"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience
in which you really stop to look fear in the face."
Reflections from an ever learning sojourner...
I believe that some of the greatest life lessons with the most growth potential initially come wrapped in not so pretty and very messy packages that we would prefer not be gifted to us. A few days ago, I was given one of these learning opportunities.
Two of my children, Braden and Madison, were home for a few days' visit and Braden's fiancé, Alyssa, was also here with him. We thought it would be a fun adventure to buy some intertubes from Big O Tires and tube down the Poudre River in the Poudre Canyon. My husband, Michael, and I had seen people doing this last summer and it looked like so much fun! We even scoped out the river the day before to decide the furthest possible point of entry to avoid the spillways and take a look at the speed of the current. At that time, I made mental notes that there were a couple of areas where the rocks were too abundant and jagged creating turbulent rapids, and that I preferred not to tube through those. I also made a point to express to the family that we had to have good shoes on to protect our feet from the rocks. My expressed concerns about the rapids and jagged rocks and the importance for shoes were a little poo pooed at first as if I was being overly cautious, but I paid no mind to the skeptical looks I received from some of my family members. I'm a mom, and it's in my nature to protect those I love and to be wisely prepared for the unknown, especially because in the Poudre Canyon there is no cell phone service whatsoever (with any provider). So unless you find that rare call box somewhere along the long stretch there is no ability to call for emergency personnel in case of an emergency.
We arrived at the river midday Monday after getting a late start, picking up our tubes, and 100 feet of rope. I wanted to have rope tied at both opposite ends of each of the tubes to act as handles for us to hold on to. We parked one vehicle at what would be exit point downriver and drove the other vehicle to our starting point. We ended up parking to enter the river at a spot I was feeling a little concern about because of some very large rock structures we would pass very soon after the entry point the strong water current created near them. However, I told myself I was not going to be overly fearful, and I felt we were well prepared with our shoes on and rope handles on our tubes.
"It's better to look ahead and prepare
than to look back and regret."
We entered the river in a very shallow area and had to push with our feet to try to get our tubes to stop scraping bottom. Madison was ahead of everyone else, I was flowing right after her, with Braden and Alyssa, and Michael coming along behind me. My tube swirled around and I remember looking at Michael with a big smile and singing out "Wheeee!" Then I realized I needed to rotate myself around so I could be facing the large rock structure quickly approaching in order to be able to push off with my feet if necessary. I swirled around, saw myself headed straight for it, and in my effort to correct my direction combined with the speed and depth of water at that point, I flipped forward off my tube into the water.
As I went under I knew I did not want to lose my tube to the current so I held onto to it tightly with my right hand and the force of the water and the tube yanked my shoulder out of place. The pain clearly told me it was a serious injury. I also knew I must focus on keeping my head above the now deeper and rushing water and that I must try to protect my body from slamming into all the rocks under the water while also avoiding the looming large rock structure on the right. As I went through the worst part of the rapid water drop off between the large structure and that other boulder, Michael floated up behind me told me to grab on to the tube. I held my own tube with my left hand and actually reached out to try to grab his with my right, though the pain fiercely shot through my arm. And that is what adrenaline is for: to help us cope and survive during an emergency situation in spite of our injuries. In those long seconds when all this took place, so many things went through my mind in what I must do to prevent further injury and overcome the situation.
After passing the huge rock structure, the current calmed enough so I could make my way to the bank on my right where I was able to touch bottom with my feet. I glanced over at my shoulder and confirmed it was dislocated in a posterior fashion towards my back. It hurt so badly, but I focused on keeping calm and taking slow, steady breaths. Passing out was not an option under the conditions. Much of the calmness and acceptance that I've learned through my yoga practice over the past two and half years assisted me in facing this situation. I rested my right arm on a rock to keep it from moving and hooked my tube with my left arm to rest my head and hold myself up in the water. I wiggled my fingers repeatedly to make sure blood was flowing along my arm. And while the cold water of the river had made us gasp for breath earlier as we had first stepped in, it now helped to keep me calm and alert.
Facing and accepting our reality and letting go of our expectations
and frustrations of not having things our way brings peace.
While I felt disappointed that our hopes for a fun family adventure had come to such a quick end, I worked on accepting the reality of what had happened and what must be done next. Madison was at least 100 yards ahead of us and fortunately had made her way to a calm spot on the opposite bank holding on and waiting for us to catch up. Michael, Braden, and Alyssa were able to come near me to assess what had happened and immediately started looking for a way to get me up and out of the river. Braden had lost his Oakley sunglasses and injured his shins. He too had been flipped off his tube in the same area as me.
The concern on Alyssa’s face is so clear in my memory. She looked at me with big worried eyes as I said to her: "My shoulder is dislocated." And she sadly replied: "I can see that." Getting me out of the river and up onto the road was going to prove quite difficult. The only way out was through a bunch of willows and up a steep hill of dirt and rocks. Meanwhile, Madison was still trying to figure out what was holding us up and trying to make an exit on the opposite bank of the river where she was at. We hoped she could walk back up on the shore to the shallower part where we had started and cross back to meet up with us at the truck. Michael tried and tried to find an easier alternate way I could walk my way out of the river and up onto the road but there was no other way. I started to feel desperate just sitting there in the water bobbing and holding my shoulder and loudly yelled to get me out: "I need to get out of here now!" We would have to go the only way available, one step at a time.
No matter how difficult it seems, we can overcome any challenge, trial, or difficulty in our lives one step at a time.
Michael and Braden lovingly and patiently helped me take that one step at a time with an immense amount of words of encouragement and physical support. It brings emotional tears to my eyes now even as I write this of the extensive gratefulness I have for the way they helped me through it all. The moment I stepped out of the river, I started to black out. I reminded myself that was not an option because I knew how that would hinder the process of exiting the river and getting me to the ER. I focused and controlled my breathing and kept calm. The blackness dissipated, but instead I began going into shock with my ears ringing and my eyesight becoming tunnel vision and seeing everything in bright white. The leaves on the willows were bright white. The ground was bright white. It was so strange and surreal. The whiteness of everything looked like bad photography and felt blinding. In spite of the ringing in my ears, I could hear the river and my husband's and son's voices guiding me: "Step here. Step here next." One of them walked in front of me with hands on me while the other one walked behind me supporting my torso to keep me from falling down in case I stumbled or passed out. We walked through the willows and began to take steps up along the steep hill. I was completely relying on their guidance as to where to place my foot next. Only once did I look up at the hill I must climb up, but I didn't dwell on it long because I knew my perspective was skewed anyway. I knew my way out was in focusing on each of my steps, not on how high I had to go. Every step and jolt sent excruciating pain along my arm. Throughout the whole experience, I talked reassuringly to myself often and told myself: “Yes, MaryAnn, you CAN do this. Everything is going to be okay. You are going to be okay.”
Our ability to get through challenging and painful circumstances is strongly
affected by our determination, perspective, and mindset.
That walk up and out of the river did not seem so bad to me, though I felt horribly sick with pain. With the help and guidance of Michael and Braden, I found each step quite doable and even thought to myself: "Well, that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be!" The last strong heave up to get my feet planted onto the side of the road felt intense and threatened to cause me to black out again. Yet, it also brought great emotional relief as I saw our truck up ahead a short distance away. My husband guided me to it while Braden returned to assist Alyssa who unbeknownst to us was facing her own pain when she had popped her knee out of and back into place on her climb up the hill. As I sat in the truck, I propped my arm with a box of tie downs (which I later referred to as my "box baby") and waited for everyone to make it back.
My husband left me at the truck and went to assist Madison across the river. Thankfully there was also a fisherman there who helped in that process. And the extra rope we had bought for the intertubes came in very handy! Madison faced her own knee injury along her trek back up the river.
Relying on and trusting the support of others when we feel like we can't go on
helps us to persevere and make it through the toughest of times.
Finally, everyone reunited at the truck and the tubes were thrown in the back (still had all of five of them!), and we drove to the location of our other vehicle. Every bump on the road was agonizingly painful and would cause me to cry out loudly in pain. Madison brainstormed how she could create a sling for my arm, and Braden rubbed my head from the backseat and spoke as many encouraging words as he could think of to reassure me that I could get through this. Michael and I drove our other vehicle to the ER which was about 25 minutes away. Braden, Madison, and Alyssa had to deal with tying down the tubes in the back of the truck and getting home. They experienced their own set of challenges on that drive because Alyssa passed out for a short time; I think due to the pain of her knee and her own shock over whole situation. Plus, she had already been struggling with the high altitude change since she had arrived to Colorado.
Our drive to the ER seemed to take forever as every bump on the road continued to cause me to scream. By the time we arrived there, it had already been at least 1 hour and 45 minutes since the accident. That is a long time to have a dislocated shoulder. This was my second trip in one year to the ER at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, and I have nothing but awesome things to say about their care and services. They have been amazing both times and even more so this time. I expressed my concerns about the morphine and anesthetics making me sick to my stomach, and they took such care to avoid that! They immediately began working on making me as comfortable as possible, taking careful x-rays, getting sedatives prepared for the resetting of my arm, etc. They quickly covered me in warm blankets because I was shivering in my wet and cold bathing suit and reminded me to keep paying attention to my breath.
As we waited for all the necessary preparations, I found some humor within me to talk about my "box baby" and to let Michael know that just because I was hurt, I was not about to let him and Braden get out of the couples' yoga practice we were supposed to do together later in the week. I would just have to give really good verbal cues since my arm would be out of commission. I also mentioned that I was now going to have plenty of opportunity to work on my left handed skills. And I focused on having gratefulness for the care I had been and was continuing to receive throughout this entire experience, every word of encouragement, and what I was learning through it all. As a mom, I considered that if anyone was going to be hurt, I was glad it had been me. For to observe my loved ones in pain, especially my children, hurts me more than my own physical pain.
I suppose it was maybe 30-45 minutes after my arrival at the ER that my arm was reset. A group of five hospital staff members surrounded my bed just before resetting my arm. They triple checked and discussed the anesthetics and how they would be administered to me. I was impressed and set at ease by their conscious care to make sure everything went smoothly. I looked into Michael's eyes one last time before starting to lose consciousness and let everyone know I was starting to fall asleep: "Here we go". It felt so good to finally allow myself to relax, forget the pain, and let go the control of my arm for them to fix it. The hum of their voices seemed to continue to ebb and flow in my ears and then I felt myself coming back to awareness and said to everyone: "I can hear you." They were taking new x-rays, and I had only been out of it for about 15 minutes. My arm felt exactly as when I had gone unconscious, and my mind even imagined my “box baby” was still supporting it. I told them while trying to smile with eyes closed: "I know you have fixed my arm, but it still hurts exactly the same and it feels like I still have my box baby." Michael told me that when they began to set my arm, I cried out in pain and scared him that I was not asleep after all. While I remember their mumbled voices in the background, I do not recall my own cries of pain.
We spent another long while waiting for me to be alert enough to leave the hospital. With my arm in a sling, we finally headed for home. We arrived home to hear of the things that had happened to them on their way home and of their own injuries. We all desperately needed dinner, so I took a quick bath to rinse the sand of the river away and dressed to go out to a restaurant. We enjoyed a nice dinner together and shared each of our perspectives on what had happened that day. We smiled, we laughed, and we released a great deal of anxiety and worry that had been with us for hours. We proceeded to thoroughly enjoy the rest of the week together and do fun activities that did not require the use of my arm.
It's been a week since that day at the Poudre River and my arm is slowly recovering day by day. The next day after the accident, the whole arm felt so awful, and I couldn't use it at all. It felt like it weighed a ton of bricks. I've been taking large doses of turmeric/curcumin along with CBD oil for the inflammation and pain and applying essential oils and homeopathic creams to the arm and shoulder. The only pain medication I took was two Aleve's for three nights so I could try to sleep without being woken up by pain. I've also got some other bumps and bruises that hardly compare to the arm injury and a cut on my shin with a bad bruise all around it that is struggling to heal. I rejoice that by today I can actually lift my arm straight up very carefully though there are some other things I cannot do yet. I can finally (carefully and slowly) wash my own hair again!
Little by little, day by day, progress is made.
I started to have some post-traumatic stress a few days after the accident. My mind kept replaying the entire incident and causing anxiety. I asked Michael to take me back to the river, to the spot where the accident happened, so I could take pictures and face the place and come to terms with it. Feeling the post-traumatic stress is another reason for me writing at length about it. It is all part of my mental and emotional processing therapy to accept what happened, extract and save the golden nuggets of wisdom within, and peacefully let go of the rest.
Was I disappointed that our hope for fun turned out completely different? Of course. I had other expectations. Am I disappointed my yoga practice and teaching are a bit set back by my need for recovery? Certainly! I had other plans and expectations. More than anything though, I am enormously thankful that mine or anyone else’s injuries were not any worse and that we could all laugh and talk about it a few hours later. I choose to have the perspective and mindset that every experience in my life (no matter how painful) will be of value for something positive in my present and future.
Peace will be found in the acceptance of what has happened and cannot be changed
and a willingness to ride the waves of life and readjust our course as necessary.
© MaryAnn Broussard