PBP: Bob Sheldon’s story

As many of you know, Bob returned home from PBP before the ride start after a totally unlucky encounter with a curb that put him out with a broken wrist. Bob has written up his experiences since that day, and is looking forward to the future.

Bob at the DCR 600KBob at the DCR 600K

PBP – crashed and burned but my bike and gear finished the ride
by Bob Sheldon

Bob, with sling, at PBP with FriendsBob, with sling, at PBP with Friends

Since I am finally on the mend after crashing and burning at PBP, busting my left wrist on the Saturday before PBP on a DCRand on course tune up ride, I wanted to tell folks about my French medical experience, my continuing medical odyssey as I just endured my fifth and thankfully the last brain procedure, and recovery. But most importantly, I want to congratulate all the DCRand folks who rode a challenging PBP, certainly wish I could have joined you. It’s been great to read your exploits and hear the stories. DCRand sent more than double the number riders in previous years. Bonne Route.

I was really angry about crashing. PBP was going to be my statement that I could recapture my former self before the head trauma. I had a great ride in ’03, wanted to relive that amazing high, fitness, and the confidence that when you conquer PBP, you can do anything. I had debated whether to spend money on PBP or a hearing aid/tinnitus retraining, feeling that PBP would provide the psychological and physical high, but I just crashed again.

My French medical treatment was helped considerably by Lothar Henninghausen’s good friend in Saint Quentin, Jean Pierre who came to my rescue with a car to pick up both me and the bike, then off to a private hospital noted for its orthopedics. Jean Pierre was critical in running interference, helping me interpret the forms and receive treatment.

My Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance card was rejected but once I pulled out a Visa card they agreed to perform the necessary surgery, though because it was Saturday with the billing office closed, Jean Pierre had to co-sign the agreement. Thanks Jean Pierre.

After the crash I felt so crummy, couldn’t ride. no energy to explore Paris, I thought it would be easier just lick my wounds at home, go to work, and wanted to check with my orthopedist. Carol Bell described PBP as hemorrhaging money, so figured heading home would stop the hemorrhaging. Fortunately I used frequent flyer miles so it only cost $65 to change flights. The Campanile staff was very helpful, so I gave them my RUSA pins.

Unfortunately I can’t have a medical procedure without drama. Upon returning I immediately saw one of my now four orthopedists. He thought the French doctors did a great job installing the pins to fix the break and that the bones were knitting properly, but he’s 73, no longer performing surgery, passing me off to a colleague to remove the pins. Two weeks later, that surgeon took one look at my x-rays, exclaiming “we’ve got a problem; the bones aren’t knitting properly, I may need to re-break the wrist.”

Hey, talk to your colleague. He also questioned the pins, preferring a plate and screws, a permanent solution which would have speed up the recovery process. He removed the pins using general anesthesia. I woke up to yet another cast, wondering did he re-break my wrist. I didn’t see the surgeon for another week, but fortunately he didn’t break the wrist, the bones are now knitting properly and with the help of the great physical therapists at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, amazing equipment and apparatuses, both my wrist and shoulder are recovering, though the wrist will take at least three more months to fully recover.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield promptly fully reimbursed my French medical expenses including the Euro conversion charge and surprisingly the $39 credit card transaction fee. They even sent the reimbursement before the credit card bill arrived. I had to complete an out of country medical form, attached 25 pages of documentation from the French Hospital (great bureaucrats), my on-line credit card statement, and a detailed cover letter. But Blue Cross got a good deal, the French medical care is certainly cheap in comparison, the entire seven hour French hospital stay with surgery was less than just my US surgeon’s bill.

Though I DNSd, other folks benefited from my accident. Besides loaning my bike, clothing, and equipment to Clint Provenza whose bike and gear were misplaced by his airline, I loaned clothing and gear to three other DCRand folks: Greg Conderacci, Lynn Ho, and Michael Murray. With dire weather predictions, a woman approached me in search of a wool jersey, giving her my DCRand jersey; I never did get her name, but apparently Peggy Rex, returning the jersey to Clint. Thanks. With a captive audience at the Campanile, I held an E-bay sale, selling my batteries, supplements, food, and my ’07 PBP jerseys, I didn’t want any reminder. This reduced what I had to carry back to the states with only one arm, and recouped some of the expensive medical trip.

Helping Clint by loaning my Spectrum with its gorgeous paint, specifically designed for PBP, clothing and equipment pain-stakenly picked out worked in theory, but seeing Clint measure the seat height and riding the bike, reality hit, I couldn’t watch, I had to leave. What’s the Spectrum going to look like when I see it next? That’s my ride, my dream. Clint allayed my fears, doing a great job cleaning up the bike and gear, which must have been a challenge with the wet weather. Besides spending five days in the chaos and abuse of the Campanile bike room, what other nick and scratches could be inflicted? Clint thanks for taking good care of the bike and gear, glad you had a good ride. Symbolically with my name on the top tube, I started and finished and my gear helped others on the journey.

In ’05 I broke a bone in my head because a rider broke abruptly in front on me on a steep descent touching my front wheel, causing balance, hearing loss, and horrendous tinnitus problems. I’ve had vestibular rehabilitation therapy to work on my balance, still need more work. Fortunately balance was not the cause of the PBP crash. It was stupid inattention. I was having fun talking to Lothar, looking over my shoulder while going around a roundabout but didn’t notice that the road narrowed, hitting the curb. For some solace, 10 minutes after I crashed another person crashed at the same point. I’ve been riding hard for 36 years, with over 200,000 miles in my legs, riding to every job. This shouldn’t be happening.

While some folks ride the Brevet of the Month, I endure the medical procedure of the month. Within the past 13 months, I’ve had a busted finger, five brain procedures to identify and then install coils to stop blood from spurting in my head, cancer surgery, level 2 separated shoulder, and two surgeries on my busted wrist.

On Oct. 25th I had the fifth and thankfully the last brain procedure to check on the coils that stop blood from spurting, guarding against brain hemorrhaging; fortunately the coils are doing their assigned job. It’s such a bizarre procedure, running a catheter from my groin to my head, while they inject dye to check on the coils, asking me to participate, closing my eyes, stop breathing, and keeping my head still. The dye causes electric sparks across my vision. Far out, flashbacks. I can tell which side of my head they are in because that side of my mouth tastes salty.

An unfortunate side effect of the procedure is that the dye or when alcohol is used causes the incessant tinnitus/ringing to increase substantially. During one of my repair procedures the tip of catheter containing alcohol used to ruff up the arteries, came off, dumping alcohol in my head which had to be turned off immediately or it could have killed me. I then had to endure an MRI exam to see if the alcohol had caused permanent damage. The ringing increased to such a level that the banging noise in the MRI tube was no match for the ringing.

Without insurance, the price of all these procedures would be more than the combined price of my first two houses in the D.C. area. I can easily understand why a significant percentage of the folks filing for bankruptcy protection do so because of medical bills. Everyone should have the same opportunity I’ve had to obtain good health insurance at a reasonable price.

After a seven-week layoff, the longest time off the bike in 36 years, I started riding and commuting again. I even joined the Hains Point noon goon hammer fest last week, pleased that I was able to hang with the fast crowd for two laps before I blew up. I have problems with lateral movements on my left hand, so STI shifting is a challenge; fortunately my commuting bike and tandem have bar end shifters, much easier. Hope to see you on the road and soon test myself on one of Crista and Chuck’s adventures.

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