After weeks of training, preparation, organisation and fundraising, I was ready. I had one last training ride to do on the day before setting off down to Lands End to start my 1000 mile ride for Yemen. The planning had been exhausting and I was looking forward to finally getting on the road to complete something I’d had in my mind to do for years. Only since returning to the UK from Qatar did I have the time, and having just had a milestone birthday, it seemed a somewhat appropriate time to take on such a challenge.
I set off on my ride, feeling good. I’d been nursing a niggling pain in my left thigh and trying to calm my ever constant back pain, the consequence of two herniated discs I’ve had for many years. But after a few days taking it a little more easy, or ‘tapering’ as they call it in the sporting world, I felt great. The sun was out, there was a light breeze and my trusty Grey Legs was in fine form after a fabulous service by the guys at Tokyobike in London
I planned to do just 20miles, so as not to tire myself or sustain any injury prior to the ride proper. I did one of my well trodden circuits of the local area, riding through leafy villages, around fields of bright yellow oil seed rape and across the Abberton Reservoir, waving to the ducks, geese and swans as we sped by. The countryside in this part of Essex is truly beautiful and much underrated. I was in high spirits and excited about the challenge in front of me.
As I got close to home, I remembered my intention to visit a family friend in the village at the end of the ride. She had suffered an injury a few days before when her dog escaped from her garden and attacked another dog. Another neighbour had told us she had ended up in A&E with a gashed leg after attempting to restrain her dog. I wanted to see how she was doing before leaving the village for a few weeks.
I cycled past our house and on to the other end of the village, where she lived. I pulled up at her white picket garden gate and could just see her faintly through the shrubbery, so I called out….”Helloooo”. At which point her boisterous dog, Ash, bounded up to the gate and put his front paws on the top and barked at me.
He’s a handsome, medium sized, smooth coated cross breed with floppy ears and endearing brown eyes, looking something between a weimaraner and a greyhound. He’s a rescue dog with issues from his past, but I’d not had trouble with him before, so I talked softly to him and reached out towards him to pacify him…
In a split second, he had me. My left hand. My middle finger. I realised quickly, he wasn’t playing, and he wasn’t going to let go. His jaws were clamped hard around my finger pulling so strongly that my entire arm was now jammed hard over the gate. He was out of control and savaging me in a sustained attack. I started screaming and adrenalin began to flood my body as it dawned on me that he was not going to let go. I would have to try to rip my finger away from him. With an almighty wrench, I heard and felt something pop as I freed it. I’d lost it. I was convinced when I next looked at him, I’d see my finger in his mouth.
I screamed and cried “Ive lost my finger… !”….and clutched my left hand in my right. I couldn’t look, convinced as I was that when I did, I’d see my finger gone. I had to brace myself for that and I wasn’t ready. The owner of the dog had now reached me and insisted I show her. But I couldn’t let go. I asked her to call for an ambulance. She wouldn’t, insisting that it wasn’t that bad, I should come inside and she would dress it and then I would go to the clinic!! My screaming had attracted the attention of a passing motorist, but she waved him off…”everything is fine”… nothing to see!
Finally, I sat down on the white railing beside her gate, cradling my hand and looked. I needed to see what the dog had done to me. “I need to go to A & E”, I cried… “this is very serious”. My finger was still there, but he’d ripped it to shreds and I could see the tendon fully exposed and maybe the bone too! I started feeling faint and was going into shock. She brought out some saline and a dressing to mop up the blood and tried to insist I come inside. Hers was the last house I wanted to enter after what had happened.
By this time, I’d reached into the back pocket of my cycling jersey for my phone and rang my parents, who lived close. They came within minutes and took me to the local hospital A&E, leaving my bike and fully loaded panniers on the side of the road. I’d packed them with everything that I needed for my big ride. I had been so deep into the planning for my challenge, I was in denial that it couldn’t now happen. Even while the dog was savaging me, I was thinking about how I’d patch myself up in time to catch the train the following day, whatever state my finger was in. Nothing would stop me. I’d done too much training and fundraising, everything was meticulously planned and accommodation booked.
In the car on the way to A & E, the signs of shock were increasing…. numbness spreading from my hands and feet up my arms and legs, and stiffness in my face. I still had my helmet, glasses and cycling gloves on…. with one finger missing! I lowered my head and breathed deeply, concentrating on not passing out. My parents were incredible and kept me calm as they sped through the traffic to the hospital.
As the shock subsided, I became aware of the seriousness of my injury and knew that I’d be going nowhere tomorrow. At that moment, this felt as bad as the injury itself. So many people had given money to help the children of Yemen and they were depending on me to complete my challenge. I couldn’t let them down. Right now, though, I was fighting to stay conscious. I staggered into A & E, crying and moaning in agony, blood dripping from my hand. Everyone in the waiting room turned to look at me and I was quickly scooped up by a male nurse and bundled into a side room to clean me up and assess my injury. He gave me morphine and cut off what remained of my glove.
I was rushed into x-ray, which showed that the dog had indeed broken off a piece of bone at the middle joint…. thats the ‘pop’ I heard. Due to the seriousness of the injury, I was referred to the specialist hand trauma unit at Broomfield Hospital for plastic surgery and given intravenous antibiotics. With animal bites, there is a high risk of infection to the bone and the tendon, which can spread up the arm if not treated quickly.
The surgery took place that evening. This may sound a little weird, but after the events of the day, lying on the operating table, laughing and joking with my amazing Zimbabwean surgeon, Nigel, and his team, while they opened up my finger, cleaned it out and stitched it up, I felt almost euphoric that I was finally being taken care of.
“It was a dog wot dunnit” he announced to his team as they got underway. I asked him “how is it looking?”…. he reassured me that the tendon was still intact and things looked promising for a recovery. But later he told me I’d been very lucky not to lose the finger, as the dog had come within fractions of slicing through my main artery.
That night, in a hospital bed and my arm hanging vertically in a sling, I had time to reflect on just how lucky I was to have my precious finger still intact, and I slowly began to come to terms with what this injury meant to my cycle challenge and indeed, to all my other plans for the year ahead. I was told I would be off the bike for a minimum of 6 weeks to allow the finger to heal and full recovery would take at least 6 months and wasn’t guaranteed. I needed to find a way to turn things around and make an alternative plan. I knew the next few weeks would be as much of a mental effort as a physical one and my already daily practice of meditation and gratitude would become all too essential.
Thanks to everyone who has been so supportive to me and to those who have donated to the Save the Children Yemen Crisis Appeal. Im continuing to raise money for the sweet children of Yemen via my Just Giving Page and will be back on the bike soon, inshallah.
What a terrifying experience – so sorry. But you will go to the ball Cinders’ – this is just a setback, albeit a flippin painful one! I’m looking forward to reading about your ride as it unfolds – and I have every confidence that we’ll see a picture of you proudly having made it to John O’Groats in the not too distant future. Chapeau Pauline !
Thanks Mick. Your support means alot to me. My LEJOG guru!!