With travel restrictions imposed on regional Victorians being eased a couple of weeks ago, our family decided it would be a great opportunity to take off to the coast and enjoy a week by the beach. It was supposed to be a relaxing time away from the pressures of work , home schooling and all the recent stress that the coronavirus pandemic has seen all of us dealing with.
We had packed the night before and as soon as I returned from my Sunday morning bike ride with the boys we were to jump in the car and hightail it to Lorne. The only problem was I didn’t quite make it back from my bike ride.
It had been raining in Ballarat the night before and the roads were wet but being Ballarat born and bred all 4 of us knew this to be the case and were experienced in riding in these conditions. We were doing what is now known as the Sunday smashfest, whereby each rider does a 5 minute turn on the front at around threshold and then peels off and enjoys a sit in the slipstream of the other riders. This goes on for just shy of 2 hours, except for this one day.
I had been on the front for a couple of minutes and was in a nice tempo, crested the hill just prior to making a right hander at the top end of Gillies Street where it meets the road out to Clunes. I hugged the left hand side of the road in preparation to take the apex of the corner and next thing I knew my front wheel just washed out from underneath me. I still remember being so surprised that this had happened as the right hand side of my body hit the bitumen at 45km/hr. Once I stopped sliding I realised I was lying in the middle of the road and the 3 other guys I was riding with had gathered around me to assess the damage.
“It doesn’t look too bad, try and stand up” one of them said, presumably because I didn’t have huge amounts of skin off. I remember trying to move my right leg and getting absolutely no response from it and thinking that maybe it was the shock of the fall and if I gave it a few moments then it might be achievable. That was before I gazed down at my right leg and realised it didn’t look quite normal. My foot was turned out and rotated such that it was at right angles to my hip. It was in that moment I knew I’d done something pretty serious.
Now being a physio and having just recently completed my first aid refresher I knew the first thing we had to do was make sure no-one else got hurt or that we weren’t going to be in harms way. Despite being a little dazed, I knew that lying in the middle of a major highway wasn’t a great thing. I told the guys to drag me off the road whilst one of them went up the highway to stop traffic. Lucky really because a semitrailer was coming into view and rapidly approaching.
Once I was off the road the guys tried to make me comfortable by propping me up a little ( one of them used his knee to hold me up. He later confessed he was going into cramp but didn’t dare say he was sore when he looked at my leg!). A couple of passers by stopped and gave us their silver sunshield to put between me and the wet road to reduce the cold.
It was in the period between then and when the ambulance came that time stood still and I almost wished I wasn’t a physio. As I was looking down at my leg, it was twisted outwards and a little shorter than normal and I had so many scenarios running through my head. I knew that prior to the accident I didn’t possess that amount of range in my hip so that wasn’t a good sign. I knew that I had 10/10 pain in the side of my hip and any movement somehow nudged it higher if that were at all possible. I couldn’t move my leg at all but could feel my toes which had to be a good sign.
As I was in this position on the side of the road I could hear snippets of conversations but it was as if I was looking down from above and it wasn’t actually me lying there. One of the guys said he thought it was my knee as he could see my foot didn’t look right. I knew that I’d fractured something in my hip or pelvis but exactly what I had done I wasn’t sure. Again, the unfortunate thing about being a physio at this point is the knowledge of all these different injuries didn’t help me at all but actually made me overthink and catastrophise about the situation. I thought to myself, wondering if it was just a crack in the femur or whether I had shattered the hip joint into multiple pieces and needed a hip replacement. I have seen over the years many a cyclist fall and break a hip and have injuries anywhere on the spectrum between the 2 extremes above, so knowing what can happen in this case was more of a hindrance than a help.
Finally the ambulances and MICA team arrived and delivered some much needed drugs. Once they had enough pain medication on board for a small country they told me they would roll me onto my side to get me onto a stretcher and put me in the ambulance. I don’t think I will ever forget the pain and sensation as they rolled me onto my left side. White hot searing pain in the hip and thigh pierced my body and I remember nearly passing out. I could feel the bone grinding and my thigh bending where it shouldn’t and it was then I knew it was more than a crack.
After what seemed like an eternity we made it to hospital and the emergency department, where the amazing team there organised an xray which confirmed a pretty bad comminuted intertrochanteric fracture of the femur. Basically the hardest part of the bone where the shaft of the femur bone meets the neck was fractured in 4 places. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shattered when I saw that xray.
Now up until this stage I’ve been saying that it doesn’t pay to be a physio in these situations but at this particular point I’m going to do a complete backflip and say that this is when being a physio does pay. Having seen a lot of nasty injuries and seen the surgical results, I have the luxury of knowing who would be best suited to operate on different conditions. I remember a surgeon once saying that being an extraordinary surgeon involves treating ordinary injuries well over and over. With this in mind and despite having a cocktail of morphine and whatever else goes into that magic green whistle pulsing through my veins, I managed to ring and convey to David Mitchell that I needed him to come in on his day off and fix up my broken body. I knew that David would consider the site, the nature and the severity of the injury before operating. I also knew that he had done this procedure hundreds of times before and I knew that he knew how much getting back to cycling and running would mean to me. I had complete faith in his ability and he certainly didn’t let me down.
I was also lucky enough to have anaesthetist Hock Tan called in to do my gases and put me under so I feel very privileged to have had such an amazing team work to get the best outcome for me. David did an amazing job, putting a plate down the side of my femur and 5 screws into the hip, 2 massive ones into the neck of femur and 3 into the shaft. Even tradie mates have commented on how neat a job he has performed.
So the team have done their job and now it’s up to me to put in and do my rehab to the very best of my ability. I will be using all of my available knowledge and experience as a physio to get back to my full potential. The experience so far has given me an even greater appreciation for what my clients have gone through and are going through. I was lucky enough to have my old boss Peter Howley call by to wish me well as well as Christian Ashby who has been to hell and back with his bike accident a few years ago. Peter always maintained that having injuries makes you a better physio and no doubt after this one I should be at the top of my game!
So yes being a physio is normally an advantage in most health and rehab scenarios. Where the lines blur and it flips the other way is when you injure yourself but can’t be objective about it and don’t have all the available information to make decisions and a diagnosis. But hey that’s when you leave it to others in your field to give you a leg up and take over.