Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Which Bike is Best for a Beginner?

Here's a great link to a discussion about which bike is best for a beginner:


Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Surgery

I found a good doctor, a neurosurgeon, who knew that I wanted to be fixed and not scared about all the details. His first plan of attack was some micro surgery to eliminate the sciatica problems. He told me to plan on a five-day hospital stay.

Friends at work, who had recently had back surgery, clued me into things to do to make it go better. I got a grabber to pick things up off the floor without bending over, got all my laundry and shopping done and generally made sure I would be able to live at home for a couple of weeks post-op.

Washington Hospital Center was about as good as it gets. In pre-op, a nurse named Aggy (real name Angie) instructed me where and how to change into the gown. When I returned to climb onto the gurney, I was very pleasantly surprised that the blanket she brought to cover me had been pre-warmed in a heated cabinet. Her good humor and attention to details set the tone and forestalled anxieties.

The operation started about 7:30 and I woke up in post-op at 11:30. There is not much of that I remember, but I enjoyed being rolled through the hospital to my room.

Several people stopped to check on my condition. "Squeeze my fingers," I was told. "Lift your legs. Press down with your toes." ...and so on. After several tests, I could see relief and even some pleasure in their faces from their findings.

The doctor visited and explained to me that they had found things to be more compressed than his own MRI had shown. They did a multiple-level lapinectomy, removing the dorsal bones from several of my vertebrae so that they now resemble a 'U' more so than an 'O' in order to relieve pressure on nerves and my spinal column. I had a six-inch incision in my back held closed by staples and tape. Indeed, I spent five days before going home, and a good thing they didn't discharge me the morning of day four as I developed a fever of 103+ that afternoon.

In hindsight, I'm very impressed with the quality of care I received in post-op and the nurses. Not all of them were very experienced, but the confidence of nurses who I knew to be experienced and quite competent went a long way in dispelling my many anxieties about the trainees. I also appreciated the amount of diversity in the nursing staff. One young nurse was from Trinidad. I enjoyed her accent although I had a difficult time understanding her and communicating with her: difficulties that caused me to feel distrustful needlessly.

The business of learning to get out of bed, learning how to sit, and stand from a sitting position took place over the post-op period. Several friends came to visit. At home, the lessons learned from the occupational therapist were very useful: how to log-roll to the edge of the bed, use my arms to sit-up sideways without bending, then stand up with out bending the back, keeping myself rigidly vertical.

At a follow-up doctor's appointment 11 days later, Dr. Levine removed the staples and answered questions. I learned that there was no limit on how long I stood or sat, but that I needed to take a 15-minute break each hour.

"When can I go back to work?" I asked.

He asked what kind of work I did then told me that I could go back to work the next day if I took it easy.

"When can I start riding my motorcycle again?"

"As soon as you can get off the pain killers," was his answer.

That was Tuesday the 26th. I have not taken a pain killer since. I switched to Advil. The following Saturday, I got a ride from a good riding friend to Bob's BMW to pick up my bike.

From Bob's, in Jessup, Maryland, I rode to Upper Marlboro where a masonic brother was hosting the Grand Lodge's annual crab-fest, and later home. It was a short two rides and I was very cautious about many things. The next night, after resting all of Sunday, I rode to a fair in Columbia, MD to help at the BOB's BMW booth. I didn't know how long I would feel up to it, but was able to sit on my bike when I got tired. I was back in business!

I've been off-line for a while.

The place I'm living lost its RCN ISP account when someone in management stopped paying the bills and departed and nobody else picked them up. No way that I'm blogging from my job in the State Department. Then, on June 11th, I went in for back surgery.

At least I had the presence of mind to turn on the wireless features on my cell phone before the hospital stay. It was primitive, but I could follow the http://www.bmwbmw.org forums and post, and get gmail while on my back in the hospital bed.

The surgery was due to an accident, last year. I'm sure I've blogged about it before; if not here, then certainly at my http://jaysmotorcycle.blogspot.com blog. Briefly: May of 2006 an aggressive, foreign-born motorist piled into the back of my bike as I was doing a decel looking for an entry into a merge lane to access a freeway on-ramp. I think he came from two lanes out, trying to beat the cars catching up to me after cars between us had peeled off for an East-bound on-ramp, or to beat a red light.

Nationwide accepted fault and had to pay for my emergency room visit, but expenses stopped there. The emergency room failed to do a MRI, despite my complaining of a stiff back and headaches, probably because insurance companies are aggressively denying such expenses to contain costs, prescribed pain killers, and told me to see an Orthopedic specialist.

The specialist office they referred me to never returned my calls. Nationwide refused to pay for the prescriptions for pain killers unless I cam into the office the next week to sign a waiver. Then they would "give me a little money to cover expenses."

I was ticked that they were forcing me to hire a lawyer, and went back to my own company, GEICO. The GEICO rep was very supportive and helpful and offered to let me go through them for better service, but as Nationwide had already admitted fault I was reluctant to incur costs upon my own insurer.

In the end I was fortunate that a friend suggested a good lawyer who was willing to take me on contingency. I got orthopedic and neurological care, but still no MRI. Maryland Orthopedics apparently was willing to wait a year or more to be paid after any settlement. I went to physical therapy for about six weeks and was returned to light duty, whereupon I gave up working for myself and accepted my current full-time position. Six weeks-or-so later they put me on full duty, and I returned to teaching motorcycle safety classes for Maryland MVA at Montgomery Community College. The first day back on that weekend job, after about 80 minutes of walking, standing, and teaching on the blacktop, I doubled over from pain shooting down my left leg.

With these new symptoms, I was able to get a MRI. Apparently, they needed some indicator that the MRI would find something and risked not being reimbursed by a court if it could be construed that the procedure was simply to aid in diagnosis. Maybe this could be construed as an attempt to unethically inflate claims if it were applied to everyone with a stiff back after an accident.

They found a lot of problems on the MRI with discs. Bone fragments were floating in the spinal column, I was told. This caused inflammation of nerves and the sciatica-like symptoms that I was experiencing. New medicine helped, but as I tried to return to my normal life and to "remain active" as the emergency room doctor had instructed me, the problems continued to progress.

My new job turned out to be a major benefit. The employer provided unlimited sick leave and medical benefits that eliminated the financial risk of surgery, should a settlement not go my way. Probably it was the affect of depression that often follows accidents that I remained preoccupied with potential negative outcomes and accepted considerable pain and inconvenience to keep costs down just in case I might someday get the bill, myself. I don't think that this pleased my attorney, particularly.

New face shield

My last entry described the extent I went to in order to minimize the eye-glass/helmet hassle. Yes, this is because I prefer a full-face helmet and have yet to pony up the dollars for a flip-up, hearing that they are even noisier.

The next issue of Motorcycle Consumer News (MCN), on it's back cover, describes a new light-sensitive face shield that will auto tint. It is manufactured by Scorpion Sports.

That must have been the June issue... no, it was the July issue and I received the August issue in time to read it at the Forth of July picnic!

MCN is a great publication that every avid motorcyclist should subscribe to and support. They survive on subscription dollars alone and take no money from advertisers. So, their reviews are pretty unbiased... at least by advertisers.

That same issue has a letter from a reader, Gerald Bertinot of Lafayette, LA, describing a disadvantage of half-helmets you might not have thought about previously that he discovered for himself when a bug flew into his ear and found itself trapped alive.