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Barbarella: The Barbara Howe diary

Just as Barbarella bumps through the universe, comically oblivious to the dangers and threats being thrust at her, Barbara Howe has had a few misadventures of her own. After an illness-filled season in 2006, and a grievous injury in late 2007 she is working to get her fitness back by 2009. Although 'cross is still the favorite discipline of the California resident, she has been known to ride her mountain bike in the mountains for hours on end. She currently resides in Berkeley, California with her cat and eight bikes.

Follow the fortunes of this free-spirited individual here on Cyclingnews.

February 26, 2008

A bad day in Belgium

A not so good present for Christmas

Barb Howe giving the thumbs up despite being in pain due to a crash in the Hofstade Cyclo-cross World Cup
Photo : Barbara Howe
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December 25th, Christmas day in Belgium and the day before the Hofstade World Cup. The crew, Derrick, Natasha, Kevin, Nathan, Leslie, Wendy and I drove north of Brussels to pre-ride the course and check out what we were up against the next day. We had watched last year's race on the big screen the night before and were prepared for long sand sections and lots of running. The course didn't disappoint, in between twisty wooded sections there was lots and lots of sand. The sand was ridable this day but I wasn't counting on it during the race.

For Christmas dinner Wendy and I made Christmas burritos for everyone. Wendy was the mastermind behind fresh tortillas, she made the best tortillas I've ever had the pleasure of eating. I made a large pot of white beans (couldn't find any black or pinto beans), fresh salsa with cilantro and various other burrito fixin's. Natasha provided Christmas cake made by her Mom and transported with care all the way from Canada. I think the meal was well received by everyone and we all turned in early to be prepared for the next day.

One of the huge benefits of staying at the Cycling Center is having the vast experience of Bernard to help us out. At big races in Europe there is a special fenced in professional parking area. When you get your number you are also given pit passes and parking passes to access the professional area. We hadn't picked up our numbers yet but Bernard was somehow able to talk the gatekeeper into letting us into the area. Wendy, Kevin (U23) and I trotted over to permanence and spend some time waiting for the officials to find the numbers. As Kevin's start time was drawing near we sent him back to get ready and warm up while we continued the number search. Kevin got his numbers pinned on mere minutes before call-ups. Wendy and I on the other hand had plenty of time before our race to deliberate over sock, base layer, leg covering and glove choices. We even had more than enough time to warm up and plenty of time for course inspection.

Racing a World Cup in Belgium is one of the biggest and craziest experiences a racer could have. The crowds are huge and generally inebriated and the racers all seem to be extra aggressive. I got called up in the last row, not the best place but at least I could look forward to moving forward! On the first lap, there were several spots that I had to dismount and run due to women in front of me being off their bikes.

The sand that I had ridden the day before was much less ridable, but that was ok because my running legs felt fantastic. Each sand section I was able to run past several women and keep them behind me for good. Going into the third lap, I dismounted to run up a small rise. Before my foot even hit the ground I heard a pop and it felt like someone had hit me from behind. Then I was on my knees. I got up and tried to take another step and went down on my knees again. This was not good; I knew that something was very, very wrong and my right leg hurt. I hobbled to the side of the course using my bike for support, looked at the nearest spectator and asked them to get medical. Then I sat down on the ground with my head spinning and held onto my right calf. When I touched the back of my ankle and didn't feel anything there I immediately knew that this was bad. My Achilles tendon was gone.

Kevin is supported by Wendy Simms (l) and Howe (r)
Photo : Barbara Howe
(Click for larger image)

It took a few minutes for me to gather my brain enough to move on. Someone pulled my bike over the fence and I climbed over on my own. A very kind spectator gave me his coat to wear and a hat. Then medics came over and hung out with me while waiting for a stretcher. I gave my kind spectator one shoe, one sock, my helmet glasses, gloves and bike and asked him to take everything to the pit for my crew. Looking back on this it probably wasn't the best decision; he could have disappeared with everything. He had a hard time getting to the pit and at some point later in the day an announcement was made over the loudspeakers that my bike was missing and should be returned to the starting line. However, everything made it home just fine. The bike even got power-washed!

I got a stretcher ride to an ambulance just as Ann, from the Cycling Center, made it to me. This was a good thing because then someone would know where I went. From the ambulance I was taken to the emergency room in Mechelen where I was asked to write my name on a scrap of paper. The ER doctor confirmed my diagnosis of a ruptured Achilles tendon and asked if I wanted surgery right away. I asked him to leave for a few minutes to think things over and so I could have some time alone to wallow in a bout of low spirits (otherwise known as crying and agonizing over why this happened to me). I agreed to surgery and the doctor said I'd be in surgery in an hour and a half.

I asked if someone could help me clean up a bit because I was still in my skinsuit covered in mud and sand. My repeated requests for water had been unfulfilled and now that I was going to surgery I wasn't allowed to drink anything. It was after a nurse helped me clean up and I was issued a fashionable hospital gown. My request for a piece of paper and pen was eventually granted, and I wrote myself a note with my parents name and info on it as well as a few questions to remember to ask after surgery. I met my anaesthesiologist and surgeon in the operating theatre they both spoke excellent English and were very nice to me. I explained to the surgeon what had happened and he wanted to know what my plans were for the rest of my stay in Belgium. My answer was that 'now that I'm in the off-season I plan to participate in beer tasting every day.'

Did I dream or have nightmares while being under? I don't know. I just remember waking and my throat hurt so badly and my eyes couldn't focus. At this point a throat lozenge would have been greatly appreciated. I heard a dissociated voice telling me to sleep. Since sleeping is one of my best skills so that's what I did. The next time I woke up some one was taking my blood pressure. That's not very exciting so I went back to sleep. I had just woken up again when I heard Wendy in the hallway. Wendy and Bernard had come back for me! Wendy, being the great friend she is had brought a bag of clothing, my toothbrush, hand lotion and some much-needed lip balm. It was as if she had read my mind and brought most of the stuff on my list! I was sad to see Wendy and Bernard leave, but I couldn't stay awake and they needed some sleep too. The rest of the night was spent moving hazily in and out of sleep.

The next morning I felt awful. My leg didn't hurt but one of the painkillers flowing into my veins was making me nauseous. They finally unhooked that IV and the surgeon came to visit me. He said the surgery went well and wished me the best in my beer tasting endeavours. Next, I was visited by a lady who gave me some euro crutches and a lesson on how to use them. This was initially very difficult as I had been lying down for an extended period of time and the nausea-causing painkiller also made me dizzy. She was satisfied after I crutched a few steps to the bathroom and back again. I spent more time drifting in and out of sleep waiting for Bernard and Wendy to rescue me and take me home.

Hospital food is as bad as it's rumoured to be, I was served chicken with mashed potatoes covered in chicken gravy. Since I don't eat chicken I didn't eat. Bernard and Wendy showed up in the early afternoon to take me home and it was time to say goodbye to my Belgian hospital friends. We stopped for pastries on the way home. I hadn't eaten in over 24 hours but still couldn't manage to choke down even a tasty pastry. I spent the next two days in a bit of pain as I was only given plain old Tylenol after surgery. This is the only time in my life I would willingly eat a stronger narcotic type painkiller.

I'm now eight weeks out and I just ditched the Velcro boot. My leg is very skinny but the scar isn't so bad. I'm looking at several more weeks of rehab before being able to ride my bike outside and no racing until the end of August at the earliest.

Until then, take care and stay safe,


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Images by Barbara Howe