Monday, May 09, 2005

That's the breaks

It makes a whooshy sound, and then I have to take a breath. The breath feels too big, like it’s going to break my ribs. But if I don’t take the breath, the alarm goes off. How do I know this? Because I thought I’d “skip” a breath, just one…
Those are the words I wrote in shakey-hand print, trying to explain what the ventilator felt like, trying to explain why there was fear in my eyes, trying to explain why I was afraid to go to sleep.
How did I end up here? Oh yeah, I remember…
I was preparing for landing – worrying a bit about some power lines, but not wanting to make any turns low to the ground. “Remain focused” I said to myself.
“Turn Right!” screamed Don.
Instinctively, I pulled my right toggle down. Oops, wrong move, too low to the ground. But too low to pull out of the turn – if I had let up on the steering toggle, I would have landed on my face. “Oh shit” I thought to myself, “Prepare for the hardest landing of your—“
They estimated my impact at approximately 50 miles per hour, give or take. Unfortunately, my femur did not agree with the give and take, and it broke, probably on my first of three impacts with Mother Nature.
I sat up, pulled my ‘chute underneath me. Moved right arm, check. Moved left arm, check. Moved left leg, check. Moved right leg….move right leg? Aww, what’s that pokey thing trying to poke thru my leg? Aww shit, that’s my bone! No wonder it hurts like a M.F.er.
A quick ride to Fresno via ambulance, although I made ‘em turn on lights and siren, since I was paying for the ride. Thru a comedy of errors, none of which was funny, I ended up at VMC – which I referred to as “Very Many Cokeheads.” (Please do not defend the place…unless you have stayed there, I will not listen to you)
“Well Ms. Day, you have a compound fracture to your femur.”
Duh” I thought silently, but said, “Oh, really? What needs to be done?”
“Well, we can put you in traction for 5-15 days, followed by a cast. Or we can do this new surgery: we’ll insert a steel rod down the middle of your femur. No cast, and you’ll be home in 3-4days.”
“I’ll take surgery for two, thanks Alex.”
Three days later found me being rushed down a hallway. Seems they had done the surgery too quickly, sending globules (their word, swear) of that stuff in the middle of my femur into my lungs, heading for my heart. In technical terms: an embolism.
I watch episodes of ER, fascinated with the process of “intubating.” The patient is always asleep or knocked out. The doctors usually get it on the first try, never more than the second try. Doesn’t look hard or painful. In the show that was my reality, I was awake, wide awake. The tube went down three times, feeling like it was shredding and tearing my throat, and three times it came back up. The fourth time one of the doctors said to the other to get ready, because they might have to do a trach on me. The fourth time (not the third time) was a charm. I was hooked up.
It makes a whooshy sound, and then I have to take a breath. The breath feels too big, like it’s going to break my ribs. But if I don’t take the breath, the alarm goes off. How do I know this? Because I thought I’d “skip” a breath, just one…
The doctors come in, stand around my bed and whisper. They check my heart, my blood pressure, the machines. They whisper more. They shake their heads. One finally looks at me and says, “Do you have any next of kin you’d like us to notify?”
Next of kin?” I thought panickedly, “What do you mean? Am I gonna—“
I reached for the pen and paper that had become my sole means of communication. Frantically I scrawled my boss’ number. He would help. He would call my folks. He would help. He would—
Mr. G arrived within 30 minutes. He sat on the edge of the bed. “How do you feel Jayne?”
Am I gonna die? I wrote.
“The doctors say it doesn’t look good. But how do you feel?”
The doctors are assholes. They’re wrong, I wrote.
Mr. G sat with me for awhile, told me to be strong, and said he’d pray for me, and call my mom. He stood to leave, and told me he’d see me in the morning.
So there I was: in an ICU room at VMC, alone and afraid. Afraid to go to sleep. Afraid that if I fell asleep, I would die. So, in the wisdom of youth and terror, I decided that if I didn’t go to sleep, I couldn’t die. (That’s when I discovered that alarm thing on skipping the breath. Momentary moment of Pythonesque humor involving doctors and nurses screaming at me to breath, and me frozen in terror at the alarms, buzzers and screaming...)
So the whole “staying awake and not dying thing” worked…until somewhere around 2:00 AM. I found myself alone (still), and exhausted. I found myself no longer afraid to die, but sad. Sad that my Mom was hundreds of miles away, thinking it was only a broken leg (because that’s what I had told her) and there was nothing to worry about until she got the call today from the hospital and Mr. G. Sad that I hadn’t been able to talk to her one more time. Sad that I couldn’t see her one more time. Sad that I couldn’t tell her how much I loved her. Sad…but more exhausted. Too exhausted to keep breathing like this. Too exhausted to keep on.
“Okay, God,” I prayed, “I guess it is YOUR WIIL, not mine. Whatever YOU want. I’m just sorry that I can’t see my Mom…..” And I faded off….
I remember that I heard noise. “Noise,” I thought, “Noise could be a good thing….noise could also be a bad thing. Not feeling hot flames….that could be good…..Maybe I’ll sneak a peak…..Please be white, not red, please be white, not red, please—“
When I opened my eyes, I was still in ICU at VMC….not heaven…not hell (although close). Guess God had more plans for me.
My accident happened on my 15th jump, I went on to make approximately 150 more jumps. Trust me, #16 was the hardest jump I ever made. I tell people that skydiving is not a dangerous sport, but it is also not a forgiving sport. Most people don’t live to get a second chance; I did. Of course, because the handymen at VMC believed in a “measure once and cut once” practice, I have one leg that is shorter than the other, set 30 degrees off, and a hole in my hip…. J
It also gave me a unique view on life, etc. I truly believe that if my Mom had been with me, I would have felt okay to leave, and that it was my need for her, and God’s plan for me, that kept me “earthbound.” Family, friends, and faith remain the most important aspects of my life, and not a day/week goes by without me telling at least one of them how important they are to me and to the world.

8 comments:

lecram sinun said...

APJ, I once told a friend that if I was drubnk enough to skydive.... there wouls be a brown trail behind me in the sky.

Another good story... you should get paid for sharing.

vertebrate said...

Oh my god, APJ, that's a story.

airplanejayne said...

gosh guys, to have two great storytellers even read my 'ditties," let alone respond positively.....
humbled, truly humbled.
thanks!
APj

kien lim said...

A true woman of steel. Respect.

airplanejayne said...

thanks kien, but really, they took the rod out. I don't set off metal detectors anymore...
oh sorry, you didn't mean that "literally" did you?
Oh, in that case, thanks!
:-)

Lelly said...

This is an astonishing and awesome story. I got some metal in my leg after falling off my motorbike and crunching my knee 8 years ago. But it was minor chaffing compared to your story, and no death's door complications. I've never been back on a 'bike since tho...I'm astounded by your bravery.

Lacquer, Semi-Gloss Lacquer said...

I never could figure out why some folks decided to jump out of perfectly good airplanes... (I like airplanes too much and dont' leave them unless, something is terribly wrong...

personally, the lines'
'..red or white, red or white, red or white..'

I know it's a serious issue, and I've made my lifegoal to help folks with such things... but I've always felt poignant about the old line, '...Welcome to heaven -here's your harp (vs) Welcome to Hell -here's your accordian.'

--I mean, what does that say about the polka?
Suddenly Marylin Manson is in league with Jimmy Sturr...

-great write.

M A F said...

I enjoyed the read. (I have a VMC story too! It involved a ventilator and pneumonia.)

I was thinking that it would make a good chapter in a book.