Lauren Archer recounts the accident with amazing clarity and humor.
Lagging behind the main group of cyclists heading toward the Don CeSar, she didn’t notice the uneven patch of cement just before the drawbridge on the westernmost span of the Pinellas Bayway.
Wondering why the St. Pete Bike Club group had left her behind on that beautiful Sunday morning in February 2011, she remembers checking the speedometer on her Eddy Merckx road bike. It clocked her at about 22 mph.
That’s when the narrow front tire on the bike hit the rough cement, the handlebars wrenched out of Archer’s hands, and she took flight. She did not have a soft landing.
Archer recently recounted the accident and its frustrating aftermath on another beautiful Sunday morning, almost three years later.
We were at the dog park at Crescent Lake Park, near Archer’s St. Petersburg home, and started to chat, as strangers often do while their dogs play.
I’m nosy. I ask questions. She had a brace on her arm. Had she had an accident?
Had she ever.
Archer’s story is about far more than that horrific crash. It’s what happens when life knocks you down, stands on your back and laughs as you try to get up.
Like so many Americans who have been victims of our near-Depression, the 46-year-old Archer is having to reinvent her life and her identity; in her case, it’s not because of a layoff but because of an accident that almost amputated her left arm.
Archer is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. She moved from Ohio to Pinellas in 2006 to join Advanced Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery’s Largo office and operate at All Children’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and Largo Medical Center.
Until the accident, Archer performed major surgeries, including breast and facial reconstructions and pediatric plastic surgery. About 70 percent of her practice was reconstructive surgery, which is often lengthy and grueling.
Now, her arm is still not 100 percent and is likely as improved as it will get, limiting her reach and endurance as a surgeon.
Archer works part-time and does plastic surgery “light,” as she calls it: short office-based procedures, skin cancer removals, Botox injections for cosmetic improvement and laser and chemical skin resurfacing.
She’s happy she can still help people, but this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. And the tantalizing dream of full recovery has, in a way, kept her stuck.
“If the arm was gone, I could have moved on.”
But it wasn’t. And hope does, indeed, spring eternal.
She had found the perfect career after devoting 17 long years — and sacrificing even the idea of a family because of the demands of medicine — before being able to grab the brass ring.
It took Archer that long to accomplish her goal, partly because her goals kept changing, she said with a laugh. But she had an epiphany while tailing a plastic surgeon after she had finished her surgical residency at the University of Cincinnati.
Surgery was great, she said. But plastic surgery was where she belonged.
After spending her childhood in Massachusetts, Archer went to the University of Vermont as a freshman and ended up going to medical school there. She joined the Naval Reserves, completed an internship in surgery at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and for five years was a physician in the Navy.
In Florida, she loved the weather, she loved the work.
After her initial recovery from the trauma, Archer was relieved and thankful to be alive and have her arm. Then, for a while, she sank into a deep depression.
Now, she’s working part-time, still cycling about 100 miles a week (though not on the Eddy Merckx because of “bad karma”), still undergoing physical and occupational therapy.
But she’s grappling with uncertainty. The support from other physicians in her medical group has been phenomenal. She knows, though, that her limited role can’t last forever
“I had everything,” she said. “Life was perfect.”
“My wings have been clipped.”
She’s concluded that there must be something else she’s destined to do and chooses to look at what happened as an opportunity
“I’m trying to find the new normal,” she said.
“This story is unfinished. I had one epiphany. I’m sure there will be another.”