In his first dispatch on recovering from a shattered clavicle, team rider Steve Rousseau gets some new hardware, rides the trainer and struggles to put a shirt on.
Look, I broke my collarbone. I’m not the first person to do it, nor the first to write about it. I ride and race bikes for fun, so any sort of “overcoming adversity” narrative kind of falls flat. I’m not Matthew Hayman doing four hour trainer sessions in the garage and then winning Paris Roubaix. I’m Steve, the bicycle dingus who hit a raccoon in Prospect Park and had to get a dang metal plate bolted onto his clavicle.
Maybe you’ve been injured before. Maybe you’re lucky and haven’t yet. I’m writing this recovery column to show you just how mundane recovering from an injury can be. Maybe my otherwise unremarkable dispatches will help inspire hope. “You know, maybe breaking my collarbone won’t be so bad,” you might think. “I could probably handle that.”
Because reader, let me tell you. When I was sitting there in the middle of the Prospect Park’s West Drive, and then later alone in New York Methodist’s emergency room for hours on end with nothing but my own thoughts — boy did I wish I could look back on some words to remind me that everything would be okay.
Whoa, we got a little too serious there. I won’t say too much about my accident. But I will say the best part was the amazing woman who called 911 for me. One moment she's cradling me, repeatedly uttering “Oh you sweet poor baby, I’m so sorry. Everything is going to be okay.” The next, as the police rolled up, she's glaring at the approaching cruiser, muttering “Ah, I fucking hate cops.” God bless you stranger.
At this point, I’ve recounted the night of my accident so many times, it’s probably worth just pulling out the Teaching Moments. If you’re going to break your collarbone, don’t do it the night of a big blizzard, trying to sneak in one more training ride outdoors before the storm keeps you cooped up for the next week and a half. If you’re wearing something like a vest or a beloved piece of outerwear, if you can, politely ask the EMTs if they would rather try taking it off you rather than cutting it off. Don’t take a Lyft home from the ER at 5:00 AM because the driver might confess he’s been working for 24 hours straight.
Once you’ve been to the hospital and you have a Plan, then everything gets very simple. I sat at home, high on pain meds and watched people play video games on YouTube. Inside Out is a very good movie if you’re on Tramadol. I didn’t worry about my fitness or bikes once. Pain is a very effective way of sorting out your priorities.
Eventually I had surgery. The worst part about this is just waiting around for the surgery to happen. The anesthesiologist tried twice to insert an IV into my hand and I almost passed out. Two emergency surgeries came in while I was being prepped and had to wait four long hours, sitting in a hospital bed with left arm I could neither feel nor move, for my turn. One of the nurses took pity on me, and let my mom visit me. The easiest part is when they wheel you into the operating room and they tell you you're going to sleep now. Boy, they're not lying.
A few hours later I woke up with my new collarbone, an incredible thirst and even more incredible pain. My mom came into the recovery room, and I knew I was going to be okay. Afterwards I sat in a car for two hours while my brother somehow managed to brave New York City traffic while also driving as delicately as possible. He swore and cursed every pothole. I think they hurt him more than they hurt me.
The next day I felt fine. My mom made me oatmeal for breakfast. I took a huge antibiotic pill. I even took a shower.
A week after my surgery, I was on the trainer. Two days later I ditched the sling and rode two hours. A few days after that I was doing intervals. A few days after that the joy of finally be able to ride again was filled with the familiar dread of getting on the trainer. It felt good to be back. Almost.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that breaking your collarbone isn't the worst part about breaking your collarbone — like the actual mechanics of having a shattered clavicle and just sitting there in mild to moderate pain isn’t that difficult. The pain in the ass is the rest of your life: Trying to shower and put a dang shirt on just so you can feel like a functioning person again; trying to work when all you can think about is the pain and your upcoming surgery; trying to figure out how you’re going to regain all that lost fitness.
I’m happy to say I’ve conquered the first two, the third not so much. So stay tuned for that — when I go to physical therapy and find out just how much being in a sling for a month has fucked me up, or I ride outside for the first time and realize that maybe I wasn’t feeling so strong on the trainer after all. Should be a real fun time!