Bikers beware — a broken collarbone could happen to you

It was an ideal summer morning for a cyclist — low 70s, sunny, light breeze, low humidity — and I was nearing the end of my 20-mile route.

That’s when I hit the sand.

I went down hard- really hard. Locked into my clipless pedals, I fell on my left side, and my body took the full impact of the pavement. The results were not pretty.

But I would have been fine dealing with the blood and pain from the multiple gashes and bruises I suffered. What I couldn’t accept, and what I still bemoan, is the injury I couldn’t see, the injury that is the bane of all cyclists, the dreaded broken collarbone.

I am in Day 8 of life without my bike. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the bike hasn’t abandoned me for a more handsome cyclist with intact collarbones. It remains my faithful multi-gear beauty, gray with yellow lettering and trim, a comfortable companion that gave me great joy whenever we went out on a ride together.

No, when I say life without my bike, I’m referring to the reality of a broken collarbone: you can’t ride a bike — not on the road, at least — with a severed clavicle. Because I had a clean break, I elected to go with a sling rather than surgery, a rehabilitation process that typically runs 6 to 8 weeks, which means the rest of my summer is lost, a season with no cycling.

Meanwhile, I have to deal with life as a one-armed man. It’s not easy. My reclining sofa has become my bed because I have to sleep on my back. Put me on a mattress, and I would flip on my stomach in minutes, which would not be good. Whatever sleep position I adopt, though, my clavicle tends to be problematic, a bad sleeping partner, which is predictable given our fractured relationship.

Showers are worse. The trouble is taking off a shirt. Broken clavicles and shirts were not meant for each other. I have learned this painfully. Pulling off shirts is a two-stage process, starting with the good side of the torso. Make sure to get the arm on the healthy side fully free before trying to slide the shirt off the injured side. Failure to do so results in a consequence you do not want to experience.

After your shower, you need to reverse the process. Start by putting the shirt carefully on your battered side, and once fully in place, slide in the other arm. Consider, too, going with button-up shirts, which eliminates any need to raise an arm, a move that broken clavicles respond to with extreme belligerence.

As for everyday living, be prepared for a big adjustment. Essentially, you cannot do much, or, at least, you shouldn’t do much, unless you are determined to extend your rehabilitation well beyond the 6 to 8-week timetable. This means no mowing the lawn, no lifting weights at the gym, no carrying anything with significant weight. For a person who likes to be active, this is a prison sentence, albeit without the hard labor, a situation that quickly begins to have psychological effects.

By Day 4 of my captivity, I began to look longingly at the weeds that needed pulling in the backyard. They seemed to be teasing me, those devils, daring me to make the slightest tug. Trips to the grocery store were hard, too. I had to stand by uselessly as my wife lifted and slid a 45-bottle case of Poland Spring water into the bottom of our shopping cart. When we returned home, I had to watch, equally uselessly, as my wife lugged the case of water into the house. Each day, whatever manliness and masculinity I possess, and it isn’t much, fades into nothingness.

Today, at long last, I managed 20 minutes on my spin bike, which delighted me beyond description, a phenomenon only a fellow cyclist with a broken collarbone could understand. By the end of the month, I hope to double or triple that duration, but my clavicle, of course, could have other ideas.

In the meantime, I try to stay positive and, really, I should, for as many, many people have told me, my accident could have been far worse. Somehow, though, this understanding does not help when I walk into my shed and see my Fuji, my partner in pedaling, my comrade on the roads, hanging motionlessly on its bike hook, wondering what became of our rides, our wonderful rides on those ideal summer mornings.

Writing is what I do. I started as a journalist, working at a daily newspaper in Maine for 20 years, and now I’m an English teacher, specializing in writing.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store