I’ve Fallen And I Can’t Get Up

I never thought I’d be excited to have a walker, but I am. I had a freak accident on Friday, November 20th, when my horse spooked and threw me off. I fractured one of the vertebrae in my back and had surgery on Saturday, November 21st. I started walking again less than 24 hours later and came home just before Thanksgiving. My doctors tell me that I should have a full and complete recovery, but it will take several months.

This is me racing around on my walker.

Here’s what happened…

I was having a very mellow, low-key lesson with my trainer in a sandy extra soft arena (where you might learn how to jump or do other things that increase your risk of falling). I was doing exercises on learning how to move my horse around in a standing position, taking a maximum of four steps at a time with each move. I was wearing proper riding boots and a helmet and was working with my trainer without any distractions. It is mentally taxing work for me and the horse, but it isn’t dangerous – at all. During a break from that mental game, we would take a slow walk around the arena. There were no distractions. It was a quiet, beautiful day and the horse and I were super connected. We had already had a really great, easy trail ride together and we were doing this exercise to end our day. We were both feeling confident and relaxed. And, then Pixie spooked.

A cow came up the hill and could have spooked my horse, but she’s never been afraid of the cow before. The day after my accident, Pixie had a lesson with the cow and my trainers report that she still seems to think that the cow is boring and stupid and not at all scary. The cow didn’t startle me in any way. Everyone’s best guess at the ranch is that there was something we couldn’t see that freaked her out: a rattlesnake, a coyote, or a mountain lion (these are all fairly common at the ranch). Whatever caused it, she freaked out and became a rodeo horse – and I am not at all a rodeo rider. My trainer said that I did pretty well, all things considered, and that I stayed on for about 8 seconds. Then I came off and landed right on my booty. My horse somehow managed not to step on me while she got her head back together.

I was in immediate, intense pain and couldn’t get up. Angi, one of my trainers, gave me a quick exam and made me stop rolling around (because I was rolling around in pain). She got me stable and tied up the horses and ran to the ranch house to get some help. She arrived with her husband and one of my best friends in about 5 minutes and we all agreed that I needed an x-ray but that I couldn’t walk. So, we called 911. They arrived very, very quickly and sent at least seven firemen/paramedics. They were walking up and Angi said, “Oh, Carrie. I’m so sorry. They’re all adorable. Do you want me to try to brush some of the dirt off of you?” I was totally unconcerned that I was covered in dirt, but I love that Angi took the time to worry about it for me. I love my friends.

The paramedics loaded me up and got me to a local hospital with a trauma unit where I was greeted by about 40 people in the emergency room all ready to help me in a bunch of different ways depending on my injuries. I “passed” my initial exams and was given some good pain medication and sent in for a CT Scan. The scan revealed that I had compressed, shattered and fractured my L2 vertebra. I had a neurosurgeon in my room within 15 minutes ready to discuss the surgery I needed. But I still hadn’t had a chance to tell my husband what had happened or get him to my side to help me make decisions. So we got him on the phone and agreed to get me stable for the night and into surgery first thing in the morning.

Here’s where I had a hard decision to make. I have access to the best health care in the world. I work with and train the best physicians at some of the best hospitals in the country. I actively work with some of the best orthopedic doctors in Los Angeles at Cedars-Sinai, Kerlan Jobe and the Santa Monica Orthopedic Group. I have great insurance. I had to decide if I was going to stay where I was at a rural, Catholic, non-profit hospital in the middle of nowhere or if I was going to try to find a doctor to transfer me to another hospital. Well, the more experience I had at the rural hospital, the more inclined I was to stay there. They provided outstanding care from the moment I rolled in. There was even a sign above my head rolling into the emergency room that said, “Welcome!” I said, “That’s funny!” to my paramedics. Then, there was a greeter at the door who said, “Welcome to Marian Community Hospital.” I said, “Wow! That’s even funnier.” But, you get the idea. They are very attentive to the smallest details.

But, I still needed to make sure I was going to get the best care I could get. And, I’m not a physician. I don’t really even know the right questions to ask. For example, I assumed I’d need an orthopedic surgeon, but I actually needed a neurosurgeon. I didn’t know that until one showed up in my room. I was honest and direct with him. I told him that I was going to have to defend my decision to stay at Marian Hospital and let him operate on me because I have access to the best health care in the United States. He responded exactly how I needed him to. He said, “You can have anything you want. I will help you get it. I want you to have the best health care you can get. What you don’t know is that it’s me. Your surgery is not that complicated but it is involved. And, I am an expert in your surgery. This is what we do here. We heal people who have fallen off of horses and motorcycles – all day, every day. And, you will be in a lot of pain until you come out of surgery. I’m concerned about your pain and your comfort. And, I would hate to transport you. That increases your risk for further injury. And, the sooner we operate, the better off you are going to be.” His level of confidence and the depth of his care and commitment to my recovery was what I needed to hear. I decided to stay. I was in a lot of pain that night and I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink or move. It was a very long night with some of the best nursing care I have ever seen. My nurses were amazing and would just sit with me and rub the back of my hand and breathe with me. They brought my husband food and coffee and set him up with a bed-like chair in my room so he could stay with me, too.

My surgery went well. I was very scared going into surgery. The surgical team looked like superheroes to me (which I really appreciated). The operating room looked like a space ship, it was so state of the art. I only remember about 3 minutes in the OR, then I was whisked away into another world so that they could operate on me for the next four hours. They called my husband every hour with a report. They told him things like, “She’s doing great but she’s got tiny little bones in her back. We had to use the smallest screws they make on her.” Maybe they didn’t notice that I’m very short? I came out of surgery and was in recovery for another hour that I, gratefully, don’t remember. I do remember having to relearn how to breathe when they took my breathing tube out and that it was difficult to breathe and swallow for about 24 hours after that.

Every room at Marian Community Hospital is a private room. They provide nursing care by pods and teams so I was always well cared for. I got immediate responses to all of my requests, support whenever I needed it and peace and quiet to sleep and recover in between. I was in a Catholic hospital where I had both a priest and a Eucharistic minister visit me every day, which I was very grateful for. One of my girlfriends got to witness me receiving the sacrament of healing and said that it was one of the most beautiful rituals she had ever seen. I was grateful to receive that blessing before going into surgery.

My nurses assumed that I must be some sort of celebrity because of all the flowers and gifts that I kept receiving. My room was full of flowers, balloons, chocolate and toys. Everyone is amazing in how supportive they’ve been. My mom and dad spent a ton of time with me. My kids drove out to visit me and then managed to get my car home from the ranch (they are all great drivers). My personal trainer came out to learn how to support me from my physical therapists. My husband only left my side when we would force him to go eat or get some rest and when he knew that there was someone who would be looking after me while he was gone.

I was supposed to host 40 people for Thanksgiving this year. They all figured it out and relocated and reorganized themselves for Thanksgiving. The CultureSync team has been in close touch. Dave even drove 3.5 hours one-way to visit me. That’s pretty amazing for a normal person. Considering Dave’s travel schedule and the demands on his time, it was truly heroic for him to drive from West LA to visit me in the hospital in Santa Maria.

My doctor said that I should have a full recovery, but that each case is very individualized. They put screws and a plate in by back. They are fusing my L1, L2 and L3 vertebrae together. People go on to live pain-free normal lives, traveling, exercising and working. He said that I should be back to my “normal” activity in 3-6 months, but also said that he couldn’t imagine ever traveling or speaking all day like I do. But, most people can’t imagine it. It’s challenging and demanding and incredibly rewarding and important and it’s something I’m determined to get back to as soon as I can. He says my activity is only limited by my tolerance, pain and endurance and that I should take it easy, but keep up with physical therapy. He was consistently shocked to see my progress every time he visited me in the hospital. He said that I’m doing way better than “normal” people who have had my surgery do. I told him that I’m motivated and stubborn and well loved and that it’s a great combination for healing.

I’ve decided that physical therapists are totally “my people.” They are demanding, gentle, kind and have what seems like totally unrealistic expectations. They brought me a walker less than 24 hours after my surgery and said that I needed to start working on getting out of bed. I almost passed out several times during my first session. They didn’t really think that was too big a deal. They kept me on a blood pressure cuff the whole time and monitored my BP and my pulse to know where and how to support me. I got all the way to standing in that first session and then slept for 4 hours. I somehow managed to become a superstar at the hospital in the next couple of days and even learned how to do stairs before I left.

I came home on Wednesday before Thanksgiving. It was a long ride home. I was very uncomfortable and very happy to finally arrive home. My boys had set up the house for my safety and comfort. They picked up all throw rugs (because those are the biggest hazard for walkers – who knew?) and made up a bed with clean sheets in the guest room downstairs. They worked together and used to the internet to figure out how to shop for and cook a Thanksgiving dinner. I had my best Thanksgiving ever this year. I slept all day, my boys made dinner, and my husband did all the dishes. I managed to sit up at the table and eat for about 15 minutes before I had to go back to bed.

I have now worked my way up to writing this blog from my couch surrounded by my dogs and getting upstairs at night to shower in my bathroom and sleep in my own bed and coming back downstairs to visit with my family during the day.

I am so grateful to have all the support I have at home and at work. I am so grateful for the amazing health care I have been getting. And, I am so grateful that I will get to come back to work soon. For now, I’m just resting.

People keep asking me, “Will you ever ride again?” I don’t know. Right now, I’d be really happy to walk without a walker and to fly on a plane unassisted and to stand in front of an audience and do my work for a day. I am not in a hurry to get back on my horse. And, I love her and look forward to seeing her again when I’m well enough to visit the ranch. My husband is happiest when I’m asleep in bed surrounded by dogs and a houseful of martial artists. He’s not in a hurry to let me out of his sight. If I try to get out of bed without help, I have a bunch of people yelling at me. I think we have a long way to go before I am allowed to do anything that’s even remotely dangerous.

For now, I appreciate your thoughts and prayers – for me and my family and the CultureSync team. They are all working extra long hours to support me at home and at work while I’m off.

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