The Human Lawn Dart
|March 8, 2023||Posted by Melinda under Uncategorized|
In January I had the worst fall I’ve ever had in over 20 years of riding. The kind of fall we all know is just one back luck ride away, but we all cross our fingers won’t happen at all.
It’s taken me a while to figure out how and what I wanted to write about this fall.
The details of exactly how or why the fall happened aren’t important. Because, whatever they were, the result was me coming off over the horses shoulder while going *quite fast*, rotating as I went, and landing head first upside down in the most excellent imitation of a lawn dart.
I remember every single moment which is ironic because despite playing with 7 other people, a medic in attendance, friends and family “watching”….no one saw it.
I landed on the top of my head, slightly left of center. My head crunched immediately to my right shoulder and slightly forward, my right ear flush with my right rotator cuff in a sideways version of whiplash. I could feel all sorts of muscles and soft tissue popping and tearing in the left side of my lower neck and upper back as my cranial vertebral column tried to decide what to do with the new found energy of impact. It eventually decided that letting my upper back and lower neck take the brunt of it seemed like a reasonable option (which likely saved my upper cervical vertebra from sacrifice).
I laid there, recalling the wisdom of smarter people than me.
1. Don’t get up right away.
2. Don’t decide whether you are fine or not at the moment of trauma.
No one came.
Maybe I should have laid there longer. Maybe I should have laid there for as long as it *took, especially knowing that my adrenaline had probably stretched the time like candy taffy.
*My polo-medic friends
yelled educated me afterwards that yes, next time I am to lay there for as long as it takes and I am to stay down no matter what. Got it. Have added this to the rules above.
Let me tell you something.
People in the middle of an accident need to be told what to do. Even if it seems obvious. Because after I had obeyed those two rules I was left with…nothing.
And in that nothingness the brain will make decisions and the body will do what it thinks is best.
Thanks to my doctor and polo friends who were properly aghast at all the rest of this played out, I have more rules to follow the *next time* this happens, but in this moment, laying on the ground, all by myself with no one to tell me to stay down, I had a thought that I should at least make sure that the other 7 horses on the field weren’t going to come trampling over me, so I sat up and surveyed my surroundings.
The coast was clear. No one seems concerned. I appeared to be able to move all the fingers and toes, and nothing and no one was screaming at me
So then I stood up. And started walking off the field with my horse.
The medic whirred over in his golf cart and asked if I was OK.
“Uhhhh, I don’t know. I felt lot of things in my neck and near my vertebral column pop and tear. It was a bad fall. I’m not sure.”
“Wow! Well you got up fast and don’t have a *headache? I’ll drive behind you while you walk back to the mounting block.”
*Thank you $800 helmet. You are the reason I didn’t have a concussion on top of all this.
The next time I turned around he wasn’t there so I assumed I had been…cleared?…to get back on the horse?
And rode the rest of the chukker.
When I described the fall to my doctor a week later at a **recheck he was horrified about the whole thing, but was the most horrified at the literal walking away part. He would have preferred “walking away with minor injuries” to be figurative. Apparently I wouldn’t have “walked away” regardless of injuries assumed or known if he had been the medic that day. He would have kept me down and carted me off in a neck brace, even if it had meant sitting on me with a knee in my chest to do so. To be clear I don’t disagree with his assessment. That’s would should have happened.
**CT was clear 3 days later, but on day 5 I couldn’t swallow without significant pain (so much soft tissue swelling in my neck that it was displacing my esophagus to weird places) and I was randomly having vagal episodes (swelling was likely impinging on my vagal nerve in my neck)
“It was a Christopher Reeves accident and you are my miracle patient of the day,” he told me after he finished described in great detail exactly the consistency of my spinal cord and what would have happened if it was undamaged but the bony column had indeed been fractured after the fall.
I left with Rx for naproxen 500 mg and I made promise to let him know if I needed PT later. (Newsflash. Yes I do. Apparently necks do not take kindly to lawn dart antics. Scheduled to start beginning of April).
I think that every single person that rides horses eventually has to face the reality of horses. Falls happen. Injuries happen. Is it worth it?
There’s not a single good reason why I didn’t break my neck like so many other less-lucky horse people have before me in similar accidents.
This isn’t the first fall I’ve had, and it’s not even the first bad fall, although it is the worst “close-miss” I’ve ever had.
But, I’ve made my peace with riding horses and the possible consequences a long time ago.
It wasn’t even a question in my mind that I would get back on, or continue to play polo. Of course I would.
Of course I’ll do what I can to minimize the risk of this happening again. I need to check in with myself of what horses I get on and why, and decide ahead of time what I will do if I am in the middle of an event and there are warning signs that not all will be well. I promised my doctor that I would keep up with my weight training, yoga, and running, since those things were a huge factor in minimizing my injuries.
Accepting the risk and deciding to do it anyways doesn’t get rid of the “**scaries.”
**My new favorite term from a polo-friend for the trepidation you feel getting back on the horse for the first few rides after a traumatic fall.
I’m the queen of compartmentalization. It can take weeks or even months for the full impact of something to hit me (remember my sister dying unexpectedly a few years ago? It took 3 months for me to take time off and have a mental break down).
In the meantime I feel fine. It’s not even a conscious choice to feel fine. I just do. Oh sure, I might be crying without knowing it when you ask me how I’m doing and I tell you I’m fine, but I’m fine. Fake it until you make it and force my physical body to go along with my brain until my brain decides it’s time to have a melt down.
I’m always so surprised when eventually I do have to have that melt down. Like, can we just skip over it and go from faking fine to actually being fine this time?
This time it took me two weeks to have a complete break down.
For two weeks I rode and played polo and tried to pretend nothing was wrong….and I realized I was in trouble. I could not force my body to do what I wanted in the saddle. I got invited back to play polo on grass five weeks after my accident, this time on a gem of a horse that belongs to a friend and mentor, and I realized I couldn’t do it.
I wanted to, but I wouldn’t be able to force my body onto the field and have it listen to me, no matter what my brain had decided to do.
So I did something really really hard.
I reached out to all those friends who I had told I was fine and I told them what was going on. And instead of telling me to cowboy up and grit through it, I was met with compassion and understanding. They shared their own stories of being broken and making it back through the scaries.
Together we made a game plan to not just get back on horses and fake my way back to where I was before, but to build myself back one ride at a time and actually get there….maybe even stronger this time.
I cried, a lot. I asked for and was given the beginner safe horses – the ones that my husband learned to ride polo on this summer, and the ones that will be the ones to teach Fig to canter when she’s ready.
For the next two weeks, one ride at a time, I regained the trust of my body and when the time came, my body believed me again when I told it they could indeed ride onto that grassy polo field, at the feet of the most beautiful mountain, underneath the palm trees, and play some polo.
(I’m on the grey)