkward spot to wait, there was a bunch of unhappy people all sitting there, and not alot of seats with every second one taken out of action due to Covid spacing requirements.
After a while, we were joined by some dude who walked in and then proceeded to play death metal quite loud on his phone. It was pretty irritating, but the body language he gave off suggested he was looking for a fight, so no one seemed to do anything until a Doctor came out and confronted him, he didnt seem to appreciate it wasnt appropriate. But reluctantly agreed to turn it down. He then proceeded to move into another seat when it vacated with a person being called into the observation rooms. It was closer to opposite me, but I continued to stare into space and avoid eye contact. Then he pulled out a can of burbon and coke. He sipped on that for a while, then occasionally there was an out burst of rambling abuse to anyone that would react. Another paitent arrived, sat down and he mubbled something pretty offensive towards her. She took acception to that and promptly moved or went to get assistance. Next thing this dude starts rolling up a cigerette, and as he looked to light it up another senior doctor entered the room and had a chat to him telling him it was not appropriate to smoke or drink inside a Hospital. After a brief attempt to explain alcohol was his method of medicating he finally agreed to go outside. Man, new found respect for what those doctors have to put up with in A&E!
The remainder of my wait was a much more calm affair. It didnt seem like it was too much longer before my name was called out and I was seen to. As I walk in I dreaded the discussion about how it happened, I knew I was probably going to get some sort of telling off, so I was a little on guard when the Surgeon started to ask me what type of bike I had… “a mountain bike”
He said: “I know that, what mountain bike have you got?”
Small talk out of the way, the removal of the bandages was underway and the inspection of the wounds… “well looks like you have done a good job there”
There was apparently a lot of gravel and dirt in the wounds, and there was a lot of indecision on whether he could fix it up in the room right then and there, or if he needed to take me into surgery and do it properly. He did then reassure me that he could fix my face up, it just will most likely leave a scar… Internally I laughed to myself, there wasnt any option really, I think Id rather have bit of a scar than a gapping hole in my face!.
After settling on a plan of attack he gave me a local anesthetic into my face, using quite a large needle I couldn’t really look away. I just had to sit there calmly as it was the best way to minimize the initial pain of the needle prick. He prewarned me, that people of “our age” were usually the most dramatic when being given an anthestic, so that helped me resolve myself not to be one of those people! Once that was done, he disappeared for a minute while a nurse popped in and stuck a canula into my arm. On his reapparence, he had decided that since I had handled the anesthtic which not too much hassle, he could probably fix me up right away if there was avaiblility in the next hour or so upstairs in the opperating thearter under local anesthitic. The other options were for general anesthetic but Id either have to go home and come back for surgery tomorrow, or stay in overnight. The more he thought out loud the more I could tell he was getting excited about the prospect of taking me upstairs and sorting it out right now. His enthusisatum for getting it sorted as soon as possible made it an easy choice for me.
He put a quick stitch in my lower lip to hold it in place until surgery. Made some phone calls and I was sent to wait outside for some Xrays. The next 20mins were a blur as I was quickly taken down a series of hallways to the xray room. I had xrays of my head and neck taken, as well as my thumb which was now a bit more sore than before. In the process I was chased down the hall by a nurse who gave me anitbiotics via a syringe connected to the canula. Weirdly she asked me if i could taste it inmmediately afterwards, and strangely I could!
X-rays done I was back to the waiting room while they were checked over. Nothing of note which was great just a bunch of cuts to my face which I knew all about! It was then only about 5 minute before I was called to reception where the orderlies were waiting with a wheelchair. I told them I could probably handle walking, to which I was promptly told: “no, you are going to surgery, you must sit in the chair”
I did as I was told, and somewhat embarrsingly was wheeled up to the opperating theatres upstairs. Gown on, watch etc off, then I had to get into the bed before being rolled into theatre. Into the bright lights of the operating room, I had to climb off the bed and onto the opperating table and then just had to wait. I was pretty nervous now, I knew what I was up against, and it freaked me out a little bit. The nerves caused me to start to shake a little, the nurses asked me if I was cold and then just started supplying me with hot blankets which were kind of the business. I did explain to them I thought I was just nervous, so besides the majical hot blankets, they did a very good job to keep me calm while we waited.
When the surgeon did arrive, it was all on. The first task was too cover my eyes (quite a relief), then cover everything else and anything left exposed painted with iodine. He attempted to start with the top lip, hoping that the anesthetic from earlier as still active, however almost immediately as he sunk a neddle into the skin I felt everything. The plan then changed and he worked methodically cleaning and then stitching the flap of skin back together. In a number of places the skin was not salvageable and there was some debridement required, not much fun and there was a hint of burning smell when he operated this tool. The whole time this was going on I was just willing myself to be calm, trying to keep myself as relaxed as possible. I knew that my legs were slowly tightening back up again, so there was a whole cycle of tense and release going on kinda distracting me from everything else.
After the chin was back together I heard one of the nurses count up about 12 stitches…One wound down two to go.
Next task to tackle was the bottom lip, this one was a bit more complex by the sounds of things and a number of internal and external sutures were required. The conversation went along the lines of such and such mm vicryl, here and such and such monocryl here etc etc. It was much like the dentist with gauze and stuff shoved in my mouth to keep it open. Thankfully the only thing I could really feel was a light tugging of the skin as it was sewed up. At one point I also over heard a nurse somewhere in the background exclaim that that was a lot of stitches just under local….tell me about it!
Almost done, now just the top lip. The anesthetic made this pretty much plainless too. I think this bit was pretty easy in comparison. Lying on my back for over an hour now, moisture had gathered at the back of my throat and it felt briefly like I was going to drown, so I just had to swallow very briefly. Immediately the surgeon sounding alarmed asked if everything was alright. Briefly explaining as best I could with my mouth contorted what had happened, he replied with some relief and surprise, along the lines of “Oh I guess thats understandable!” Then with the last suture in place it was all over.
After about an hour and a half of surgery I was allowed to sit up slowly and transfer to the recovery bed, I asked just how many stitches there were. They couldnt tell me specifically, other than alot!
The trip to the recovery ward was quite relaxing, it was just such a relief to finally have everything reattached and stitched back together. Under Covid protocols I was dropped off in a ward somewhere by myself with no one else really around at all. A nurse came in and checked on me every now and then, and the food trolley stopped by too. Unfortunately I was not going to be able to eat any of it either, which when I explained this, there was a matter of fact realisation of “oh yeah, I’ll bring you something you can eat”.
Once the surgeon had been back to have a look and I’d confirmed I had been to the toilet I was allowed to let myself out. From then on the real recovery began.
It was about 2 days before I could open my mouth wide enough to fit a spoon in, then 2 days before I could manage any solid food. The healing part was probably the most painful aspect of it all too. What felt like a very long 8 or so days the wounds were mostly sealed up and the external stiches could come out, the internal dissolvable ones took a bit longer to go away! Two weeks later and it was almost unnoticeable… I can’t thank everyone that helped me out in my recovery from the doctors to the nurses to the flatmates and friends… even grumpy doctor Greg!