After my backcountry accident (Northover Ridge to Emergency Room) I was prepared for all kinds of possible outcomes. Aside from letting my stitched-up scalp heal, I was bracing for weeks, months, or even years of concussion recovery as well as having to process the emotional trauma from such a dramatic incident. But guess what? I was really wrong. Recovery has gone unbelievably well.
When I was still in the hospital, I had been told by a few people to accept help if people offered, that even though I am normally the one who jumps in to support others, that this was the time to receive instead. That sounded hard.
But if I can do hard things like run ultras and hike to safety with an exposed skull and be strong when they removed the drain from my head then surely I could accept help from loved ones right?
I had no idea how hard that would be.
To just receive.
Even while I was in the hospital I had friends and family caring for my children and dog, checking the house and offering to drive to Calgary to pick up my Jeep. And once I was home I was given meals and gifts (run swag and fuel!), garden produce and flowers, chocolate and wine and all kinds of other treats.
The hardest thing to receive though? Gifts of service. I love to do things for other people, but it’s so much harder to have others do things for you. A few close friends kept asking “what do you need?” and I meekly told them my hair was causing me so much stress and I didn’t feel I could deal with it myself. Between the accident and surgery and days laying in bed, my hair had developed a life of its own and formed mats and dreadlocks I simply couldn’t get out. A few friends worked for hours and hours to try to fix it and in the end, a very gracious hair stylist cut them out for me, leaving my hair a mess of shaved bits, short cut out sections and long pieces at the bottom. As if the support I had received wasn’t enough already, my amazing tribe of mom friends rallied together to take me shopping and buy me new hair to cover the spots. I protested there were real problems in the world that deserve their money… and then cried and remembered to simply accept their graciousness.
Another friend insisted on helping in some way and finally asked if she could come clean my house. No way. It was messy before the accident… I can’t accept that. She said she loved to clean and that a clean house would help me stay rested.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself to receive.
“Ok. Come and clean”
The day she came was the worst day during my recovery. I could barely get out of bed my head hurt so much. I struggled to maintain conversation but just couldn’t focus. She graciously told me to stop, to rest, to just let her clean.
One of the lowest, yet strangely beautiful moments of my life happened that afternoon. I fell asleep mid sentence while she was cleaning my toilet. I woke up four hours later and she had cleaned her way out of my house without a word.
Talk about humbling.
Just breathe. Receive.
And I had to remind myself of that all over again when my husband kissed the scar on my forehead and told me he loved me and was glad I was alive.
And again when a long line of run buddies offered to walk, then later run with me to make sure I was ok.
And again when the gifts and messages and acts of service kept coming and coming.
(I have the absolute best people in my life.)
I felt pretty rough for about a week, maybe 10 days. Headache, tired, sometimes dizzy and light headed. I fully expected that would mean I had a concussion and these were just the symptoms I would have to deal with for who knows how long. I was waiting for an appointment at the Glen Sather Concussion Clinic and was told to take it easy until then. Only light activity, no driving and let symptoms be my guide. But here’s the crazy thing, once I stopped taking the prescription pain meds most of my symptoms disappeared too. I started sleeping better and feeling more rested during the day and the occasional headache was manageable and passed quickly.
After one week I started going for walks and felt fine. So I rode a stationary bike and waited for symptoms to hit, but I felt fine. By two weeks out, I was running again. I know it sounds crazy, but such a dramatic injury was really just a scratch in the end. My brain is totally fine. (Ok a big scratch that left a big mark… but still)
Tania came to visit 10 days after the incident. The last time she saw me I was just home from the hospital, exhausted and a total mess. She told me she was still going ahead with the plan we had made earlier in the summer to run the following weekend in David Thompson country, and sort of asked if I was ok with that. I said “oh god yeah of course you should go!” And then followed with “and I think I should come too”
You should’ve seen the look she gave me. She thought I was nuts.
It felt too soon, she felt I wasn’t physically ready. I insisted I was. I felt fine. 90% of the way to normal. And I knew I wanted to get back out there. With September looming and being back to busy weekends and winter around the corner, I was worried that if I didn’t make it on this mountain run it could be a really long time before we got out there again. I knew I didn’t want to wait. I wanted to face those demons; the what if’s and anxiety and bursts of trauma that surfaced as I thought about what happened and what could have happened.
Overall I’ve been doing ok emotionally. I fully admit I had an incident in the hospital where panic got the best of me when it came time to pull the drain out of my head. And again when I woke up several times one night thinking I was falling… as if my body remembered something my mind did not. I also hesitated when I got into the passenger side of the Jeep for the first time since I was a bloody mess and going into shock. But overall, I had mostly been feeling gratitude for the people in my life and the fact I was still around to tell them I loved them.
Tania has done a great job of addressing her own trauma but we both still knew there was some unfinished business above the tree line.
She was hesitant. But I knew I was ready.
We talked it out and came up with a plan and off we went, heading west until our phones lost reception and it was just mountain peaks calling us.
Believe it or not I ran. We covered the Landslide Lake trail, from the Interpretive Trail side to Pinto Lake Staging area. 28km and 1300 m elevation gain, glorious blue skies and great company.
At the top of the pass, Tania and I went in for a hug that started as all smiles and quickly turned to belly deep gasps for breath and tears.
Am I ever thankful for her (and the rest of my loved ones!), for health and for the ability to run those trails another day.
A few kms past the pass, we were back down to the tenacious little trees of the high alpine and we came to a creek. It was peaceful, shallow and required just a few steps to cross it. Tania crossed without a thought, grateful for the cold water on her feet, but something about the sound gave me pause. I looked around for rocks that looked safe to step on…but felt stuck, crossing seemed too hard. Tania turned and saw I was hesitating, watched me pace a few meters up and down the creek looking for good rocks to step on. I was frozen. Couldn’t do it.
She stepped back into the creek, the water half way up her calf, and offered me a hand.
Ugh. Here I am again having to receive something that should be so easy for me to do alone.
I took her hand and stepped into the cold water; laughed at the absurdity of my fear, and crossed without difficulty.
Once again reminded that sometimes, no matter how strong I am, I need to accept help from others.
I truly believe it’s nothing short of a miracle that I walked off Northover Ridge alive on August 6th, and even more of a miracle that my injury turned out to be so minor and that I was back running within 12 days and back in the mountains within 16 days. I absolutely take that privilege seriously and remain grateful for every day I wake up with breath in my lungs and blood in my veins. Bonus that I have strong muscles that let me do what I love and loved ones that support me through it.
Oh… and the best part? I solved my hair crisis… thanks to some fake hair and an amazing stylist I have a cute new look!