A page from my journal…
It was the day of the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown, WV – WVU vs. Pitt. It was a BIG deal. In 1975, the Mountaineers were coached by Bobby Bowden and earned a bid to play North Carolina State in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta. Daddy had season tickets (always) and my sister wanted to go with him. So I said I would sub for her that night on her bowling team. WVU won 17 to 14.
How do I remember this? That day changed the course my life forever. It changed the way I walk. It changed the way I look at the world. It was one of those moments, frozen in time, that you never forget to remember. It changed the me I am.
I strapped on my red, white, and blue bowling shoes, picked up my coordinating red, white, and blue bowling ball and took three practice steps. The fourth step (my slide) found me hurtling through the air toward the pins arms at sides. My left knee touched the lane first and I tumbled forward on to my chin. THUD! Stars and chirping birds swirled around my head, literally.
You know those old cartoons where somebody is bonked on the head and there appears a “halo” of twittering birds or stars orbiting their head ? Well, that actually happens. I did not get up. Two men rushed down the lane and rolled me over. Then they stood me up. I had dizziness, ringing in my ears, and I temporarily went sorta blind. The doctors say I should have died at that moment. I did not.
Fast forward to hospital emergency room. What seems like hundreds of people working over me. They cut my shirt off. I remember crying about the shirt because it was a favorite one I had just made with my favorite color combo of the time – pink and orange. Why did they have to do that?
Sandbags were placed beside my neck and head. I was nauseated. Stars began swirling about my head again. Too many bright lights. Too much noise. I wanted to sleep and I wanted to wake up from this horrible dream.
Crazy thoughts fill your head at times like this. I didn’t say “Goodbye to my son!” Where was he? I left some dirty dishes in the sink. Who would find them and think I was a slob? There was a load of clothes in the washer. Who would get them out before they molded? I wanted everything to STOP!!!! But it didn’t. But my world did. That fast and that quickly, the Rebecca before bowling became the Rebecca after bowling. The tiny dancer became the non-dancer.
Cervical Spine Fracture of Atlas and Axis (C1 and 2)
I did a number on the top two vertebrae of the seven that form the cervical spine. This section of the spine connects the base of the head to the thorax (trunk and shoulders) and, with the help of soft tissues, supports the head. Sometimes my head feels too heavy for my neck to hold up. Sometimes I get neck headaches. A fracture (break) of the cervical spine is commonly referred to as a broken neck.
For the next year of my life, the hospital and rehab centers would be home. I had a contraption called tongs screwed into my skull. They held my head in place for traction.1 In the picture above I was allowed out of bed for a short time to see my son. I was in the leather and steel brace that went from my chin to my waist. The tongs were in my head. I would be in bed for most of the next few months in traction until around Valentine’s day. I would need to learn to walk again…one faulty step at a time. I would need to learn to sit up again. After lying down for months, you see those stars again when you sit up. There is dizziness, ringing ears, and a temporary blindness accompanied by nausea. I wrote about it once here.
1To treat the fractured spine, the surgeon first reduces it through traction. This process involves inserting tongs into the skull, attaching a pulley to them, and attaching small weights to the other end of the pulley. The weights pull the head away from the shoulders just enough to enable the soft tissues around the spine to push the fractured bone back into place.
I could not leave the hospital until I could walk the circuit around the entire 6th floor without sitting down. That took over two months to accomplish. I wanted to be home and hold my son and never let go. I wanted to rewind the clock and make this go away. I wanted the ‘always in motion me’ back. I wanted my long, curly blond hair back. I wanted…
I am Alive
Fast forward to today. Forty years later. I am alive. I am walking. AND I even have occasion to dance, though never in toe shoes again. The tiny ballerina in me still dreams of the time I will strap the pink shoes on and glide over the floor.
I am me. I have been to hell and back, and I am me. I walk a little funny. My kids say I wobble like a Weeble. Yet I walk. I am a fighter. I am a survivor. I am strong. I am funny. I am kind. I like who I am and I embrace every second of the life that shaped the woman I am today.
Forty years ago I went bowling and came back a better me.
Footnote: My friends will read this and understand why I am a little slower when we walk together or why I need to sit and rest at times. My family will roll their eyes. Yet I needed to commemorate this time in my history…it is my story.