On Falling, Part IV: Still Feeling Feelings, Almost Two Years Later

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 IPart 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.

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Enjoying the poppy bloom.

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.

 

On Falling, Part II: At the Hospital (or: Becoming a Cyborg)

I am resurrecting this long-dormant blog because I need to write about what happened to me this summer.  The TL;DR version is that I fell off a cliff on June 21 and miraculously survived, but there’s obviously much more to it than that. I’m still sorting through trauma, pain, frustration, and gratitude to be alive. I think these kinds of experiences change you; at least, I think it changed me, somehow.

Over the course of the next few weeks (months?), I plan to write a series of posts about my experience. Part I talks about the accident itself, and this post is mostly about being in the hospital.

I went into the hospital via the helipad on the roof. The first responders in the search-and-rescue helicopter cut off my hiking clothes before we landed so that they could start treating me as soon as we arrived at the hospital. I always thought it would be weird to get my clothes cut off like in some TV medical drama, but it turns out that if you’re in bad enough shape to need your clothes cut off then you’re also in bad enough shape that you don’t really give a shit. No one at the hospital knew exactly how bad my injuries were, so everyone was in full trauma mode. They asked me my name several times, but my broken face couldn’t get the words out clearly. I had started wearing an ID bracelet while hiking earlier this year, so after trying to say my name a few times I gave up and pointed to my wrist.

At the hospital the day after the accident.
At the hospital the day after the accident.

Someone came by to stitch up my chin, which apparently had a horrible gash through which I had lost quite a bit of blood (my skin was yellow all week, which I guess is something that happens from blood-loss?). I didn’t find out until a week or two later that bone had been showing through the wound — I suppose the adrenaline dulled my pain and made it feel more like a small scrape. I was given a full battery of x-rays and CT scans, most of which I don’t remember. In fact, I don’t remember much at all from my week in the hospital. they gave me heavy-duty painkillers right away, which made everything more tolerable. The x-rays and CT scans showed that I miraculously had no life-threatening injuries — no internal bleeding, no spinal damage, nothing. I did, however, have a fractured tibial plateau (leg/knee), a fractured mandible (jaw), and a tripod facial fracture (cheek), all of which were pretty severe, not to mention several scrapes and bruises, five broken teeth, and some whiplash (obviously).

Continue reading “On Falling, Part II: At the Hospital (or: Becoming a Cyborg)”

On Falling, Part I: Is This Real?

I am resurrecting this long-dormant blog (active 2010-2012, and not since – maybe don’t read the archives?) because I need to write about what happened to me this summer.  The TL;DR version is that I fell off a cliff on June 21 and miraculously survived, but there’s obviously much more to it than that. I’m still sorting through trauma, pain, frustration, and gratitude to be alive. I think these kinds of experiences change you; at least, I think this experience changed me, somehow.

Over the course of the next few weeks (months?), I plan to write a series of posts about my experience. I have been thinking about writing this since early July, but I’m doing it now. My friend Stevie inspired me to do it with her own beautiful, vulnerable discussions of embodiment, medicine, and trauma.

This first post is just the who-what-when-where of my accident. Be warned – there are some gory details ahead.

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Cooper Canyon Falls

My plan for the summer was to travel for three weeks and spend the rest of the time studying for my PhD comprehensive exams in August, working on my dissertation proposal, and picking wild berries in the Pennsylvania forest. After ten days in Denver visiting my mom and brother, I flew to Los Angeles to visit my boyfriend KC. He lives about 80 miles north of LA and works at a federal research lab in the Mojave.

I arrived in LA on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning KC and I went out for a short hike in the Angeles National Forest. We chose a 3-mile trail that went from the Buckhorn Campground to Cooper Canyon Falls. We turned off the main trail too early and ended up at the top of the waterfall instead of the base, on a steep rock face a few yards above the edge.

My mom has had a terrible fear of heights for as long as I can remember. Our family vacations were punctuated by her insistence that my brother and I not get closer than ten feet from the edge of anything. In the past several years she has improved significantly through a combination of various therapies and what I assume to be sheer force of will, but she still steers clear of all edges and dropoffs. I somehow managed to avoid developing the same phobias, and was proud of my bravery, but perhaps I should have been more careful.

Continue reading “On Falling, Part I: Is This Real?”

Knowledge! Power! The sharing of desks!

After two full weeks as a bona fide graduate student, I can confidently say I’ve learned everything there is to know about this whole grad school thing. Here are just a few tidbits of wisdom for ya:

  1. Time and effort are not the same thing.
  2. A proper academic book review is supposed to include a summary of the book, not just critique. Anything less is “not adequate” (whoops).
  3. Teaching is something I might someday learn to enjoy. I hope. I’ll reserve judgment on that one.
  4. Knowing lots of random historical facts is not actually that important.
  5. Pennsylvania is hellishly humid. But there’s an abundance of good produce. So it almost evens out.
  6. Books should be thoroughly skimmed, not read. My advisor told me this, and everyone else seems to agree.
  7. Long-long-distance relationships: not for the faint of heart, and generally kind of a bummer. But totally worth it.
  8. History is actually still a rather male-dominated field, especially here.
  9. Being a grad student does feel slightly more bad-ass than being an undergrad. So that’s a plus, I guess.

Mostly I’m still confused.

For the past year or so, I have been an extremely confused person. Life after college can be like that, I guess. With the world in a seemingly-endless state of tumult nothing is a given, and some days it seems like occupying Wall St. may indeed be a recent grad’s best option.

Last Fall I applied to 12 law schools, got in to a few, and accepted (and then deferred) admission at two. This past week I visited one of the schools at which I deferred, a reasonably prestigious university on the East Coast. It was lovely, with great resources and an awesome faculty. If I were to go to law school, this would certainly be the place.

But I also realized that law doesn’t light me up. I’m not passionate about it. And so I think I’ve wasted a lot of time following a path that looks good on paper but doesn’t make my heart happy. The past year has been just awful and of course I am still discombobulated. I still don’t know the answer, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t it.

I haven’t formally withdrawn admission or anything yet because in spite of everything I still want to hedge my bets, but I probably will at some point. Even my cousin who works s a prosecutor for the US Attorney’s office (i.e. total legal badass) said that it’s ok for me to not go to law school. In fact, that’s what he’s been telling me all along.

Right now I am absolutely terrified of what comes next, but I’m also pretty excited. A PhD in history might be on the horizon, chock full of cool things like gender and sexuality and radicalism and shit that happened a long time ago. I think it will be good.

I am newly-employed and surprisingly ambivalent about it.

I don't even want to start on how well this job meshes with my anti-corporate stances... let's just say that my co-workers seem really nice, and isn't that what matters?I recently took a part-time job at a Corporate Coffee joint (which shan’t be named). Yes, this might be a terribly embarrassing way to use my top-notch honors degree, and yes, I’ve spent quite a lot of time agonizing about it and feeling unnecessarily ashamed. Coffee-slinging was not on my list of post-collegiate goals, but it’s honestly an ok job to fill the time between now and grad school. Not impressive, but certainly not terrible.

Being out of school for almost a year and not planning to go back until 2012 (16 months! Argh!) is difficult for me because so much of my identity has been tied up with academic achievement. It seems especially difficult for high-achieving folks to be without a goal or measurable success, even if it’s only for a brief period. If I’m not a stellar student, then who am I? Continue reading “I am newly-employed and surprisingly ambivalent about it.”

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Please note my dad's Conversation Face. He had that same awesome expression during basically every conversation.
Dad and Grandma, 2007.

This is difficult to write about. The past few weeks have been foggy and sad and generally kind of awful. My dad died of complications from a bone-marrow transplant seven days short of the one-year anniversary of the procedure (earlier this month), and I miss him a lot.

My dad was the biggest badass the world has ever seen. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, and between then and now he got his black belt in Tae Kwon Do, became an expert skier, completed a few 100+ mile bike rides, taught me how to explore, and was generally an awesome person. To him, any obstacle was purely a matter of perspective, and there was nothing that couldn’t be solved by perseverance.

Dad, I love you forever. I know that a stupid blog post is not going to help anything, but I just wanna talk about you, tell the world.