I am on a nice vacation in AZ: ride El Tour with the Leukemia Team in Training (TNT), hang out in Tucson, take my time driving home in Bertha - my swell new (used) camper van.

The drive to AZ and the pre-ride activities are good. Saturday (23 November 1996) I get up at 5AM and make cream of wheat in the van before starting El Tour. We leave at 6 to line up for the 7AM start. I'm riding with the TNT 3's for the first time. We hope to finish the 111 miles in less than 6 hours. It has rained during the night, but the morning is nice.

Eleven of us start in good order, but little problems plague us immediately. Three flats in the first 13 miles. A chain problem. Caught behind the 75-mile start. Our 6-hour target history before we are really into the ride.

At the first river crossing, I am having trouble - cramps, can't maintain the pace. I tell Kevin to leave me. Instead of waiting for the 2's, I continue riding - I don't want to stiffen and cramp. I ride with a tandem for a while, then they stop. I go solo for a while. Then a rider catches me. And another. We hang together in a little pace-line boring into the usual head-winds nearing the second river crossing. As we ride, I eat and massage my cramps.

A policeman waves us through an intersection.


A blue pickup truck appears, as if from an alternate universe. There is the screech of brakes locked up, he is coming straight at me. I have only some fraction of a second to wonder if I will survive. And to be confused about where he came from. Then there is the impact as he slams into my right side. I have no memory of my trajectory from the impact spot to the place where I wind up laying on the road, but I believe I am conscious the whole time. People start running up to me. I am lying on my back, my right leg is folded under the left at an awkward angle. There is no question of getting up.


Several police and/or medical people come and go. A civilian who was at the intersection watching is very solicitous. I ask his name and swear to myself I will remember it, but I don't. He may be one of the witnesses listed in the police report. They unload my back pockets of Gu, tights, wallet, camera, swiss army knife, etc., so that I can lie flat. Mr Civilian eventually takes some of my stuff and a message back to the start/finish and the Leukemia people.

I am not particularly in pain. Shock I guess - you know you are hurt, there's no need for a bunch of alarms to alert you to possible problems. It is pretty clear that my right hand and leg are broken. But I'm not bleeding much and have been spared acres of road rash.

My helmet is pretty scuffed up. I don't see my bike.

The truck is stopped a few feet away. One of the two cyclists I was with is lying in the road back in the intersection. An ambulance takes him away. I give my name and address several times.

I see Tim Ferris ride by and call out. He stops and stays by my side for a brief time, it is comforting. Later, I call a greeting to Clinton as he rides by.

At some point, I sit up, leaning back on my arms, but that lasts only a brief time.

I start to worry about cramps. My quads and calves were already cramping when I was riding and it's a wonder they haven't completely locked up already. This becomes a theme.

Eventually, it sorts out. They put me on a board and in the mandatory neck brace. They straighten out my right leg and put in in some sort of traction splint. Into an ambulance and off to a hospital.

They plug me into an IV. I encourage them, telling them about my dehydration and cramps. The woman helps me stretch out a cramp in my left calf.

Urban 16

The emergency room at UMC is busy and friendly. Several teams of Dr's come and go. I recall only one name: Dr. Peterson-Hale.

Cramps happen - at some point, I bellow as something locks up. Another time, I get someone to massage my right quad to forestall a lockup.

Xrays are taken. I see a femur broken about 4" above the knee. Dr's tell me my hand and leg are indeed broken.

I get lost in some confusion about whether I'm supposed to be in ER or OR, next thing I know, I'm in recovery shivering like crazy. People are hustling to get me clothed and warm. Casts on my right hand and below the knee on the right leg. Elaine is there, she has had to miss the awards ceremony which she co-hosts and where Cindy is being honored as woman-of-the-year.

I fade out, come to Sunday in a room with Art. I am Urban sixteen, the code name assigned to my case by UMC. Drs. come by: Borom - young, handsome, precise; Speer - silver hair, friendly. They go over their handiwork. They have installed a rod in my femur. They can't tell if my lower leg is broken under a big contusion; damage from when I broke it 40 years ago makes the xrays hard to interpret. They have put a cast from the foot up to the knee just to be sure. My right hand is badly broken above the ring and pinkie fingers. They have installed pins and it is enclosed in a gory cast extending within a couple inches of the elbow. I have an IV for input and a catheter for output. There is a button I can push for morphine.

Days come and go. Visitors come and go. TNT people, my old friend John Brillhart, Phil Keller (who I last saw in ~1961!), El Tour promoter Richard. My roommate Art snores. Elaine postpones her return to IL so she can stay and help with logistics. She brings me earplugs to counteract Art.

They make me get up and get on crutches - it is a shakey process. I can barely get myself to the bathroom after they remove the catheter.

But every day I am much better. Elaine has arranged a place for me to stay and on Monday I start lobbying to get released from the hospital. The Drs are amenable and after I produce the mandatory BM, I am released Tuesday afternoon. Elaine drives me to Sue Day's house in Tucson.


Day's is on Pontatoc Road, across from where Richard lives. It is a sweet area, probably "old" Tucson. Sue, Pat, and Sally greet us. Pat loads me into a wheelchair that has been rented for the occasion and wheels me through a patio to my room, which opens onto the patio. It is very pleasant. Private room, private bath, sunny patio. I sleep, take painkillers, watch TV. Occasional trips out onto the patio.

Sue tells me the story of her house, which is wonderful. Spread out, wings and rooms here and there, art objects cluttering every available space. To me, it just looks like Tucson, There is a reason: it was designed by the architect who came to Tucson from Hollywood and is credited with the Tucson look. I don't manage to do a complete tour before I leave, but I vow to visit again.

I am well cared for, there is excellent food available at all times. A splendid thanksgiving dinner, about 20 guests. Sometimes, as I fade in and out, I am confused that I have gone to heaven.


Friday, Elaine and Richard drive me to the airport. They wheel me to the gate and an agent wheels me to the plane. I am in the first row of first class. Several people have actually heard of my crash and commiserate with me. The flight is straightforward in spite of threats of bad weather. A lunch that Sue and Elaine packed saves me from starving.

Susan picks me up in San Jose. A crew woman wheels me from the plane all the way to the car. We drive home.

I have asked Bob Fabry to loan me a cot because I think I may not be able to get up from my low futon bed. But I am able to lever myself up and down, albeit with considerable effort, so I forgo the complication of installing another piece of furniture.

It has been a long day.

Saturday, a parade of friends stops by to wish me well. I am a bit numb, but it is heart-warming and encouraging.

Tuesday, I see Dr. Shively at Kaiser. I'm happy with his approach - especially as he takes the cast off my leg - now, I can bathe!


For a while, it seemed I made amazing progress every day: from scarcely being able to move to getting up under my own power; from planning every departure from bed as though it were a foreign vacation to simply getting up when I needed something; from balancing waiting for someone to happen by to fetch something from downstairs vs an exhausting trip myself to just going and getting something if I need it.

But, suddenly it is 3+ weeks now and I seem to be stalled out. Still not back at work: barely enuf energy to have a few meals, log in to do some EM, bathe. Mucho tv. Some reading. Considerable sleeping. Have started shopping for a lawyer in Tucson.

Still planning on going up to Yosemite 20-23 Dec - can't play in the snow, but the change of pace will do me some good (I think). Have a Dr. appt on 24 Dec. Quit the painkillers yesterday, maybe that will help. Also starting to try locating a exercycle - I am not supposed to put significant weight on my leg, but the exercise will help my campaign to loosen up the joints and may help my energy level as well.

Dr. Shively and the AZ crew tell the same story. My leg will heal, maybe I will walk in about 2 months - but I will be aware of it forever. They worry that the bones in the hand are not right, but it will probably be OK - wait and see.

Wait and see? Sometimes, I pass thru peaceful moments, reading something or listening to music or being aware of a breeze. But mostly I'm either comatose or impatient. Grumble.

I had intended to use my vacation out in the desert to re-evaluate my basic assumptions. Now, I am struggling just to get back to where I was. But at least I'm still around to struggle...


(Added 2 February 1998.)

I have largely recovered. Went and rode El Tour in November 1997 and had a pleasant and uneventful ride.

Last updated by Vance 980202.