It took me a while to find a decent joke about amnesia on the
internet. I thought there would be more really good ones. Maybe
I'll make some up! One of the characteristics of survivors is
being able to retain their sense of humor even under duress.
When most people think about amnesia, they probably recall
stories they've heard about people who disappear from home,
show up in a city halfway across the country, and can't remember
anything about their previous lives, even their own names.
Despite the popularity of such stories in the media, books, and
movies, this type of amnesia is rare.
Of all the "firsts" I've experienced with this bike wreck, the
most mysterious to me is the post-traumatic amnesia I still have
after three days. The condition is fairly common after a
concussion, so it's not all that mysterious to medical
professionals. With all the cyclists in the Durango, CO area,
I'm guessing the ER at Mercy Regional Medical Center is quite
familiar with the phenomenon. Dr. Mapes certainly seemed to be,
and was reassuring as he discussed it with Jim and me.
I remember my last conscious thoughts and I will talk about them
later. I do not remember anything about what
caused the accident, the actual fall, or anything about the
people around me until I was being put on the stretcher and
loaded into the ambulance.
I believe what's missing in my memory bank is a
period of about 30 minutes, maybe a bit less.
MISSING PUZZLE PIECES
For a person like me who has always preferred to be in control
of my faculties (avoiding mind-altering drugs and most alcohol
all my life, for that reason more than any other), having a half-hour gap in
my memory is totally frustrating.
Actually, it's driving me somewhat crazy!
I definitely don't want to remember the pain of impact. Thank
goodness for the brain's ingenious way of erasing that memory. It was
several hours before the shock chemicals wore off and I was aware of pain.
What I most want to know is what happened to make me crash so violently so
maybe I can put all the puzzle pieces together and prevent something like
this from ever happening again.
Another view of the accident scene &
creek taken on Tuesday. I crashed on the road
above the bushes in the foreground,
about where the arrow is drawn.
I may never know the cause. No one has come forward as a witness to the
accident. Jim didn't notice any bike tire skid marks or any other skid marks
when he arrived on scene, partly because he was focused on my condition. He did
notice the pools of my blood in the dirt next to me.
By the time we returned
to the scene the next morning, any skid marks/tire tracks were obliterated by
vehicles using the dusty road. If I had spun out in loose dirt along the edge
of the road, however, it seems like that would still be evident. It wasn't.
My injuries and damage to the bike suggest I hit hard with the bike on the
left side of my head, face, and body and slightly to the front, but didn't
slide too far in the hard, rocky dirt.
The bike and I also have some less serious damage on the right side. That
doesn't make a lot of sense to me. I can't visualize the landing.
- Did I swerve to miss a vehicle coming around the narrow blind curve toward me? Likely
not, because I landed toward the middle of the road, NOT down the steep slope on
the right toward
the creek, which is the side I was riding on.
I was riding in the direction
toward Jim. He's pointing to the crash site,
which is around a blind curve in one direction.
- Did a vehicle sideswipe me? Ditto above. There is no evidence to suggest that.
- Was there a bike malfunction? Possibly, but not real likely. The brakes still work, the
gears and chains were as I left them (and not stuck, like happened Sunday).
The fat tires have good tread and were inflated properly. There's an weird issue
with the stem and handlebars, but we think that is the result of the
impact and not the cause of it.
- Was I going so fast that I hit a rut or rock and lost control of the
bike? That's possible, although there are no "pot holes"
there and it's not very rocky. This 4-mile section of the road isn't that
much of an obstacle course -- that's why I was riding on it. I had been avoiding holes
and rocks quite well up to then, even while pedaling and coasting relatively fast.
- Did I apply one of the brakes (front or rear) too hard for some reason? I
tried to apply even, gentle pressure to avoid gaining too much speed but
perhaps I hit a bump or something and clamped down too hard on one brake and
spun out of control.
- Did I lose focus, get too close to the edge of the road
creek, and over-correct left toward the center of the road to avoid going
down the rock slide? That's possible, although I was trying hard to maintain
focus on the holes and rocks in the road and not look at scenery --
especially around a blind curve. I hate to think I was that careless but I
might have had a lapse of concentration if I saw something moving or heard an
- Did I simply get into some loose gravel too close to the edge,
over-correct toward the middle of the road, fail to come out of my left
clipless pedal (I
always twist and snap out of the right one first), and lose control? This is
likely scenario. I readily admit to being a klutz, and I'm still learning
some of the nuances of balance and control on uneven surfaces on Jim's
mountain bike. I have much more
experience with my road bike and it fits me better.
- Did I black out first and THEN crash? Also a possibility, after what
happened Saturday. (I'll explain that shortly.) This one scares me the most because I have less control
I have some other questions, too:
- What was my reaction when I lost control of the bike?
- Was there anything I could have done differently to either prevent
the crash or reduce my injuries?
- Just how close did I come to flying down that rocky slope to the
(maybe some things are better left unknown!)
- How did I land to cause all these injuries to the front of my
- Why isn't there any evidence that I tried to brace the fall with
my hands, one of the most automatic responses known to humankind?
- Was I unable to release one or both shoes from the clipless pedal
- How did I end up sitting next to my bike near the edge of the road
(right over the rocky slope to the creek)? Is that how I landed or did
I move myself and/or the bike there?
- How did I respond to the people around me before I regained full consciousness?
- How was I able to answer detailed questions (like Jim's phone
number) correctly while in shock, when I sometimes have trouble
numbers when fully conscious and under no stress??
- Was I ever totally unconscious, or just in some netherland of
fully conscious and blacked out?
I am a person who accepts responsibility for my own mistakes. I
am not blaming this on anyone or anything else unless some new
information comes to light that suggests or proves that.
My best guess from all the evidence I have is that I was going
too fast for my skill level on a dusty, gravely road with
some holes and larger rocks (nothing very "technical") and lost
control of the bike for some reason. Maybe I was looking down at
Rick's campsite in the distance:
X marks the spot
Maybe I applied one of the brakes too hard. Maybe I simply got
too close to the loose rock at the edge of the road and spun out
of control, wisely heading toward the middle of the road and not
down the hill. Maybe whatever I did to rectify the situation WAS
the only option I had -- at least I didn't end up down in the
creek, unable to type this entry.
But until and unless my memory of the crash returns, I'll never
YOU ALWAYS KNEW I WAS BRAIN-DAMAGED, RIGHT??
Must be, to run ultras!
Riding a bike is much more accepted as normal, and look what THAT got me.
Despite all the risks I've taken running remote mountain trails, I've never
come close to hurting myself this badly before.
Saturday, August 1 was Jim's 61st birthday. Although we celebrate birthdays and
holidays quietly, I felt like a horrible wife when I woke up at 5:15AM throwing
up repeatedly in the bathroom, sweating bullets, passing out briefly, then getting
very chilled. I had a queasy stomach all day,
only able to swallow a little fluids and soup. I was depleted by day's end, still worried
about vomiting. I hate to throw up. Whenever I stood up, I felt dizzy. I didn't have any recurrence of
the vomiting, passing out, sweating, or chills the rest of the day and don't think I had a fever. I mostly dozed all day.
I had no energy or interest in doing any of my favorite things, like working at
my computer. It was very strange and totally uncharacteristic of me.
I certainly didn't feel like going out to celebrate Jim's birthday at
dinner with our ultra buddy Bill Heldenbrand at The Brown Bear that evening.
Just the thought of food made me nauseous and I didn't want to upchuck right
there in the restaurant. Jim wouldn't go without me, so we postponed it to
Sunday. I felt more than a little guilty for being ill on Jim's birthday, when
it's a real rarity for me to get sick.
Neither of us could figure out what caused those symptoms. We pretty
much ate the same foods the past couple days and I didn't have diarrhea, which
I associate with food poisoning. I slept great for ten hours that night and
woke up feeling pretty much like normal on Sunday. Although I didn't eat as
much as usual, I was able to eat and hold down my favorite foods and drinks. I
had no nausea or dizziness all day, no hot sweats or chills, no fever. I was
back to my old self. I was
even able to do a
faster eight-mile run than usual.
Ditto Monday, only substitute the ill-fated bike ride for the run.
One reason Jim and I wonder about an unexpected black-out as the cause for
the wreck is that I experienced nearly the same symptoms at 5:30AM on
Tuesday (the morning after the crash) that I had early Saturday morning:
even worse dizziness getting to the bathroom, inability to stand even with Jim's
assistance, the sensation of blinding, flashing lights, passing out briefly, sweating profusely, then quickly
getting chilled. No apparent fever, no diarrhea. The only differences were 1) not
throwing up (but thought I might), 2) that pesky concussion I got, and 3) I had taken one
generic Percocet pain pill at
the hospital Monday night. I don't do well with narcotics or their substitutes
and should have just kept taking Ibuprofen for my aches and pains. That has
worked well since.
Now we're in a quandary about whether I should get further consulting and
testing with a neurologist as soon as possible. My brain CT scan was all right
at the hospital Monday night but perhaps I need more definitive tests to see if
I have a problem causing me to black out. Maybe "blacking out" is only a
symptom of a bad bug last weekend, the Percocet at the hospital, and/or
the concussion I received; it's a common symptom post-trauma. Maybe the
incidents are totally unrelated
and I didn't lose consciousness before the wreck, only after it. I'm not
even sure I would be considered unconscious after the wreck, since I was
talking to people.
I feel a little less concerned after talking to the ER doc
Wednesday. I called to see if he could refer me to a neurologist in
Denver for further testing. He said that based on my history and
the results of the CT scan that this doesn't sound like a
neurological problem to him. In fact, he said it's more likely a
cardio problem! Great. Something else to worry about! He said
I'd probably gain more pertinent insight and information from a
generalist, internist, or cardiologist than a neurologist. We talked for about ten minutes on
the phone and I'll see him again when I go back to the hospital in Durango this Friday to
get the stitches out of my forehead. We can ask more
questions then about the value of further testing.
Meanwhile, I'm not driving the truck for a while! (Nor riding a
bike.) After nearly killing myself, I need to let my bumped
brain heal first.
BACK AT THE SCENE TO "JOG" MY MEMORY
In an effort to answer some my questions, including exactly
where this happened, Jim drove me out to the scene the next
morning. Jim had tried to describe the location but I couldn't
remember any place along South Mineral Creek Road where the
creek was so close to the road AND that far below it.
When I saw the location, I immediately remembered it -- but only
from being there many times before, not from the previous day or
in any way connected to my wreck. In 2006 and 2007 we camped for
a couple of weeks at the dispersed campground about half a mile
farther back the road. I've passed this curve many times in the
truck and a few times on foot or bike in the last four years. In
entry in this series, I even showed a photograph of the crash site
that I took last week. I don't think there was any premonition
involved with that; it's just a scenic view looking
toward the west from the curve.
Seeing the location, seeing my blood still on the road about
16 hours after the crash, seeing the pitch and rockiness of the long
slope down to the creek, seeing and talking to Rick (one of the
people on the scene) on Tuesday morning . . . brought
back absolutely no memory of any of those 30 minutes I've
All it did was sober me up even more than I already was. Scary
stuff. I could have died in that accident, and that fact
was made abundantly clear just looking at the scene. Not only
was careening down a rocky hill into a creek full of water
hazardous to my life, so was the narrow curve in the road where
someone could have easily struck me while I was down.
Fortunately, I haven't had any dreams about it yet. I fear my
lost memory may someday return in one horrible nightmare.
[Bad karma seemed to follow us to the site on Tuesday. Jim
didn't realize it until several hours later, but he dropped his
cell phone on the road while we were there. For some reason he
didn't have it in the case he usually clips to his waistband and
it fell out of a pocket. He thought maybe it was down near the
creek, where he'd been looking for my missing helmet.
Unfortunately, it had been run over and was in two sad little
pieces. He researched where to get a replacement (via the
internet, a Verizon store, or by phone) and discovered the price
was the same at all three. He'll get one in Durango when we go
down there tomorrow to get my stitches out and run errands. He's
hoping like heck that he can get all the numbers stored in his
old phone transferred to a new one. Ironically, we've got three
old phones that could be used but they are 2,000 miles away in
Virginia and we aren't going back there for almost two more
months. It's not that bad of a hit (about $50 after rebate) to
get a brand new phone and just extend our contract. If anyone
has tried to contact him the last couple days, that's why he
Another view of S. Mineral Creek Road from
my run on 7-27-09.
Jim ran out this section of South Mineral Creek today (Thursday), up to Clear Lake, and
back to the camper, a moderately difficult 15 miles at high altitude. As he approached the crash site on the way
back, he tried to visualize what happened to me. He didn't come
up with any more answers than I have. Sometimes I think it would
be interesting to try to recreate one or two scenarios of what
may have happened (e.g., hitting a bump or sliding in loose rock) -- only in full
body protection the second time!
I do not think I'd ever want to see a video of my wreck, however.
I can't imagine the terror and pain I must have felt when my
head and face hit the road. That's why I'm hoping I don't regain any memory of
SOME ANOMALIES THAT HAVE US PUZZLED
There are some things about this crash that just don't make a
lot of sense to me. If it was just me, I'd think maybe some
things were confusing because of my concussion -- but Jim
doesn't have the answers to all of them either and his brain
didn't just get bounced around.
Let's start with my injuries.
The first point of impact was most likely the left side of my
head/forehead above my ear and eye. This is the area of most damage: the
concussion, lacerations to my forehead and eyelid that required
stitches, a nasty abrasion on my cheek below my eye, and another
abrasion on my left chin. A large area of my head above the ear
is still sore, although Jim can't see any abrasions or bruising
under my hair.
There are a couple of odd things here. The first is the helmet.
Although I was wearing a
good helmet, it didn't protect me like I think it should have.
(I'd hate to see the damage if I wasn't wearing a helmet at all!
Think splattered cantaloupe.) Maybe I didn't have it buckled
tightly enough under my chin and it shifted some on impact. An area about six
inches in diameter is still very sore to the touch above my ear
and extending to the laceration on my forehead. There was no
bleeding under my hair and Jim can't see any bruising, but I can
vouch that it still hurts.
I wish we had the helmet to inspect. So did the doctor.
Unfortunately, the helmet is MIA. All we
have is the rear-view mirror, which broke off the helmet. The
mirror is cracked. When someone put the bike in the back of our truck, the
helmet went flying down the cliff and into the creek. Rick says
he went after it but it was floating rapidly on top of the water
like a little boat and by the time he got down to the creek, it
was gone. He searched for several hundred feet
downstream to a waterfall, then gave up. Jim also searched for
it the next day but couldn't find it. I have visions of it
floating in the Grand Canyon about now . . .
(Hey, if you don't have a sense of humor, what have you
Another oddity is
what happened to my glasses and sunglasses during the wreck.
The sunglasses apparently flew off and weren't damaged. They are held
onto the frame by two small magnets. Sometimes I have trouble
using both hands to get them off, another indication of how hard I hit
The lenses in the glasses are
destroyed by deep scratches but they are not cracked or broken:
I obviously had the glasses on at impact, but I think they must
have been forced off my head as I slid along the road for a
short distance. They probably protected my eyes from further
damage. I did not have them on when Nancy and Gerald found me,
nor when Jim came. Fortunately, someone handed them to Jim
before we left the scene and he thanked them; he was so
focused on me, he didn't even think to ask about my glasses.
Neither did I until I was at the hospital. Jim pulled them out
of his pocket to show me. I could not believe my eyes. It's
still a "shock" to look at them and think about how they got
Now the anomaly: please explain to me why the RIGHT lens is scratched much worse
than the left side! All the damage to my face and head was on
the left side except one little abrasion on the right side of my
nose, probably from my glasses being ripped off. I had no other
damage to the entire right side of my face except some redness
that shows in the photos Jim took that evening; that is
probably from sunburn..
The second hardest point of impact was to my left
shoulder, arm, and rib cage. I had nasty abrasions on the top of my
shoulder (and my short-sleeved shirt has some holes in that
area), front part of the elbow, and front part of the forearm
right above my watch. I have one or more fractured ribs. My left
rib cage and shoulder are still sore three days later.
Here are some more anomalies.
Other than the laceration on my forehead that required a bunch
of stitches, the two worst abrasions are on my forearms -- the
one on my left arm isn't a surprise, but the one on the RIGHT
arm is. Both are sort of deep, still oozing more than the other
wounds, and required cutting of dirty, ragged skin in the ER
(and more at home). The one on the left arm is only two inches
above my watch, which had no dirt on it and no scratches:
Left forearm three days after the wreck; it
looks worse than it hurts.
You'd think the watch would be destroyed, considering what my
glasses looked like.
And the wound on the right forearm? How the heck did THAT
Same with my knees. The left one sustained abrasions spanning
about eight inches in length. That makes sense, since that's the
side that took the brunt of the fall and skid. The right one is much less
serious, but I obviously scraped it, too. I also have bruises
developing along the inside of my right leg from the calf to my
Even more baffling is why I have no abrasions on my
fingers. I did have some dirt under my nails. My bike gloves obviously protected my hands well, but
all my knuckles are exposed outside the gloves and there is no sign that I used my
hands to brace the fall. What happened that I didn't use this
universal, automatic, self-protective response to protect my
head and chest?
My best guess is that my brain was too busy trying to figure out
how to disengage my shoes from my pedals in the first couple of
seconds that it couldn't also
get my hands to the ground before my noggin hit it. I mean, talk
about "taking a face plant!"
I also think the left shoe didn't disengage from the pedal until
I skidded to a stop. I always "unlock" the right foot first when I'm
stopping. My right leg is much more stable than the left since I
completely tore the p. brevis and longus in my left ankle. I've
never had to get the left shoe freed quickly so it isn't an
automatic response. It's obvious
from my injuries and the damage to the bike that I landed and
skidded on the road toward the left. Oddly, my shoes and socks
aren't at all dirty or scratched up.
WHAT ABOUT THE BIKE?
This is one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen. What's
wrong with this picture?
I immediately knew there was something strange about Jim's bike
but it took me a few seconds to realize that the stem and
handlebars were parallel to the front wheel, not perpendicular
to it like it's supposed to be!
To the best of our knowledge, the stem was tight when I began
this ride. I don't remember any "play" as I steered the bike the
first seven or eight miles. There is a slight possibility that
it loosened up with all the bouncing over ruts and rocks and
perhaps caused the crash when I couldn't steer properly,
but Jim is convinced that during the crash the front wheel was
turned sharply to the left and the stem/handlebars were forced
90° during the initial impact with
the road, particularly if much of my weight was on top of it.
I didn't look at the bike until we
came back from our visit to the scene Tuesday morning. I had
asked Jim if it sustained any damage and all he'd said was a
cryptic "You'll have to see for yourself."
Seeing the stem and handlebars at a
right angle was nearly as shocking as seeing my destroyed
glasses. It was so weird, in fact, that I did a double-take, not
quite comprehending what I was seeing. I knew something was
badly askew, but it was so foreign to me that I didn't
understand how it could have happened. I still don't. Fortunately, Jim was able to force
the stem and handlebars back into the correct position. He said
it took a lot of strength to do that.
The left back side of the seat is
partly shredded from the wreck. That's understandable.
The front end of the seat was starting to wear, so we needed to
get a new one anyway.
What's odder is that my left hip
has minimal bruising and is barely sore. What's with that? How did my
ribs get cracked and my arm and knee all torn up but my hips didn't?
Where were they hiding? My expensive Terry-brand bike shorts
also have no damage (or dirt).
I'm thinking that was $60
well-spent. I wish I'd had on a long-sleeved shirt that was
Another oddity with the bike: the vinyl on the right
handlebar is just as torn up as the left. That adds plausibility
to Jim's theory about how the stem and handlebars were torqued
during the crash. But where were my completely uninjured
hands when all this was going on???? My last conscious memory
had me securely (but not tightly) gripping the handlebars and brake
I have no memory of getting off the bike after the crash and sitting
quietly next to it
close to the side of the road, but I must have done that. I
can't believe I landed exactly the way Nancy and Gerald found
me. Seems like I would have been all tangled up in the bike.
Do you see why we have some confusion? We need a detective to
help us sort these things out.
Continued in next entry.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2009 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil