Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Wonder Woman and Derr Shnorrer Limp Home

I'm in a white room. A guy is talking, and I reply.

Now I'm rolling into a box. It's an elevator. Somebody drew a smiley face on the ceiling with a sharpie. I try to tell the guy next to me, but he doesn't get it.

We roll into another room. RandoGirl is there. Some people move me to the bed, and I think it's going to hurt but it doesn't. Then the people move things around and check things on my arm and put a clear tube around my head that blows dry air into my nostrils. I ask for something to drink, and finally get it.

The doctor comes by and says reassuring things. I know they're good things because RandoGirl seems happy. He leaves and things slow down and the sun sets and this long, long day ends.

Friday is less bleary, but not much fun. They didn't need to give me blood during my surgery -- which is good -- but I still lost some and thus am really weak. I lie in bed and try to eat most of the food they bring and drink as much as I can.

RandoGirl had stayed in the room with me overnight, but since I was forced to lie on my back I did what I usually do when sleeping that way -- snored like a bandsaw. No, wait, that's not enough. How about, snored like a rusty bandsaw driven by a 40-year-old diesel that's cutting hickory ... no, make that green hickory with lots of knots, and maybe even some old nails and barbed wire that got embedded in it.

Anyway, I snore.

And RandoGirl was, of course, stressed. Apparently, the head of my femur had been shattered, with bits of bone floating around, and since she was a nurse for years she knew that some of those bits could have floated over to my femoral artery and nicked that. In which case, you would not be reading this blog.

So, day one after the accident was lots of sleeping for me, and RandoGirl tried to catch up on the sleep that she had missed the night before. Mostly, however, she was working with hotels -- both the one at which we were currently staying and the two that we had booked for later that week, in L'Escala on the Spanish coast and in Barcelona -- and airlines and rental car companies, trying to reconfigure the rest of our stay in Europe. She got some help from the concierge service offered by the credit card company through which we had booked these, but she did most of this on her own. Thus she was, during the course of the next few days, Wonder Woman.

They gave me a walker on day two, and I was able to take a pseudo-shower. RandoGirl moved out of Hotel Univers, since our stay there ended Friday, and into a hotel less than a kilometer from the hospital. Ana and Juame hated to see her go, and helped as best they could. They even came to see us in the hospital a few days after.


Good Samaritan Luis also came to visit.


Meanwhile, over the next five days I slowly got stronger while RandoGirl tweaked our revised travel plans. She bought me some crutches, and we walked a little bit -- going further every day until I was finally able to go out into the courtyard and feel the sun again.


Otherwise, the hospital stay was probably like most hospital stays here in the USA. The food was different, and I had to use Google Translator to decipher the menu options that they brought me daily -- sometimes more successfully than others. The bed was about as comfortable as most hospital beds are, and I had the usual hassles of people coming in to take my blood pressure and give me a pill and change my IV and rolling noisy carts down the hall in the wee hours. But, in spite of the language barrier, I have to say that the hospital staff was at least as nice as any hospital staff in the USA, and the cleaning crew kept the place pristine. Both RandoGirl and I, who have worked in and around hospitals for many years, considered the care of that hospital to be of the highest quality.

Finally, the Wednesday after the accident, they released me, and RandoGirl paid the hospital bill with a credit card. The total for almost seven days in the hospital, the surgery, and the ambulance was about 20% of what it would have been in the USA. Andorrans apparently pay their own health bills up front like this, and the government reimburses them fully within a week. Hopefully, our insurance company here will reimburse us at least some of what we paid.

RandoGirl drove us to the hotel where she had been staying since Friday, and the young lady at the desk helped her park the car. They had moved us to a room that was "handicap accessible," and while it might not meet ADA standards in the USA it was perfectly comfortable for us.

We stayed in this hotel for two more nights, mostly doing the same things that we had been doing at the hospital. RandoGirl got my prescriptions filled, and she gave me a shot every night. The other prescriptions were for the pain and to help me sleep, but since they made me feel groggy I cut back on the prescribed amounts a bit.


Meals were usually something that RandoGirl fetched from the local market or a cafe, and twice we had pizza delivered. For breakfast, we would go down to the lobby and eat, finding a spot where I could prop up my leg and enjoy being part of the world again.

A few times each day, I would go out on the balcony and watch the flurry of downtown Andorra la Vella. There was a traffic circle nearby, and a policewoman there would manage a barrage of cars, trucks, buses, pedestrians, motorcycles, and bicycles coming from 10 different directions. She was a wonder as she scolded, cajoled, entreated, and reprimanded with nothing more than a tweet of her whistle and a broad gesture.


Just before we left on Friday morning, I watched this fellow loading recyclables into a truck. He is wearing a bicycle helmet here, a solution that I considered safe (since he was hanging off the back of the truck a lot) and comfortable (since the helmet was more vented than a classic "hard hat"). I also like to think that it was probably his helmet that he used for cycling, which was his typical mode of travel. One thing I could tell from watching the world from my balcony was that for many Andorrans the bicycle is their main mode of transportation, although I can honestly say that I did not see any of the cargo bikes that are more common in flatter countries, and very few loaded tourists.

When the cycling garbageman above loaded a bin full of broken glass into the back of the truck, a bunch spilled onto the pavement. He went to the side of the truck and got a broom and dustpan, and carefully swept up all of the glass. It stuck me as classic Andorra -- people taking the time to keep their country clean and the roads safe.

RandoGirl had gotten the Jorma bike shop to break down our bicycles and load them into the cases, although they could not ship them back to the states for her. Thus, we had these big cases and our luggage in the back of our rented minivan, and us in the front, when we finally drove back across the Andorran border and into Spain about 10 am Friday.


Again, the crossing guard barely gave us a nod.

The drive to Barcelona was a painful three hours, with RandoGirl doing her best to get us there quickly without moving the car around too much on the twisty mountain roads. We stayed that evening at a hotel near the airport. RandoGirl returned the rental car, so we were able to take the hotel shuttle to the terminal the next morning.

RandoGirl had told Air Canada to supply a wheelchair for me, but the airline did not really do anything until we had checked in. RandoGirl also had to get the bicycles over to the special loading area for larger items, and then we had to endure getting through security with a wheelchair -- a process that basically required me to stand on my crutches while they patted me down, even feeling the bottoms of my feet.

Eventually, we got on the plane. RandoGirl had arranged for special seats, so we were in the front row of the first class area. This gave me a bit more room for my leg, although not being able to elevate it meant that it was soon throbbing. The pain was not helped by the fact that the eight-hour flight was extended a couple of hours when we taxied out to the runway and waited for another plane ahead of us in line that was having some mechanical issues.

And so the flight went, distracted by bad in-flight movies and taking occasional breaks where I would go to the bathroom or just stand around a bit in the flight attendants' area, trying to get feeling back to my leg. Never have I been so happy to look out a window and see Canada.

In Toronto, RandoGirl's arrangements worked a little better. The wheelchair was waiting, and we passed relatively quickly through U.S. Customs (don't ask me how it is that you can re-enter the United States when you're in Canada). The wheelchair attendant started to park us for a while due to some sort of bureaucratic folderol, but RandoGirl took charge of the wheelchair and we rolled away to Air Canada's Maple Leaf Lounge. She had set us up to spend our three-hour layover here, and this respite fortified us sufficiently to complete our hellish journey.

When the time came, RandoGirl wheeled me to the gate of our last flight. Since this was a smaller plane, I had to climb the steps on my crutches, and once we made it to our relatively small seats I hunkered down for the remaining airborne ordeal. By now my leg was spasming almost incessantly in pain, and I looked out the window for any sign of Nashville. Finally, I noticed that we were descending, then landing, and at last we rolled up to the gate.

A young man was waiting at the door of the airplane with a wheelchair for me, and I blissfully fell into it. We stopped at the bathroom and he waited while I washed my face and brushed my teeth. This always helps to wake me up -- at this point, we had been on the go for almost 24 hours -- and I felt much better as we entered the terminal.

Even Wonder Woman needs a hand sometimes, and RandoGirl's friend Deb had come to the airport to save us. She met us at the terminal, helped us gather the luggage, and drove RandoGirl to where we had parked our car 16 days before. Then she helped load the luggage and my sagging corpse into the car, and RandoGirl somehow drove us home.

Some Final Thoughts on Andorra

In general, although Andorra may be a haven for very fit cyclists, it is not a cycling heaven. Riding there almost always means that you are climbing or you are descending, often in ways that are not really good for training. There are a lot of cyclists on the main roads, but you must be comfortable riding with vehicles (often trucks and buses) going fairly fast on these roads, and the shoulder and edge often have the kind of small glass and retread wire debris that is inevitable. Although the Andorrans do a good job of keeping their roads clean (I never saw trash on the side of the road, and certainly no bits of truck tires or other things that often fall off of a car), they are often under repair; thus, you may lose that little bit of road shoulder from time to time.

Many of the painful climbing roads are not conducive to cars, and impossible for trucks and buses, so you will have them all to yourself. The views are spectacular as you get higher -- make sure you stop regularly to enjoy them and you will be fine. The descents are obviously tricky, so stop regularly on the way down to take pictures, too.

Unlike other countries in Europe, the towns in Andorra don't have as many cafes or bakeries where you can stop for a mid-ride coffee. We have always enjoyed stopping in the piazza of Italian towns for this, but I think that the exigencies of city design in Andorra make piazzas untenable. The food is great, although there are not really many classic Andorran dishes. I recommend the aged beef, which is wonderful with one of the red wines of the Catalan region in Spain. They also like to finish big meals with digestifs.

Also like Spain, many Andorrans enjoy "siesta" in the afternoon. Thus, shops will close about 2 pm, and re-open at 5 or 6 pm. You cannot get dinner before 8 pm, and most restaurants really don't get busy until 9 or 10 pm.

However, don't confuse the language of Andorra -- Catalan -- with Catalonian Spanish. You'll hear someone say "Hola" similar to what you might hear in Spain, but the emphasis is a little stronger on the second syllable. If you respond, "Hola," and then launch into Spanish, very often you will get a blank look -- in my case, that was probably because my Spanish is dusty from lying about unused in my brain for 35 years -- although most Andorrans speak at least a little Spanish and French. Take the time to learn some phrases in Catalan, and try to learn more during your stay.

Which brings me to the last point: The people of Andorra. Unlike trying to speak French in Paris, if you try to learn some Catalan, most Andorrans will be happy to help you with it. If you ask directions to a store, don't be surprised if they stop what they're doing and walk you there. I never had anybody be rude to me on the street, or pass me too closely when I was on my bicycle, or make me feel in the least bit uncomfortable or un-safe. These are some of the nicest people that I have ever met, and although I did not have exactly the vacation that I would have chosen, I would love visiting this country again.

Just, maybe, next time staying to the easier roads.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Worst Bike Ride in Andorra

I got up early Thursday morning to find that the temperatures outside felt great, but that RandoGirl's insides did not. She wasn't sure if it was something from last night's dinner or the water that she had gotten from a road-side fountain the day before, but she was having major tummy troubles. I offered to stay with her, but she encouraged me to instead take the car to Sant Julia de Loria and do the two big climbs down that way.

In hindsight, I should have stayed and played nurse. But I was weak and really wanted to do those climbs, so I went.

It took me a couple of tries to find a place to park in Sant Julia de Loria, and then I had to stop at the Jorma bike shop there for tubes. They directed me to the closest way to go up the Coll de la Gallina from the store, and soon I was in hard climbing mode.


After just less than one kilometer, I realized that I had left my water bottles in the car. By the time I rode back to the car, grabbed the bottles, and started the climb again it was after 10 am.


This route spreads the steep stuff out pretty well, but still averages 8.4% over 12.2K.


Eventually, the road crosses over to the other side of the ridge, and you can see into Spain.


About 2K from the top on this route, a dirt road connects that goes into Spain. Just so that I could claim to have ridden my bike into Spain twice, I went down that road for about one kilometer and checked my GPS to make sure that I was over the border. Then I came back to the main road.


Further up was the remains of this wall. I'm not sure what this wall was for, but they would have had a spectacular view.


Finally, I got to the top. You can't tell, but I am wearing my Andorra jersey -- nice, huh?

After taking this picture, I ate a small chocolate croissant that I had wrapped up at breakfast, and then started down. The descent towards Aixovall was just as steep as the climb from Sant Julia de Loria had been. I was riding my brakes most of the way, stopping regularly to ensure that my rims were not overheating.


There was a cute restaurant here in Canolich, about halfway down from the top on CS-111. I wanted to take RandoGirl here for lunch.


The other building in Canolich was this church. It looks old, but was actually a reconstruction done in the 1970s.

From here, the road seemed to straighten out a bit, and I hoped maybe I could stop riding the brakes so much. But as I came up on the next turn, the road dipped down and I saw that there were seams in the pavement that had been repaired ... although not well. In addition, I could tell that the coming switchback was not banked well, and in fact almost dipped towards the outside rather than the inside.

I grabbed my brakes -- but just a little too hard, and immediately felt the back wheel slide right. I let go of the brakes, but it was too late and the bike was sliding out from underneath me. A thought went through my head: Well, here goes the new jersey.

Normally, when I crash like this the bike slides and I end up grinding off some shorts and/or jersey -- and a layer or two of skin, depending upon how fast I'm going and whether the pavement is wet. But remember that seam in the pavement? Best I can figure, the back wheel hit one of those seams and stopped sliding, so that the momentum of the bike was transferred from a "slide down the mountain" to more of a "slam the bike down on Robert's left hip" kind of thing.


Which is how I ended up like this, more or less.

When I'm lying in the road after a bike crash, the first thing I try to do is get my bike off the road. I had only seen two cars during the entire route after I had left Sant Julia de Loria, but I just think that it's safest not to lie in the middle of any road.

However, when I tried to pull my left leg off of the bike, I couldn't. The muscles wouldn't move it, and picking it up to drag it really, really, really hurt. So I decided that I was where I was going to be until somebody came along to move me, or a car came along and squished me.

I was just able to reach the top tube, and could thus drag the handlebar bag up so I could get into it. I then pulled out my cell phone and called RandoGirl. When she answered, I told her where I was and that I had crashed and might have broken something. I then asked her to find out the Andorra equivalent of "911" so that I could get help. She was at a store, and they told her it was "112."

Calling 112, I got a dispatcher who -- of course -- didn't speak English. We tried to communicate in Spanish, and I was able to tell them that it was a bicycle accident on the Aixovall side of the Coll de la Gallina and that I thought either my leg or pelvis was broken. We were still trying to nail down exactly where I was on this 12 kilometers of road when a car came along.

I raised my arm to signal the car so he wouldn't run over me, and the driver stopped and got out. His name was Luis, and he had been up in Canolich walking his dogs. He was a retired lawyer from Barcelona, and spoke English ... as well as half a dozen other languages. In other words, the perfect person had come along.

Luis pulled out his phone and called 211. I was still trying to talk to my dispatcher and explain where I was, but the dispatcher cut me off and said something about the ambulance being on its way, probably because Luis spoke Catalan and knew exactly where we were and had told them not to listen to the idiot American.

My good samaritan then stayed with me for the half hour that it took for the ambulance to come, talking with me to keep my mind off the pain. We talked about cycling, and how this was a bad corner even for cars, and I felt a little less stupid for having crashed so badly here. I took off my helmet and lay back, using it for a pillow, and then heard loud music because I was lying on my iPod and had turned the volume up full. I pulled the iPod out of my back pocket and turned it off, and then got Luis to take the above picture.

RandoGirl called back during this to tell me that she was back at the hotel. I told her that an ambulance was coming, and she said that she would meet me at the hospital (Juame from the hotel drove her there -- another good samaritan).

When the ambulance arrived, Luis and I were able to communicate with them while they disentangled me from my bike and loaded me up. Luis carried my bike to the hospital, and I had the most uncomfortable ride in any vehicle in my life, riding downhill while my leg tried to slide around inside my hip.

The rest is a blur, probably because things were starting to hurt. RandoGirl was at the ambulance door to the Emergency Room, and a bunch of people took my pulse and blood pressure and put me in a room where they helped me take off my clothes. (Yes, they did not cut them off -- my shorts and jersey survived the entire escapade intact!). Then they rolled me around taking X-rays before finally stowing me in a hospital room. The surgeon came by to tell me that my femur was broken, and that they would need to put in rods and pins ... and maybe a screw and some plates ... I think.

They wouldn't give me any painkillers, and couldn't give me anything to drink because they needed my stomach to be empty before they did surgery. Since I had eaten that croissant about noon, we were on hold until 8 pm at least. RandoGirl kept me company when she wasn't answering questions from the business office or helping Juame load up my bike to take back to the hotel. Finally, they wheeled me downstairs to surgery and hooked me up to an IV and things got even more blurry.

My wild ride was over. The unpleasant recovery was about to begin.