Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Friday, March 8, 2013

Road to Recovery

So much has happened since 3 weeks ago. I’m still trying to piece things together with the help of my parents and Ash. At first I was not keen to share my experience. Although there were some good moments, a lot of it was an awful and frightening nightmare for me, particularly in such a fragile and vulnerable state. I feel it was even worse for my parents, Ash and closest friends, who spent extensive hours by my bedside, sleep deprived and worried but still managing the strength to stay positive and care for me.  So now, after time and hearing stories from others who went through similar and more serious injuries, I feel it is helpful to share in the hope it could potentially benefit someone else going through a similar experience. It is also good for me to be able to look back and see how far I have come.  

 My season so far had not gone to plan. A back injury obtained in the second round of the National Cup series put me out for the rest of the series, and by the time the National Championships came around I was still out of contention. Luckily for me, I had other options and I set my sights on two races that had respectable prize money and I had a good chance at winning, the ‘Skyline Warrior’ and the ‘2W Gravity Enduro’. The first race, ‘Skyline Warrior’, was a new downhill course next to the luge. The track itself was handsomely sculpted, smooth and fast, with impressive berms and big jumps. I had borrowed a bike for the race, and during practice was trying to psych myself up for the jumps - the biggest one had a 6 metre gap. Luckily for me, I had my friend Kris, from Cycle Obsession, there and he took the time to show me the jumps and let me follow him in. I was on top of the world, with a goofy grin permanently plastered on my face from the exhilaration of flying through the air, especially now as I was considered one of the favourites to win. Here is a link to a short video showing some of the track http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ke-ITYpFuyI

It happened on the last practice run on the last jump. I was wanting to go fast and get some ‘big air’, so coming into the jump I preloaded and jumped. My inexperience and ill judgement meant that when I jumped, because I was clipped in, the back of the bike came up while the front stayed down – in a spectacular endo. I remember thinking “oh shit I’m going to crash” and “I can’t damage the bike” before I hit the ground. I don’t remember how I landed, but I immediately felt my left hip pop out and my left leg go completely numb with pins and needles and pain shooting down into the foot. Luckily for me, my hip relocated after rolling over, which I later read is something that is difficult to do after dislocation.
The First Aid response was awesome. I was immediately surrounded by people securing my head, neck and body, while asking where it hurt. I’m not sure what I responded, but I remember that my main concern was that I was blocking the track for other competitors, limiting their last practice of that jump. I was prepared to crawl out the way if I had to. Although my hip was now back where it should be, the pain in it and into my leg was crippling and I couldn’t walk. I was carried off to the side of the track and given oxygen, as I began feeling dizzy and faint.

Ash had just arrived in Rotorua and was at the bike shop when he received a call. “You better get here quick, Rae has fallen off and might be headed to hospital.”

Injured on the sideline but still smiling for the camera

I had made the decision with the help of the people surrounding me to not wait for an ambulance or Ash - the pain was increasing as the shock wore off and I wanted to get to hospital as soon as possible.  I was lifted into a ute by four strong guys and driven through the bumpy grass paddock to pick up two other injured guys. We then had an agonising wait for one of the guys to find his phone before we could leave. To finish it off, after the long wait, we drove through the roughest road works and speed bumps I've ever seen. 

At last we reached the hospital. I was so desperate to get in that I couldn't wait for the hospital orderly to help, so Ash ended up just carrying me to the wheelchair.  Now things started to happen. I was pushed into A&E, went straight through a very full waiting room and was put onto a bed and given an IV line where morphine was immediately administered. Relief at last! I was lucky to have Ash and my good friend Janine to keep me company that evening. All the x-rays taken came back normal and fracture-free, which was a relief to us all. Now it was time to get discharged, which I could only do if I could walk. After three failed attempts of the doctor to get me up and walking due to almost fainting, the decision was made at 11pm to admit me over night and reassess things in the morning.

Rotorua A&E: Janine & me
My parents had driven up from Wellington that night after receiving a phone call from Ash - “Rae has fallen off her bike, we are in hospital but she is ok”. That morning I was taken down for a CT scan, which unfortunately showed a significant displaced fracture to my acetabulum (part of the pelvis that forms the hip socket).  The CT also showed a path of destruction where I had dislocated my hip, as well as chipped off bony fragments floating around inside the joint. I was warned that there was a high chance I would need surgery which unfortunately is one of the more complicated orthopaedic operations. This is due to difficulties accessing the bone and because of the close proximity to major blood vessels, nerves and vital organs. For these reasons, the orthopaedic surgeon did not want to do my surgery and it was agreed that I would go to Wellington Hospital.

My support crew: Mum & Dad

Some of the scrapes and bruises 

At first, the Rotorua surgeon wanted me to get up walking on crutches and to increase my sitting endurance from 5min to 5hours so that I could drive down to Wellington. I started to walk myself to the toilet, but in the end needed someone to hold my leg to limit the pain and the horrible clicking and grinding feeling with the sensation that my hip will pop out again. Luckily I had a very good nurse who took one look at me and said there was no way I could sit in a car for that long. She organised a transfer on the air ambulance.

On Monday night (4th day in hospital), a crew flew up from Nelson to pick me up from Rotorua and flew me to Wellington hospital. I felt like a VIP, with my own private plane and crew. Because I lived in Nelson, the Nelson team had to take care of me. It was a small plane with two pilots, an air nurse and me on a stretcher still hooked up with morphine.

Wellington hospital was a big contrast to Rotorua. As soon as the surgeon saw the CT scan, I was put on bed rest and placed into traction to stabilize my pelvis and help with the pain. That was the first time I cried, as the realization hit me that this is serious and I might never ride my bike again. I was only in traction 2 days, but it was demoralizing being unable to move or wash myself and having to use a bedpan. I lost all my dignity and modesty.

Wellington Hospital: Setting up the traction
My surgeon, although lacking some interpersonal skills, was a great surgeon and before I knew it I was saying goodbye to Ash, Mum and Dad while being carted off for theatre and put under general anaesthesia. For on-going pain relief, they were going to put in a nerve block or an epidural while I was still under.

Pelvis X-ray: plate & 6 screws

My next memory is of waking up in an excruciating amount of pain. The pain was centred at my hip but rippled through my whole body. The nerve block (an injection of anaesthesia into the spine) was meant to limit pain after surgery for up to 24 hours, but for some reason it had not worked for me. I was in absolute agony. The Pain Team, made up doctors, anaesthetists and nurses, kept pumping drug after drug into me, but nothing seemed to help. At one stage, I remember a Pain Doctor saying to me, “If you had no pain, the amount of drugs I’ve given would mean that you would have been unconscious ages ago.”

At one stage, Ash came in to join me. My parents and Ash had been waiting a long 7 and half hours for me. After enquiring, they found out I was still in the recovery room due to issues with pain management. Ash was due to catch the ferry back to Nelson soon, so they sent him in to spend some time with me. Ash told me later that he barely recognised me when he saw me. My whole face apparently looked plastic and puffy. I don’t think he talked much, but just sat by holding my hand.

Before surgery
After surgery: Looking plastic and puffy

I was finally released and wheeled back to my room, where my parents were waiting. I looked so terrible that mum stayed with me the whole night. I was on a PCA (patient controlled analgesia) where I could push a button every 5 minutes to get a hit of morphine. Problem was I was in so much pain and too groggy that I wasn’t capable of pushing the button. Mum ended up sitting there the whole night, sneakily pushing the button every 5 minutes for me. I didn’t sleep much that night, but we both made it through and in the morning the ‘Pain team’ came to the rescue. I was very teary that morning with both the pain and relief that something was going to get done about it. The initial dislocation and fracture felt like a tickle compared to what this pain was. A concoction of strong drugs was put together that finally made things bearable.

Pale and in pain but still trying to smile

That day was a blurred. Dad came in at some stage to take over care.

The following night was the most traumatic and horrific moment of my whole life. Dad was pushing the button every 5 minutes, so that the pain was controlled enough for me to get some sleep. At around 4 am, the nurse came in and told us that I wasn’t breathing enough. Despite being on supplementary oxygen, the oxygen levels in my blood had dropped because I was so drugged up and my drive to breath had reduced. She was concerned about the effect of the PCA and instructed us not to press the button for an hour, which we agreed to. My pain would previously get harsh at about 4 minutes and I would have to wait an agonising minute for the button to be pressed. Now to wait a whole hour was going to be intolerable. I gritted my teeth and tried to concentrate on my breathing to increase my oxygen levels. The pain was at a whole new level, but somehow we got through. We called the nurse and she said we could use the PCA again, but unknown to us she had actually turned it off. I eventually started crying- the first time I have ever cried due to pain- and asked for her to call the pain team for advice. She called them and came back saying that they agreed with her and gave me some ibuprofen.  She said that if the pain hadn’t reduced in half an hour, she would call them again. I silently cried to myself. I was being tested to my absolute limit waiting for that long 30 minutes to pass. It took every ounce of strength I had. After half an hour, we called for the nurse again. She came in and lied, telling us it had only been 10 minutes and to keep on waiting. I had used everything I had and had nothing left. I remember wishing my dad would just smother me with a pillow and put an end to this torture.  I then had a full blown asthma/ panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. I was aware of making a lot of noise waking up everyone else in the room, which I shared with another three patients, but I couldn’t stop. I was a mess, crying, gasping for air and in an absolutely panic because I couldn’t breath. The nurse couldn’t handle it and just kept telling me angrily to listen to her and slow down my breathing. She ended up going for help and came back with another nurse, who was an angel. Very calm and confident, she controlled the scene and was able to slow my breathing down and find out what was going on. She asked my pain level and I cried “10 out of 10”. She asked what the pain felt like and I said it was as though someone was stabbing me. I felt so small and helpless being in so much pain and needing that pain relief just to keep it at a tolerable level and then having it just taken away by one incompetent nurse could have had such severe consequences for me. The angel nurse sent the other nurse out of the room and told her to call the pain team right now and get them here urgently. She then apologised to me, which I really appreciated.

An anaesthetist, who was part of the pain team, eventually came and injected some powerful drugs right into my veins. The effects were immediate. My pain was instantly gone, but now I was suddenly hallucinating. The hospital bed was gone and I was in an old wooden cart going high speed down some rail tracks in the middle of space and into the mouth of a big dragon like some sort of dodgy roller-coaster ride. I could feel the cart get tipped upside down, doing summersaults, turning too sharply and me almost falling out into nothingness. I was desperately hanging on for dear life and scared because, even though I knew this couldn’t be real, when I looked down I couldn’t see my legs, just blackness. Dad told me afterwards that, as soon as the drugs went in, I raised my arms in front of me and just held them there. Then I began asking him “where am I?”, “where is my leg?”, “where is my other leg?”, “I don’t like this”. He answered all my questions calmly and, although I was spaced out, it was a relief for him as my face had relaxed and he knew I wasn’t in pain any more.

That morning I was exhausted and still sore, but it was nothing compared to that night. The doctors and pain team came during rounds and were surprised and appalled by what had happened that night. After that I was given my own room and some hospital feedback forms in case I wanted to make a complaint against the nurse. Luckily that was the last time I saw her and I now had great team looking after me.
Things started to improve. I wasn’t strong enough for visitors yet, but the pain was being managed and I finally started sleeping. Friday night I had my first solid sleep, it was only 3 hours but it made a huge difference.

Mum watching over me: Checking my breathing regularly 

On Saturday, I had my catheter out which meant I had to start walking to get to the toilet. By the weekend, I had recovered enough and was motivated again. Every little achievement felt like I had won a race. Friday I walked for the first time with a walking frame, Saturday I sat out of bed for 10 minutes and sent my first text (though needed a power nap afterwards), and Sunday I could cope with my first visitors since the surgery. I was very fortunate to have a lot of support and visitors throughout my time in hospital. I was so grateful for all the visits, flowers, magazines, baking, gifts, texts and messages. After the trauma of Thursday night, I was back to being strong, positive and happy, and I owe most of that to the support that was given to me. I got on well with a lot of the staff as well and they seemed just as pleased as me that I was starting to feel better. Dad had also made friends with the food lady, so after finishing off my meals he would then be offered extra food and drink. I was recovering very quickly every day, so on Monday I had my PCA removed and was upgraded to crutches.

Enjoying my friends company and humor

Jelly snakes for visitors and bribing the staff

The time had come to get back to Nelson. On Wednesday I was transferred by the air ambulance to Nelson hospital by an awesome team. Since I had come from a different hospital, I was kept in isolation, which meant a single room with a TV. Score! By the weekend, I was good to go home with some extra equipment to help out at home.  This was after 15 days in hospital where I lost 7kgs. Mum and Dad stayed the first week with me at home to help out and set things up while Ash went to work. There is no way I could have managed this on my own and I’m just so lucky and grateful to have such wonderful parents. I still have a long road ahead, but things are looking promising. With the help of my work, Active Body Centre, I’m getting the best rehab available. I am still non weight bearing on two crutches and can only walk short distances, but I have started doing my rehab in the pool which is keeping me sane. I am also extremely lucky to have Cath Cheatley, who has been through a similar injury, advising and encouraging me through this journey.

Nelson Hospital: Struggling to do a Suduku

I’m unsure what the future all bring, but I am 100% determined and motivated to get back to racing on the bike. After a lot of downtime and thinking, at this stage I have decided to give the National series a miss next year. I didn’t enjoy it this year except for the social aspect and financially it is very taxing. Instead I will concentrate on enduro and Super D racing where next year I hope to start racing on the international circuit for the first time. Furthermore, to the dislike of many of my mountain bike friends, last year after a taste on the road and track, I have become a big fan and would like to see how far I can go. So having my finger in many pies at the moment, hopefully I have a big future ahead of me. Thanks again everyone for your generous support J I couldn’t have got through this without my friends and family, 

Freedom at last: Discharged from Nelson Hospital

Enjoying being at home

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Tour de Vineyards

Happy New year everyone

2012 has been a big milestone for me with moving to Nelson and the completion of my physiotherapy degree. Now entering into the real world with a job and finally starting to move away from just scraping through financially. The last 4 years of my degree has seen me move between Auckland, Kapiti, Tauranga, Rotorua and now Nelson, spend over 1000 hours clinical placements, clock up over $40k on student loan but also maintain an A average and the passion I have for my career and helping people recover from injury to achieve their goals. I have also managed to maintain a reasonable competitive level in mountain biking with minimal training thanks to the amazing and clever coaching from John Lee. Although 2013 it is all going to change, finally with a good 9-5 job I will have more time on my hands and be able to fit training in. Watch this space over the next few years

Tour de Vineyards

I have only really started races road this year outside of club races and have secretly being enjoying it, especially after injury to my back which saw me off the mountain bike for period of time.  So to end the year with a bang, I competed in my first road tour within the days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Tour de Vineyards, a solid 5 days on the bike racing against a quality competitive elite women’s field including two 2012 Olympians, multiple national champions and international level athletes.  

Day 1: Prologue:

The 4.5km flat individual time trial was a nice short and sharp way to start the tour. I went out too slow initially and took a while to get into a good rhythm. At the half way mark I realised my pace was off and I had to speed things up before it was too late. Despite the bad start I was happy to find out I was sitting in 14th (out of a staked field of 29 fast girls), losing 32 seconds behind Lauren Ellis in first place.

Day 2: Stage one:

The hilly 40km criterium was an average day for me. I felt really good, lots of energy and speed in the legs but I couldn't get my timing right or a good position for the sprints. Near the beginning of the final lap I was blocked behind a slower riding going around a sharp corner which made me play catch up for the remainder of the lap. I luckily did manage to catch the end of the bunch on the final hill so the GC time was ok.

Photo by Wheelworks 

Day 3: Stage Two:

Day three was the brutal 130km stage finishing with the infamous Takaka Hill. It was not my day today and unluckily it was a long and difficult stage to have a bad day on. I started out by dropping my chain on a climb 30km from the start which I had to stop and wrestle with for a bit as it was jammed in the frame. As a result I lost the bunch and had to chase until I managed to catch back on 10-15min later. Soon after I joined back on there was an attack going up the hill.  I was still tired from my solo expenditure and ended up getting dropped. Luckily for me there were a few other girls that had fallen off the bunch so I was able to suck wheel and catch up once again. The next couple of hours were a blurred, it was scorching hot with no shelter from the sun and by the time Takaka hill came along I was already exhausted and fried by the heat. The bunch split immediately right at the start of the climb, I failed to get into a group and rode by myself.  790m climbing over 15km and it was a grovel up. I was shattered and overheated beginning to shiver and feel faint. To make things worse there was a headwind 5km from the finish which almost brought me to tears.  I was lucky to have Ash supporting me and constantly driving up ahead to shout encouragement and blast pumping music to keep me going. I honestly don’t think I would have made it without him. After over 50minutes of climbing I breached the top and unfortunately lost about 7minutes to the leader as well as several places, putting me in 18th.  

Photo by Wheelworks 

Day 4: Stage 3:

I felt pretty tired and sore in the morning but in hind sight I had recovered extremely well after my disappointing ride the day before. Day four was another hot 130km stage. Rain was forecasted again but never came which was disappointing as it would have been nice too cool off. The race was long but pretty uneventful until the finish where it was a bunch sprint. I finished comfortably in about 10th and luckily narrowly avoided a 3-person crash just in front of me. All the girls involved in the crashed raced the next day and finished the tour- what legends. Due to the crash everyone was awarded the same time.

Photo by Wheelworks 

Day 5: Stage 4:

The final stage was my favourite and best race of the tour. It was 46km of an undulating 5 lap circuit with a beautiful cold wind that made all the difference. The pace was nice and fast throughout and the bunch all stayed together until the final lap where there were several break aways. Just before the finish the all the break-away groups were caught except one and it came together in another bunch sprint. I was finally in a good position for the sprint and was feeling strong. During the sprint, just ahead of me to my right one of the girls chains dropped and her foot unclipped from her pedal which threw her out of control. I rode off the road onto the gravel to avoid the anticipated crash but she somehow managed to save it. Truly the best bike handling skills I have ever seen! I got back on the road and continued with the sprint finishing in 8th which meant I got 1 sprint point- yus!

Photo by Wheelworks 

This season I will compete in the mountain bike National Champs for cross country and the Enduro/ Super D. I will also do selective races of the NZ Cup that are accessible and affordable to me. 2013 will also see me get involved in the road cycling and dabble in track racing to mix things up! So bring on 2013!
All the best for the people competing in the first round of the NZ Cup this weekend Bluff.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Monday, March 12, 2012

Oceania Championships 2012: Rotorua

The final and biggest race of the season approached quickly, the Oceania Championships, where New Zealand and Australia’s best mountain bikers compete for victory.  I unfortunately spent the lead up in Auckland with long hours at University and the bonus of classic Auckland traffic. I was very happy to return to Rotorua on the Wednesday where I had the comforts of my new home, even better I was chuffed that my parents came all the way up from Wellington for the weekend to watch the races.

 Super D: Friday

The super D or endurance downhill was held on the Friday down the tracks ‘Hot x Buns’ and ‘Be rude not too’.  With a full suspension demo bike kindly lent to me from Cycle Obsession for the weekend, I was set. Unluckily the number of competitors was slim, I think due to the confusion of race time and lack of signs or maps to the race made it impossible to find unless you were familiar with the forest. Although once it was found, the event ran efficiently and smoothly. Again I had tough competition from my fellow talented XC racer Sasha Smith, both of us eager for the win. After practicing the course for most of the day, at 5.30pm we were shuttled up for the final time to begin our race runs.
My run was clean, pedalling pretty much down the whole course and going as fast as I could safely go without risking a crash. I finished the run exhausted and out of breath but listening intently to hear whether my time was fast enough for the win. It took only a few moments for the numbers to come through…7.54min. Sub 8 minutes was better than I had hoped for taking the win and also placing 14th overall making me the 2012 Women’s Oceania Super D Champion. Congratulations to Sam Shaw who took the men’s title with a time of 7.08 minutes.

2012 Woman's Oceania Champ

Cross Country: Saturday

Start crash in the Women's elite race

Saturday rolled around, and after a full day at the Super D on the previous day I was feeling quite tired and un-psyched about the race. I registered last minute then went for a warm up lap to adjust back to my bike and free up my legs. Once on the start line I was in a better mind-set and focussed on the race ahead. It didn’t take long for everyone to be called up to the line, next moment the whistle blasted and we were off. I’m still unsure of what exactly happened as it all occurred so fast, but next thing I see is Bridget on the ground in front of me and suddenly I’m down as well. We both crashed onto concrete within the first 10 meters, not the ideal start. I took a moment to re-orientate myself and get over being winded after I was hit in the guts by possibly a handle bar? By the time I was back on my bike the rest of the field was out of sight, already up the first hill. I continued on full of adrenalin and managed to make up ground on the first lap, plus further save time by doing the rock garden each lap. The rock garden was a bit sketchy since my rear brake lever had been knocked under the handle bar and was difficult to engage, it saw me come off on my third lap but luckily no further injury. After 3 laps my asthma was present, my back was aching and referring pain down my leg into my foot, and I was exhausted from pushing through the resistance of my dragging brake, caused by the crash. At the end of the third lap that was it for me, and I pulled out of the race feeling shattered and extremely disappointed. Thanks to all the people who came and talked to be after the race, it was really helpful and cheered me up a lot J I am very lucky with all my friends and family. Well done to Karen who continues to dominate!

Photo by Simon Blanchett

Cross Country Eliminator: Sunday

Saturday after the race I received some TLC including ice, bandages and strapping on my wounds which meant when I woke up on Sunday morning I felt way better- especially after some pain relief in my system. Ash and I headed over to watch the downhill and I was also contemplating whether to compete in the XC eliminator. The eliminator is a new race consisting of a 500m knock out format where four competitors race at the same time in heats, and the winners of those heats go to compete in the final (similar to BMX). I was very hesitant to race at first but was kindly convinced by my fellow team mates Harriet and Amber. It turned out to be a very fun and social event with many non-competitive girls giving it a go, as well as hung over XC racers, and ex world downhill champ, Vanessa Quin. It was so great to see an event where you could just have fun and not get lost in the seriousness and competiveness of racing. My legs were roasted after already two days of racing, but luckily the course required more skill rather than fitness with ruts and logs to jump over. I started off well winning my heat and making it into the finals with Vanessa Quin, Katherine O'Shea (Aussie) and Melissa Newell.  I had a great start and got in the lead around the first corner which was continually getting cut up and loose. I took the corner too sharp, beginning to drift…and then proceeded to wash out, crashing for the second time in two days. In a panic I scrambled back onto the bike, but was too late as all three riders passed me. Bugger. I struggled to catch up in the remaining 400 metres and managed to move into second place over the logs. Unfortunately the course was too short to be able to catch back up to Vanessa who had a good lead. So second in the first ever held Oceania Champs eliminator, not bad considering I wasn’t even going to race- I’m chuffed J 

Women's final: Race for second

Women's podium: Raewyn 2nd, Vanessa Quin 1st, Katherine O'Shae 3rd

It’s been a good weekend despite Saturday’s mishap. Thanks to all those that supported me- it’s all VERY appreciated, special thanks to John Lee who has been an incredible coach, my parents, Ash, Nigel from Endura for the team support, and Andy from GoFast for the support and product.  

Sunday night treat with home made pizza

Wellington NZ Cup Round 3

Another impressive race held and organised by the PNP club at Mount Victoria in Wellington. The course was a typical Wellington combination of steep technical sections and sharp brutal climbs. For an idea of the track here is a video I made with footage from Ash’s helmet camera and my Dad filming some of the race http://vimeo.com/37405761

photo taken by Shane Wetzel
I had a great race and was encouraged on by the fantastic atmosphere and spectator support. By the end of the first lap I had made my way into 3rd place in the elite women with a comfortable gap between me and the chasing group.  Half way through the second lap the leading boys started to the lap the women’s field. Dirk Peters (NZ’s National Champ) was coming up behind in a narrow bit of single track, I didn’t want to hold him up and got out of the way as quickly as I could. Unfortunately I wasn’t looking where I was going after he passed me and I lost my front wheel down a bank. I did a superman over the handle bars and crashed down the bank with my bike. I scrambled back up to the track and untangled my bike from the sticks and vines that were caught in the spokes, by the time I was back in the race I had lost about one minute and 3 positions.
I caught up by the start of the third lap and it became a battle between Bridget, Sasha and I until Bridget had an impressive crash which left Sasha and I battling it out for third. I was narrowly ahead for the remaining laps but managed to pull away on the 5th and final lap to finish in 3rd place – and my first Elite medal.  

Sasha and I at the finish after a good battle

Elite Women's podium