I am resurrecting this long-dormant blog to write about my ongoing process of healing after falling off a 30-40′ cliff in June 2015. I think these kinds of experiences change you; at least, I think it changed me, somehow. This is part of a series – check out Part I, Part II, and Part III.
I have been feeling some serious feelings about the accident lately. It has been almost two years since my accident, yet it still affects me nearly every day. Although I was finally discharged from twice-weekly physical therapy four months ago, I am not fully “healed,” nor should I ever expect to be. The next decade or two will almost certainly bring me post-traumatic osteoarthritis in my knee, which will eventually require a total knee replacement. I’m still working through my PTSD, which has given me a few panic attacks and prevented me from rock-climbing. At the same time, I’m doing things I couldn’t have imagined a year ago–hiking several miles in a day, skiing double-diamonds, walking nearly pain-free much of the time. I am trying to balance feeling grateful for the healing my body has done with the anger and sadness I feel about the limitations the accident has imposed on me. I will never not have a bad knee, a reconstructed jaw, and several fake teeth. This is my body now, and I am still working to accept it.
Over the weekend I hiked about eight miles at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. It was a gorgeous day, the poppies were in full bloom, and with my trusty hiking poles I was able to navigate the trail with minimal pain prior to about mile five (the last three-ish miles were an exercise in pain tolerance). I had a lovely time. But now, three days later, I still feel a deep ache in my knee that just won’t go away. I keep willing myself not to limp when I walk, because I know that will just cause back pain. I wonder, will I always feel this way after hikes? Is this the start of the post-traumatic arthritis my doctor warned me about? Will I ever feel “normal” again?
I find myself once again diving into medical literature I don’t fully understand, trying to find some reflection of myself in the studies of tibial plateau fractures, fixation techniques, and long-term outcomes. I haven’t found anything that makes me feel better. In the few months after the accident, I also spent a lot of time with this literature, taking advantage of my access to medical journals and databases through my university. I learned that 1) my leg injury was pretty fucking bad, 2) orthopedic surgeons still consider this type of injury a “complex challenge,” and 3) I’m really fucking fortunate that I didn’t have any complications following my surgery. A while back I checked some of the search-and-rescue literature to learn about my situation there, and it led to a similar conclusion: all in all, I got lucky.
And it’s true, I did get lucky. Most people who have fallen thirty feet in the wilderness do not live to write blog posts about their experience. Sometimes I’m still amazed that I didn’t die that day, and I am full of awe and gratitude. But at the same time, healing from this is still a slow, difficult process. I sometimes feel sorry for myself. This makes me feel like I’m a “bad survivor,” that I’m just not trying hard enough to look on the bright side (I talked about this in Part III of this blog series over a year ago, but I’m still not through with these feelings). Of course, I am actually trying my damnedest to look on the bright side, but that doesn’t change the reality that I have chronic pain and might have it forever. This is a difficult thing to come to terms with.
I don’t know where to go from here. It seems like I should end this post on a quietly optimistic note, like, “I’m still in pain, but I’m getting my life back one day at a time,” or, “overcoming this obstacle is showing me my own humanity” or somesuch, but right now I’m just tired and in pain. I’m giving myself space to work through this whole process, and that has to be enough.