Yeeeep that’s right. Just about started pushing daisies 5 weeks ago. Nope, not on purpose, but in a freak accident few understand. Those curious of my plight inquire similarly – head cocked to one side, nose scrunched a bit, with a hesitantly lobbed question along the lines of, “Okay…so…what happened??”
I wish with all my heart it was a disaster of exciting variety. Something involving a buffalo, a bucket of ice, and a pitching wedge. Maybe throw in a midget or two? Stefon from SNL?
But no. The worst set of physical injuries I’ve ever sustained in my life happened in my sleep.
I traveled to Seattle, WA, my hometown, to attend my beloved grandmother’s 95th birthday celebration. This woman is my hero and the great matriarch of our family. We had a big festivity in order, and I couldn’t wait to wrap my arms around my many family members again.
On the night of my arrival, I stayed with family members who own a new tiny house. You know, a tiny house. The ones people write snarky op-eds about inquiring where one goes to fart.
Sleeping quarters are in lofts floating above other traditional rooms a standard house would have. On one end is the largest loft above the kitchen. Mine was on the other side of the house above the bathroom and laundry.
The lofts have no guard rail, an error by the constructor, not the homeowners.
In the middle of the night, Joni who usually sleeps like a long-deceased corpse, moved. I rolled a little bit in my single bed and BAM. Rolled right off the loft, fell 10 feet, and landed on the hardwood floor below. There was a washing machine below me, which broke my fall – as well as my neck.
Injuries sustained include, but are not limited to, the break in my neck, my collarbone separated from my shoulder, torn rotator cuff, bruised ribs, sprained ankle, and worst of all a severe concussion. The fall knocked me out cold.
One of my family members heard the fall and an ambulance came within minutes. I was rushed to Harborview, a renowned hospital for their excellence in trauma situations.
In the concussion-hazed reality I was living, my sexy ass donned a large neck brace, which my brother was taking selfies of just to get a laugh. My sister-in-law and I would gamble on how handsome the next doctor would be, as I had just about every physician, technician, and aid taking turns at my side.
Luckily, 9 times out of 10 they would be on the remarkably gorgeous side. Well done, Harbor-with-a-view.
Yet all joking aside, this account is difficult to write. I have now begun my 5th week on disability, and have only just today found some strength to write about anything, let alone this. It’s difficult to find joy or inspiration when you’re locked alone for weeks at a time. And no one wants to read about me bitching about my quandary – so how can I put a readable spin? Hell if I know, but here I am kickin’ and tryin’.
I’m not allowed to work, nor do much of anything. I continue to go to the doctor begging him to sign my release to go back to work, but thrice I have failed his tests. And the bastard is right in assessing that I am unfit for shit. The pains in my shoulder and neck are crippling. The collarbone now juts out of my shoulder, which can be likened to a certain hunchback residing in Notre Dam.
This disfigurement is permanent.
Seeing the typographical errors I continue to make in this writing brings me to tears, a harsh reminder of the sustained concussion, and that I am still not fully myself. I worry if I will ever be fully well. What if this fall knocked out my last bits of creativity? Likability? Intelligence?
My first concussions occurred when I played soccer competitively in high school. There were many but my teammates would experience worse and more obvious concussions, so I considered my symptoms benign enough to ignore. Nevermind the times I’d stop playing to throw up. The times in class I’d become nauseated for no reason. Rumors of bulimia swirled, which I resolved to ignore rather than argue with ignorance, and quite frankly that rumor is better than anyone knowing what was happening in my brain. The failures to recall simple plays increased. The nights I stayed awake with crushing headaches were kept to myself for fear I’d be forced to stop playing.
Eventually I suffered a back injury that effectively took me out of the game permanently, and my dreams of playing in college died when I was 17.
My next serious concussion occurred when I was snowboarding in college. I was carving my way down Mount Baker in north Washington when I caught an edge toeside, sharply smashing headfirst into hard packed ice (just think of throwing your brain at concrete). Allegedly I snowboarded down the mountain to the lodge below, although I have no recollection of this.
I was a church youth leader at the time, and was surrounded by my high school kids. They’d ask if I knew where I was.
“You’re at Mount Baker. Do you know who we are?”
“I’m sorry…but no.” I responded embarrassed and concerned I’d offend anyone.
“We are your youth class from Mars Hill Church. You are here with a few others…do you know who is sitting next to you?”
“That’s your husband.”
“I’m married?!” I’d gasp in shock. He shrugged just like Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates.
“Sorry I’m not better looking.” He quipped with a smile.
“Well…what do I do? Do I have a job?”
“You aren’t working right now, you are a full-time student. You’re a senior in college.”
“I’m a what? Where do I go to school?”
“University of Washington.”
“I GOT INTO U-DUB?!”
The first few times, we wouldn’t make it that far…maybe just to the bit about Mount Baker, as I stared back in bewilderment at the crowd of curious kids around me. Then suddenly my slate would wipe clean, and they’d have to start over with teaching me about my life.
After a while I began to retain some information, and the questioning would go for a minute or two longer before I’d go blank and we’d have to start over again. It took hours, and my companions were patient and kind. When my memory gained some measure of stability, I insisted that I was fine to remain on the mountain. But when I wouldn’t touch dinner due to nausea, my then-husband took me to the hospital, where I was evaluated and diagnosed with yet another severe concussion.
Now, here we are again. Concussed, physically mangled, and, well, bored out of my mind. I have to take breaks from writing this due to the headaches and my shoulder and neck seizing up. But it feels good to at least somewhat be producing something.
Which is important because concussions come with another super fun side effect: clinical depression. It causes worry, fear, and shuddering anxiety. It is by far the toughest physical injury to combat. To smile and pretend that I’m not battling one of the greatest fights of my life.
I am not the first. You’ve heard the stories in the NFL…this kills people. So, I’m trying to stay as positive as possible, and learn from other survivors of some crazy life shit.
For example, this morning I saw a Guardian article on an interview with Macaulay Culkin. What I love about the guy is how much he hates the media (I do too) and I find his quips to asinine questions humorous yet insightful. And although he’s wildly famous, he’s trying to find some measure of normalcy after being abused by the media, his parents, maybe Michael Jackson, who can really know for sure?
My point is, reading his article gave me a little hope. It made me feel better, as he is spending his days exactly how I am this summer. Sleeping. Avoiding people. Avoiding crowds. The phone gets quieter the longer you remain in seclusion.
I painfully watch as the people I love are out living their lives; going on vacations, growing their careers, falling in love, having children…and there’s literally nothing I can do right now to get back on board and do any of those things myself.
What I want to tell you is that inspiration can be nearly impossible to find when life is kicking the shit out of you. But of all the weird places, Macaulay-fucking-Culkin gave me that today. I understand his battle with isolation, and the frustration that comes when people make up stories about you for their own entertainment…and there’s nothing you can do to defend yourself. Or worse, frustration that comes from the blockades thrust in front of you when all you really want is to live your life.
That’s all I fucking want. I just want to go back to living my life….but not really. I want to do it better. This extended time alone locked in a room for weeks upon weeks has taught me some powerful lessons.
- No matter how bad it gets, you’re still you. You can still decide to be a good person, and no one can take that away.
- There’s still joy out there. Just have to look for it.
- Sometimes people are selfish. That’s fine. But stop staying in relationships with selfish people, especially if you are generous and kind with them.
- This. Too. Shall. Pass.
I know I’m not well yet. I know I’m not thinking clearly. I am quick to anger and tears – that’s the concussion. I have the sleeping hours of a house cat – concussion. I can’t go to yoga or exercise or look as shapely or fit as I want to – that’s the bzillion of other injuries.
I do know one thing though. No matter how many times I smash my head into goal posts, soccer balls, snow packed mountains, or hardwood floors, I am still fucking fighting. If those things haven’t killed me yet, there’s a reason I’m still here to tell the tale.
More from the infirmary:
In addition to the photos, I want to thank everyone who has been there during this time. I am doing my best to thank you individually because I truly mean it.
Thank you, your love means the world to me.