The afternoon of April 23, 2016, started with food and wine and the good company of friends.
As we waited for the sun to set, we planned to practice light photography in the garden. We enjoyed experimenting with different light sources to create amazing photographs.
It was my turn to spin the burning steel wool. I missed a step and lost my balance. I fell and hit my head on the embankment, which is three meters high. It felt like I was hanging over a tree branch by my middle, head and feet dangling in the air. But there was no branch to break my fall.
I can’t put the experience into words.
I believe that my guardian angels protected me from a fatal head injury. It was not my time to go.
I landed on my back, struggling to catch my breath. Disorientated, I looked up and saw the night sky. I tried to move, but the pain shot through my whole body. I realised I couldn’t get up by myself. In the next moment my two friends were there to help me.
My body turned ice cold, and I shook. I felt pins and needles from my neck into my arms and hands. The emergency services arrived. They stabilised me and took me to the hospital. The MRI scan showed that there was spondylosis of the cervical spine between the fifth and sixth vertebrae, resulting in the paraesthesia (those pins and needles) and loss of power in the upper limbs.
One week later, I was released to go home. I had a broken hand, a large hematoma on my back and a few lacerations. I felt weak and struggled with mobility in my upper body.
I resembled the Hunchback of Notre-Dame. My boyfriend called the hematoma “Steve.” Bless him, he always tries to find humor in a situation, which makes me laugh and forget the pain.
“Steve” is excruciating and creates a lot of pressure on my spine, neck and shoulders. I did not have the strength to form a grip. A simple task of drinking coffee suddenly got a lot more complicated. Daily tasks of cleaning and dressing myself and eating had their own set of challenges. I got tired faster and did not have the stamina or energy I had before the accident. Can you imagine my frustration?
I am an independent woman and used to doing things myself. It was difficult to ask for help and allow others to help me. I felt like a burden. Friends and family loved and cared for me and wanted to help. All I had to do was allow it. It meant I had to surrender to my situation and accept it. To let others see me so vulnerable and helpless took a lot of courage.
At follow-up consultations with the doctor, the prognosis was all doom and gloom. The injury between my fifth and sixth vertebrae would have a serious impact on my daily activities. He pulled out a form and ticked off a list of activities. He recommended that I should not perform any of these.
The list was endless. It felt like a death sentence. The doctor’s voice kept fading as he read out the list to me. He finally looked up and asked, “Any questions?” All that came out of my mouth was, “I am glad sex is not on that list!” He smiled and told me to take it very easy for the next eight weeks and be patient with myself.
I walked out of that consultation room and knew in my heart that what he said was not true.
When you know, you know. You don’t know how you know, but you know.
What I didn’t know at the time was the spiritual lessons and growth that was in store for me over the next eight months. The loss of mobility, the pain.
Pain breaks and humbles you like nothing else can. No matter how much I wanted to exit my body and not feel it, I couldn’t. For the first time in years, I was present in my body. I had no choice but to feel it all. The physical pain, the fear, the doubts. Old wounds surfaced, which I thought I had dealt with.
The experience taught me how to feel my emotions and listen to my body. I realized that I didn’t know my body that well. I knew my relationship with myself had to change.
These are the things I learned:
1. It is okay to ask for help. Accept help when someone offers it.
2. I am safe. It is safe for me to open my heart.
3. My heart knows the way. I listened to my heart and I trusted myself.
4. It is not selfish to love myself.
5. I am enough.
6. I am loved. I don’t have to prove myself or do anything to be worthy.
7. I now appreciate the medical staff. They also get tired and have human emotions while dealing with all kinds of trauma and pressure.
8. I appreciate and love my body and take better care of it. It is my home for this lifetime on Earth.
9. The power of prayer. Prayers are always answered. Mine got answered, but it was not what I wanted to hear, so I ignored it. Things did not progress, but when I did listen to the guidance, things flowed with more ease.
10. To surrender. I allowed God to take control of what was happening to me and around me.
11. I have a team of angels and guides around me. I learned how to ask for help and listen to the guidance.
12. To find my joy even when times are hard. There is always something to be grateful for.
13. To laugh and not take life so seriously.
14. The meaning of faith, trust, surrender, grace, compassion, strength, braveness and love. Terms which I was not so familiar with, nor understood before.
My road to recovery was long and hard, with many lessons.
I no longer feel stuck. I am learning and growing with each new experience. The most difficult times grew me the most.
I love this quote by Tracee Ellis Ross, as it explains how I feel since the accident:
“I am learning everyday to allow the space between where I am and where I want to be, to inspire me and not terrify me”
Nine months after the accident, I ran my first 10-kilometer race. It felt damn good.
Walking back to the campsite that evening, my boyfriend reminded me how far I have come. I felt proud and deeply grateful for all that I experienced.
Author: Zelda Meyerhoff
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Sara Kärpänen