You know, I broke my back getting here.

Then, when looking back at your life, you will see that the moments which seemed to be great failures followed by wreckage were the incidents that shaped the life you have now. You’ll see that this is really true. Nothing can happen to you that is not positive. Even though it looks and feels at the moment like a negative crisis, it is not. The crisis throws you back, and when you are required to exhibit strength, it comes.

Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living.


A little over five months ago, I broke my back when I landed ass down on the surface of a cenote. I made the jump from about 20 feet over the water so the impact on the water’s surface was like I landed on a hard surface.  I’m–cough cough–older and I’ve abused my back over the years. So who knows if I had a hairline fracture or something at this vertebra But that doesn’t matter now because on impact my first lumbar vertebra burst. I just explained to people it was a sacrifice to the Mayan Goddess of Poor Judgement.

Burst fractures are the worst case scenario if you’re going to break your back. The bone can migrate back into the spinal column and impinge the flow of cerebral spinal fluid and you’re paralysed.  Or *better* yet, the burst vertebra will domino up into his vertebra friends, causing a ricochet effect that can lead to the cervical spine being lodged up in your brain stem. And then you die.

To remark I’m lucky is the biggest understatement of my life. I’ve survived a poisonous snake bite when I was eight; and a few years later, a rollover accident when my father took the car for a spin off an overpass during a spring snow storm. (that was probably where the vertebra was originally injured) I never thought of myself as a survivor. Shit happens. Sometimes it’s the most amazing crazy shit that looks really bad on the outside but it’s really the Universe trying to get your attention:

Hey…you…Laura…yeah…you need to be more vulnerable and I’ve got just the plan for you because you haven’t listened so good. 

Oh and while I’m at it. You need to pay attention to the bigger picture. 

And when you get freaked out about your job and think it’s better if you go back to the bedside; you can’t. This is a career ending injury. Bedside nursing is no longer your path. If this job goes away–and it probably will–you’re gonna need a new path. I’ve got one for you. You’re gonna love it. Promise. 

I’m looking after you better than you look after yourself.  The next few months are going to be a humbling bitch as you have to ask for help. Trust me, no one will resent you for the help you’re asking for. The people in your life are there because they love you.  You’ll be moving out of your house because you really can’t cope alone. Good luck with your pride as you stand by and watch people do the heavy lifting. You’re gonna have to rest every few hours because your broken.  Rest. Go ahead and shed some tears. You need to cry more. All those feelings you have that you won’t allow yourself to feel? They burst with that vertebra. Cry when you need to. Stop faking how strong you are. 

I cried about my back for about 30 seconds a few weeks after it happened. The Handsome Stranger was amazed I didn’t cry when it happened. (I was in such terrible pain, I was in shock. I don’t remember much of what happened after he pulled me from the water) The morning I cried he just looked at me in amazement and asked if I was finished with the self-pity. Because I was feeling sorry for myself. I had everything I needed; I had help, I had full mobility albeit restricted at that time. It was pointless to cry about it. But I hated it. Hated. It. I loathed asking for help in the kitchen what seemed like every five minutes: “can you get this for me…can you lift this…I need the large sauce pan from the bottom cabinet. . .” I felt needy and helpless.

The only other time I gave into self-pity was last Saturday as I sat at a rural intersection waiting for a pack of charity century riders  go through. I was supposed to start training for this ride after returning my Mexico. I had worked hard last summer to just survive thirty mile stints and now I must start over from zero. I’ve done it before, I can do it again.

I’m not sure if this accident made me stronger; if I’m really “exhibiting strength”.  It’s certainly made me pay closer attention to the fine details in my life.  I’m not afraid to ask for help and try to remember it’s not a show of weakness to need help but a show of faith in those who people your life and love you.

As I sit at the kitchen table writing, my spine is telling me it’s time to rest. I’ve been up or sitting for seven hours. It wasn’t too many months ago I had to lay on my side after an hour of activity. Now, I can dance, I can bend, I can lift, and twist. But most of all I can ask for help.

I think I’ll lay on my side and think about the next adventure I might be taking later this fall. Don’t worry, I’m not jumping off or into anything. I’m just so happy I broke my back so I could be here in this place. Today.

About Laura

When my nest emptied I moved from the big city to a little big town to tend to a ramshackle yellow house on the edge of town. These are my Yellow House Days.
This entry was posted in Just me, Mr. C, winter. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to You know, I broke my back getting here.

  1. A lovely musing on what happens when we surrender to life. I struggle with this all the time. Curious about your next adventure!


  2. Your perspective is a good lesson for us all. Thank you.


  3. Laura:
    So so true! Now you see why I wrote my M.A. thesis about shame and learning how to ask for help while working at a rehab hospital… we will all have to get better at asking for help and feeling our feelings as we age.


    • lauraaklein says:

      I also brought to this injury the perspective of physical rehab nurse. Number one for a week I lay in bed and waited for the paralysis to set in before I had an MRI (I specialize in catastrophic thinking, it’s a hobby.) Number two it was humbling to be the one on the mat in a PT gym trying to recover core strength after weeks in a brace. Unimaginable if I were on that mat trying to learn how to scoot on my elbows because I had fallen out of a wheelchair. I had always seen my patients as heroes but it was brought home to me even more exactly how much strength of will it takes to recover from an extensive injury.


  4. Pingback: #Throwbackthursday I had to break my back to get here! | Yellow House Days

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