Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel
— Roadhouse, The Doors
It’s been a bit over two and a half months since I rolled my car on an icy corner on the way to the last day of PyCon Au 2013. My body works properly again modulo some occasional faint stiffness in my right side and I’ve been discharged by my physiotherapist, so I thought publishing some retrospective thoughts might be appropriate.
Firstly, for those of you who said “pics or it didn’t happen” on the day of the incident (you know who you are), here’s what’s left of the ute:
For those reading this in one of the many countries where you drive on the wrong side of the road, that is (or was) the driver’s side window which impacted the road first, and via which I subsequently exited the vehicle. The astute observer will notice that the wheels are missing; that’s because we had them removed and put on the new ute — same make and model, albeit a few years older, but it had manual locking front hubs. Now it has alloy wheels and automatic locking front hubs when you stick it in four wheel drive. It also has a better stereo. I have to apologise for not taking a photo at the time of the accident. While I did have the presence of mind to extract myself, my keys, my phone, my laptop and two bottles of miraculously intact homebrew I was planning to deliver to one of my colleagues, I lacked sufficient mental discipline to photograph the scene.
Anyway, enough about the car. My fractured right scapula seems to be completely healed, but the funny thing about back injuries is this: you know that song that goes “leg bone connected to the knee bone”? Well it turns out everything is connected to your back. A solid week of screaming in pain when shifting positions wasn’t a lot of fun. This apparently resulted in me automatically tensing up the entire right hand side of my body to compensate, which presumably helped with the general pain of moving, but still isn’t very good for you and ultimately resulted in further pain and strain in my right side. Enter Elke Rudolph from Lansdowne Physiotherapy, who I would happily recommend to anybody. She poked and prodded around my back, unkinked several muscles around my right shoulder and side, and instructed me in some exercise/visualisation activities over several sessions. These activities included:
- Sitting at the front of a chair with weight evenly distributed between “sitting bones” and feet, then rotating my torso right a few times, and left a few times to loosen everything up.
- Leaning forwards then rolling back up to sitting, while visualising my vertebrae stacking themselves on top of one another on the way back up to put the spine in the correct place.
- When typing at my computer, ensuring elbows hang loosely/freely, i.e. so that nothing anywhere is strained.
- Basically trying to ensure nothing is overextended or tensed, and paying acute attention to posture so as to give the body the best opportunity to fix itself.
If you’re interested in your physical health and you take nothing else away from this post, please try one thing right now. You’re probably sitting at your desk looking at a screen, or holding your phone. Now think about what you’re doing with your shoulders. Concentrate on them for a moment, make yourself completely aware of them. They’re almost certainly at least slightly tensed. Consciously lower your shoulders by about two inches and breathe out. Feel better?
One of the things that struck me about my treatment is that this postural awareness stuff is both incredibly important and surprisingly easy, if you’re paying attention. In retrospect it’s something I think I should have known after having a couple of bouts of RSI in my wrists several years ago – at the time, I deliberately made myself acutely aware of my forearms and hands and whether anything was being strained, to the point where I always automatically correct if I’m doing anything dodgy with them. But I somehow never transferred that skill to the rest of my body until now. Live and learn, I guess.
I actually think some training in appropriate posture should be provided to anyone who’s required to sit at a desk all day for their employment. For that matter, I think it’s something that should be taught to everyone in school in physical education class at the earliest opportunity. I suspect the latter might prove difficult though, as it’s useful to sometimes have an instructor actually move your body into the correct position, but apparently teachers aren’t allowed to lay hands on students anymore.
I should touch on mental health a bit too, as a couple of people asked if I’d thought to see a counselor. I did get thinking about post traumatic stress disorder, but that quickly degenerated into an exercise in semantics – if you’ve been through trauma, stress is a perfectly natural response, so I’m dubious about calling it a disorder. I know the accident fucked with my head, and I’m still probably overcautious on that particular piece of road, especially when it’s wet. But I don’t live in fear of it, so I reckon I’m good.
Another thing to note is that the MAIB has my gratitude, as they covered several hundred dollars worth of X-Rays, emergency department fees, a couple of trips to my GP and the majority of my physio bills. I will never again complain about the MAIB component of my vehicle registration fee.
Overall I still do not recommend this experience, but it has been remarkably educational.
My wife asked me a few weeks ago, “if you could change one thing about your accident, what would it be?”
I thought for a little while then answered, “I’d have been driving a rental”.
Hah, nice punchline! Some great advice in here about posture though. I’m lucky enough that I got free Alexander Technique lessons during my postgrad at music college, which greatly increased my awareness of posture and the awful things that almost all humans tend to do with their neck, shoulders and back without realising. Nevertheless, it’s hard to remain mindful of this stuff when deep in the hacking zone, and it’s even harder to avoid tensing up when the code you are dealing with sucks 😉 Great to hear you are almost fully healed!