Sitting in the mud at mile 35 was not on my bingo card for the Telluride 50 mountain bike race. Yet here I was, holding onto my right hand, wondering if it was OK and trying to figure out how I would finish. Another rider I’d been riding with a few miles was nice enough to stop and ask if I was OK. They also told me it looked like I had gone down really hard. I thanked them for stopping and told them they could keep going and that I would be OK.
I dusted the bike and myself off and picked everything thing up. I checked that the handlebars were straight, hopped on, and started heading downhill. The good news was I was at a part of the course that was a dirt road with a gradual downhill. I could ride with one hand, my good hand, my left hand, holding the handlebar while I flexed my right hand to try and keep it from getting too stiff. That gave me 15 to 20 minutes to assess how bad the injury was. It didn’t seem like I had broken anything. It only felt like a nasty sprain.
I stopped at the next aid station, and Kate met me there as I had texted her before the crash that I needed a pump for the front tire of my bike. I knew I had a slow leak in that tire, but I didn’t anticipate it would leak as quickly as it did that day. In hindsight, I should have ensured my equipment was working correctly before the race.
The good news is that this aid station had a mechanic set up to help riders. He inflated my tire and checked the rest of the bike. In the meantime, Kate got me some ibuprofen to help with the swelling and asked if I thought continuing was a good idea.
I had considered stopping, but the hand was functional enough. I could still hold onto my handlebar with my pointer finger in my thumb. Besides, the challenging technical sections of the race course were already behind me. I told her I thought I could finish. She shrugged her shoulders and sent me on my way.
Before the crash, I had not had the best day during this race. I changed my nutrition plan the morning of, which gave me a pretty upset stomach. Until the crash, my attitude had been terrible, which exacerbated an already rough day. The crash made me realize that I had not been having that bad of a day, at least until the crash.
As I was completing the race, my mind started thinking ahead. In another week, I would be backpacking in Wyoming. Would I be able to use my right hand enough to complete the backpacking trip? I had put down a decent amount of money, so canceling the trip was not something I wanted to do.
I finished the race in a little over six hours and felt a lot of achievement. It was a very tough course, and the crash was painful, but I still managed to get back on my bike and finish. I immediately got some ice on my hand and some french fries in my stomach.
During my five decades on Earth, I have sustained many injuries. At this point, I have had six separate surgeries. I have sprained and jammed and banged my hands in countless ways. This hand injury was just another sprain, albeit a pretty substantial sprain of 2 fingers.
One reason for not going to the hospital is that I knew they would take X-rays, and if something were broken, I wouldn’t be able to go on my backpacking trip. That wasn’t an option, so I iced it, elevated it, and did everything I could to prepare it for the trip the following week. Besides, I’m left-handed.
On the backpacking trip, the hand was alright. I had the use of my pointer finger and my middle finger so I could grab and pick up most things. The pain was not so terrible that I couldn’t handle it. So I made do and got through the trip.
On my return, I mentioned my hand sprain to my doctor, who had me get an x-ray. Immediately, it was noticeable that at least two of the bones had fractures. One, the ring finger, was fractured and dislocated. The next stop was to the orthopedic surgeon to assess any options for repair. The middle finger was a bit sore but bent correctly. The ring finger was crooked and only bent part way.
Before surgery, it was uncertain what could or could not be done. I learned that the fingers still need to catch up regarding techniques compared to repairing hips, knees, and shoulders. While my injuries are relatively common, there are not many options for what can be done due to the size of the bones involved.
In this case, we had a couple of options: The first would be to do a dynamic ex-fix, putting the finger in traction. The second option, a newer procedure, is the hemi hamete, a bone grafting operation. In that case, they essentially rebuild the finger joint with part of another bone in my hand and hope to regain as much mobility as possible.
The additional complication to my situation was waiting as long as I had to get medical care. The scar tissue had built up considerably, and the doctor was not optimistic about how much mobility I might get back.
With all that in mind, I underwent surgery on a Wednesday. The surgical center was very nice, professional, and friendly. The doctor and I had a pleasant conversation before the surgery to review all the options and what they would try to do. I gave him a pep talk to ensure he felt good, sharp, and ready to go and do his best work. I also drew an arrow on my right ring finger with a black marker; visual aids help everyone succeed.
The surgery took a few hours longer than anticipated, as it was a more complex situation once he got in and was looking at the bones, ligaments, cartilage, and carnage. He did the hemi hamate bone graft procedure, and the X-rays look good.
Now, the fun begins: recovery and rehabilitation. For the next couple of weeks, I’m in a splint. I can move the fingers, but we’re not bending beyond 30°. Straightening them is the focus. Mostly, we’re trying to let the surgical wounds heal and hope the bone graft does its thing and grows into place. I’m not exactly sure how all that works.
Additionally, having the indoor trainer with Zwift set up is very helpful. As I mentioned in another post, I enjoy Zwift quite a bit for indoor training. Now that I’m not allowed to ride my bike, I will do it daily.
Once we get out of the splint, I’ll start doing physical therapy and exercises to regain mobility, flexibility, and strength. I’m looking at about a year for recovery. Outdoor cycling may happen next spring at the soonest. I’ll keep you updated as things progress. In the meantime, I’m learning to use Apple’s speech to text a lot more.