Isn’t it funny how quickly your life can change in the span of five seconds?
One August day in the summer of 1994 I was 15 years old and leaving my apartment to go to work.
As I reached to open the door to go downstairs from our two story duplex, I noticed that it wouldn’t open. It was stuck. And so was I—caught between my second story apartment door and the door to go downstairs.
Anyone who knows me knows that I hate to be late…for anything, but especially for work. I needed to get out—but how?
“Hmm.” Well, there was always the balcony. So I crawled out onto it and considered my options. With the bravery that only comes from youth, I looked down and said “I can totally make this.” Famous last words.
To make a long story short, I jumped. 25 feet down. Landed on my feet. Felt my spine shiver and literally crack. I crumbled to the grass.
The next thing I remember I am in the hospital and I can hear my mom tell my family that the doctor said that there was a very slim chance that I would ever walk again. They would have to go in, operate, determine what might be able to be repaired and then see how my body responded.
After a ten hour surgery, multiple steel rods and pins inserted in my lower back, and about 300 new grey hairs added to my mother who was praying the rosary at a frantic pace, the doctor said they had carefully removed every shattered bone fragment and we would just have to wait to determine the level of permanent damage.
When I finally woke up and could wiggle my toes, there was a collective sigh in the room. The doctor told me that it was going to be an intense recovery. No school till January, physical therapy for months, and a plastic back brace that I had to wear at all times for 6 months in the sweltering Detroit summer heat.
The first thing I told my doctor when he laid out his list of recovery orders was that I would do everything he asked except I had to start school in September because “I am on the sophomore Homecoming planning committee,” I said very seriously.
The doctor chuckled and said, “That kind of dedication will take you very far, young lady!”
What has been a defining moment for me personally has honestly been an incredibly important part of who I am today. That one terrible, misguided mistake taught me more life lessons than I could ever imagine.
1) You realize the word “family” means “I will love you no matter what”:
My family made it their mission to always have someone with me at the hospital for the three weeks I was in intensive care. They made it a priority to keep my spirits up while inwardly they were scared, sad and praying for the best.
2) You know who your friends truly are when the going gets tough:
Because my friends were too young to drive, many of them would bike over to the hospital to see me at all hours of the day and night. Although the visitation hours are pretty strict while you are in intensive care, they managed to sneak in good food, movies, video games, etc. If it wasn’t for Jason, Stephen, Lisa, Alison and the rest of my support network, I’m not sure if I would have had the internal strength to make it through the long, tough days of physical therapy.
3) Your success in life is largely determined by your attitude:
I am an optimist by nature, but this event caused me a sense of sadness that I had never experienced before. The doctor told me that the best chance I had to recover was to believe in myself and to take pride in small victories. This advice continues to stay with me, 17 years later.
4) There is nothing more important than being healthy:
Since recovering, I have made it priority to be healthy. I don’t put any piece of food in my body without asking myself “will this help or hurt my body?” I am so incredibly lucky to have made a full recovery and I do not take it for granted.
There is a picture of me grinning from ear-to-ear in October of 1994. It is the night of the Homecoming Dance, and I am wearing a sparkly red dress. I look incredibly awkward with my white, plastic back brace visibly showing from underneath it. But the smile is what matters and it says “I can overcome anything.”
To that 15 year old girl I say, “You are right.”