Before you pedal …

March 26, 2020 § 30 Comments

I have greatly curtailed my riding, although not completely as it’s my sole means of transportation. What follows though is mostly applicable to driving as well as cycling. It’s not meant to admonish or advise, but simply to provide you with a real-world example of what can happen if you decide to ride during the Covid-19 pandemic and get hurt.

This particular cyclist I’m going to tell you about rode professionally for over a decade. He knows how to ride.

He decided to get out and enjoy some of the forced time-off from work, and rode over to the bike path. He’d been riding for a short while and came upon three riders, all side by side, on hybrid-cruiser type bikes.

The rider slowed and moved to the far left of the bike path to pass. At the very moment that he was about to go by, the left-most cyclist made an abrupt left swerve. The rider slammed into her and was thrown ten or fifteen feet, landing on his shoulder.

EMS came after an hour’s delay and took him to a hospital that was not a trauma center. They looked at his shoulder and sent him home. His entire AC joint had been smashed from the impact. The next day he got to his health insurer’s hospital. The surgeon told him that they wouldn’t be able to operate due to Covid-19 directives, which were that the only permitted surgeries were for patients who had internal bleeding or who had a life-threatening condition. His joint had in fact bled, but only slightly and on the day of the collision. By the time he was being examined, the bleeding had stopped and the surgeon couldn’t operate.

He was told that the next chance for surgery would be 3-4 months at the earliest, during which time his shoulder would be permanently frozen. The only thing they could prescribe was physical therapy, which of course is useless for a shattered AC joint. Moreover, he was advised that when surgery was finally done, it would require a total reconstruction and that the damage to his arm by that time would likely be irreversible and lifelong.

A friend reached out to me yesterday asking about whether or not anyone was doing the Thursday Flog ride. I told him I wasn’t riding recreationally during this time, but couldn’t speak for anyone else.

Most of us ride knowing well, and accounting for, the risk that we might fall and get hurt. But that risk is balanced by our need for exercise, our love of riding, and our assumption that if we do get hurt, we’ll have access to some form of medical care. The reality of the Covid-19 pandemic is that no matter how good your insurance, the wrong confluence of events could land you in dire straits.

For some people, that risk won’t be enough to keep them off their bikes. For others, it may be a set of facts they hadn’t yet considered.


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§ 30 Responses to Before you pedal …

  • Kazi Rekab says:

    Its interesting you bring this up Seth, the other day i was out for a ride with a Dr friend. He brought up the same thing. He said now is not the time to need a trip to thr ER.

  • laxrider says:

    A sobering reality. Thanks for posting this.

  • Mind if I share with others?

  • Cody says:

    This is why we have ZWIFT!

  • But I keep hearing so many people say they’re willing to crash to keep the economy from crashing. A lot of people are saying that.

  • Matthew Hall says:

    Yeah, sobering thoughts – especially for us living in a sleepy mountain town with limited resources. Thanks Seth. I’m back on the subscription! Looking forward to some good reads!

  • Brian Keller says:

    Thanks for saying this, Seth! The new normal is tough for some folks to understand. I hope your friend eventually heals. Damn, what a hard way to learn.

  • Winty Singh says:

    Very thought-provoking. I’ve been not riding outdoors so I could avoid any exposure but this is also something to keep in mind. I’ve been tempted to start going out because hours on the trainer is not pleasant but perhaps it’s prudent. Thanks for sharing.

    • fsethd says:

      You’re welcome! We’re at a point none of thought we’d ever reach … that staying off the bike was better than riding.

  • Anonymous says:

    Appreciate your thoughts regarding this topic. I’ll be sharing with some others!

  • B says:

    Good advice Seth. I had a falling off the bike incident yesterday, but fortunately it only involved my MTB at low speed going through a big pile of snow!

  • Anonymous says:

    Not the same league as immediate need for orthopedic surgery but my angiogram scheduled for today was canceled.

  • pedaltodd says:

    Muchos Thank Yous

  • Ed B says:

    This story is a good reminder that non-motor vehicle related serious injuries are possible.
    I can’t know but your story suggests (being thrown 15 feet) the injured cyclist was traveling pretty fast.
    Most paths aren’t set up for “high speed” (say, above 10mph) use in the first place, and most are shared-use (pedestrians along with all manner of other wheeled things; strollers, roller skates, wagons, etc).
    Many users meander randomly from left to right. Cyclists must exercise extreme caution, slow to just slightly faster than whatever it is you are going to overtake, and communicate.

    • fsethd says:

      The point is that if you are injured during the Covid-19 pandemic, you may not receive the necessary medical care you expect.

  • downwinder says:

    I’m still recovering from my broken hand doing self physical therapy because the only PT under my plan is inside the Torrance Memorial hospital and I’m not going inside there! I’ve been riding the Manhattan to MDR section of the bike path every week for over 30 years as a workout not for recreation. I have 2 bells which I ring when approaching people and I also yell PASSING. I won’t pass until they acknowledge me.

    I feel bad for him. 10 years ago I seriously wrecked my shoulder getting crushed into the sand by a gigantic clumsy volleyball player in a six-man tournament. I had no insurance for a doctor or anything. I couldn’t hold a handlebar for 6 months. After a year I could ride OK. After 18 months I was playing volleyball. Slings will give you frozen shoulder for sure. I hope that he can heal. The body wants to heal.

  • nealhe says:

    From Slowtwitch:

    I’m an anesthesiologist so I have intimate knowledge on what’s going on with “elective surgery” directives. It’s definitely dependent on geography and “elective” is a massive gray area. If you live in a COVID hot bed then you’re not getting any surgical treatment unless you’re literally dying. That said, at my hospital we’d do the surgery in question. We’re still doing procedures that “if delayed more than 2 weeks would cause patient undue harm”. This may change as our COVID burden increases. I personally would not consider this AC joint surgery purely elective as there’s obviously added morbidity associated with delay (frozen shoulder).

  • I have been wrestling with this as well, and have so far heeded and retreated to the basement for some Zwift induced numb hands and schweaddy eyeballs all while trying not to roll off the side of my 40 year old rollers. It’s Spring, it looks great out of doors, and the roads look so inviting, but I will practice caution and keep my basement company.

  • Anonymous says:

    Has anybody suggested to the victim in Seth’s latest column that he drive to Arizona or Utah to find a surgeon?

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