That time I broke my back and then forgot I broke my back

45253364_10217054508373556_1122994378646749184_nI’ve always been a “It could be worse” kind of gal. I have never played the part of the victim. I am awesome (I mean, really awesome) at compartmentalizing. These are all reasons I have been able to keep moving forward and stayed positive through a shit ton of stuff. I’m kind of like “Well, I will cry about this today. Tomorrow I will make a plan. Then I will work on the plan.” All good. That’s it. No need to stay in this “place” anymore. Survival mode is my jam. 

While I still look at what I have been through as “nothing compared to what  _____ went through“,  I no longer think “I’m so lucky I have never had to go through that”. I’m lucky to be me and I’m lucky for the amazing people in my life and my life itself. My life rocks.  I will never hang out in a place of self-pity. That’s just not me. But I tucked so much away that I forget what I have gone through and how many things I have overcome. I’m starting to realize that sometimes it’s good to take some of that (certainly not all) stuff down from the shelf, out of the compartment and just sit with it a bit. Maybe remember how hard things were in that moment, pat myself on the back for getting through but then use that knowledge for a new plan to help myself or maybe someone else. Sometimes pain is all relative and sometimes it is really just something crazy you have gone through. And since I share everything, I tend to have some great conversations that end up helping someone…even if just for a few minutes. That’s one of the reasons I have started telling my stories on this blog. I am guessing that someone out there might want to or even need to read them. Blah blah. 

So a few weeks ago, I was reminded that I broke my back. D and I were talking about a friend who had come back from a crazy injury and I said “I can’t imagine going through that.”. D said something to me like “Well you do know what that is like. Didn’t you actually break your back?”. And I said “Oh yeah. I guess I did.” Then I started realizing that is probably why I have odd pains from running or even just sitting a weird way sometimes. The doctor told me I would probably get arthritis early from it and I am pretty sure I have had issues from it this whole time but just ignored it. I survived it and moved on. 

So what happened? 

Well, it was about 15 years ago maybe. I’m not sure. I was a manager at a store that sold that type of clothing that is meant for tweens but the sizes also unfortunately fit adults so adults are wearing stupid t-shirts and sweatshirts with this brand all over it and now their kids are old enough to realize that their parents are not cool so now parents have to buy more expensive stuff for their kids since that is cooler but really it is because their parents ruined the less expensive version of this style. Own worse enemy. 

Anywayyyyy… I worked in a store in Scranton, PA (yes, “The Office” Scranton). I was asked to help out at a store in Stroudsburg, PA for a couple of days during the holidays. At the time the Stroudsburg location was closer to home so I was all over it. Unfortunately it was a busier store and it was during the holidays so I was actually getting home later. It was an oddly warm November and I was driving home from work. I had been on this road before and knew it fairly well. 

I was driving in that auto-pilot type state where you get from point A to point B and when you get to point B you can’t actually remember any of the driving you did. You wonder for a split second how you actually got there but then you get out of the car and move on with life. I was doing that. I was thinking about what I was going to eat when I got home. It was late but I was ridiculously hungry. Anyone who has worked retail knows about the retail eating disorder. You don’t eat for like 10 hours and then you either don’t eat anything that day except maybe the half a bagel you had in the morning or you go home and eat all of your food then stay up until a stupid time, get up early the next day and do it all over. Starve or binge. 

It was a rainy night and foggy in spots. My car was a stick shift which was fun on the back roads normally. Winding, curvy roads and hilly. 

And then there was an 8 foot wall in front of me. 

The road went straight until I went through this wispy patch of fog. Then the road turned at about a 90 degree angle and down. 

But I did not make that turn. I went straight. 

It’s funny how much you can process in a few seconds. It’s weird what you can process in less than a second. I went through that patch of fog and was probably about 4 feet from the hill and was traveling (if I had to guess) about 50 miles per hour. I saw the hill, realized where I was on the road and what turn I had just missed, thought to relax my arms and take them off the wheel so I would not break them, lifted my feet off the pedals and relaxed my legs and closed my eyes. I am pretty sure that took less than one second. In the remainder of the second, I thought of a few things. I did not want that teeth clanging feeling. I hate that feeling. I also thought that I was pretty sure I was going to die. Before I closed my eyes I was headed toward an 8 foot or more hill that had been carved to make the road and it was a wall where my car was headed. I was going to die. I wasn’t scared. I was bummed. I wasn’t ready. I was mad because it was a stupid way to die. 

And then I didn’t die. My car must have veered to the right when I took my hands off of the wheel and that (I think… or maybe someone heard I was bummed about dying) caused me to sort of drive up it like it was a race track turn…but the race track turn flattened out which caused my car to drive up and then just flip over on the roof. It was loud. 

My teeth clanged together. I hate that. 

I think I was knocked out for a few seconds. I tried to figure out if I was ok. I was able to unbuckle and move so I was no longer upside down. My roof had collapsed so it felt like I was in a cabinet. My fight mode quickly became flight mode when my car started sliding downhill on the wet pavement and I remembered there was a huge drop off in the woods across from the hill. I did not want to tumble inside this cabinet for 15 feet (or whatever it was). So I went to try to kick out the window to crawl out and felt like an idiot when my foot when flying through and the only shoe still on went sailing out. 

The window was clearly not there anymore. So stupid. I was in a cabinet. 

At that point I realized the radio was on and Van Halen’s “Jump” was playing. Seriously. Then I was pissed. I was getting out. The car stopped sliding. I remembered that this point in the road had no visibility for oncoming traffic coming in either direction. I started to worry. I worried that I might cause someone else to get in an accident. They won’t see my car until they come around the corner, through the patch of fog…

I also started to worry that I would be crawling out of the car window at the exact moment that the other car comes around the corner. 

Jump was still playing so I crawled through the six-inch gap (yay for being stupidly skinny in my late 20s). I was ok. No one was around. There were houses nearby but if I left my car I might cause an accident.

So I started screaming for help. 

It was like movie-style screaming for help. After the first “Heeellllppp!!!” I stopped and rolled my eyes at myself because it sounded soooo dramatic. And then I remembered to watch right and left for cars. I DID NOT want to cause an accident. I could not. So I embraced the cheesy and screamed for help over and over again. 

Then I saw headlights so I ran (in my stupid wet socks) around the bend to stop the car. I couldn’t just run face toward him. What if a car came the other way? So I had to sort of fiddler-on-the-roof side-step/run/dance my way to the right so I could watch the left. I flagged down the car and yelled there was an accident and to stay there. He did. I was surprised, but he did.  I ran full face back to the left to watch for cars.  The guy on the other side yelled that he would hold traffic. I think he had driven closer, then backed back down the hill. He saw what I was worried about. 

I was not going to cause another accident. Breathing now. 

My screaming apparently woke up a little boy (Yay me! Nightmares for years!) and the boy woke up his dad. Apparently Dad was used to accidents here. He crawled up through the woods (up the crazy drop) with flares and cones to put around each corner….just another day on this road. 

There was a line of traffic each way now and people were getting out of their cars and talking to each other. They were walking right past me and asking if there were people still in the car. When I told them “no”, they asked where the driver was. I said I was the driver and I guess it was not until then that I realized just how lucky I was. “You should be dead. How are you walking?” 

I looked over at my car. 

I should be dead. I am still walking. 

I am so lucky. 

The police arrived first and I told him the short version. I was daydreaming, going too fast and missed the turn. He said normally it would be a citation but I was honest and had been through enough. I thanked him. Cool guy. Thank you again. 

The ambulance arrived and they were asking where the driver was. “Hi there!” Huh?

Let’s get you to the hospital. No, I’m fine. I’m just mad at myself. 

Let’s get you in the ambulance just to check you out then. Protocol. 

I get into the ambulance and they ask me to sit. I can’t sit. I can’t do the motion it takes to sit. My back is on fire. 

So we go to the hospital. Compression fracture of T12. When the car flipped and the roof collapsed, I was still sitting upright. The roof collapsed to a smaller space than my torso took up. My whole torso compacted and my vertebra all slammed together and T12 broke. Turtle shell brace for 2 months. My company wouldn’t let me come back to work until I was fully cleared by the doctor. So I was home for 2 1/2 months. That’s a tough one for someone who never stops moving. I am still so lucky. I know that. 

I do all the things the docs and therapists say to do…and some things they say not to do. I was running again 3 months later and I stopped talking about it. My back pretty much hurts all of the time and has since the accident but I deal. That’s my new base. And it’s fine. 

So that was about 15 years ago. And here I am today. Oh yeah! I forgot I broke my back a long time ago.

I completed the NYC marathon this year. It became the hardest physical thing I have ever done in my life so far. It is not the first marathon I have done. Not the first since my accident. In fact all of my races have been in the last few years. It is not the craziest thing I have done. It was physically very painful. I finished. I got my medal and it is still one of my favorite days. 

Now I am slowly working back up to the shape I should be in. And I was still not talking about my accident…Until D reminded me. And now I am using my freaking brain and remembering that injuries from accidents come back to haunt us and we need to take care to remember. Remember to appreciate what we overcame and where we do not want to be. Remember to start a new plan to get back again. It’s awesome to get through stuff and move on. It’s important to remember those things make us who we are…even if who we are hurts sometimes. We are bigger than those things but they still make us. In most case they make us stronger. 

So fuck you, Van Halen. See you at IRONMAN Lake Placid!!!

4 thoughts on “That time I broke my back and then forgot I broke my back

  1. I litterally had a veteran in my office yesterday afternoon telling me he had almost the same accident you described minus the roof totally crushing down. Amazing right, how your caring heart and brain go right to protecting others (at the sane time trying not to get run over) to the point you wouldnt even know you were quite injured. So glad it was not your time and that you have filled your life with purpose!

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  2. I suffered from chronic lower back pain for years. But I loved to exercise. Then, one day, I was in a road bike accident where I hit a dog while I was going down a hill, flipped over the handlebars (was going 25+ mph) broke 5 vertebra, 7 ribs, cracked my helmet, and couldn’t move off the pavement. Luckily I wasn’t paralyzed. I had urgent major surgery to my spine, was in a brace for 6 months. Had horrible pain for months. Thought I probably could never run or bike or play anything ever again. That was 11 years ago. I worked very hard at rehab for years. Now I have no pain, run without pain, can run sub 8 minute mile half marathons, bench press, or do whatever I want. Before the accident, I didn’t think we as humans had control of injury recovery and relief from pain, and I suffered from pain. Ironically, after the accident, and after rehab and a mental switch, and a feeling of being more in control, I feel better and stronger, despite having titanium in my back. We have control more than we think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is an insane accident. I’m glad you are back! People forget it takes work and putting up with pain to get back and unfortunately that is why so many just give up. I wish they could see what we and so many others see …the work is worth it. The human brain has so much power. Years ago I was looking into the whole spoken word/power of words thing. Pretty interesting stuff. We definitely have more control than we think. Thanks for reading! Great comment!

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