A Freak Accident

Cycling is my favorite way to get around NYC. But I fully recognize that biking can be dangerous, so I ride conservatively. I stop at red lights, I stay out of the door zone, and I don’t take unnecessary risks.

Still, you can’t protect yourself from every eventuality. And last night, none of my usual caution was enough to prevent the proverbial freak accident from happening.

I was biking back uptown around 10 p.m. after seeing Room 237 at IFC Center in the Village. (It’s fun, go check it out.) I took my usual route through Hudson River Park, one the best bike paths in New York.

I biked up through Riverside Park towards the 91 St & Riverside Drive entrance. It was dark and nobody else was around. It’s a fairly steep hill leading up to that entrance, so I stood up to pedal harder on my single-speed Bike Friday.

Suddenly, my left foot gave way and hit the ground hard. Still strapped into the pedal, my foot slid on the pavement and I could feel myself falling. Helplessly. My throat slammed into the handlebar and I saw a bright flash of white on my way towards the ground.

I got up immediately and thought I was unscathed until I looked at my right hand. It was bloodied and the fingernail was hanging off the ring finger along with some flaps of skin.

I started to worry that I was more seriously injured than I realized. I was feeling lightheaded. My glasses were falling off. I fumbled to get my phone out of my pannier bag.

As I answered the 911 operator’s questions, with my free hand I struggled to gather the pieces of bike strewn around the ground and put them into the pannier. The bike kept falling over. My glasses were really loose. The operator asked where I was but I couldn’t tell her exactly because I was too far from the entrance to see the street.

I tried to sound calm on the phone but I was more than a little panicked about how badly hurt I might be. Not wanting to wait in the dark park, I pushed my bike up the hill. Once I could see the street, I was able to give them the exact intersection.

The ambulance arrived around six minutes later. The EMTs asked if I could breathe OK as there was a bruise on the front of my neck. They bandaged my finger. They took down my info and about 15 minutes later we were at the emergency room at St Luke’s-Roosevelt. The EMT rang the bell on my bike as he wheeled it out of the ambulance.

The E.R. staff were as attentive and cheerful as can be. I was undressed and put into a gown. My finger was looked at. I was repeatedly asked if I could breathe OK. They took X-rays of my neck and my right hand. I spent a lot of time being wheeled around on the bed to various rooms. The E.R. was much quieter and orderly than I expected.

My friend Sharon arrived to keep me company and to take, at my insistence, some gory photos and video of the doctor cutting off the skin and suturing the nail back into place. (No, I’m not posting them.)

Three hours after I arrived, Sharon and I left the hospital. I threw my bloodied helmet in a trash can on the street. We were both starving so we walked over to Tom’s Diner for a meal. It was loud and packed at 2:30 a.m. with Columbia students.

We ate mostly in silence while I replayed the events in my head. The anesthesia was wearing off and my finger was throbbing. I took off my loose glasses. The left earpiece was cracked.

We looked at the crank arm that had come off the bike. The pedal was securely fastened but the spindle of the bottom bracket had broken off, leaving a jagged edge.

“Metal fatigue,” I said. “It’s a twenty year old bike.”

Then I got quiet again. The age of the bike explained everything and nothing at all. There was nothing I could have done to prevent this. Had I been riding in traffic, the results might have been tragic. It was sobering to think how random it all was. That’s what a freak accident is, I guess.

At our waiter’s suggestion, Sharon and I shared a slice of apple pie a la mode with butter pecan ice cream for dessert. It was very good. He also suggested I walk instead of bike from now on. I politely declined.