I Broke My Neck. Now What?

Man in Back Brace

I Broke My Neck. Now What?

Team Zenberry racing bikes

Bike Racing is Dangerous

-How to Eat to Aid Healing: a nutritional recovery strategy

Sunday June 9th I drove 3 hours up to Sutton, MA to do the Purgatory Road Race (aptly named) in the Pro, 1, 2 category.  I had done this race the past 2 years and it’s always very hard. I have no chance of winning it but it really pushes my fitness to the next level once I recover a few days.

The course is difficult but this year the pavement was destroyed on the long, fast descent and we had to do it 7 times during the 77 mile race.  I made it through lap 1 but on the second time down another rider to my left had a blowout of his front tire after hitting a pothole and hit the deck at 45 mph, sliding into me.  I flew over the handlebars and landed on my upper back, also at 45 mph, bouncing off the asphalt and into the grass on the side of the road.

The above video was shot from my bike camera. Go to the 6:00 mark to watch the crash itself.

 

The Aftermath

 

torn, dirty cycling jersey

I came to rest in the dirt on the side of the road gasping for breath. I had severe pain in my thoracic (upper back).  In my previous career as a detective with the NYPD Scuba Team, I went through EMT training so I knew that I should not move, despite people around me asking me to get up (never get up if you suspect a spine injury).  I told them I need an ambulance and I need to be boarded (for back injuries).  In that moment, I had no pain in my neck at all, only my upper back, which I believe, at the time, is just the muscles self-splinting to protect my spine.  But I don’t take any chances with neck and back injuries.  The other rider eventually rode away but he was shredded with road rash, they told me.

The Hospital

Man in hospital bed

3 days lying flat in the hospital was not fun

I was lucky and they took me to UMass University Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA.  The ER doctor tells me that it’s really hard to break your thoracic vertebrae because they are very strong due to being attached to the rib cage.  Only about 15% of back injuries are thoracic for this reason.  Well, he comes back after the x-rays and looks a little pale.  He tells me I have an acute compression fracture of the T8 and T12.  He immediately sends me in for cervical and lumbar x-rays and orders me a CT scan and MRI.

Then things gets serious when they see I have cervical fractures of the C5, C6 and C7.  I’m now in a cervical collar and must remain lying flat on the bed.  The MRI and CT finds some more stuff but my spinal chord is not at risk.  Phew!  As long as I remain in the collar and don’t move my spine or neck.

Warning

Keep in mind that I had no neck pain at the scene of the crash!  Many people jump up after a hard crash like that and may refuse medical treatment and then drive home.  With a fractured vertebrae, turning your head back and forth or up and down can cause the bones to damage the spinal chord, hours or even days later.  I could have stopped breathing on my car ride home.  This is why it’s so serious.  Again, you may not have any pain at all as in my situation but take neck and back injuries very seriously.  I’m glad I did. I’m lucky I’m alive and can walk.  I was very close to possibly being a quadriplegic. If any of the cervical spine was damaged that could have been the outcome.

 

Man in Back Brace

Fitted with a back/neck brace which I will wear for 6-8 weeks and released from the hospital

 

Recovery

After 3 days in the hospital, 3 hours from home, I’m finally fitted with an “oh so comfortable” back and neck brace which I have to wear 24/7.  Emma drives me home to Piermont, NY. The 3.5 hr drive (traffic) was brutal but it was great to be home where I can start my recovery.  Being fit and healthy is a big plus but Emma has been using all of her nutrition expertise to design a dietary plan and supplement plan to speed up my recovery and healing.

Shameless plug: I had a Zenberry smoothie in my cooler in my car for after the race but I never made it back to my car. Emma brought it to me after she picked up my car and arrived at the hospital.  It was great to have something healthy (Hospital food is rarely that) and liquid.  The brace makes it tough to chew and eating anything while lying down is tough. Sipping a Zenberry smoothie was a joy.  I’ve been having at least one per day since getting home.

Man in neck brace

Home with nutrition

Foods to Help Heal Bones & Speed Recovery

Here are some of the foods that Emma has given me to eat to help heal my fractures as fast as possible. *This is not a recommendation but just what I am doing for myself.  Consult your healthcare professional before starting a nutritional or supplement program.

  • Eat foods that are rich in calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg) and Zinc. The body needs Mg to get the benefits of Ca rich foods and to balance Ca. Zinc is essential for tissue repair.
    • Dark Leafy Greens such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, dandelion, arugula, romaine lettuce, collard greens
    • Kelp and other sea vegetables
    • Wild-caught sardines with skin and bones (also for collagen and essential fats)
    • Avocados, and black beans are rich in Mg
    • Flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds are rich in Mg and Zinc
  • Eat loads of vitamin C rich foods and supplements with pure Vitamin C crystals (Shane supplements up to 70,000 mg of pure ascorbic acid powder in divided doses in 1 day and still has not reached saturation, where bowels would become soft). There are many studies on the benefits of vitamin C on bone healing, even in elderly adults. Foods rich in Vitamin C are:
    • Vegetable juices – Emma makes a fresh made juice every day for Shane
    • Citrus fruit
    • Bell peppers, broccoli and asparagus
  • Stay on top of your vitamin D supplementation. Vit D is needed for calcium absorption and bone repair after a fracture (and may help to prevent fractures). Emma has me take a minimum of 5,000 IU daily in divided doses.
  • Fish oil for Omega-3 fatty acids and a green superfood powder to reduce inflammation and speed the healing process like Zenberry Greens or Zenberry Vanilla Chai, which contains raw organic dark leafy greens, grasses, spirulina, broken-cell-wall chlorella, dulse and kelp. Green superfood, with spirulina and chlorella is very beneficial in healing broken bones.
  • Eat half a fresh pineapple every day until the fracture is healed (not canned or processed). Pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that acts to reduce swelling and inflammation. Emma also has me take a combined bromelain-turmeric supplement 2-3 times a day on an empty stomach.
  • Silica and Vitamin B Complex are two additional supplements Emma has me take. Silica supplies silicon which is needed for calcium uptake and connective tissue repair and the B Vitamins are the anti-stress vitamins and aids in absorption of the other vitamins. They help reduce homocysteine, which at high level raises the risk of osteoporosis-related fractures and help maintain healthy muscle tone and brain function.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods which leach minerals from bones and increase heat (and pain) in the body. Especially avoid red meat (I have been vegetarian for 16 years), all beverages and products containing caffeine (I kept one cup of home made cold brew a day which is very low in acidity), and processed foods. Also avoid foods with preservatives due to their phosphorus content which can lead to bone loss.

In a nutshell, my diet is a vegetarian diet made of 90% plants, with a little bit of sardines and fish oil. 60% of my food is raw. Here are the daily staples:

  • Two Zenberry smoothies with banana and nut milk, chia seeds or flax seeds
  • One organic freshly pressed juice: 1/2 cucumber, 1 apple, 1/2 a romaine lettuce, 1/2 kale or dandelion or other dark leafy green, 1/2 juice of a lemon
  • One organic freshly pressed carrot juice: 12 carrots juiced with a little turmeric and ginger root
  • A bowl of vegetable stir-fry (keep the veggies vibrant and al dente. only cook 3-5 min):
    • tofu, broccoli, garlic, bell pepper, dulse flakes, or
    • brown rice, black beans, bell pepper, leafy greens, topped with 1/2 avocado and cilantro
    • steamed sweet potato, broccoli, tofu
    • black bean pasta or lentil pasta with sardines and kale or broccoli
  • Snack: a bowl of fresh pineapple, or papaya, or watermelon

Essential oils


Emma is also into essential oils (EO) and has applied a concoction to my wounds to help heal my broken bones using fir needle EO, cypress EO and helichrysum EO. She is applying the blend 3 times a day on the broken bone area.  I also started taking 2 drops of oregano oil and 2 drops of ginger oil, mixed in straight water, to try to relieve my shingles.

Be sure that the essential oil is high enough quality and certified to be edible before ingesting it.  Many are just to be used topically so make sure. These two plus garlic are shown to reduce shingles in studies.  Oregano oil is a potent anti-viral and in my case, it started working immediately.  I wish I had realized this last week.  The itch is nearly gone and the areas affected are noticeably reduced in less than 24 hours.

More on Vitamin C


Emma brought powdered ascorbic acid to the hospital with her so I could start giving my body huge doses to start the healing process and fight inflammation.  I’ve been taking upwards of 70,000mg per day without yet hitting saturation.  Your body needs much more Vit C when it is stressed, injured or sick.  Bonus prize! The stress of the injury also caused me to get shingles (the same thing happened in 2006 when I crashed and broke my collarbone) but the Vit C has helped me keep the symptoms very mild.  Just a slight itch. I know my blood is getting low in Vit C when the itch begins to get stronger.  I then take 3000-4000mg and within 30 min the itch is nearly gone.  Vit C is a powerful antihistamine so long as you take enough of it.  And it won’t rot your liver.

Recovering Well with a Sense of Humor

Man in Back Brace

Keeping it lighthearted at the orthopedist’s office

As soon as I realized that I had a broken back I flipped a switch in my brain.  Ok, I had a moment of despair and teared up for a few minutes lying on the gurney in the hallway of the ER, all alone.  But soon after that cleansing, I shifted gears from thinking about my fitness and my next race…from strategizing how I was going to get a cab from the ER back to the High School where my car was parked, so I could be home to have dinner with my wife, to realizing that I was spending the night alone in the hospital hoping that I wouldn’t end up paralyzed.

I flipped that switch and applied the same planning, fortitude and vigor I use for training to healing my broken body.   I accepted my reality and reorganized my brain to deal with it.  Keeping positive thoughts flowing as much as possible is very helpful, though I do have my down moments.  Overall, I have been much less stressed and depressed about this injury than my knee problem this winter.  Mostly because this one has an end in sight.  The knee was something that no one could figure out and was going to end my cycling hobby.

Man in a neck brace

My first walk for exercise

 

man riding bike in a back brace

My first ride since my crash

All I can do is take it day-by-day. After just 12 days I feel much stronger and capable than I did just 2 days ago.  Emma, my wife, has been such an amazing help.  She has had to pick up the slack and do the job of 2 people, in the house as well as much of the business.  Now that I’m healing and stronger I’m able to work longer hours but I still can’t lift anything or drive.  Patience is the key to healing.  As well as good nutrition and rest.

The Purgatory Road Race will be my last road race.  After 16 years of racing all over the US and even once in France, I can no longer justify the massive risk we take in this hobby.  I love it more than any sport I’ve ever done but at 45 years old, I can’t deal with the potential for severe injury due to other’s mistakes or equipment failures.  I will continue to ride as much as before and there is no way to 100% eliminate risk, but at least most of it will be at my own hands instead of some other guy who crashes near me, altering my life forever.  Thank you for reading.

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