Healing Up and Rolling On

About four months ago, I had a freak accident that required total shoulder replacement surgery (technically a reverse shoulder arthroplasty). Severe shoulder fractures are quite painful and in all candor, the surgical procedure and lengthy recovery process that follows are no picnic, either. My total recovery time has been guesstimated at six months to a year but unless I reinjure that joint, the hardest part is now behind me.

I have endured many weeks of physical therapy, investing countless hours and no small amount of dollars in regaining as much range of motion and strength in my left arm and shoulder as is realistically possible. After six weeks, I was able to begin driving again, albeit with some difficulty and a good bit of physical discomfort. That same week, I parted ways with a new employer that I should never have joined in the first place. That certainly didn’t help financially, but because I had wholeheartedly agreed with the decision to separate, I couldn’t exactly mourn the loss. Enough said.

At that point, I also set a personal goal for being able to ride my motorcycle again: Thanksgiving weekend of 2018. This was a fairly aggressive goal and let me tell you why. At the six-week mark, I mounted my motorcycle, but could only lift the 885-pound beast off its side stand with assistance from my son and without using my left arm, which was still under substantial restrictions at the time. Merely setting my left hand on the grip took some effort and I knew I could reach no further forward that day.

By late September, I could stand the bike up by myself, though I was still compensating substantially for my weak left arm. I could also turn the handlebars lock to lock and work the clutch lever without difficulty. Still, it would have been foolish to try riding so soon. Given my stage of healing, there was simply too much at stake. Besides, based on my informal survey of the available internet chatter, I hadn’t heard about anybody riding a heavyweight motorcycle any earlier than four months after a total shoulder replacement. So I bided my time and continued to push myself at physical therapy.

My patience and effort paid off. On the morning of November 22, with an ambient temperature in the mid-thirties, I rolled Miss Scarlett out of my garage and accompanied by my son and his motorcycle, took a brief jaunt through the neighborhood before pulling back in and moving on to our Thanksgiving Day festivities.

The ride lasted only a few minutes and told me everything I needed to know about preparing for my 2019 riding season. For openers, after a four-month layoff, my skills were as rusty as they are after a full winter season of not riding, and then some. Every spring I work on removing that rust by running specific exercises—mainly emergency maneuvers and slow-speed handling—over and over until they become fluid again. Unfortunately, my son and I were a day away from putting our bikes up for a long winter nap. So my riding skills, which had already deteriorated from four months of non-use, were about to be set aside for another four months or so, save for the occasional warm, saltless day.

But what could I do with only one day, a cool and windy one at that? The answer was clear: go ride a little more.

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The following day, we saddled up and rode out to Silver Springs State Fish and Wildlife Area on the outskirts of Yorkville, IL. It was cloudy and cool, but dry and not cold, with winds gusting up to 30-ish mph. The route we chose allowed us to periodically run the bikes at highway speeds or better, with a few opportunities to take sweeping curves, sharp turns, and stretches of moist debris left on the road by farm implements. Let your imagination be your guide. By and large, I did okay and my shoulder caused no issues at all, but I did commit some awkward errors that are typical of novice riders. I noted every one of them for future reference and will work on those, even before I get the chance to ride again, through visualization exercises, followed by actual practice once the warm weather returns.

My son and I discussed these things as we took a walk around Loon Lake at the state park. It was quality father-and-son time for us, though we couldn’t help but notice certain telltale signs, such as residual snow on a shaded path and some floating ice on a slough, all this despite an ambient temperature in the mid-to-upper forties. We knew this would likely be our last run for a while. Ah, but it was golden to me!

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We stopped at the Crusade Burger Bar in Yorkville, where my wife Karen met us for a delicious lunch (try the fried cheese curds appetizer, you will thank me). Then we headed back to Plainfield, stopping to top off our tanks after adding the usual measures of gasoline stabilizer. Afterward, we took a brisk ride through the neighborhood, allowing the stabilizer to mix in and get into our respective fuel lines. Finally, we pulled into the garage, rolling the bikes onto layers of cardboard, to protect the tires, and hooked up our smart chargers. The bikes are, for our purposes, winterized, though they still remain available and ready should an off-season riding opportunity present itself.

If I were to end my story here, very few people would question my gratitude on this Thanksgiving holiday weekend. But there is more. When I lost my job in September, a handful of friends I had made as business acquaintances took it upon themselves to go beyond the usual lip service—”good luck” and “I’ll keep my eyes open”—and actively sought out potential opportunities for me. These were extraordinary gestures on their part and I am still humbled by their endeavors, one of which resulted in a new job that I started last Monday, at the start of Thanksgiving week.

Diaz Group LLC is a growing force in landscape design, enhancements, and maintenance, as well as snow and ice management services. Located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, this family owned and operated organization has experienced tremendous growth over the past decade. We did business with each other for eight years during my tenure at Cherry Logistics, a national facilities maintenance company, so in effect, we have already known each other for years. When a mutual friend of ours saw the potential and encouraged us to meet, both parties moved on the opportunity. Now I am a member of their management team and I can proudly say without reservation, “I am Diaz Group.” What a rush!

Early on after my injury, I devoted a measure of time to feeling sorry for myself. At some point, I realized I could go further by embracing my healing journey than by mourning my losses. Please think about that for a moment. Right now I could still be wondering why I lost my left shoulder by trying to get my poor, frightened dog home. Right now I could still be mourning the loss of a job that I should have never pursued. Instead, I am back on two wheels and planning my 2019 riding season and I have a new and wonderful workplace that I can call home. What changed? Me.

Embrace the journey! And as always, thanks for hanging with me.

The Sting

All I had wanted to do was adjust my throttle cables. I had been riding home from a DuKane A.B.A.T.E. meeting in West Chicago two nights prior, when my throttle jammed on me. Fortunately, I think, it jammed in the closed position, but it had jammed nonetheless, making it difficult to accelerate or decelerate in heavy traffic. With only a few centimeters of play in the throttle handgrip, I managed to limp along, slowly working up and down the gears as I moved on from stoplight to stoplight. Then about fifteen really long minutes later, the problem corrected itself and I was once again able to run Miss Scarlett, my Victory Vision Tour, under full power.

THROTTLE

The most likely culprit, according to Randy Weaver at Randy’s Cycle in Marengo (my Victory Motorcycles dealership of choice), was a loose throttle cable bunching up inside the housing. This particular motorcycle utilizes two throttle cables, one pulling in each direction, which the cruise control unit uses to regulate speed. It’s a simple enough adjustment, which I won’t get into here. Suffice it to say that last evening I adjusted some slack out of the cables and needed to check the adjustment, under both manual control and with the cruise control engaged. So I took a short ride.

My throttle adjustment checked out just fine. Roll on and roll off were smooth, the engine responded better than ever, and the cruise control functioned without issue. Best of all, the throttle didn’t jam again, even when I tried to make it jam by abruptly opening and closing the throttle (while stopped of course). Satisfied with my results, I headed back home. That’s when the trouble began.

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As is often the case when my family is at home, there were cars parked in our driveway, blocking the conventional path into the garage. When this happens, I usually just cut across part of my front lawn and get into the garage by cutting in front of the parked cars. So I jumped the curb and motored across the grass. About halfway across, I felt a sharp, hot pain in my left ankle, followed by another one in exactly the same spot. And another one.

I don’t remember all the words I uttered as I sped into the garage, but “Ow!” was probably one of them. The rest were probably a bit more colorful. As quickly as I could, I stopped the bike, set her down on the kickstand, and bent sideways to swat off whatever was attacking my ankle. I didn’t get a good look at the little bastard, but it was small and slender, with a body that looked more brown than yellow in the dim light of my garage. Too thin to be a honey bee, unless it was anorexic. Whatever it was (most likely a yellow jacket) stumbled about on the concrete floor a few feet away from me, then righted itself and took off. I wished my attacker a pleasant evening—maybe not exactly those words—and went inside to assess the damage.

The spot on my ankle was throbbing, but the sting site was barely visible at first. Just a red spot. Of course that changed soon enough, as the redness and swelling began to kick in. My wife looked at the spot to make sure there was no stinger present, even though I was pretty sure there would not be one, because it felt like that little bugger had hit me more than once. Okay, but how to treat it?

CHEMICALS

I pulled out my smart phone and began my research in earnest. According to Google, bee venom and wasp venom are not alike. One is acidic and can be neutralized with baking soda and the other is alkaline and can be neutralized with vinegar or lemon juice. Suddenly I wished I had been able to swat that bug and keep it for identification purposes, or at least detain it and conduct an interview, but no such luck. I tried the vinegar, but couldn’t tell much difference. I found an old bite stick and tried that; ditto. Then peroxide, figuring that I might bubble some of the venom out of the open wound. Nothing. I checked with my friend Ann, who suggested the baking soda route. I mentioned that to my wife, who suggested that I take the dog for a walk. I did both. By the time I got back from walking the dog, I had a nice, painful welt on my ankle, which the baking soda paste appeared to help. I ended up reapplying that a couple of times until I went to bed that night. I also began taking Benadryl to help curtail some of the reaction that would surely continue to evolve.

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The sting site is the red spot on the left. The darker blotch to the right is an old (presumed) spider bite that doesn’t seem to want to go away completely.

By this morning most of the swelling was gone and the pain had been replaced by an annoying itch. A glance at my left ankle revealed that some of the redness had subsided, too, and as long as I could refrain from scratching that maddening itch, I could keep i that way. As I prepared to go to work, I brought out the arsenal. I took two Benadryl tabs and sprayed some Bactine on the site. Once that dried, I lathered on some hydrocortisone and immediately put a sock on over it. The antihistamine and the  topical steroid each helped knock the itching down some, but it never disappeared completely.

I made it through the day, took the dog for a walk, and set about looking for something else to try. When I was a kid, we always had calamine lotion in the medicine cabinet. At the mere mention of that goopy pink liquid, I can recall its distinct smell. Calamine has astringent properties, which I thought might help. There is now a preparation called Caladryl, which contains both calamine and hydrocortisone. I went and got some. Whether it’s actually doing anything or only in my mind, I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s helping.

I do know one thing: I made it through the day without scratching that blessed sting site once. And that took some doing. Thanks for hanging with me.