UCLA Triathlon 2011-2016
I was involved in a cycling accident when I was 18 years old, and had no idea what the proper steps were to recovery. I was very fortunate to have the right people surrounding me to help me with the things that I otherwise would not have known to do. Many of the things I learned are mentioned on this website, and would have been very helpful to know at the time. I was riding in the bike lane at the end of a hard training ride when the classic movie scene that you never think will happen actually happened – a driver in a parked car on the side of the road opened the door directly in front of me, with no time to stop. I tried to turn, leaving me to take all of the impact with the right side of my head.
Adrenaline really is no joke; when I found myself lying in the middle of the road, I impulsively stood up and walked to the curb, unaware of what really happened. But getting up probably wasn’t the best idea…I started to pass out, but luckily was able to sit against the wall in time. Luckily, a man who was walking by acted as witness and called 911 as soon as he saw my face bleeding heavily. The witness wrote and signed a note with his contact information saying it wasn’t my fault.
I didn’t know the value of this note at the time, and wouldn’t have known to ask for one. This is a very helpful step that a witness can take in any accident. Young and concussed as I was, I tried to refuse the ambulance ride, thinking there was no way I’d ever be able to pay for it. Luckily, the witness’ head was less smashed than mine, and he knew that going in the ambulance was the best course of action. I learned that it’s very important to take the ambulance and go to the hospital no matter what. I have this tendency to try to act tough, which I learned was not helpful in this situation. I wasn’t able to think straight and didn’t want to stay in the hospital (again, not really knowing about this whole insurance thing and thinking it’d be way too expensive), so I kept saying I was fine and convinced the ER doctors that my grimace was a smile, trying to act like I wasn’t in pain.
This caused the ER doctors to not fully evaluate me. They just stitched up my face and discharged me without diagnosing me with a concussion. Two things I learned from pretending to be fine that may be helpful to others:
1. I still have a scar from the stitches, and apparently I could have asked for a plastic surgeon to do the stitches instead of the ER doctor. That way, I probably wouldn’t have a permanent scar on my face…but whatever, it kind of looks like a dimple. It’s probably not the face decor that most people want though…
2. I had a severe concussion and it would have been very helpful to diagnose and take care of this earlier. I thought it was a stupid way to crash…I mean, the car wasn’t even moving!! So I was embarrassed, and tried to pretend it was fine again for a while. But ultimately, I started struggling in school, which led me to get a brain scan, do some cognitive therapy, and take a lighter course load until I recovered. This aided the (excruciatingly slow) recovery. I learned that it is best to be very honest and conservative with your symptoms up front. This helps with the insurance claims, and most importantly, with your health; taking care of things sooner can help speed up the recovery process. But hey, I graduated just fine – just a quarter late.
It’s important to not put your brain in jeopardy of another concussion when you are still recovering from one, so it’s best to not get back to riding until you are cleared by a doctor to do so. But once cleared, my passion for the sport far outweighed any fear that the accident instilled. If you have a passion for biking, it’s important to not let fear or anxiety hold you back after a crash, but rather, you can use that fear to increase your awareness as a cyclist while still enjoying one of the best activities there is. Now, I always make sure to ride on the outer edge of the bike lane outside of the door opening zone, and yell “DOOR!” at the top of my lungs when riding in a group and someone opens a door. Hopefully you do too so that no one else has to get doored unless they’re in a movie! Also, if you ever regress to using a car instead of a bike, take a second to check your mirror and look behind you before opening your door when parked on the side of the road!