By Michele Lee Sefton, M.Ed. | Featured Contributor
“Oh, God,” I pleaded, “Please let me dance with my daughter again.”
That desperate plea flooded my brain during a moment that shattered a picturesque and perfect morning, several years ago, just two days before Christmas. My husband and I had just returned home from a long bicycle ride, when I remembered that our daughter’s preschool teacher had asked for a playpen donation to house a litter of pups. Caught up in the spirit of giving, it seemed like the perfect time to climb into our attic and retrieve our daughter’s playpen. I climbed the pull-down ladder and stepped into the dark and dusty space. My husband was at the bottom of the ladder, waiting for me to lower the playpen down to him. My simple act of generosity did not go according to plan. As I was attempting to lower the playpen, I slipped and in an instant I crashed through drywall, which sent me plummeting to the garage floor below.
A Life-Altering Moment
My back smacked against the hard concrete and I immediately felt pain like I had never experienced in my life, including the pain of natural childbirth. I could not determine the precise source of the incredible pain that radiated throughout my entire body, but I was terrified that my injuries were serious and that my ability to move may have been forever altered. I quietly pleaded to God to let me dance with my daughter again. My mind focused on that desire as I lay there enveloped in pain and worry over the unknown.
My husband, who was still on the other side of the ladder, blurted in a tone that was a mixture of concern and anger, “What happened?”
“I fell,” I said. An obvious answer that failed to answer the question.
What happened prior to my crash through the ceiling was less important than the serious pain I was experiencing and less important than what to do next. My husband’s first reaction, after we determined I could move my feet, was to help me stand up. In hindsight, this does not seem like the best course of action, but neither of us were thinking clearly. I took a few steps and told him I could not take one more. I needed to lie down – the pain was too great. He called an ambulance.
I remember being lifted onto and then taken out of the house on a stretcher, looking back at our young daughter as she stood next to her nana who was visiting for the holidays. My daughter watched me, with a confused and concerned look on her face, as I was lifted into the ambulance.
During the ride to the hospital, I noticed that my arms were scratched, bloody, and bruised from scraping against the two-by-fours as I tumbled to the ground. My battered arms were the least of my concerns. Once at the hospital, I was taken to a makeshift room that looked like a utility closet. The emergency unit was busy that day. I laid alone in that room, in pain and afraid of what the x-rays might reveal. My husband arrived just before I was taken to get x-rays, which revealed that my L1 looked like a smashed soda can and the right side of my pelvis had sustained multiple fractures. I did not need surgery. I was lucky.
I was reminded of my luck multiple times by my orthopedic doctor, who I visited the following day. He told me a story about a patient he had just seen, who fell off his roof putting up Christmas lights.
“He is now paralyzed,” the doctor said.
His “lucky” stories sent shivers down my injured spine. I wanted him to stop telling me the ‘what if’ scenarios of my own misstep and the not so lucky stories of others and tell me what my recovery might look like.
During my visit, the doctor asked if I was ok. Sensing that I was getting dizzy, he handed me a lollipop, which surprisingly prevented my collapse on the table. I was told I would need to get fitted for and wear a brace for about three months and that I could expect my fractured pelvis to heal during that time. It did. The human body is an amazing healing miracle. He also told me that the act of sitting would put the most pressure on my lower back. Learning that, I was determined to spend more time walking than sitting as soon as I could do so.
The first obstacle I encountered after returning home from the doctor’s office was dealing with a reaction to the pain medication I was given. I experienced an excruciating headache that left me wanting my life to end. I begged my husband to call the doctor, who could do nothing over the phone to relieve my suffering. Eventually, the headache wore off. That would be the first and last pain pill I would take on my road to recovery.
Journey Toward Recovery
My journey back to healing and movement would test me and teach me many lessons that have remained with me to this day. I gained insight into how difficult life is as a disabled person. I had limited mobility with my legs and my arms, so routine activities like walking and washing my hair were an incredible challenge for several weeks. Once I began wearing a brace and experiencing increased mobility, I also learned how difficult maneuvering through the world was with a handicap. Heavy store doors were next to impossible to open, reaching for items on shelves proved challenging, and I did get my share of strange looks because my brace created an odd shape under my clothes. The entire experience was eye-opening and humbling, but not permanent. My injury put strain on my body and on my husband and young daughter, who missed their active mom, who handled many aspects of their day-to-day lives.
My active lifestyle was interrupted due to a two-second slip. That is the nature of accidents. A moment can change everything; a realization that my brain played repeatedly, amplified by my doctor’s haunting words. I relived both the doctor’s words and the sensation of falling, just before drifting to sleep most nights – a memory that would jar me awake and leave me anxious
As soon as I was able, I began walking through my neighborhood, going a little farther each day. When leaning forward and back, my spine made popping sounds. A strange and at times annoying consequence of my fall, but I could lean forward and back, so I did not complain. I grew stronger and I added yoga and gym visits to my daily walks. Starting slowly, I focused on strengthening my back and core. My strength and mobility were increasing with each gym visit. Of course, I danced with my young daughter whenever I could: a blessing I would never again take for granted. My road back to a strong body took less than one year, the lessening falling memories took longer.
Moving Forward with Gratitude
Since that memorable day, I have continued to move and appreciate my good fortune at being able to do so. Like everyone, I experience days where I just want to rest on the couch, then I remember that I get to move, so I do. My x-rays tell a story that my outward movement and appearance do not. I have complete mobility and I do not suffer from pain as a result of my injuries. I am lucky. My preferred form of exercise is dance, which I do with wild abandon whenever I can. Every dance is a thank you for answered prayers and gratitude for the gift of movement.
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