15 July 2018

It happened so fast...

"Experience teaches you things you wish you didn't know."—Grandpa Tumbleweed (a.k.a. Harv Read)

01 October 2016

I was very much enjoying my vacation in and around Olympia, WA. A few weeks earlier, I picked up my 1989 R100GS BumbleBee and was having a great time riding every day with the green monkey Honey picked out for me.

When I asked her, "Why a monkey?", she rubbed the hair on my forearm and said,

"Same same Daddy".

He's ridden on the bikes with me ever since.

I'd already taken a couple of trips, the second one cut short by a bad ignition, and had a few more planned (Olympic Peninsula, Crater Lake, and more) before heading home to Vietnam.

I was having a GREAT day! It started with a warm, filling, excellent breakfast at The New Moon Cafe.

As I waited for breakfast, I took the time to look through a couple of the hand-made books that were on all the tables. They were blank until the pages were filled in by previous diners; some creative; some simple; all interesting. I was so busy enjoying what others contributed that I failed to take the time to add a bit of my 'wisdom' to the collection.

I'm pretty sure this was the Amsterdam omelet
After breakfast I rode to check out a few self-storage units for storing the bike while I'm outside the US, which is most of the time. The best fit was one in Tumwater and I paid for the next year in advance.

Later in the afternoon, Doug R called to invite me to join him and Cathy for a wine tasting at the Wine Loft on Columbia. I got busy packing and re-arranging the massive amounts of stuff I'd already bought to take back to Vietnam or leave here in the storage unit and almost forgot.

By the time I got to the Wine Loft (about 5 or so), Doug and Cathy were already gone, so I left and called Doug to see if they wanted to go out to dinner.

"We're cooking, come join us in about an hour." ABSOLUTELY! There is no flippin' way I'm ever turning down a Cathy- and Doug-cooked meal, so I mounted up and started riding back to the AirBnB on Adams Street to shower and change. Adams was closed for construction at the north end, so I continued one street east and picked up Jefferson, heading south.

It was raining lightly and, in no hurry, I rode at about the speed Donald Trump would run for the first 5 meters if a grizzly bear were chasing him. Just south of State Street, two sets of railroad tracks run parallel to and pretty much down the middle of the street. There 
was a van parked just ahead, so there was only about a car's width of riding room.

My front wheel found a pothole at the same time it found gaping seam of the wet railroad track

Yes, the yellow line on the left is the MIDDLE of the two-lane street.
and "the manure hit the windmill."—Terry Pratchett in Snuff

Next thing I know, I'm lying on the asphalt with my knee in the air.

It happened so fast I didn't even have time to think (as I have before—ask me some time about hang gliding at Kitty Hawk), "OH F*CK; this is gonna hurt!"

If I had, I'd've been right. If fact, today—21 months later—it STILL hurts. More on why in a future entry.

What happened? When I hit the pothole/RR track, the bike fell immediately over like it'd been pushed. The first thing to hit the ground was my right knee, followed a little faster-than-immediately by the combined weight of the rest of my body and the bike--total of around 730 lbs (~330 kg). I remember crossing the intersection and noticing a family walking down the sidewalk. My next memory is of lying on my side clutching my right knee and saying, "F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK, F*CK..." and so on.

Someone called 9-1-1 and the Olympia Fire Department Paramedics showed up and took very good care of me.

The guy in the middle is trying to straighten my knee and I'm trying to convince him NOT to do it. I won.
A few City of Olympia police officers also came and the guy on the left filled out an accident report.

Had I been going faster, I would've bounced and/or slid—much like the difference between dropping a rock versus tossing it underhand. The first involves a lot more concentrated instantaneous energy transfer than the latter and since I was wearing top-of-the-line full protective gear, a long slide on blacktop would've only, at worst, burned holes in my gear. Unfortunately, when you go off the bike, what happens next is already determined—there's no choosing your poison.

The paramedics needed to take off my riding pants (ATGATT!) and asked if I had jeans or other pants on. When I told them "only boxers", they said they'd cover me a blanket. Thanks, guys. Right now, someone getting their jollies by seeing a 62-year-old man lying on the street in his shorts surrounded by medical personnel is NOT even my tertiary concern. They got a blanket out of the Aid Unit and covered me up anyway.

While they were getting me situated, I gave my phone to one of the firefighters and asked if he could take a couple photos for this blog entry (see above). Then I called Doug; he came down to take possession of the bike and find someone to ride it to his house and temporary storage. A couple weeks later, Rick F came to the house and rode it to the storage unit. Then, Rick and Diane F (not related) came to the AirBnB with Diane's truck and helped me move a bunch of camping and riding gear to the storage unit. This way, when I come back to ride, most of what I need will be waiting for me.

After getting me on the gurney with my knee and lower leg elevated and supported by the pile of my riding gear, they put me in the Aid Unit (ambulance), asked for my hospital preference, and headed for Providence St. Peter's ER.

While I was waiting for the on-call orthopedic surgeon to arrive, I had a visit from one of the police officers who'd responded to the accident scene. He told me that I was one of many to go down in that exact spot—they get as many as three or four accident calls per month at that exact spot and have for years. Later that night, when Doug and Cathy brought dinner to me in the hospital room, Doug told me that, about five years ago, he'd gone down in that exact same spot on a bicycle.

WTF??? Why hasn't the city fixed this???

They took me in to x-ray and the x-ray technician asked me to straighten my leg so he could get the shots he needed.

I told him that every time I moved it (it was still resting on the pile of my riding gear), it hurt like hell and that I didn't think I could straighten it. It wasn't about pain, it just wouldn't straighten. He asked if he could try? Sure, be my guest. He worked very slowly and gently and damned if he didn't manage to get it lying flat on the table without any increase in my pain level. I may've been high on morphine, and if so, that probably contributed, too.

A bit later, the surgeon, Dr. Anthony Agtarap, came to my ER cubicle and said that I had a 'tibial plateau fracture' and he'd do the repair surgery the next morning.
The space between the femur (top) and the tibia (bottom, right) on the left
is supposed to be similar to the spacing on the right.
Dr. Agtarap was unknown to me, so I told him that I already had a couple excellent orthopedic surgeons who'd previously worked on me. He asked who, and when I told him, he replied, "We all work in the same practice (Olympia Orthopedics)." He also said that it might be a few days before one of them could do the procedure and that they don't answer their phones on weekends unless they're on-call.

I figured that if he worked at Oly Ortho, he must be good, so I said, "Okay."

They sent me upstairs to a room with a pretty good view and a room service-like menu.

In case you're unfamiliar with the plastic bottle on the table, it's what I got to pee into for the next 8 days.
I was very hungry, so I ordered roast turkey with mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.

Later, when Doug and Cathy came by with the dinner I'd missed and flowers, I ate again.

The next morning they took me down to surgery, prepped me, put me out, and cobbled my leg back together.

When Dr. Agtarap came by the room later, he said that the top of my tibia had been "lying in the meat". Wow! He also told me that I was to use crutches and NOT to put any weight on it for three months. THREE MONTHS??? Our house in Vietnam has three flights of stairs, so it's going to be interesting.

And it was... interesting.

I stayed in the hospital for a week after the surgery, checking out on the 9th. After a couple days of begging rides with friends and occasionally using Uber, I got all my packing done, loaded up the storage unit, and checked out of the AirBnB. Doug and Cathy insisted I stay at their place for my last few days in town and since negotiating their rather narrow stairs could've been a disaster, they set me up with an air mattress on the living room floor.

After a post-surgery check up on the 12th, and with the surgeon's permission, I flew home early on the 13th. One of the caveats of allowing me to leave was that I NOT fly steerage from the US to Asia. Fortunately, I had frequent flyer miles that got me a First Class seat on Alaska to San Francisco and on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong and then Saigon. Business Class would've been fewer miles if it'd been available, but it wasn't and I wanted to GO HOME.

Almost every day I was in the hospital, ViLa told me to, "come home and let your family take care of you. It's the Vietnamese way." By "your family", she meant her family who has very graciously taken me in as one of their own.

Once I got to the Seattle airport, I got taken everywhere in a wheelchair, so it was quite comfortable. The most amazing thing about getting 'the wheelchair treatment' was that between Alaska Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Vietnam Airlines, the most solicitous service was by Vietnam Air; except for the guy in Saigon who pushed the chair a few centimeters too far into the elevator, banging my leg on the far wall.

Honey and ViLa flew down to Saigon to meet me and fly back to Dalat. Vietnam Airlines put all three of us in a special lift truck,

in which they drove us to the right rear door of the Airbus A321, raised the compartment up to the door, and loaded us into the plane. They gave us seats in the last row so that my hobbling was minimized and it was an uneventful flight. Upon arrival in Dalat, we waited until the other passengers deplaned before getting on to another truck like the one in Saigon and repeating the process in reverse.

Every day I would hobble up the stairs to the salon (living room) and spend most of the day reading or on-line. ViLa and Honey were very helpful and never complained that I was a burden, though I know I was. Her (our) extended family helped with the occasional meal and chipping in to help with Honey when we needed it.

Three months after the surgery, on 02 January, I said good riddance to the crutches. For a short while, I used a cane both to get around and, more important, to let the public know I was a bit impaired. This helped most people to give me a wider berth than usual, decreasing the likelihood I'd get knocked down.

The surgeon told me that it would take a few months before the pain and swelling went away, so I waited. And waited. And waited.

Finally, on 26 March, a week short of six months after surgery, I flew down to Saigon. On the 27th, I saw a Western orthopedic surgeon. He took one look at the x-ray taken during my 12 October surgical follow-up visit

and told me that until the "gash" in the top of the tibia was repaired—most likely with a full knee replacement—the pain and swelling would NEVER go away.

That first night in the hospital when I talked with the surgeon, I'd asked him, "I'm in my 60's; at some point I'm probably going to need a knee replacement, so can you do it now?"

He replied, "The top of your tibia is missing—there's nothing to attach it to."

Now that the original fractures were healed, I could get the new knee. Unfortunately, it was 10-15 years sooner than the surgeon had estimated back in October.

Next time: I get to return to the US for a second major knee surgery.

Thinking back to the Grandpa Tumbleweed quote at the top of this piece, I wish I didn't know how good the food is at St. Pete's or what a tibial plateau fracture is.

03 July 2018

Breakdown — Sept 2016

September 2016
I bought a Delorme (now Garmin) InReach Explorer

for 25% off at REI's 2016 Memorial Day sale and it was waiting for me in one of the dozens of boxes of things I'd ordered before arrival.

Soon after arriving back in Tacoma on my new-to-me R100GS, I activated it.

On September 1, I rode from Tacoma, WA toward Western Montana for an Airheads Tech Weekend where I'd learn to wrench on my beautiful bike. The InReach was in my jacket pocket.

A couple hours into the ride, the bike lost power. No sputter like when running out of gas, just died. After five minutes, it started up. Then, 20 miles further down the road it died; this time for good. Cayuse Pass (just west of Mount Rainier) was behind me and Yakima, WA was 45 miles in front of me.

This is the actual tracking map of my route provided by the InReach
The nearest cell service was about 10 miles out of Yakima... 35 miles ahead, so I turned off my phone to save the battery.

The roadside assistance included in my insurance policy has an 800 number—a land line—and land lines cannot (duh!) receive text messages. Using my InReach, I sent an email to my insurance agent explaining my situation, giving my GPS coordinates, and asking him to call roadside assistance for me. After 20 minutes, no reply, so I sent another email. I couldn't text him because I didn't have his cell phone number (I do now).

After another 30 minutes, I sent a text to my friend Liz asking her to call the agent and tell him to check his email. She texted back saying she'd talked with him and he would call RA for me. Soon after that I got an email saying that the flatbed was on the way. It arrived about 2.5 hours after my first email.

The tow truck driver said the insurance company would pay to tow me to Yakima or 50 miles in any direction. Since the choices were "farther from home" or "closer to home" and the only airhead mechanic I know is near Tacoma, I said, "Please take me to Tacoma." They figured the extra mileage and quoted me $480. Thankfully, they took AmEx cards and dropped me at Liz's driveway.

Needless to say, I missed the Tech Weekend. The culprit was a bad ignition, so I upgraded to an electronic ignition and had a new, higher capacity stator put in at the same time.

After this experience with the InReach, I sold both of my SPOT devices. SPOT only has pre-programmed message-out capacity and there's no way to receive a message. Sure, the SOS might work, but I'm not scrambling SAR for a mechanical problem. It's only InReach for me from now on and it is with me ALL the time because what if cell service goes down?

For those thinking you'd just wave down a passing car or fellow rider... good luck with that. I got two cars to stop--one eastbound and one westbound—explained my situation, and gave each a note:

Each driver said he'd call as soon as he got within range of cell service. According to Tad, neither one ever called. So much for the friendliness/helpfulness of Washington State drivers.

While waiting for the truck I was passed by at least 10 Harleys, two or three at a time. Are they afraid to ride solo? Only 2 waved as they went by and none even slowed down. The one dualsport who rode past did stop to see if I needed help, as did a state-owned truck the second time he came by. By then I'd received confirmation that the truck was on it's way, so I thanked them and let them continue their own trips.

Without the InReach, my wait would've been a LOT longer, especially if I'd been off the highway and down a side road somewhere without even the sparse traffic of Highway 410.

Others complain about the battery life and the small keyboard, though I can charge it on the bike if need-be and although the keyboard is a PITA and frustrating, it's better than no keyboard at all. If only it were possible to program it to accept a bluetooth keyboard I sometimes carry for my iPad.

I now travel with EXTRA trail mix or protein bars, spare fuel bottles, and more water than I think I'll need. It gets awfully hungry by the side of the road waiting for that flatbed... though now at least I know they're coming.