Lesson from a broken back

Finding lessons and meaning through adversity

I was so excited to be going home. My daughter and I had planned our adventure back to Australia for months. This trip was particularly special as my daughter and I were to join my father – 3 generations together for the first time in many years. On 28th April, well settled in our seaside cottage I arose on the first morning of our holiday, relaxed and joyful. I could hear my father downstairs in the bathroom and knew it was time to prepare breakfast.

As I stood at the top of the staircase, my hand on the railing, taking my first step, I caught my big toe in the lace of my pajamas and in a split second I found myself tumbling down the stairs unable to hold the railing to brace my fall. I came to an abrupt stop landing heavily on the solid timber floor, flat on my belly. I knew something was terribly wrong, I couldn’t move, and I screamed to my daughter for help. In those moments on the floor I found myself thinking ‘surely this is not my destiny’ – paralysis, a million thoughts went through my mind but the overriding instruction my body gave me was ‘don’t move’. After emergency services arrived, I was flown by helicopter, alone with the medical supervisor, to Melbourne and taken immediately into the trauma ward. Upon arrival I was immediately checked for spinal-cord nerve damage.

In those hours of waiting for the diagnosis and prognosis, I dealt with the depths of fear and even terror as I contemplated the worst possible scenarios of what might lie ahead for me. The shock to my system seemed to paralyze be emotionally, I couldn’t think clearly, I had no words to describe what I was feeling. I had endured many episodes of injury, emotional abuse and heartbreaks over the years but had never named such episodes as traumatic, where everything seemed to shut down and simply surviving the ordeal was the only option.

Back in England, prior to our trip I had been a keen competitive road cyclist, exercise was an important part of my every day rituals, I loved the feeling of aliveness that exercise and movement gave me. In my professional life I appreciated the autonomy afforded me as an independent consultant, courage, strength, independence and autonomy were important qualities to me. Little did I realise how these qualities would be both a resource and a hinderance in this challenge I faced.

Four days after being admitted to hospital I was released, being securely held upright in a body brace which had been molded to my frame, instructed to wear this at all times when in any upright position. I had opted for ‘no surgery’, believing in my body’s ability to recover and heal.

Five months later and having returned home to the UK I was asked to write an article for the Huffington Post about the precious lessons learned from this episode.

Before leaving for my holiday in Australia I had been working incredibly hard, long hours and away from home a lot, with many back to back long-haul flights. I can remember on many occasions, friends being concerned, and my reply saying that it was temporary state, agreeing ‘I need a break’. The conversation I was having internally was ‘this can’t go on, but its just till I get through this next project’.

It was not like me to be this out of balance, ignoring the signals and pressing on. In the end I sure got what I asked for, a break indeed, but not the one I had anticipated. I had been stopped in my tracks, pulled up short and during the break I planned in Australia I was now dealing with another sort of ‘break’ that no-one would wish for. I am now much more discerning about my choice of words, every word uttered has an intention and message to our unconscious mind and to the outside that is carried with it.

Whilst in the trauma unit, throughout the night I could hear the wailing of patients in unbearable pain. Mornings held the desperate cries from those too frail to care for themselves being asked to leave the hospital due to the need for beds.  This was an environment steeped in despair and vulnerability. Neither of those states come easily to me, I had always been strong and independent. I soon learned that in this state of trauma I needed understanding, compassion and love. I had nothing to give. By contrast to my roommates, my daughter, my family and friends came to visit. They brought me food, held my hand and reminded me I was not alone in this episode of my life. My nephew Stuart came to my hospital bedside like a knight in shining armour with the full plan of how I would be taken care of. His wonderful wife, Stacey and 4 beautiful children graciously took me into their very full lives. Theirs is a home filled with love and laughter, healing in itself. And with the tireless loving care from Stacey (wife, mother and nurse extraordinaire) my healing progressed. My heart has expanded with the experience of being loved so dearly by so many. I feel truly blessed.

Pain is mandatory for all us at some stage in our life, it can be dealt with by medicating, but suffering endures as our human emotions get entangled in the experience.  The ‘trauma’ unit, which I had been taken to, was well equipped for treating patients repair what had been broken physically but absent was the emotional healing I needed. I had found myself reliving the accident, dealing with days of uncertainty and intense fear for the future. I felt the trauma in my back but also in my heart. My confidence and inner strength had been shattered. I needed to rebuild my sense of self. Not in any of my visits to the doctors’ surgery was this spoken about. If I raised the issue it was brushed over as if my body was an isolated entity operating independently of my inner world. I knew that all levels of healing needed to happen. I let myself cry, I allowed myself to feel vulnerable and to be taken care of. I felt scared and spoke about it. If I didn’t have the energy to engage I withdrew. I knew it would take time for my bones to mend and sensed even longer for my inner strength to return and to be able to trust myself in the world once again. I know that by letting myself fully experience and talk about what I was feeling and dealing with allowed me to move on. Someone to listen is sometimes all we need.

After being notified that my spinal chord was in tact, I knew I would heal in time, albeit 11mm shorter in height due to the compression fracture, but I would return to full mobility. I soon left hospital fitted with a fully molded plastic body brace instructed to wear it at all times, whilst upright.   The next day I received an email from a friend who had heard about my plight and the brace. He wrote the following note: ‘I think your plastic friend deserves a name. What fits? What would you call a strong man who is 100% present with you 24/7, firmly embracing you, holding you up when you want to fall, gives you the space to think and express and feel and talk…and never interrupts you. Just holds you and listens. Never judges just is there. What name fits? How about Remo Boone.’ And the attached website: http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/822603/boy-names-with-great-meanings). From that day on, I called my brace Remo Boone (meaning the strong one and blessed). Every morning I woke to Remo by my side, I would turn and say ‘good morning Remo’ strap in and get ‘embraced’ for the day. My relationship to being supported in this way changed from that day, I never once felt constrained always embraced.

After just 3 weeks, my doctor reported under x-ray my back was looking great. Whilst I followed the medical guidelines I also listened to my body and did what I felt was right for my rehabilitation. I had received healing from a myriad of alternative practitioners whom I trusted, and found solace in their wisdom. I was feeling strong and walking up to a kilometre each day.  One can never predict when we will need that extra reserve of physical stamina to call on. The doctors had said that my fitness level at the time of the accident gave me a powerful reservoir of physical and emotional wellbeing to draw from. If my energy had been low and my body depleted before the accident I would not have progressed in this way and the outcome of the fall was likely to have been way more critical. The investment of time and energy I had made in my health and fitness regime, paid off enormously.  I have learned that my body’s’ miraculous intelligence and wisdom is far superior to the limitations of what I think I can do or should do. I have a new level of trust in my body to let me know what it needs, I’ve now learned to listen more closely and pay attention to the signals. Whenever I have ignored them, I have paid the price.

Transformation – shifting from retention to intention. It has occurred to me in the hours upon hours of laying on my back that there could be many muscles in my body that are atrophying that is if I relate to myself as simply a physical entity. When I go deeply within to examine what is at work in my body right now, I am present to the miracle of life, of energy of my body. Moment by moment at work to regenerate and heal, to restore me to my best self, I asked myself the question ‘what can I do to help these tiny cells working tirelessly to recover?’. The intelligence of my body to recruit nutrients, antibodies,

I am now mindful of my feet being firmly planted on the ground and conscious of the next steps I take forward, literally and metaphorically. I am more discerning with where I expend energy and with the people I spend time with or work for. I have a new appreciation for who I am and value of myself. This is important in moving forward, there is no ‘getting me back’. I have relinquished the attachment I had to that person. I have had to reconcile that I am no longer the person I thought I was – strong and invincible; there is more to me than I imagined. Being vulnerable allows for a greater strength. Post the accident for some months a void seemed to exist, a chasm between who I was and who I am now. What has come to fill the void is a profound sense of an expanded me, spirit. This spirit is the undeniable, unstoppable essence of which one truly is. I noticed the day my spirit came alive again. I was sitting at home and played one of my favourite songs, in a moment, stirred by the rhythm, moved by my senses, I felt the urge to dance. It was then that I knew I was on a new path, renewed; It is our spirit, not our body that is the source of our power. That spirit is everywhere in everything. I now have a profound respect for the infinite field of wellbeing that exists in the universe, in nature all around us. It’s always there we just need to tap into it moment by moment and allow ourselves to be restored. Our bodies are miraculous, our spirits infinite. We just sometimes forget.