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The Injured Athlete

My left hand is out of commission for a while.

No matter who you are, riding a bike comes with risk. It is not necessarily risky, but there is a level of risk. Is that clear? Or have I just contradicted myself?

Mountain biking is a big deal out here. And by “out here” I mean Northwest New Mexico. It’s a big deal for me, because I don’t yet trust the paved road in front of my house. If the drivers here believe they are obeying the 35 mile per hour speed limit, they’re using a different math than what I was taught in school. So I do most of my riding on the dirt roads that connect the gas and oil wells of this rugged desert.

The New Mexico high desert

The desert behind my house is a great training ground

After a long day of work in front of a computer, it’s nice to get out and ride the bike. I consider myself a novice mountain biker with more guts than brains, but risky is not a precise adjective to describe this noun (me). Risk, yes. Risky, no.

Risk can be calculated, estimated or assumed. It can be measured. It can be mitigated. It can be minimized. It can also be managed. Managing risk is managing uncertainty. Risk is inherent in every decision. You can’t escape it.

On the other hand, risky describes behavior that knows nothing of risk. Risky decisions are based on hope and emotion. Nothing is measured, nothing is calculated. Because of bravado, arrogance or ignorance the novice mountain biker rides too fast on equipment not designed for speed. The same novice takes sharp turns and descends steep hills on tires that are not meant for either. And ruts in the dirt road? They are meant to be jumped at every opportunity.

Risky Behavior

There is, however, a point where risk meets risky. Sometimes it takes a calculated risk to push beyond limits that confine an athlete’s performance. There are those rare occasions where undisciplined, risky behavior actually results in a breakthrough, either during training or during the heat of competition. Today, there were no major breakthroughs, no pushing the limits. Just a risky miscalculation.

The fact is that rutted dirt roads are my training grounds when I’m at home in New Mexico. And, for some reason, the ruts call to me: the Sirens of the well traveled desert. Had Odysseus ridden a dirt bike I’m sure he would have done the same and jumped every rut and gully in the path. After crossing dozens of such obstacles, I met my match: the rut that wouldn’t be jumped… by this novice. I was going too slow and this rut was wider than others I had been easily flying over. The front tire landed inside the rut and I flew like a an anvil in a Warner Brother’s cartoon. The left wrist absorbed the shock.

A Miscalculated Risk

What followed was the usual denial: It’s not broken, it will be fine in a day or two. How the hell would I know? I’ve never had a broken bone in my life which is really quite amazing considering all the crazy stuff I’ve done. All I really knew was the pain. It was 8.63 on the ten point scale. How I got home is a story in itself. Suffice it to say that I rode the bike with one hand.

Sleep was almost impossible and the next morning Lori insisted that she take me to a walk-in clinic. I was still in denial, but agreed to take the time off work because typing computer code with one hand is not so productive. The first clinic was too crowded. The second clinic wanted to see my COVID vaccination card which I left at home. At that point, a trip to the ER was not on the radar. We just didn’t think about going to the hospital. At least I didn’t.

A Risk Worth Taking

Schedules can be altered for medical emergencies, but I was insistent that Lori make her appointment to help Gretchen with a horse that was having minor surgery. Because we didn’t get in to see a doctor, we ended up seeing a veterinarian. After the surgery, Lori arranged for the veterinarian to take X-Rays of my wrist. We knew the veterinarian could not make a medical diagnosis, but we’ve seen enough x-rays of horse hooves to know when there is a problem. Horse hooves. Human hands. How different can they be?

Wrist radiograph

Lori arranged to get X-Rays of my wrist from the veterinarian

The films didn’t show any obvious signs of damage, but did hint that there could be some abnormalities. It definitely put us at ease because there were no obvious fractures, but the hint of an abnormality was a bit disturbing.

Long story short: The hospital in Durango was not so far way so we went there for a human diagnosis. No broken bones. No dislocations.

A magazine makes a good splint to stabilize the wrist for running.

A torn ligament is still a possibility, but not likely, because the wrist feels so much better three days post incident. There is still some pain and I won’t be swimming or seriously biking for about a week. Oh sure. I can sit up on the bike in the house and spin, but not with intensity.

But I can run and I can type.

Until next time…

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