The personal website of Chris Coyier

Better Arms than Legs

I broke both my arms. Both! It kinda sucks. It’s not gruesome like a big thick bone snapped in half, it’s fracturing at the radial heads of both elbows. One elbow has horizontal fracturing and one vertical. Both kinda equally damaged, but the right feels better than the left.

It happened while mountain biking. There is this particular obstacle that has long been my nemesis. To an average mountain biker, surely it’s no big deal, but I’m a beginner and a rather big dude to boot. It’s just a straight drop-off of a log. Maybe 12″ at a low point, 18″ high. For my whole first year riding these trails, I’d just hop off and walk over it.

Walking is part of mountain biking.

The dude from Cog Wild who took me on a beginner training ride with my father-in-law last year.

But this year, I tried going over it really slowly with my butt way back, and it worked! I felt good about it because it was another thing I’d figured out and overall I’ve been getting much better and more confident mountain biking. I’ve gone over it maybe 10 times that way now.

But this last Sunday, I was out just for a quick ride before I had to pick up my wife from the airport, and I decided, for who knows what reason, that I’d just fly off it at speed rather than go super slow. Surely that’s what normal mountain bikers too. This is not a particularly nasty stretch of trail, it’s just a little pop down.

I changed my mind at the last second. I was going too fast. So I braked a bunch, but my front tire went over while I was slowing. With my hand on the front brake, the tire locked entirely, then it hit the ground stopped. They say moments like this feel like they happen in slow motion, but I think this happened in actual slow motion. My body moved up and up and up and I just knew I was going to fly over the handlebars. And I did. I didn’t have time to think about a graceful landing, I just put my hands and arms out and used them to brace the fall.

It was super painful right away. No grace period of adrenaline to remove the pain. My first guess was that I sprained both wrists and elbows.

I was about 3 miles into the woods, so it took me about an hour to walk my bike back to the truck, where a helpful fellow biker helped me get the bike back into the truck. Then I drove home, stupidly enough. I had to get to the airport remember. It was painful but adrenaline must have helped there. By the time I got home, I knew I couldn’t make it to the airport, so I had to call my friend Tim to help drive there. Thanks, Tim (and Jeremey!).

After getting Miranda and Ruby home, I went straight to the hospital. The nurse at the hospital (who, incidentally, recommended not going to the hospital for this kind of thing but going straight to an orthopedic specialist) said that I was the third mountain biker she’s had today, and she’s just one nurse at one place injured people can come in Bend. Dangerous sport, apparently.

Fortunately, I can still work because it’s my elbows and not my wrists. X-rays showed the fracturing in the elbows but clean wrists. At the hospital they let me pick one arm to put into a splint just to ease the pain of supporting the arm. At the ortho two days later, they removed the splint. No splint, no casts, no slings (although I’ve been using the sling a little just for a break). I’m supposed to be healing with movement so that it doesn’t lock up while it heals.

I don’t really know how long the healing is going to be. Few months is likely.

A few people have asked if this informs any website accessibility thoughts I have. Not really, I’m afraid. The first few days it was helpful to have the on-screen keyboard on macOS because it was easier to use a mouse than a keyboard, but that’s about it. I don’t think I’ll need to explore special hardware or dictation tools or anything.

Not being able to lift, push, or pull much weight at all is a bummer, but it’s definitely preferable to many other injuries. Not being able to walk, I have to imagine, is much, much worse.