Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ride of the weak

I think it's pretty standard practice in the blogging world to start posts with a statement like "it's been a while since my last blog", so I don't see why I should try and re-invent the wheel and do things any differently.  It's been a while since my last blog...

Since about June I've not been very motivated for cycling.  Not sure what the problem has been - I'm still totally interested in cycle touring and spend much of my spare time looking at maps, watching cycle touring vids on YouTube, and perusing the touring journals at Crazy Guy On A Bike.  It's just been that I physically don't feel up to going riding.  A few times I've gotten my bike packed up on a Friday night to go out riding, but I get up on Saturday morning and just physically don't feel into it, so I cancel.  I've even stopped going on my regular night training rides - I just felt out of fitness and out of breath.  Then about 7 weeks ago I got a cold or something and lost my voice, had to have a few days off work.  I never seemed to really recover from that, with a nagging cough and breathlessness that kind of came to a head earlier this week.  Over the weekend I'd been coughing so much that my ribs and shoulders started to hurt - then on my way to work on Monday I suddenly had a huge coughing fit that involved bringing up all this weird lung butter mixed with blood, while tearing muscles in my chest and shoulder on the left side.  To say it was painful would be a profound understatement.  Anyway I somehow got to work, where one of my bosses saw me and said "what are you doing here?" and one of my other bosses said "you're going to the doctor right now" and insisted I go home.  I must have looked pretty dire, the fact I couldn't really speak, breathe or stand up straight may have played a part in it.

I arrived at the doctor who did a bunch of tests, including sampling the amazing lung butter, and the conclusion was reached that I have pleurisy, as a result of my earlier infection from 7 weeks ago combined with an existing autoimmune inflammatory disease.  Until that moment I didn't even realise that pleurisy was still a thing - I always just assumed it was some medieval disease my nanna used to threaten I'd catch if I didn't wear a singlet outside in winter.  I returned home where my life took on the following pattern for 5 days:
  1. Cough from lungs full of gunk.
  2. Have violent muscle spasms in chest, shoulder and arm.
  3. Cough from the pain of the muscle spasms and torn muscles.
  4. Have violent muscle spasms in chest, shoulder and arm.
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for about 8 hours.
  6. Fall asleep exhausted for a few hours.
  7. Begin again at step 1.
It wasn't a huge amount of fun, and there didn't seem to be much I could do to get any relief.  By Friday the spasms were very painful and lasting about 30 seconds each, so I phoned the doctor, who prescribed me some muscle relaxants and epic painkillers to cut down on the muscle spasms so I could at least get some rest of a night.  Only one problem though - I needed to get to the doctor then the pharmacy to get the prescription filled, and due to the muscle tears in my chest / shoulders I couldn't lift my arms enough to drive.  In my pain addled state I had the genius idea that I could probably lift my arm enough to rest it on the handlebar of my ALDI folding bike, and I probably had the fitness to do the ~4km round trip to get my medication.  And so began a ride that was simultaneously the weakest and most hardcore bikecycle I've ever undertaken...

Dumbest idea everrrrr
The ride started off OK, rolling downhill from my place towards the doctor's surgery.  I opted to ride on the footpath as I didn't have the perspicacity to ride on the road.  My speed was never going to be amazing on the footpath anyhow, but combined with the fact I could barely get enough oxygen in to power my brain let alone my legs, my speed was similar to that of a lethargic barnacle.  My footpath route put me in close proximity to the local schoolkids having lunch in the playground, a few of whom pointed and laughed at my horrific visage as I slowly pedalled past.  

To try and paint a picture of my look, I was riding a folding bike with the seat too low, in granny gear on flat ground, moving at maybe 8km/h.  To really complete my "junkie riding to the chemist" image I was wearing old joggers, a backpack, a ratty old screenprinted T-shirt and a crumpled pair of grey shorts.  All I needed to complete the scumbag look was to hang my helmet off my handlebars, get some white rim Oakley sunnies, put a Monster energy drink hat on my head and tuck my ears into it.  My wife rather unkindly remarked that I didn't need to take my wallet, I could simply ask everyone I saw "for $2 to get a prescription mate" as I rode along.  She also couldn't help herself but get a photo of my quality professional cyclist look as I set off...

How the mighty have fallen...

So I managed to roll down the hill and across the flat ground OK.  Next up was the major challenge of the slight incline up to the doctor's surgery.  Bike was already in granny gear and I was already at maximum capacity, so what happened next was me wheezing and coughing up the hill at a snail's pace, my upper body bobbing up and down with each pedal strokes as I struggled to get any kind of power into the pedals given my shortness of breath and shortness of seat post.  After what seemed like an eternity of riding up a 300m long incline, I arrived at the doctor, spent a few minutes on my hands and knees coughing / throwing up into the garden out the front, before walking in, looking forward to a bit of a sit down while I waited for the doctor.

No such luxury awaited me, however.  The doc had left the prescription at the front desk, so I was straight back out onto the bike, rolling down the hill on my way to the pharmacy.  It took me approximately forever to get the 2km along the bike path to the pharmacy.  Just to make things even easier / more stylish, the seatpost of the old foldy started slipping down, giving me the look of an adult bogan riding a stolen 24" Kawasaki branded kids mountain bike from K-mart.  By this stage I was too exhausted to care, and was focused on reaching the pharmacy for a bit of a sit down while I waited for the prescription to be filled.  Old men on ancient bikes were whizzing past me like I was standing still.  I was wheezing and coughing and spitting like it was the end times for Velo Cetera.  Somehow I arrived, locked my bike out the front of the shops, and staggered through the shopping centre, sweating like Paul McCartney in a divorce court and shaking like a shitting dog...

Turns out there was no rest for the wicked at the pharmacy either.  They had one of those whiz-bang automatic machines that instantly grabs the medicine and drops in on the counter.  So once again without a break, I was back out in the bike path, heading to my home 1km away.  I was fading fast, and as I got the final incline up to my house my seat had slipped even further - down to "cool-teen-on-a-bmx" level - and my speed was now considerably slower than walking.  Time for the final indignation - in my defenceless state a local magpie started to swoop me as I rode up the footpath.  I couldn't raise my left arm off the handlebar to shoo it away due to my chest pain.  I couldn't raise my right arm as I needed that for steering the bike with.  I couldn't go any faster as I was already struggling just to move at the speed of a glacier.  All I could do was plod along and take the hammering from the magpie, like a boxer putting his gloves down during a fight.  It was an inglorious end to a taxing ride.

I got home and flopped down on my bed awash with sweat, chest spasming like crazy and in searing pain.  I eventually got the strength to get up and take all my medication, including sedatives, and spent the next 12 hours in a drug-induced slumber, having a recurring nightmare where I had to get to the airport to catch a flight but I hadn't packed my bike yet.  And then I woke up feeling much, much worse than I did 24 hours before.

Did I learn a lesson from all this?  Yes I did...

Next time my wife offers to drive me to the chemist for medicine when I'm sick, I think maybe I might just say yes.  Perhaps.

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