Many of you might not know this about me, but I’ve had a few serious accidents in my fairly short adult lifetime—the last 8 years. I’m sure I’ve put my poor mother through more than her fair share of worry, even with three sons. I'll go through some of these briefly, to give you an idea. Picture getting some of these calls as a mother.
The first major injury was a broken jaw, cheek, lost tooth and a fractured eye socket. It happened by some kind soul stamping on my head in a nightclub. He thought I was someone else; someone that had hit on his girlfriend as far as I can remember. I don’t generally hit on girls in nightclubs, and I certainly didn’t back when I was 18. I was way too shy. I don’t have much memory other than that. My first memory after the incident was waking up in a taxi in front of a random hospital entrance. I had to walk through the hospital looking for A&E (Accident & Emergency). Apparently the taxi driver didn’t know where that was. From this injury I received my very first titanium plate, which was put into my lower jaw. I also had my jaw wired up, like Kanye West, and was drinking liquid food for a month.
My second major injury was caused by going downhill, on a snowboard, indoors. I was pretty new to snowboarding but decided I was awesome and pushed the limits a bit too far. I caught my toe edge and fell forward at a very fast speed. I decided to break my fall with my arms out stretched, which in turn broke my collarbone, very badly. I was taken to hospital by another snowboarder. I kind person that I didn’t even know. A good samaritan forsaking their fun snowboarding times to help me. When we made it to hospital, I had all my x-rays and stuff done and I was seen to by the doctor, and I was told that it needed operating on. Oh, but the shoulder specialist wouldn’t be in until Monday. This happened on a Saturday. The break was so clean and so bad, in fact, that the doctor said if I was to move too suddenly, there was a good chance the collar bone would break through the skin. Isn’t that a nice thought? If that was to happen, he said I should call 999 (the UK’s emergency number) as it warranted such. It didn’t, thankfully. On monday I got my very second titanium plate. For about a month I could only sleep on my back. I do not normally sleep on my back.
The third major injury was a big gash in my neck. The story: I was DJing at a house party, and was confronted by someone, again who thought I was someone else. Do I just look like a lot of other people? He tried to punch me but failed, and fled. I then went outside to confront him. Merely to ask why? Promise. That turned out to be a huge mistake. Before I knew it I had a 750ml vodka bottle smashed over the back of my head. The broken bottle continued in a downwards direction, scrapping my ear and then my neck. The cut was deep and I lost a lot of blood until I passed out on the road. An ambulance was called and I was taken to hospital. The paramedics had managed to stop the bleeding and so I was to wait for 3 hours, with my mate Rands, in the A&E. I had it stitched up by a nurse in the end. She said something that I thought was weird at first: “You’re really lucky, you know that?” Why on earth was I lucky to have been bottled? So I responded “I don’t feel very lucky.” This is when she went on to tell me that had the cut been just half a centimeter over I’d be dead. It was that close to the jugular and deep enough to hit it. There’s no coming back from that apparently. So yeah, probably the second nearly dead experience. I wasn't told the head stamping could have killed me, but I'm fairly sure it could've.
However, none of the above were the worst things that have happened to me. See what I mean by my poor mother.
Quick fact: I like to ride my bike a fair bit. I am pretty competitive and this year I was fully committed to train hard and race in higher grades. Part of this training involved heading to a mountainous part of Victoria, Bright, to ride up mountains. And when you go up, you get to go down. I love going down. I’m pretty good at it, or I was and I did love going down. I could go pretty fast without feeling like I was pushing any limits. Faster than most even. With one of the big descents in Bright is of Mt Buffalo, I am 178th out of 8,383 people on that descent. And I didn't feel like I was pushing any limits. To put that descent into perspective, I covered 18.2km in 20 minutes. That’s an average speed of 54.6km/h. That isn't all straight, it's twisty and winding roads.
On November 11th 2016, I was again in Bright, with some mates doing some more training. On our first ride out we were doing a pretty short but intense day over the Tawonga Gap. It’s a little climb in between two towns, Bright and Mt Beauty. The first up and down was fine. I did some good efforts on the way up and got a PR going down. In fact I got the 37th best time out of 5,725 people going down. Covering 7.5km in just over 7 minutes. Averaging 58.2km/h. So my descending this day was strong.
After we stopped in Mt Beauty for coffee, actually, I think it was a fruit juice, we made our way back to Bright. On the way back over the Tawonga Gap, James shot off up the climb. He was the strongest climber there. The rest of us went up at a reasonable pace. Once we got to the top, that’s where my memory ends.
The rest is guesswork, from stories and Strava. So forgive me if it isn’t entirely accurate. Why let the truth get in the way of a good story anyway. Right?
Strava shows that I descended the first 2km at a reasonable pace. At no time on the previous descent did I feel like I was pushing my limits, so I assume I wouldn’t have been pushing them this time either. I’m not trying to die. I’m not risking my life for no reason. However, after this first 2km my Strava ride ended. The file shows me going from 75km/h to 0. Very quickly...
I had come off. Crashed. And crashed hard.
Luckily, I was in front of a couple of the lads I was with, Doug and Ryan, who must have seen me and pulled over to help. Another stroke of luck was that I hadn't flown over the edge, lost to the world. My head was bleeding and my kit must’ve been ripped to pieces. A car then pulled over to assist me. A third stroke of luck, it was a Nurse driving the car. She called for an ambulance, but on hearing it was over 45 minutes away and seeing the blood coming from my head decided to risk moving me and taking me to the local hospital. Good call no.1.
When I got to hospital a few other friends had heard about the accident and headed over. Katie, a paramedic herself, took control and insisted I get air transported to Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, rather than being taken by an ambulance to a nearer hospital. One that would’ve made the 8 day long intensive recovery much more isolated. Good call no.2.Thanks, Katie.
My memories between the crash and arriving at the Alfred included a brief period inside the ambulance. My vision was severely hindered, as I couldn’t even make out Katie's face. I could hear a female voice, but couldn’t work out if it was her or not. I remember asking a few times “is that you, Katie?” and “What’s happened?” And to great delight hearing back “Yes, Andy, you’ve had an accident but everything is going to be okay.” Or something to that effect, and it was extremely comforting. I’m not sure whether I knew what had happened at the time, but I felt more relaxed and at ease with the situation. I couldn’t move, but I wasn’t worried at that point—I’m not sure if this memory is correct, or whether I was really crying and shaking with anxiety? If that's the real truth, I've well and truly suppressed it.
I also briefly remember being in the helicopter, but as soon as it lifted off, I was out cold. I almost remember dropping off. Like it was planned. The next thing I remember was being in a room, with my brother, Ollie, and his girlfriend, Sachael, around me. And a lot of other people. It felt like a weird red carpet moment. Lots of people were fussing over me and there were bright lights everywhere. Things were still very blurred, and I remember thinking that all of the nurses around me were really attractive. A weird thought, and one I think I shared out loud.
I looked at my hand, which was in a terrible state—wear gloves when descending kids—with two big gashes that looked like canyons. Thick dead white raised skin protruded from my palm. However, there was no blood. Apparently a lot of gravel was inside. I panicked the most over this, weirdly, but the nurse assured me that they would clean and fix it up during surgery. I think I went straight into surgery as my head was bleeding and pretty swollen. But I can't be sure. EDIT: I went into surgery the next day, on the Saturday.
My memory is extremely blurry over the next few days. However, at some point I learned of my injuries. Which were as follows: Broken sacrum, fractured pelvis and a fractured skull. Fragments of the skull had to be removed and a titanium plate put in, which has left me with a 20cm scar across my head. That is my third titanium plate. I also had lots of grazes and cuts everywhere from knee to shoulder to forearms. As you'd expect from a 75km/h crash wearing nothing but a thin layer of Lycra.
Here are some nice images for you (don't look if you're squeamish):
The recovery I will write up shortly. Here I am recovering: