I’ve now lived for more than 12 years in total in the Netherlands, and cycled countless times with only a few minor issues. Last week though, I had my first (and hopefully last) bad bike accident and broke my ankle.
Hundreds of times, I’ve warned my children to be careful on their bikes. “Slow down, watch out for people, stay alert”. At least a dozen times have told them to watch out for metal poles like these in Delft:
Last Wednesday, I was coming from the Beestenmarkt direction in Delft into the pedestrian zone. Ironically my last thought before I hit that pole was that pedestrians do have right away here, but are so very unpredictable!
Mixing bikes and people – both share a responsibility
There were two people over on the corner, who I thought were continuing down the side of the shops, but instead walked into the middle. I was expecting them to stay on the right, and though traffic (me included) should keep to the right, I was actually aiming for the middle to avoid both those people and that pole closest in the photo.
Instead, when they walked over near that pothole, I needed to swerve to their right, and hit that pole with two stripes. I hadn’t clearly seen it a split second before, as they had been standing in front of it. I was not going fast, though had just come down a small slope and braked. If I’d stopped completely I may have caused another accident with other bikes and people. If I’d gone on the other side of them, I would have hit the other pole. I had a lot of information to process and it all happened very fast.
There was a loud metallic bang of my bike hitting metal, and I was on the ground, surrounded by several people within seconds all checking I was ok. I was actually in shock. A few women were speaking Dutch, and the man and woman I had avoided spoke English with an accent. They apologised though it wasn’t really their fault. Mixing bikes and people is always a risk.
What could have been different?
I’ve been over this a hundred times in my mind in the last week – what if I had swerved differently, gone a little slower, braked a little harder. The reality is though that I am perhaps slightly less experienced than a native Dutchie on a bike, I am still a very responsible cyclist, especially in the city. Not just for myself but as the mother of two children, I’m constantly alert and aware. I don’t think I could have gone much slower. It’s just a risk to mix people and bikes and both share responsibility. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck. It was simply the the exact timing of where I and the people were at that moment, the angle I hit, the height and position of the pole.
One friend jokingly asked if I had the chance again would I hit the people instead of breaking my ankle. No, I believe I would always choose in that moment to try to avoid hitting another person. Unfortunately I now have pins in my ankle, am in a cast for at least 6 weeks and have months of recovery ahead, all from that one split second.
If I could change anything it would be to find an alternative for those poles. I have no idea how many accidents have happened due to those poles, but have advised the Gemeente Delft (city council) so they can at least take my bad experience into account. One friend commented on Facebook that in her town in the Netherlands they were removed due to accidents. I know in another area in Delft there are low silver poles to stop cars. If that was the case here, I probably would have still fallen off my bike if I’d hit them – but would not have crushed my ankle between the pole and my bike. Or if they weren’t there at all – a no entry sign could be sufficient.
Please don’t move people after an accident
Another experience to share to make this hopefully a learning experience – I had immediate pain in my ankle, but thought this may have been just twisted. I’d already had some issues with that same ankle recently. People kindly tried to move me off the cold ground into the Zeeman shop, which in a daze I first refused, then accepted, but in agonising pain.
In retrospect if I can encourage well wishers in the future – please don’t try to move injured people after an accident! It would have been better to have not walked even just those few steps on what I now know was a broken ankle, though probably didn’t do much further damage.
A huge thank you to the Delft Zeeman staff, it was better to be inside once there and they helped out with cushions and a wet towel on my injured ankle. My friend who I was on my way to visit came to sit with me. I had a lot of pain but still didn’t know it was broken. I called my doctor (as in the Netherlands this is the standard “entry point” to the medical system), who told me to go straight to emergency. My husband came from his work a half hour away and was able to pull up right outside (well, next to the metal poles!!!).
Delft Hospital Emergency
We spent the next 4 hours in the Delft Hospital Emergency department. I have such respect and admiration for medical staff, they really do cope with tough circumstances and were all kind.
I asked if they often dealt with bike accidents, which was a yes, though the worst accidents are of course at high speed or collisions with cars. When I could answer their standard questions that I didn’t hit my head, and didn’t have the handlebars in my stomach, I’m glad it wasn’t worse. Yes – the helmet debate – let’s not go there, but I can say in this experience it wouldn’t have helped me at all.
After two X-rays and a cast, it was decided that this break was not likely to heal well on it’s own so I was scheduled for surgery. This was less than a week later, and as I write this I now have pins supporting my ankle and am in recovery. Two weeks bed rest then back to the hospital to have it re-examined. I was very anxious for the operation on Monday but again the staff were amazing. They even allowed me to listen to music in my AirPods right through surgery. I went under narcose (general anaesthetic) to one of my favourite songs and woke up to another after it was all over.
Pain and paracetamol
As I type this I’m in quite some pain. Before surgery I was prescribed only paracetamol – a running joke in the international community in the Netherlands that anything stronger is near impossible to get – but along with some ibuprofen actually was sufficient. I now have some stronger painkillers but am holding off for a little longer if I can, as they are likely to make me nauseous and dizzy, so right now I’ll stick with just the ankle pain!
Resting and recovering
I’m naturally a very active and high energy person. I’ve just spent almost a year recovering from a herniated disc in my back, and over the last few months have actually had issues with an inflamed tendon in that same ankle! So I’ve been forced to learn how to rest and recover, and have always been good at getting plenty of sleep, exercise, eating well, meditating and taking care of myself. Now I have no choice but to rest. I’m expected to make a full recovery, and the doctor even said I could be back to running early next year (see my Golden Tenloop and Urban Trail posts!). I’m likely to be pretty much out of action until the end of this year though – so I’ll be literally sitting out the rest of this decade!
Friends and family
Friends and family are taking good care of me. It’s hard to be so far from my family in Australia already and these things make it harder, but we speak regularly. Our girls are old enough to do most things for themselves and help me as well. My husband and friends have been cooking soup and delivering care baskets and company.
Keeping my brain busy
Typing this post, listening to podcasts, talking to friends and family, watching Netflix – all these things are keeping my brain busy while I rest and recover. Any good recommendations?
Back to work
I love my job at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and am keen to get back asap. My Masters thesis two years ago was actually on online learning, distance learning and blended learning, so looks like I’ll be putting some of these techniques into practice until I can walk again.
Watch out for those poles!
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