Was My Broken Spine a Blessing in Disguise?

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“Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional.” – Roger Crawford

The hours move slowly when you’re confined to bedrest for most of the day . . .

Not that I had a choice. It hurt to move to the left. It hurt more to move to the right. I couldn’t lean my head forward and lacked the arm strength to hold a phone over my eyes.

The drugs make the screen fuzzy, anyway.

The best thing I could do for myself was to stay still. I barely got up for a bathroom break. Nope, I have a nifty urine jar for that.

The night before, I’d been sent home from the hospital in an upper body brace so tight it hurt to breathe. Three fractures in my thoracic spine – my T6 vertebra literally smashed to pieces – the result of stupidity on the ski hills of Lake Louise, Alberta.

I had decided to throw caution to the wind, speeding down the mountain at a pace completely outside my control. Either I carved too deep or turned too quickly. It was a vicious wipeout, my back smashing hard against the mountain itself.

They said I should consider myself lucky. I didn’t feel so lucky. Not one bit. Lucky for me, I would go on to discover a valuable lesson as the year went on.

My Uncle’s Words

“Three months,” the doctors said. “You’ll be free of the brace, then,” they promised. “The resulting trauma to the area, though, may stay with you forever.”

I remember lying there, flat as a board, staring up at the hospital ceiling and musing. Would I be able to work again? How limited would I be? Was my life over?

My uncle had once gone through a spinal injury. He said, “In a strange way, the injury was a blessing in disguise.”

I tried to imagine all the ways I might benefit from this whole ordeal. Would I ever consider this a blessing? I wasn’t so sure. It’s a question I asked myself countless times as the months went by. My answer remained the same.

My Journey Back to Normal

I had a lot of time to do nothing, and so I promised myself I wouldn’t waste my days.

I decided I would teach myself to cook, which became a great distraction.

Brace or not, I was limited. I could only stand twenty to thirty minutes at a time. I could barely lift a plate. Turning abruptly caused deadly spasms that stopped me in my tracks. The first time I sneezed, I nearly wept.

Eventually, thirty minutes in the kitchen became forty-five, and then an hour, including a trip to the grocery store for just a few items at a time.

When my brace came off, I was eager to get my life back on track. Perhaps too eager.

The first time I hit the gym, I lifted more than I could handle. It was so painful I thought I’d broken my spine all over again.

My first day back at work, I did too much and for too long. I was back in bed for two days, completely stiff and prone to spasms that kept me awake as I tossed and turned throughout the night.

I learned very quickly to take it slow, no matter how eager I might be.

I did yoga. I walked three times a day. I went to physio and saw a chiropractor. I signed up for a personal trainer who specialized in corrective exercise.

In October, roughly eight months after my accident, I did my first forty-hour work week. It was painful, but I did it. I kept doing it.

What I Discovered from All of This

I know all the muscles in my back and I know how a broken bone heals itself. I know that the body is a resilient, remarkable thing. I know that after months of chronic pain, I cast that pain aside after simply changing my beliefs.

I learned that spinal surgeons and over-dramatic chiropractors don’t always know your body as well as you do. They might tell you there are things you’ll never do, things you shouldn’t do, and that the pain will never go away.

It’s been one year since I broke my spine. My body will never be what it once was. Sometimes I wake up stiff and sore. I have neck issues and my ribs spasm from time to time. I continue to do physio and I’ll probably always need the gym.

Still, it could be worse. I lift more weight than I could before the accident and I do not shy away from heavy things or a full day’s work. My body reminds me of my bad posture, but when I straighten up, the pain subsides quickly.

Was it a Blessing?

I think back to my uncle’s words and wonder, one last time. Was it a blessing in disguise? I honestly haven’t a clue, but I’ll tell you what I’ve learned . . .

Life is unpredictable. The path zigs and zags and sometimes we fall right off, leaving us lost, abused, or broken. I felt all of those things. I felt them countless times, reflecting on whether I’d ever again see sunny skies.

I have news for you.

You’ll be just fine. The many twists and turns we encounter along the road make us that much wiser and more resilient. You learn to trudge through the muddy swamps and jump from rock to rock when the lava floods the ground below.

My uncle’s words spawned a belief inside me, one which motivated me to move past the struggles and the pain. The belief was this: No matter how bad this may be, I will look back on it one day and smile. The thought of that lit a fire in me. It kept me driven from each moment to the next.

Today I’m smiling. Perhaps that, in itself, is a blessing in disguise.