A Bike Commuter Deals With Surgery


What do you do if you’re a bike commuter and get sick or injured?  Well, our Loving the Bike friend Malachi Doane shares the story of his abdominal surgery and getting back on the bike.

A Bike Commuter Gets Surgery

by Malachi Doane

I’m a full-time bicycle commuter who recently had my gallbladder taken out through Laparoscopic surgery.  I also had to endure a sever rash as no-one thought to tell me that ChloraPrep (Chlorhexidine) can cause one, and they used it on me. Further complicating the whole thing was a pre surgery fall that bruised my ribs all around my right side.

Being an avid cyclist and commuter, I even made a few pre-surgery trips to the hospital via bicycle. While there were things that needed improvement at this local hospital I can say parking for bicycles is not one of them.  They have racks all around the buildings and they are used (although more by staff than anyone else.)

In my working life I’m a survey tech,  which is the guy who goes out and does the field work in a survey office but is not a licensed surveyor.  It takes years of documented field work before you can even test in New York for your license so we’re a sort of apprentice if you will.

Around the time the issues developed with my gallbladder, I went from very, very active to nearly crippled in the course of a few days and that was perhaps the hardest part of this episode.  When you tell physicians you’re a cyclist and they see your helmet, they nod and say, yes, yes…but when you tell them you ride 80+ miles a week then they get the idea.

In fact one year ago this month I bought my first road bike.  A new Giant Defy5 which I rode home the 20 miles from Elmira, NY.  Since then I’ve logged 2,323 miles on that frame and 3000+ miles altogether when you count in my commuter bike mileage.

I hadn’t been feeling well leading up to this and when I was in for a pre surgery consult I told the doctor I was sorry I was going to miss our local LiveSTRONG benefit called the Tour de Shunk.  He said I ought to go and ride it anyway and that it couldn’t hurt anything.  So I geared up and managed to ride a quarter of it. I don’t think he figured I’d really take him up on his suggestion.

My surgery was quite dull with no great details to report.  Being in relatively good health made it fast and easy for the surgeon.  But the recovery was awful.  They prescribed hydrocodone….and a lot of it.  I took it for 24 hours, but then had enough.  I’d rather feel bad than be drugged.

I spent a few miserable weeks watching nice days go by out the window and hearing my bicycles calling to me from downstairs.  When that second weekend came up, I was doing much better.  Ambulatory, doing ok in the car but bumpy rides were very hard.  We decided to go home to the Adirondacks for the weekend, and I decided to take my road bike and give it a try.

I stopped in Saratoga Springs and had some of their famous mineral water, and before we knew it we were in the mountains famous for “the cure.”  Cold and wet, but I was determined to ride.

My father in law had just finished radiation treatment for prostate cancer as well, and as a fellow cyclist we came to the conclusion a short ride would be better than none if that was all we could manage.  So we girded ourselves against the cold and headed out down the road.

I was very shaky on the handle bars, so much so that I stopped as I was afraid something was wrong.  However, it wasn’t the bike it was me.   After about a half a mile I was steady and comfortable with my machine again.

We went down the mountain to a local hydro-electric station on the Sacandaga to look at an impeller that was put on static display.  It was nice, but we only had a little time.   It was cold and spitting rain so we turned around and headed back up to home.  The long hill was a CAT 4 climb and I did not set any personal bests with strava on this ride.

I could feel my base layer (something like under armor) rubbing on my incision points which grabbed a bit and my groin was working more than it should have to take up the slack from my legs, but it wasn’t an overly hard climb up and it felt marvellous.  To be back in the saddle again was heaven.

I’ve taken a few more rides since our time in the Adirondacks including a relatively flat  30+ mile, and a hilly 20+ ride.  I’m discovering that my saddle seems a bit harder than I remember, as do my handle bars.  My shoulders and back haven’t fallen back into it as easily as I’d like either, but I’m doing it.  My pace is about 2 MPH slower than it was and it’s been like starting over with my hill climbs.  It’s disappointing but when you think about it, two weeks ago I was cut open and had an organ removed, and now I’m riding 30+ mile trips, albeit a little slower than I had been (this time line was approved by the physicians and normal with this type of “keyhole” surgery).

I’m still having some pain from the surgery, and it’s still too soon to know if it will go away or not.  But I’ve learned a few things for this experience.  Maybe the most important is that you go into something like this as a fit and healthy person, it really helps you in the long run even when you’re not doing well.

I paused my vegetarian diet on account of this as I needed to heal as fast as I could and I felt that I simply was not able to absorb the nutrition I needed nor was I willing to rely on processed foods during my recovery.  I have been a vegetarian for the past two years on account of my gallbladder and my body’s inability to handle fats without significant pain and risk to my health from the stones.

Having been separated from that problematic organ I still must keep to a low fat diet.  I developed moral qualms to the meat industry and the eating of meat, but as it was a matter of health that lead me to stop, it was also a matter of health that lead me to again eat it.  In the lead up to my surgery I was diagnosed with insufficient levels of vitamin D which seemed odd as I like dairy and I spend 8-12 hours a day in the sun as a surveyor!

So that’s the story and next week I return to the rat race.  I put some fenders on my commuter today so I’ll be ready for any conditions the weather throws at me. They seem nice and I hope they keep more of the yuck off both man and machine.  Snow is coming for this part of New York State.

I suspect that UCI would sanction me for an unfair advantage, being lighter by the weight of one gallbladder.

Enjoy Your Ride

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3 Responses to “ A Bike Commuter Deals With Surgery ”

  1. Emily Smith on November 24, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    Enjoyed your post and hope that your recovery will continue well. Don’t be too hard on yourself — you’ll be back!

  2. Peter on November 23, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Interesting story. Congratulations on the comeback.

  3. James on November 23, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Coming back from something like this as a healthy person is definitely easier than a person with a sedetary lifestyle. Nice story, guys.


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