The day I broke my neck

Peter Apps
11 min readSep 15, 2018
Newly injured by the roadside, Eastern Sri Lanka, September 5, 2006 [Reuters]

When I woke, the engine noise was gone. So, judging by the light, was the tinted windscreen. My face was hard against the minibus dashboard, I’ve lost my glasses and there was blood in my mouth.

My neck hurt like hell, and I couldn’t move anything below it.

I paused, made to take a breath — and realized I had no control of it at all. None of my chest muscles had any conscious function. I was breathing lightly, automatically — my diaphragm and autonomic functions were still operating. I was clearly alive, felt likely to remain that way. But I must have broken my neck, pulverized my spinal cord.

And with that, I knew very clearly. I wanted to die.

Actually, it was more complex. What I was suddenly aware of, I realized, was a crushing inability to quickly and easily kill myself.

The ability to commit suicide had never been something I’d particularly consciously considered. But now it was gone, its absence was agonizing. Instinctively, my mind raced to the last easy point to end it. It had been about an hour earlier, stopping for breakfast at a truck stop in central Sri Lanka.

It had been a good breakfast, bread and fish curry. A terrible waste to end my life before. As soon as it was done, however, I now thought I should have killed myself, emerged from the restaurant and thrown…



Peter Apps

Reuters Global Affairs Columnist. Executive director, Project for Study of the 21st Century. British Army reservist. Member, Labour Friends of the Forces