It’s been almost 15 yrs. since the accident that changed my life. Some of you may not know this about me, but when I was 17 I broke my neck and severely bruised my spinal cord.
I’ve never wrote about it publicly, so forgive me if this post rambles on. As the anniversary approaches I can’t help but think about my time in the hospital and how it affected my life.
It happened while swimming at a friend’s house. I had the brilliant idea of jumping off the trampoline that was by the shallow end of the pool — not smart. When I jumped off I slipped on the wet surface of the trampoline and landed head first in the shallow end of the pool, immediately breaking my neck and immediately becoming unable to move from the neck down. It took my friends a few seconds to realize that I wasn’t joking, after which they jumped in and grabbed my motionless body and placed me by the side of the pool. To this day I can still close my eyes and see their feet when they jumped in — gives me chills thinking about it. I don’t think I’ve ever told them thank you for what they did for me, so to everyone that was there that day.. THANK YOU, if it weren’t for you I wouldn’t be here today.
After that, things got way crazy. My parents came and held my hand while I lay there unable to move. As we waited for the life flight helicopter to arrive, I tried to stay calm by going through scenarios in my head as to how my life was going to be as a quadriplegic. When the life flight helicopter arrived, they strapped me down so hard I could barely breathe as a precaution so I wouldn’t move during the flight (really guys? I was paralyzed!) and then put me on a stretcher and wheeled me out to an empty field where the chopper waited to take me to the University of Utah Hospital.
When I arrived at the hospital it felt like everything around me was going 100 miles per hour. They took me to the ER where 100 doctors and nurses came in to run 100 tests. They poked and prodded me everywhere to determine what I could feel…nothing, they asked me to try and “push on the gas pedal” with my feet..nothing, they asked me to try and squeeze their fingers.. nothing, all done to determine the extent of my injury, which was pretty bad. I had broken my C6 and C7 vertebrae and bruised/shocked my spinal cord.
After the ER I immediately went into surgery where the surgeon fused my vertebrae together with a cadaver bone. To get to the broken bone, the surgeon went through the front of my neck, moving one of my vocal cords to the side, which left the vocal cord temporarily paralyzed and me without a voice for awhile…not cool surgeon, not cool. He also drilled four holes into my skull (scars still there today) so that he could place a metal halo around my head that would help stabilize my neck so that it could heal properly.
I was then sent to the ICU for a week and a half where I remained paralyzed from the neck down. They hooked a chain into the halo and the other end into a crank, and every so often a nurse or a doctor would come in and turn the crank, tightening the chain, in an attempt to re-align my spine. Someone from the hospital staff would come in every couple hours or so and ask me to “push on the gas pedal” to see if I was making any progress…felt like I wasn’t at all. However, slowly, but surely the nerve endings in my body started to rejuvenate and I could start to move my body parts a little.
After the ICU, I spent the next 4 weeks in rehabilitation and therapy where I literally had to learn how to do everything…tie shoes, bathe, pick up a piece of popcorn, write, walk. Oh, and the nerves coming back to life sucked. Probably the worst pain/experience I have ever gone through. You know the feeling when your foot falls asleep and it starts coming back to life…multiply that by 100, then imagine it happening all over your body, at the exact same time. My hands and feet got it the worst. I remember asking anyone who would to rub them with lotion because that was the only thing that made the pain subside.
Learning to walk with a halo drilled into your skull that was secured to a bulky vest around your chest was not fun either. And it totally messed with my equilibrium, something that I still deal with today. I was determined though. I wasn’t going to let the injury win. Yes, I got depressed. And yes, I had bad days. But I wouldn’t let it stop my progress. I had made up my mind that I was going to walk out of that hospital, on my own, and on my own time. And I did it. I walked out of the hospital 6 weeks after entering. After breaking my neck. After being paralyzed from the neck down for over a week. I was told that I wasn’t supposed to heal that fast. That the blow to my spinal cord should have put me out for over a year at the very least. But I had other plans. It was my senior year of high school damn it! I wasn’t going to spend it held up in an uncomfortable hospital bed. So I worked. And through sheer determination and grit I did what was necessary for my body to heel.
Life after the hospital was….different. My mom literally followed me into every room of our house to make sure I was ok. I had to sleep on my back until the halo came off (I HATE sleeping on my back). I still had therapy. But I was home. I got to be with my friends and family. Eventually I went back to school and finished my senior year. I went to prom. I graduated. Life went on.
You would have never guessed that I had gone through what I did. But the lingering effects are still there. Watch me try to do a button on a shirt or button one of my kids shirts and you’ll get frustrated. I still don’t have all the feeling back on the right side of my body. My muscles are completely jacked up and probably won’t ever be “normal”. I can’t turn my head all the way to the right. I’m fairly certain that my cognitive abilities were messed up. But guess what, and this is where I get emotional (those of you who know me well know that I am what JD from Scrubs calls a ‘sensie’, someone who wears his emotions on his sleeve), I wouldn’t change it. I’ve asked myself over and over and over again if I could, would I go back and tell 17 year old Bryson to go and play basketball like I was supposed to that day, but the answer ,without any hesitation, is no. I learned too many things about myself and about life in that short amount of time. I learned that there was more to life than basketball. I learned that I took the smallest things for granted. I learned that I was a strong person and that I could overcome anything. I learned to be resilient. I learned determination. Man did I learn determination. And the list goes on and on. Do I still get down about some things? Heck yes I do! My brain still thinks that I can do things the way I could pre-accident, but my body just won’t cooperate. Talk about frustrating. But I’m here. I can still walk, run, exercise, play with my kids, pretty much do everything that would constitute a ‘normal’ life. And for that I am eternally grateful.
If you take anything away from my experience, it’s this, you can overcome any challenge in your life. It’s kind of a scary feeling not being able to move anything from the neck down for over a week, but as soon as I could start moving body parts, I knew I would be able to “pick myself up” off that hospital bed and get to work. And don’t get me wrong, it was the hardest thing that I have ever done in my life. But I didn’t let the little voice in my head that was telling me that I couldn’t do it win. Hospitals aren’t fun, and I didn’t want to spend any more time in one than I had to. So the next time you hear that same voice. Push it down. And get to work :-)