As I pulled into the drive, my phone buzzed as Beardy sent me this message. I’d been looking forward to my Friday evening bike ride all day. The weather was perfect! Not too windy, sunny and warm. Beardy was on day 13 of his Vuelta challenge, which involved cycling every day of the race. His finishers medal had arrived the day before and I’d managed to source a good finishers jersey for him, as I did when he completed his TdF challenge last year.
He arrived home shortly after me, and after all the usual faffing, we were out the door and into the sun.
Our plan was an easy hour or so of biking on my favourite roads out the back of Glenfarg. “Why don’t I show you the Hilton of Duncrievie climb?” said Beardy about 3km in. I agreed, cautiously. I am not the best climber but he reassured me it was just a short slog followed by a nippy descent.
He was right, as it turned out. (For once). I managed the climb easily and we were soon cresting the top of the hill where he announced he was off to blast the next Strava segment. Nothing unusual here. I followed as he stomped the pedals and disappeared down the hill. I caught sight of him wobbling slightly as he disappeared round the corner at the bottom of the road.
The next few seconds are a blur. As I rounded the corner behind him I was aware of a flash of something. And then I saw him: lying on his back in the road, his hands up at his face, his bike nowhere to be seen.
“Oh FUCK” is basically all I said for the next minute and a half. I’m used to seeing him fall off his bike a lot, as he is a go-hard-or-go-home type of guy. But this was different. This *felt* different straight away. His words were jumbled. I don’t remember getting off my bike but within a second I was standing over him shouting at him to tell me what hurt.
“Why are you here?”
OK, Bean. Remember your first aid training:
- check for danger: you are in the middle of a road. There is a blind corner. It is harvest season and we’ve already seen loads of tractors out. There are dozens of farms locally. Get him to safety.
- Is he alert? Yes. Sort of. Dazed but he’s awake and able to speak.
Me: “Ok I need you to think and tell me where it hurts”
Beardy: “My face. My face hurts”
Me: “what about your neck? or your back? can you move your legs and arms ok?”
He could move. It didn’t look like he’d broken anything. Blood was POURING out of a deep cut on his face below his eye but otherwise, physically, he seemed relatively intact.
I got him to the side of the road, where there was no flat ground to lie him, and sort of propped him against a rock while I moved the bikes and tried to come up with a plan.
He was bleeding heavily and he wasn’t making sense. I knew that we weren’t going to be dusting ourselves down and cycling home. This was 999 territory. I asked him some more questions and it became clear that he needed urgent medical help. As I wrestled my phone out of my pocket (damn you, grippy phone case!) a car pulled up and I waved my free hand (the other one was keeping pressure on Beardy’s cheek). A woman got out and asked if we needed help. I explained what had happened and she gave me tissues and said she was going to get her husband and would be right back. I dialled 999.
“Which service do you require?”
“I need an Ambulance”
“Transferring you now”
“999 what’s your emergency?”
“My partner has crashed his bike, he’s bleeding heavily from a cut to his face. He is awake, breathing and responsive but is showing signs of a concussion and he needs an ambulance”
After answering some safety questions about his general state, and the type of bike he was on and speed he was doing, the woman (who was amazing) advised she would send an Ambulance right away.
“I need an address. Do you know where you are?”
Sort of. But no. I tried to explain where we were. But it wasn’t working. We were on a very rural unclassified back road. She was struggling and I was panicking. (We now know that the coordinates passed to ambulance dispatch were along the A91 near Strathmiglo which was MILES away)
Another car pulled up and out jumped a girl in her slippers. “What can I do to help?” she shouted as she ran over. “Do you know where we are? are you local?”
She was. “Please can you tell 999 where we are??”
She grabbed the phone and gave a precise location to dispatch (Thank you, Lauren, you god send) and when she gave the phone back the girl on the other end started talking me through some pointers to watch out for.
At this point, it gets a bit grim. Beardy started to drop out of consciousness a bit. He was grey and sweating profusely. He was very confused and couldn’t remember even being out on the bikes. I still feel a bit sick when I remember this bit as I really thought he was in serious danger. The girl on the phone was so lovely and tried to keep me calm and talking. Lauren got us a blanket from her car and Linda had arrived with Gordon, her husband, who was busy reassuring us that our bikes would be looked after in their garage until we could collect them.
After what felt like 18 years, the girl on the phone said she was struggling to locate an ambulance close by. “We don’t know how long it will take to get you help. We’re sending the air ambulance”.
About 10 minutes later, I heard it. Gordon had his hi viz on and a torch. He’d opened the gate to a field and was waving the helicopter over. They circled, down-draft kicking up dust from the road, as they scouted out places to land in the deep valley we were in.
“what’s that noise?” asked Beardy.
“It’s your lift to hospital” I explained.
Naturally, as Wendy and Rich the SCAA paramedics arrived by our side, so too did the road Ambulance, a police car and a doctors car.
5 paramedics began assessing Beardy and I was allowed my, now very bloodied, hand back.
I stood back and watched them work, taking his blood pressure, blood sugar, assessing his wound and asking him questions.
Worryingly, he had now started repeating himself on a 90 second loop.
“Oh I think I know what’s happened here, guys. It’s ok. I’m piecing it all together. I think I’ve binned it on that corner, haven’t I?”
He’d say it with such confidence, everyone would nod and say yes, he’d go quiet and then a minute later say the same thing.
My stomach dropped.
I started to busy myself with picking up bits of his glasses, switching off our Garmin’s and getting the bikes into Gordon’s car. Later, Beardy would ask on repeat how his bike was. I’d tell him it was fine. In reality, I gave it a cursory glance and as everything was pointing in the right direction, decided to tell him it was fine.
(Miraculously, it is completely unscathed. Much to my relief)
The hill Beardy came down at 63kph before he lost grip, his brakes locked and he hit a “soft verge” which turned out to contain a boulder. The skinny black line in the foreground is his “OH FUCK” marks from his tyres.
His MTB instinct had kicked in as his brakes locked up, and he’d aimed for the soft ground. Unfortunately it wasn’t that soft, but it was still the safest option given that he couldn’t see if there was any traffic on the road.
His GCS score was moderate, so the road and air paramedics needed to decide if he’d be taken by air straight to Ninewells in Dundee, or driven by road to Perth. So marginal was his score that they phoned it in and were told Perth would be fine. This was GOOD news. It meant his condition wasn’t horribly serious. (I would be lying if I said I wasn’t totally gutted to miss out on a helicopter ride though………)
We were packed into the Ambulance and headed for Perth.
Beardy kept asking to see his helmet, asking how his bike was, asking what his face looked like, asking if he’d crashed his bike etc the whole way there. Once I got over the initial horrifying dread that comes with your significant other sustaining a TBI meters in front of you, I started to laugh at his verbatim reactions to each answer I gave him.
He’d take his helmet off me and say “ooooooaft. Your work need to see this on Monday” (He was wearing an Endura FS260 Pro Helmet) and then hand it back. Then he’d ask about his face, I’d tell him he’d need stitches and he’d say “my mum is going to kill me, isn’t she”.
It obviously wasn’t funny, but your brain does things to you when you’re in shock, which I very much was.
At PRI in Perth, he was assessed by a young doctor who cleaned up his wound and stitched him up with some of the neatest stitches I’ve ever seen. After an hour, he was a bit concerned about the repetition, so put in for a transfer to Ninewells for overnight observation. The next few hours are a blur of telling parents (awful) and being driven to collect clothes, back to the hospital and eventually home to a cold, empty house (other than our very confused Stigbug)
As I’d taken him his glasses, he was able to text and tell us all several times that he’d made the text on his phone big and he was being transferred about midnight.
I didn’t sleep, instead replaying everything in slow motion.
At 0530 I cracked and called the A&E short stay ward at Ninewells, who told me that although I wasn’t technically allowed in out of hours, I could come up and see him for a bit if I wanted. At 0730 I was curled up beside him as he apologised profusely. He was much better. Sore and very bruised, with some serious road rash on his face, but his repetition had stopped and he was able to remember being in Perth (still nothing after locking his brakes up). He was also now acutely aware that this little adventure had cost him the rest of his Vuelta challenge.
After 15 minutes, I was politely asked to leave and come back after doctors rounds, so I wandered round to my sister’s flat up the road and had my mind taken off things by my gorgeous baby niece and sister who scooped me up in a giant hug and fed me tea.
Doctors rounds were at 0930 and I was a bit peeved to be told I wasn’t allowed in, despite Beardy having NO RECOLLECTION of ANYTHING. So when I got the text to collect him at 0945 I was hugely annoyed that there was no CT. I should have been relieved that they didn’t deem it serious enough for that but I know how sneaky concussion can be.
Examining Garmin data, we now know he crashed at 58kph. His graph shows 63kph – 58kph – 0kph in about 5 seconds. His forehead took the impact of the ground and every paramedic, nurse and doctor we saw were gobsmacked at how lightly he got off and completely certain that his helmet saved his life.
(WEAR. A FUCKING. HELMET)
Once home, we visited and were visited by parents, I collected bikes while my mum kept an eye on Beardy, his mum and dad made and brought us meals, he slept and I still didn’t. But we were home and he was on the mend. I googled everything I could about TBI’s and concussion. (This did not help the lack of sleep…)
I felt overwhelmed at the kindness of people. Linda, Gordon and Lauren who all stopped and stayed with us until we were safely in an Ambulance. The girl on the phone at 999 who kept me as calm as she could. The police, paramedics, pilot (?!!??! A fucking actual PILOT) and doctors and nurses who all showed us nothing but compassion and empathy. It was a truly humbling experience.
Of course, I am already eternally grateful for the NHS, but this was just further proof that we NEED it. And we MUSTN’T take it for granted. I am also incredibly thankful for SCAA: Scotland’s Charity Air Ambulance. They are funded 100% by donations, and not by the government. Quite often, Scotland is viewed in terms of population as opposed to geographical scale, therefore, we have 2 funded helimeds in Scotland. SCAA takes our total to 3. To cover a very widespread population within 31000 square miles. SCAA is a charity that relies entirely on members of the public digging in their pockets and giving them their hard earned cash. Soon, they’ll be launching their second Charity Air Ambulance in Aberdeen, which will further their reach within the country and help even more people.
Before we’d even left the scene of the accident, I had already decided to do Ironman Kalmar for SCAA.
Having registered the day it opened, Kalmar is my focus for 2020. And now I have an even bigger incentive: I want to raise £2500 (the average cost of a call-out).
I immediately messaged my friend who works for SCAA to tell her about what happened and then arranged, once we were home and Beardy was on the mend, to visit them at Perth Airport and speak to the pilot and paramedics.
We had such a great time meeting them and getting an up close look at their “wee buggy” as they called it.
Rich was one of the paramedics who came to our aid. G-SCAA is smaller than I imagined it would be as it regularly flies over our house on it’s way to medical emergencies around Scotland.
My Justgiving link is below for you to donate, if you wish.
To summarise, Beardy is lucky he got away with a mild concussion and 6 stitches in his face. He has bruised ribs, ruined knuckles and cannot remember crashing at all. He has been told, in no uncertain terms, that 63kph is TOO fucking fast. It is also close to the speed Froome was doing when he blew his nose and hit a wall. He did not get off so lightly.
All of this has made me even more frustrated with people who don’t wear a helmet. I will NEVER understand the arguments they come up with and will, forever more, file them under “vain and stupid”. There is no question that Beardy was saved by his helmet. Had he not been wearing it, his skull would have taken the full force of the tarmac. I’m no doctor, but 14 seasons of Grey’s Anatomy has taught me enough to know that an impact to the skull at that speed is pretty much game over.
Although he was doing stupid speeds, you do not need to be going fast to do yourself damage: in 2014, I was cycling my MTB along the Great Glen Way, slipped on a tree root at no more than 4mph (I’d just pushed off to move) and had a slow motion sideways fall onto a rock, which smashed my helmet and left me with a concussion. If I hadn’t been wearing that helmet, even in slow motion, I would have been left with permanent brain damage.
Helmets can’t save you from every disaster, but they can limit and prevent damage. So don’t be a total dick, and WEAR A FUCKING HELMET.
(AND ALSO PLEASE DONATE TO SCAA WHO ARE AMAZING https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/ironbean)