ANNECY, FRANCE — So there I was, in the Tour de France, fighting the pack as I zoomed around a fast corner, when suddenly — crash!
OK. Not entirely true. Wasn’t the Tour. But the rest is accurate. I was on vacation, riding a bike, in France, coming around a corner. It was a warm afternoon in the lakeside town of Annecy, and lots of riders were out. A group of young cyclists were coming the opposite direction. One of them, a teenage girl, crossed the line in the middle of the road and eased into the lane that I was cruising along.
She didn’t move. She just kept on pedaling, chatting with her friends. Maybe she assumed I would move. Which I had to. Hard. Swerving to avoid her, I hit the curb and went sprawling off the bike and onto the concrete.
My hands hit first, my shoulder and knees next. My head, protected by a helmet, hit the ground and bounced off. When I lifted up, my left elbow shot with pain. My knees were dripping blood.
The friends I was riding with rushed to me.
“Are you OK?”
“Easy … easy …”
I was OK, head-wise. But I saw the blood and yelled some angry English words. Some of the French riders had stopped to gape at me (I literally was the wreck on the side of the road.) My friend Kim, who grew up in Annecy, confronted the girl who pulled into our lane. She and a male friend were watching me struggle.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do,” the guy told Kim in French.
“You could apologize,” Kim said.
They didn’t. instead, they rode away. As I poured bottled water over the bloody cuts and squeezed my fists in pain, I silently stereotyped the culprits as rude French kids who somehow figured an American had it coming. Not proud of this. But that’s how I felt.
A doggone-good deal
But the story doesn’t end there. My friends helped me pedal a few miles back to a beach club that Kim’s sister operates, and people there used a first aid kit to wipe my wounds. I knew I had done some damage to my left arm, based on the shooting pain, and I probably needed a stitch or two to close the cuts on my knees. But it was a holiday in France, and all the doctors Kim knew were out of town. We could try an emergency room for an X-ray, I was told, but given the holiday it would take four to six hours to get that done.
“Wait,” Kim said, “Let me call a friend …”
I should mention Kim has a lot of friends. A former professional skater, he has journeyed around the world and has a boundlessly cheery disposition. He currently co-owns a company called Drifter Vans in Southfield, which makes custom vans for people who love to travel. That’s how I know him.
But Kim’s family is from Annecy, a picturesque town in the French Alps, where, apparently, certain teenagers are awfully insensitive, but many other folks are not.
“Caroline? …” Kim said into the phone.
Caroline, it turns out, is a doctor. Well. To be accurate, a veterinarian. But, as Kim pointed out, “an X-ray is an X-ray,” with or without fur.
And so, bloody bandages and all, off I went to the vet.
Black and (sacré) bleu
I should point out that Caroline was at home when Kim called her, preparing to meet friends at a restaurant. She agreed to drive all the way to her clinic and open it just for us.
When we got there, she was dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. She studied my cuts and bruises and offered to X-ray my left arm. When we moved to the machine, she hesitated near a panel of buttons.
“I have to put in an animal,” she told Kim in French.
“Ah,” Kim said. He turned to me. “What animal are you most like?”
A few fantasy answers popped to mind. Cheetah. Wolverine. Bengal tiger. But I didn’t want to get laughed at.
“Just put dog,” I said.
“OK …” Caroline said, finding a button. “Big dog.”
Well, if you insist …
She took the X-rays, which showed a fracture in the radial head bone of my elbow. Then she addressed the wound on my right knee. She said it needed stitches to stop the bleeding.
“But I don’t have … eh …”
She put a hand over her nose, signifying anesthesia. I told her that was probably OK, wondering if stitches in France involved some agonizing ritual I didn’t know about.
“Just sew it up,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
Which is what she did. I left there with X-rays, bandages, antiseptic, and a neatly stitched wound by my knee cap. Also, a doggy treat.
Nah. Just kidding. But I did leave with a different take on French citizenry. I realized there are rude kids everywhere, but there are even more amazing people, the kind who get first aid kits and who call their friends and who open clinics to stitch up your wounds and refuse to take any money, as Caroline refused to take any from me.
So my Tour de France moment turned into something else, an intersection of bicycles, curbs, concrete and culture. I emailed the X-rays to an excellent hand doctor back in Michigan named Rachel Rohde and told her the story about the friendly French vet. She confirmed the fracture in my elbow.
“Also, you have rabies,” she joked.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Follow him on Twitter @malbom
Always love the stories. What a cool experience . . . regardless of the result!