In a “VIP” row near the airplane lavatories with no option of reclining on a five-thousand mile trip from Kauai to South Florida earlier this week, I flashed back to my recovery from a freak tree accident in Upstate New York in 2009. A tree limb fell on a seemingly normal autumn day breaking my neck. Thankfully with a lengthly upright locked position in a Miami JTO brace (aka my cage), I recovered returning to full mobility and health. My inspirational memoir, When All Balls Drop – The Upside of Losing Everything, which is due out this fall, shares my story of losing all that mattered: health, love, and career. I shed light on how to look up in spite of pain, deceit, and loss in easy-to-read, sassy vignettes like this excerpt appropriately entitled, “Upright Locked Position.”
Most typically heard in an airplane upon boarding and landing, “upright, locked position” to me had a different meaning while living in a full brace (aka my cage). The brace was officially called the Miami JTO, which sounds like a sexy sports car that might cruise South Beach’s Deco Drive. However, it really wasn’t anything neat or sporty, and it certainly wasn’t sexy. The Miami JTO was a way to make my body conform to an upright, locked position. Whether I was walking, sitting in a chair, or lying down, my head, neck, back, chest, and torso were in the same position night and day for close to six months.
Whether or not that sounds painful, believe me, it was. I tried to compare the rigid and uncomfortable straight position to an airplane ride in an exit row or that dreaded last row by the lavatories, where the seats don’t recline at all. I had flown an international flight in one of those rows to Brazil to meet my husband’s family. The experience was unbearable, both the flight as well as meeting the in-laws. During that Meet the Parents trip, I was not well liked by AJ’s mother to say the least. In fact, she barely spoke to me or looked me in the eye. Because I wasn’t Catholic, she commented to AJ, “She’s going to take you to hell.” I did not meet AJ’s father on that trip, as he didn’t live with his wife any longer. However, I did meet all eight of AJ’s brothers and sisters.
And as icing on top of the cake, on my first day, I was stung on the nose by a hornet while looking curiously at the various tropical fruit trees around their small farm. My face quickly swelled to the size of a basketball as if I’d gained thirty pounds instantly. I looked so miserable and monster-like that his younger brother insisted on taking the horse and buggy into town to get me medicine from the pharmacist. There was no family car, only horse, buggy, bikes, and a dirt bike. Needless to say, their first impression of me wasn’t good. Likewise, mine of the family wasn’t pleasant either. And then I had a return flight to Miami from Timbuktu, Brazil, in an exit row in an upright, locked position to look forward to. Yippee or better said in Portuguese, oba!
Although my flight home from Brazil was bad, being stuck in a cage for six months was far worse. In my very real, immobile state, I quickly began to miss the small pleasures of turning my head to the side while I slept, nodding my head, reclining with pleasure in a chair or on a sofa, or even lying on my stomach. Maybe one of the pluses of my ordeal was that I would have an awareness of my neck and spine for the rest of my life. I certainly appreciated the flexibility of the body that can be taken away at the drop of a limb, car accident, or bad fall.
Have you learned from a physical injury or health scare? How about a bad relationship or loss of job? I certainly had many learnings from my life-changing accident and recovery. I look forward to sharing my knowledge and story with you.
Here’s to looking up!