Updated: Nov 22
On 10 March 2019 I was enjoying a typical 70km road cycle with 8 friends. It was a beautiful, sunny but cool morning and I remember thinking how fortunate I was to be able to exercise like this as we cruised through the quiet streets.
At 615am - about half-way through the ride - my bike hit a road defect whilst cornering. The front wheel lost traction and skidded straight ahead, causing me to momentarily lose my balance on the bike. By the time I regained control I had no time to safely make the corner. I knew pain was coming, it was just a question of how much. I decided the least danger lay in the grassy park straight ahead, so I chose crashing there knowing that I would be flung over the handlebars once I struck the park-side barriers.
I could not see the storm water drain hidden 5 foot below ground level into which I would drive my hand, head and shoulder; fracturing a wrist, 3 ribs and a shoulder blade. Most materially the force that went through my helmet – as it struck the ground – crushed two vertebrae, with my “T12” becoming just 40% of its original height. A large fragment of that vertebra was displaced on impact, compressing my spinal cord, creating permanent damage.
I knew nothing of that destruction as I lay on my side in the ditch; in immense pain, struggling to breathe. All I knew was that the damage felt severe, and I would not be flying from Brisbane Australia to Salt Lake City, USA for work that night as scheduled. I was letting my colleagues down.
It is unclear whether I couldn’t move, or if I instinctively knew not to try. I suspect both applied, with my body locking itself into “self-preservation” mode so that I didn’t do more damage. In any respect, I never expected to hear the words “spinal cord injury” a few hours later in hospital. I felt shocked and crushed for hours.
I was particularly impacted by the specialist’s comment about the dislodged piece of vertebra causing “more than 50% compression of your spinal cord”. I immediately started catastrophising: “What will life be like? Can I regain independence? Will I be able to travel in my retirement as I hoped? Will we need to sell our house?”.
I felt hopeless, helpless and (therefore) lonely for hours. I was able to break out of shock by deciding I could find peace with any level of improvement provided I gave recovery my best shot. I couldn’t control my outcomes, but I could control my effort. I chose to recall all the people I knew - or knew of – who had tackled difficult situations and achieved amazing outcomes. I set about imagining the attitude they must have employed. I told myself that if I can mimic their approach and replicate their strength, then I can achieve a recovery slightly beyond or perhaps even well beyond the prognosis conveyed by my specialists.
I knew nothing of that destruction as I lay on my side in the ditch; in immense pain, struggling to breathe.