In August of 2005, after having so much fun rock climbing and developing an invincible ego, I fell while unharnessed and unbelayed 80 feet up on the face of a familiar rock. The move that would forever change my life was my last of the day and completing it would have meant me looking down and walking to my car unscathed. However, that isn't what happened. As previously mentioned, I was 80 feet up a rock face and on my last move. I was in a position that looks like this:
What I get asked a lot, is what was going through my head at that point? Honestly, all I could think about was "How am I going to survive this?" I had a very strange and clear moment, which felt like an eternity, although only a few seconds. I knew I was going to fall. The only thing I could control was how I was going to fall. My first thought was to try to regain my placement in the cravasse, but decided against it as I felt struggling could mean completely losing placement and falling 80 feet to my death. My second thought was trying to fall to the ledge I could see 30 feet below me. During my moment of clarity, I thought "how do I land?" I considered landing on my side, I considered landing on my feet. And with that, my right hand gave out.
I fell 30 feet to the ledge below, skidding on my feet, and landing on my butt. With the force of a 120 lbs woman falling 30 feet to only meet the force of a rock, my L1 vertebrae absorbed the stress of both forces... and burst.
Shockingly enough, with the hundreds of tiny splinters that were now surrounding my spinal cord, none of them actually pierced my spinal cord. Aside from coming very close to death, I was just barely tip-toe'ing around being paralyzed from the waist down. Fast forward 24 hours, and I had already been on the news and in a hospital bed. Although completely humiliated, stressed, ashamed, and hurt, I went through a complete L1 vertebrectomy (removing the vertebrae) and a T12 thru L2 Spinal Fusion (fusing the 3 vertebrae with a titanium cage). I became a whole inch shorter.
So, let me just explain the vast array of issues associated with the fun experience I had above. If I thought breaking my back would be the worst of my problems at that point, I was dead wrong.
After 3 months off from work, wearing a gigantic back brace all day every day, 4 physical therapy appointments a week for 12 weeks, massage therapy once a week for 12 weeks (By the way, ALL OF WHICH I could not drive myself to) and a cabinet full of muscle relaxers, pain killers and anti-inflammatory's... I was deemed well enough to work again.
As I went back into the work force, I was still in pain... I couldn't stand for more than a half an hour which was a problem at work, and doing chores, and taking a shower (I had a chair for the shower). I couldn't sit for more than 5 minutes, which was a huge problem when driving and going to church. I was on so many drugs I had become constipated which was very very difficult considering there is no "pushing" when you cannot even contract your core muscles. Rectal suppositories was something my mother and I faced daily, and when you are 20 years old it is simply humiliating, but I couldn't twist my back in any way. But my love for my mother changed at that point.
Laughing, sneezing, coughing was all difficult for months. I couldn't eat with friends, sit in a movie, go shopping without being extremely uncomfortable, which was obviously hard for my friends who would want to show me a good time when I wasn't working. Most nights of the week, by the end of the day I was completely hunched over, not able to stand up straight whatsoever, because my back muscles were so exhausted. I gained weight due to being sedentary which made the pain worse. I think you all know the end of the story is that I lost weight and my back pain became controllable. And for the most part, it is.
This weekend (just as my diet and exercise regimen became exciting again, of course) I experienced it again. I woke up Saturday morning with such intense pain I could barely get out of bed. Riding in the car, I had to have the seat fully reclined. I couldn't sit at all. I had to be lying down or standing. Pain levels interest me greatly just because of the great difference people can have in their tolerance. And although you might be in great pain, no one can ever understand what that feels like to you. Doctors even. And often times, I think because they see so many drug seekers, they aren't really sure how to treat your pain as more than just pain. What I seek, isn't to control my pain. I seek to control my pain by making my body stronger and therefore not having pain by eradicating the problem.
After 6 years of working hard to keep my body healthy and make it strong, one wrong move can bring you to your knees. And for me, the pain has literally brought me to my knees multiple times.
I tell you this big long story really just to say:
Take care of your body BEFORE it becomes necessity and BEFORE you can't anymore.
The doctor told me that I have strained my SI (sacro-iliac) muscle which has tightened up around my sciatic nerve. Pain shoots down the sides of my legs to my ankles. I can't really sit on the right side of my hips. When I walk, I look like I have scoliosis as my body tries to contort to take pressure off my right hip. There is no chance I will be lifting anytime soon. I start more rounds of physical therapy, massage therapy and living life only to get the pain down starting today. I would rather my time be spent on bettering my body, but I will take walking over not. I will take mobility over being flat on my back, which always means baby steps. I can't be greedy, that got me where I am today.
There are times when I see people doing only minimum work at the gym, like on the elliptical and not sweating, and I think to myself, "Those people are never going to get anywhere if they don't push themselves!" Shame on me for ever judging a person. Because for a while, I am genuinely only going to be able to do light walking or light elliptical as it turns out.
My prayer and plea for all of you is that you never have to experience debilitating pain. Much less for the rest of your life. Take care of your body before you aren't able to. Stretch your muscles, warm up before your workouts, drink enough water! I very much encourage yoga to keep your mobility... because our spines were made to bend backward just as much as forward, and stretching those muscles will help with your overall health.
Athletes and non-athletes alike all deserve a healthy body. Most diabetics don't change their diet even after they're diagnosed with diabetes. And most athletes don't begin a strong stretching regimen until after they sprain something. Most people don't start taking care of their bodies until something goes wrong, you owe it to yourself to be smarter than that. You are smarter than that.
I'm off to some massage therapy to hopefully relieve some pain. By the way, even though I'm not working out currently, diet has not faltered. Diet is just as important to the health of the body. :) Isn't it interesting that people used to wish each other good health? That is because it truly is one of the important things in life. Hope you all are doing well and are HEALTHY beyond belief! Merry Christmas! :)