“Help! Please. Somebody. Help ME!” I screamed for a about five minutes on repeat before anyone came.
On August 29, 2016, I broke and dislocated my elbow.
It was a Monday, and I’d created a long weekend for myself by taking an extra day off work to do with as I pleased.
I love taking Monday’s off; they feel more like a day off than any other day to me.
I’d woken relatively early and, as I watched the morning mist clear, I decided to skip all the other plans I had for the day, domestics – cleaning, laundry, shower & hair wash, etc… and decided to go up the Sea to Sky Gondola to walk one of the trails.
I remember that as I dressed, I debated whether I should have that shower first, wash my hair, then go. It had been three days since I’d washed my hair and normally I wouldn’t consider going out on the third day without washing first.
Instead, I mocked my vanity and pulled my hair into a ponytail. This is something I would regret for days and days, nine days in fact.
The debate on whether to stay and do the things I’d laid out for my day, or whether to go first to walk in nature, played out in my mind all the way to the car.
Was there a foreboding in the air? Perhaps.
Once on the road I enjoyed the drive, singing along with my tunes, breathed in the beauty around me, the highway still shadowed from the sun by the mountains, the ocean starting to twinkle with sunlight in the distance.
At the gondola, it was early only just open to the public and I saw that there was currently no one waiting. I’d hoped for a gondola on my own. I love riding up alone with my thoughts and the breathtaking scenery.
I almost skipped to the head of the line and held out my annual pass for scanning. But the guy couldn’t make his scanner work, and so the one free gondola left and the empty space behind me filled with a family.
I wanted to punch the guy, who eventually worked out he could key in my code and make it work. I hoped he would give me the next one alone and make the family wait for the one following behind it.
No such luck, he said, “oh you can get on this one too if you like…”
I was annoyed.
I remember feeling that way, and staying silent on the ride up though the two little boys all but danced as we ascended pointing out all of the things they’d never seen from this height before.
It should have charmed me, and normally would have charmed the heck out of me as children generally do, but instead I wallowed in the annoyance.
Why? Well, I considered this as we travelled up – consciously aware that I could choose to lighten up and smile at the family and allow myself to be swept away by the excitement of the boys, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Funny how sometimes we consciously choose to stay in a funk. That’s what I chose. Would it have been different if I’d let go and lightened up? A definite possibility, but then again, perhaps what happened was exactly what needed to happen in my life at this point in time?
When we arrived at the top I tried to shake off the funk by going through the lodge first. I took myself to one of the viewing platforms and saw that one of my favourite yoga instructors was there packing up from a yoga class.
I realised I could have come up and done the class and then felt even more annoyed that I didn’t know it was on. I waved to her as she talked with one of the participants and she smiled in return deep in conversation.
Then I headed across the bridge to the other platform, and started my walk.
As I walked my mood lightened.
I started to listen to the sounds of nature, I focussed on the trees, I breathed deeply. I took in the snapshots of the mountains through the trees.
Feeling a little looser and less annoyed, I made it to the lookout point and stood for a while, taking a few photos of the same beautiful scene I’ve seen many times before on the Panorama Trail. It always takes my breath away that I get to live in this incredibly beautiful location with access to the scenes I was capturing.
I started to feel grateful.
Annoyance left me.
There had been something on my mind that day, concern for a friend who had a potentially traumatic day ahead. As my own annoyance cleared, I started to think of this friend and tried to shake the worry I felt so I could imagine the best possible outcome.
That was where my mind was as I started up the hill.
I took off my vest, my body warm from movement and the rising sun.
I was folding the vest in my hands, and lost visual on the ground in front of me for a split second.
My right foot stepped into a ditch on the trail and my ankle twisted enough that I started to fall forward.
The next few moments play with nauseating clarity in my mind without release even nearly a month after the incident…
I started to fall forward, my right arm shot out to brace my fall but I was still holding the vest. My body compensated and twisted to the left so that my left arm took the weight of the fall.
The instant my left hand hit the ground, I heard, felt, and saw the snapping of my bone right near my elbow.
I heard the crack of the bone snapping apart from itself.
I saw the bone, push out toward the skin in a way that it should not do.
I saw my skin expanding beyond normal capacity with the pressure of the now loose bone.
I saw my arm looking out of place and at wrong angles.
The visual and auditory experience of the bone snapping and pushing out at an angle that was not right, hit me instantly.
This was bad.
“Oh no, oh no, OH NO!”
I remember saying that three times as recognition took hold.
My arm was broken.
Broken, my day was about to take a turn into the unknown.
I’m not all that comfortable with the unknown.
Even as I said it, even as the recognition took hold, only seconds had transpired.
And in those seconds, I’d hit the ground and curled to my right side bringing the broken left arm close to my body in a protective manoeuver that was purely instinctual and not at all mentally plotted.
Then the pain hit me. HARD.
Once the visual and auditory sensations had washed, and I was in a more protective position with my arm, the excruciating pain hit me.
I screamed from it, unable to hold back.
The pain was intense; every breath I took made tiny movements in my arm that took my breath away.
I was alone on the trail, broken and scared.
“Help me! PLEASE, SOMEBODY HELP ME!” I yelled.
“PLEASE! SOMEBODY, HELP ME! HELP!” I called, over and over.
At least five minutes passed before two women came, it may have even been ten minutes.
They asked me questions I couldn’t answer.
What happened? Are you alone? Is there anyone we can call for you?
I tried to breathe through the pain, pain that was worse than anything I’ve ever experienced.
One of them said, “Her arm is broken.”
The other said, “What do we do? Who do we call?”
I was beyond even the thought of “Ghostbusters!” though it comes to me now with a smirk.
The younger of them, I think they were mother and daughter, called the Gondola and told them where we were on the trail as best she could describe.
She told me that help was on the way.
I was worried they would leave, and said “please don’t leave me.”
The mom said, “don’t worry, we will stay, you’re ok.”
I wasn’t, and we all knew it.
Other people started coming up the path, maybe 10 minutes had now passed since they arrived.
Mother and daughter covered me up with a light jacket of theirs. I tried to remove it because it hurt me, my skin was alive with every sensation.
They told me it would be good to leave it on, and then I understood, they did this not to keep me comfortable but to shield those coming up the path from the gruesome way my bone was pushing at the skin.
Part of me understood and appreciated their point of view; part of me was hot and uncomfortable and pissed off about it.
Someone rolled my vest into a pillow and gently rested my head on it. I let the jacket stay over my arm.
My shoulder, my wrist, my elbow, my whole left arm hurt. There was not a single place on my arm that didn’t hurt.
The elbow was excruciating though.
I’ve broken bones before. In primary school I broke both bones in my other arm just above the wrist. I remember it happening, remember walking calmly to the teacher and saying “I think my arm is broken.” I remember her freaking out because again the bones pushed against the skin and my arm looked all wrong. But it didn’t hurt, not with actual jarring, nauseating pain. It was more shock at the visual of my arm being broken, but not excruciating pain. I remember the doctor telling me that the body has natural pain killers for situations like a break and that’s why it didn’t hurt so bad. I had sat in the principal’s office for probably about 30 minutes while my mom came to take me to the hospital. Then I sat at the hospital waiting room for a while waiting for the x-ray and the doctor. No drugs administered and no attempt by anyone to calm me down. I was calm.
This was different.
The pain was searing. I wish there was a word 1000 times more intense than excruciating to describe the feeling.
I wished for my arm to be taken off. I could barely stand it.
I literally screamed out at any movement, then my body would tense up and it would take all of my concentration to relax it enough to find a position where there was no pain while I panted for breath. Then a tiny movement of my body would send another shock-wave of pain through my arm that would tear out of my throat in an uncontrollable scream.
Black spots swam often in front of my eyes though I never lost consciousness. I didn’t feel safe enough to pass out.
“It hurts, oh God, it hurts so much.” I kept saying whenever I could catch my breath.
“I know, you’re doing great, hang in there,” they kept replying.
I don’t think anyone understood how much pain I was in. I wanted to be knocked out, I wanted to be unconscious, I wanted to let the black spots take over and let me sleep, but I was alone and afraid that if I passed out who would help me? Who would care?
I had to stay awake.
They told me at the hospital many hours later that I had a dislocated elbow and that dislocation is more painful than a break. In fact, one of the doctors told me that dislocation is one of the most painful feelings, period. They told me that I was actually very brave for all of the movement I was subjected to before anyone knew it was dislocated and they agreed that it would have been beyond excruciating. The doctors and nurses were impressed I’d stayed conscious.
While that was good to hear, validating even, it didn’t make the memory of the pain so far experienced any less or the pain yet to come any less either. At least from that point forward I could explain it to people.
What was taking so long?
A helicopter passed overhead and I remember thinking – oh, THANK GOD! But it kept going and I almost cried.
Tears had not come.
The pain, the struggle to stay conscious and to ward off another onslaught of pain, made tears impossible.
Why is that? I’m not sure exactly, but tears did not come until days after surgery.
The ladies waiting with me asked more questions, perhaps they saw that I was fighting with unconsciousness. Do I want them to call someone? An emergency contact? How did it happen? Is your ankle ok? Where does it hurt? Where do you live? Are you local? Can we call someone? Are you alone?
Yes. I felt so alone.
I didn’t know how to answer the questions. I didn’t know who to call. Who would come? It was a work-day, everyone I knew was working.
The image of the first few moments kept playing in my mind with gut-sickening clarity, the visual of the break happening, of my arm in a strange position, the sound, the feeling, all played over and over. This image still a month later plays in my mind whenever I stand up, fear grips me at the thought of falling and it happening again.
I wanted to vomit, but was afraid to move my arm so I could. Instead I breathed through the nausea and tried to focus on the voices around me.
More people came, they asked questions too but the two women who found me answered them while I lay on the ground moaning, or screaming with the pain, or repeating “It hurts SO MUCH!”, or breathing and trying to fight off black spots that threatened to take me into blessed unconsciousness.
I heard the younger one tell a by-stander that I would need surgery, that it was “pretty bad.”
Panic started to rise inside of me.
Surgery? I couldn’t have surgery! Who would look after Greyson? Did he have enough food?
I asked her, “Do you really think I need surgery?”
The sympathy apparent on her face, “Yes,” she replied, “you will definitely need surgery.”
Fear gripped my heart.
I tried to think about what I would need to do to make sure Greyson was OK if I had surgery, tried to calculate all the pieces on the board to make sure everything was looked after…but the pain, it kept taking me away from rational thought.
And the people stared.
Thankfully the ladies asked bystanders to keep moving.
I remember seeing the family that had joined me in the gondola. The two boys looking wide eyed at me laying on the ground in agony.
It took the first-aid buggy 34 minutes to arrive.
I know this because the daughter kept repeating things like, “I can’t believe it’s been 15 minutes, 22 minutes, 28 minutes, 34 minutes…oh look here they come.” She was counting down.
We were only 10 minutes from the Gondola, what the eff had they been doing all that time?
The first aid guy came and asked me the same questions as everyone else.
What happened? What hurts? Are you alone?
They sat me up and I screamed from the pain that the movement of my arm caused.
He tried to make a splint out of the foamy stuff they use now for splints. He couldn’t get it right and each time he tried I screamed in agony from the movement he made of my arm.
He withdrew and readjusted the splint to a new angle.
He tried again. I screamed again.
I told him my arm had to stay in the position it was in right at this moment because that was the ONLY position that didn’t cause pain.
He tried to emulate that position with the splint. Tried and failed, again and again, each time moving my arm from the only position that had less pain.
This happened for at least 10 minutes.
Him readjusting, trying again, me screaming in agony then telling him again that it had to be this position that it was in, him withdrawing to readjust.
It was making me crazy.
And the pain was too much. I was barely holding on.
As he came in for another round with the stupid effing splint, I pleaded with him. “Please, can we skip the splint, please, I can’t, it’s too much. It’s too much pain. Please. Can we just go to the ambulance? Please.”
I begged. I was not beyond begging at this point.
He told me he had to put on a sling at least.
I agreed but said I would help him.
More screaming, more heavy breathing, and another 10 minutes at least before the sling was secured.
My arm was swollen to approximately five times its size by this point and even that caused additional discomfort. It felt like it might explode from the pressure.
It looked to me like a caricature. Like someone had drawn on a cartoon arm with lifelike skin.
Approximately one hour since the actual accident had occurred and I was still in the same spot that it had happened.
My patience along with my pain threshold was thin.
I needed to get to the hospital so that if I passed out I could feel safe in doing so; I was not able to hold myself together much longer.
There was some debate on how to get me to the buggy so they could drive me back to the gondola, to get me to the ambulance waiting at the bottom.
I could hear real fear in their voices. I’d screamed so much they were uncertain how to move me.
They debated: walking would be less jostling they thought than the buggy but much slower, and the buggy would be faster but might cause more pain and damage in the long run.
“Just get me to the buggy.” I all but yelled.
They stopped and stared at me, then moved into action, decision made.
I asked one of them to help me up. He went to grab me from behind under the armpits.
“NO!” I shouted. Gah, was he kidding me? Don’t touch my freakin’ bad arm, not even under the armpit! Sheesh. “Wait, wait, take my hand, but wait until I’m ready.”
He came around to face me and took my outstretched hand. I took a deep breath then pulled toward him as he pulled me up.
The pain tore through me and another scream erupted from my gut.
There was no control for me over the screaming, the pain was so intense that the screams were instantaneous responses to that pain. There was no connection to my conscious brain; all of my reactions were pure, instinctual, and primal.
I walked slowly to the buggy, crying out a few times as the movement jarred my elbow or shoulder or wrist. All of them hurt me.
My ankle it seems was fine. I remember feeling like my ankle betrayed me! But then was grateful that it was fine because imagine not being able to walk on top of this arm problem?!
I sat in the front seat as the first aid guy told me he had my bag, my vest, and sunglasses.
“Thank you,” I managed, then closed my eyes and braced myself for the motion of the vehicle.
We moved slowly, the driver talking to me the whole way, saying things like “sorry, this part is bumpy,” or “I’m going to take this part a little faster to get us up this rise,” or “you’re doing great, hang in there, nearly there.”
The first aid guy sat behind us asking questions about my phone number, address, etc…
When we finally got to the gondola, it looked like they were going to make me wait in line. I nearly freaked out. But the girl eventually stopped the gondola from moving and they put me inside.
A blanket was placed on my legs.
My mind was off by this point, it was all I could do to keep my eyes open and myself upright. My body was rigid from the anticipation of another jolt and more intense pain.
The little bumps that the gondola goes over at every pole were like shards of glass being jammed into every joint in my arm.
I closed my eyes against the pain and tried to refrain from screaming. I was sick of the sound of me, I just wanted peace, harmony, and some freakin’ drugs. Anyone?!
I tried to run through a list of things I’d need to do. Did Greyson have enough food for the day? Who would I get to look after him? I’d have to call work and let them know I wouldn’t be in tomorrow or likely for a while. Who were my contacts?
Part way down I remembered my car in the parking lot. How would I get it home? Would I get a ticket? I told the guy and he asked me which one it was. I tried to give him the licence plate number but he said he didn’t need it, it would just be the one left at the end of the day. He told me that it wouldn’t be towed and no ticket would be given. It would stay there for as long as I needed.
I did not trust him! Again I tried to give him the licence plate number; again he said it wasn’t necessary.
As we neared the bottom I saw the ambulance there, and the paramedics waiting. Relief flooded me momentarily.
Then realisation dawned, they might want to touch my arm too, and I started to feel fear ball in my gut again.
…Part two to be posted soon…
Warm smiles and Love,