What I Wish People Knew About My Broken Back

Monday, October 14th, 2013

Over the last eight months, a lot of people have asked me questions about my back, how I’m healing and when I’ll return to racing. Most of the time, the questions don’t really get at the heart of what I went through. For example, people would ask about my run training, when I really wanted to tell them about how proud I was for being strong enough to rake up a few leaves on my front yard – even if it completely wiped me out and I had to take a 2 hour nap after.

I’m not normally comfortable talking about myself at length without someone giving me a good reason, so I feel like most people don’t get the full story – especially related to the mental side of my recovery. With that in mind, here are random facts about my injury and recovery that I wish people knew.

  1. Fracturing my vertebrae feels like I was stabbed in the back with seven knives. But they were left in there for months. Imagine sneezing with a knife stuck in your back. Or even just twisting enough to clean yourself in the bathroom. That was my life for the first three months of my recovery.

  1. For the first month or two, I didn’t have the flexibility to lift up the toilet seat on my own, but I was just barely able to twist enough to clean up after myself. GOD was I thankful for that. I needed help doing a million other things, but the fact that I could at least complete that by myself was huge. I did not take it for granted and was glad I was able to avoid that humiliating experience.

  1. Sam and I hope to have children someday. The fear of not recovering to the point where I could hold and play with my own child still haunts me. Just writing this makes my hands tremble.

  1. Being married to an occupational therapist was a godsend. Not that I wasn’t lucky to have Sam before the accident, but she was a huge part of my recovery. From helping to put on and take off my brace each morning and night, to teaching me new ways just to roll over in bed or put on my socks or bathe myself, those little victories were huge for my recovery and helped me to stay positive. The confidence I got from just being able to control little things like what kind of socks I was wearing was huge.

  1. The fact that my bones are able to heal without any medical intervention beyond pain management is both a testament to the amazing abilities of the human body to heal itself and how far we still have to go when it comes to discovering new medical treatments. I had follow up x-rays two weeks after the accident. I was told to ditch the brace, make sure I got enough calcium and not do anything stupid to hurt it. That was it! I haven’t seen the orthopedist since. He also didn’t think that I needed physical therapy, but I opted to do it anyway. It was the right choice and was a huge part of my recovery since my muscles got super jacked up from being immobile for so long.

  1. My vertebrae are now shaped more like trapezoids than squares. That means that they don’t stack up and float on top of one another as nicely as they are supposed to. I have to stretch and crack back at least twice a day, every day, to keep things aligned. Especially when I’m sitting at my work desk for +8 hours per day. I’ve become really skilled at cracking my own back. This helps to keep my muscles from being pulled in different directions and getting fatigued. It also has helped to reduce tingling and numbness in my left shoulder from a pinched nerve.

  1. One of the hardest parts of my recovery has been the psychological side. Months after my bones healed and physical therapy was able to break up the scar tissue and strengthen my back, I still felt fragile and broken. I would hike mountains, swim, bike and run, but still felt broken. Even small things that would spark memories of the accident would set me off on an emotional whirlwind. I don’t think my symptoms were ever bad enough to qualify me for a PTSD diagnosis, but recovering from being dangerously close to being a quadriplegic rattles you to your core.

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6 Responses to “What I Wish People Knew About My Broken Back”

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for sharing Jamie. I admire your strength, willpower and desire to not just heal and be functional, but to get back to the normal life you know. Shows you how fragile our life is.

  2. Andrea says:

    Inspiring and raw. I have had back muscle spasms and they are similarly debilitating but nothing as scary as what you experienced with the uncertainty of outcome. Your recovery has seemed speedy from the outside but thanks for the reminder of all that goes on within.

  3. carol says:

    Jamie, This is truly wonderful read. I could relate to about 1% of your pain and endurance, because my broken collarbone was not nearly as bad. I do recall how wonderful it was to be able to wipe my butt with my right hand. You don’t appreciate freedom of movement until you lose it. I”m so glad you are okay (mostly) now!

  4. Donna says:

    This is a great post. I think if someone has not lived through an experience, posts like this are so helpful in explaining what it is like. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Kim S says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I know it wasn’t easy! I’m sure that the mental aspect is the hardest! It would be for me as well. One step at a time! You are doing great Jamie. Keep your head up. You will come back stronger!

  6. Maggie says:

    This is really powerful and I am so happy to hear that you are not only making the right steps back toward normalcy but that you are acknowledging what you have already overcome. Definitely know that is hard to do. On a lighter note, Sam is an absolute angel for dealing with you :)

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